59 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Complex Philosophical Sci-Fi
Posthuman acolyte Mieli springs notorious thief Jean le Flambeur from prison to complete a job with shifting goals and faceless enemies. But detective Isidore Beautrelet knows Jean's coming, and has every tool in his arsenal ready. If only the two of them knew how much they need each other, perhaps both could drop the shackles of life in Mars's moving city, the...
Published on April 20, 2011 by Kevin L. Nenstiel
210 of 229 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Clever (if challenging) hard SF
The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi is one of this year's most celebrated debuts - a complex science fiction mystery set on a far-future Mars. Part crime, part espionage, part action thriller and all jam-packed with imaginative technology, The Quantum Thief is a daring and intricately-constructed adventure.
The plot follows, mostly, the thief Jean le Flambeur...
Published on December 27, 2010 by J. Shurin
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210 of 229 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Clever (if challenging) hard SF,
This review is from: The Quantum Thief (Kindle Edition)The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi is one of this year's most celebrated debuts - a complex science fiction mystery set on a far-future Mars. Part crime, part espionage, part action thriller and all jam-packed with imaginative technology, The Quantum Thief is a daring and intricately-constructed adventure.
The plot follows, mostly, the thief Jean le Flambeur. Jean is freed from his infinite, game-theory -riddled space prison by Mieli a winged-cyber-ninja. Mieli is on a mission and needs Jean's help. Unfortunately, Jean is only a mere shadow of his former self. Before he can help out Mieli and steal something, he needs to sort himself out. His foxy robo-angel reluctantly in tow, Jean heads to Mars to find fragments of his own memory.
Meanwhile, Mars is a proper SF wonderland, with more shiny baubles than a Christmas tree. Martians (such as they are, being human) live on time - bought, borrowed or earned. When they're out of time, they go Quiet, and are put to work terraforming or doing some other form of manual labour in a temporary monstrous form. The entire Martian society is based on a system of gevulot - shared memories. You don't tell people things as much as politely agree to mutually recall a something they hadn't experienced yet. There's no history, just "exo-memory" that exists outside of individual perspective and recall.
The whole culture is so bizarre that the Sobornost, the super-technical beings that have already taken over pretty much everything, aren't even bothering to conquer Mars. It basically isn't worth the effort of figuring out what they're on about. Not to say that Mars is only for Martians: there's also an exiled colony of "zoku", post-human gamer geeks and the mysterious phoboi, strange emotional critters that skirt the edge of the city, looking for prey.
Into this mess plummet Jean and Mieli. He refuses to do anything in a straightforward way when he could set six nesting plots up to do (almost) the same thing. And she really just doesn't give a flying damn about the entire thing, as long as she gets to punch something occasionally. Mieli is caught between a strange fascination for the hyperactive Jean and a desperate frustration that he takes so long to do anything. Her lover is caught somewhere, and until she finishes her mission, she can't save her.
All of this would be infinitely more interesting if the reader was allowed to care about any of the characters. Instead, the very language of the text prevents any sort of connection from taking place. Constantly I would be brought to the very brink of tension, only to learn that there are flashes in the spimescape or that, god forbid, the q-dots have failed or there's gogol-piracy going on. All of which, to give the author credit, are somehow internally consistent and meticulously planned. Jean is constantly doing something that we're told is criminal genius, but, since I don't understand the how, why or what of it, I have only the author's extensive vocabulary as evidence.
Overall, I can genuinely understand the praise that Mr Rajaniemi has gathered for his impressive debut novel. It is flamboyantly intelligent, wildly intricate and clearly imaginative in ten thousand ways that I will never fully be able to appreciate. I also found it incredibly hard-going - there was neither a clear plot nor an empathetic character to which my reading could be anchored. Instead, every passage was an barrage of scientific vocabulary. Once deciphered, I could appreciate the author's intellect, but that got me no closer to actually enjoying the book.
59 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Complex Philosophical Sci-Fi,
This review is from: The Quantum Thief (Hardcover)
Debut author Hannu Rajaniemi blends science fiction with Russian and French literature, Hebrew myth, and modern game theory to create a dreamscape that tests its characters (and readers) through constant frustration. The cityscape in which the characters fight shifts as fast as their goals and alliances. And their principal coin of exchange is deception, so every action rests on a foundation of half-truths and chicanery.
The story runs on questions of identity. If I can erase my past, who am I? Does life mean very much if death is only temporary? When people trade hours of life like stock certificates, does life mean you've spent time wisely, while death implies moral failure? If we make our own worlds, including our own morality, do we have a moral obligation to die? Does my existence matter if everything I know is a lie?
Everything gets called into question. Machines provide people artificially long lives, and the world is governed by shadowy agents like an Ayn Rand nightmare. But I can't tell of Rajaniemi advocates a viewpoint. Because hours of life are cash, accomplishment and wealth mean long life, while wastrels face early death--the ultimate libertarian paradise. We create value, and we live; we sponge off others, and we die.
But does that make this book a snow job? Maybe not. The climactic reveal (which I won't spoil) implies that this attitude is a collapse of civic order. Everyone in the Oubliette lives or dies by their willingness to follow the rules of an invisible panopticon. Maybe the rich live because they're broken, while the poor die because they're free. This could be a cautionary tale. Perhaps later volumes will explain.
This book wheels out complex ethical considerations of life in the ultimate zero-sum game. Marxist critics will have a field day. Beneath a surface of playful sci-fi, this book asks important questions about survival, work, meaning, life, and death. Rajaniemi asks: do we matter because we exist, or do we exist because we matter? And he offers no easy solutions. He just challenges us to join him in the discovery.
43 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It won't hold your hand...,
This review is from: The Quantum Thief (Jean le Flambeur) (Kindle Edition)If The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes had a baby with The Lies of Locke Lamora and then gave it up for adoption to Neuromancer you would have a pretty good simulacrum for The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi. The book is at its heart a whodunit, or more specifically which whodunit. After finishing the book I'm not sure who did it. But I think that's the point.
The novel begins when a winged woman who talks to god rescues an amnesiac thief named Jean Le Flambeur at the request of her deity and brings him to Mars to remember. Juxtaposing this perspective is the antagonist, Isidore Beautrelet, a detective akin to Sherlock himself who in solving the murder of a chocolatier finds himself set against le Flambeur himself. Told at a breakneck pace the story follows our thief and his winged caretaker as he infiltrates Martian society to rediscover who he was and who he wants to be.
Quantum Thief takes place primarily on a Mars colonized with mobile cities. Technology has evolved to the point the line between artificial intelligence and human intelligence has blurred and an individual's consciousness is no longer singular. Rajaniemi eschews information dumps, and as a result it's easily 200 pages before you have any real understanding of the world his character inhabit. Ideas and words like exomemory, gogols, and gevoluts are pretty abstract terms that he forces the reader to define only through context.
I would be lying if i said such a complex setting did not obscure the plot. Oftentimes concepts that are barely understood become important plot devices. Some might find this off putting, and at times it can be. Rajaniemi is writing an intelligent novel for intelligent readers. He is not going to hand hold, rather he expects that being dropped into the middle of ocean without a lifeboat is perfectly doable. By the novel's conclusion I think he's right.
Not taking the time to educate the reader Rajaniemi frees himself to focus on the story and the prose. The result is a beautifully written book with a compelling plot and interesting characters. More impressively, for a first novel it's extremely tight with very little wasted language. The story is mostly self contained, but ultimately it's just a snapshot in time of a larger story revealed in the epilogue.
In all, The Quantum Thief is one of the better debut novels I've read. Its pacing and crime fiction flavor could lend it appeal to cross genre readers. I look forward to Rajaniemi's subsequent novels.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Luke, I am your father!,
This review is from: The Quantum Thief (Hardcover)Mr Rajaniemi, you're obviously a very smart man - much smarter than me, because I had no idea what the heck was happening in The Quantum Thief most of the time. If I could, I would split myself into a billion copies with each one trying to analyze the plot using independently-branched quantum computation matrices, but after recombining myself, I suspect I would still end up with bupkis. After all, a billion times stupid is still stupid.
The prose is engaging, bordering on the poetic at times. I enjoyed reading the words, mostly. The ideas are rich and complex, definitely the work of a fertile imagination, but woe betide you if you don't have a PhD in string theory and/or quantum mechanics - pity the fool who needs a glossary...
The plot is a hot mess. It starts off well enough, and turns into a beautiful train wreck by the end (think Paris Hilton's Mensa application). If you have read this book and understand exactly what is happening all the time and WHY, then you are a truly gifted human being who should be in politics. Otherwise, you have my sympathy.
The characters are too post-human to have any connection with - I was left feeling extremely cold after finishing the final page. Reading this book has reminded me that even with SF, you still have to find a way to emotionally involve the all-too-human reader into your storytelling. No amount of glitzy verbal acrobatics, far-flung future frolics and simulated mind-orgasms can make up for an incoherent plot peopled with fragmented characterizations that struggle to get out of 2-dimensional space.
This book is worth reading, simply because it is so challenging and inventive in many ways, but I personally don't feel any desire to read any more from this franchise, in much the same way I would not choose to have my wisdom teeth reimplanted then re-extracted. Once is enough.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Like being hotwired into someone else's buzzy brain,
This review is from: The Quantum Thief (Hardcover)When I've had too much coffee by brain starts spinning out and I can't get to sleep: thoughts belt around like I'm watching five films simultaneously, all on fast forward. Nothing stays in focus for long, but thoughts - some profound, some funny, some scary and some downright weird ricochet off each other like superheated pool balls - often, I've thought, illustrating Chomsky's famously unintelligible sentence "colourless green ideas sleep furiously". The wife calls it my buzzy brain phase.
Why do I tell you this? Because reading The Quantum Thief is a bit like having buzzy brain, or at any rate being hotwired into someone else's, and listening to it through a blanket.
Hannu Rajaniemi is fiercely intelligent (I read somewhere he's an actual quantum physicist) and he has some powerful ideas. But from the outset, you're expected already to be familiar with them (game theory and the prisoner's dilemma starts, without exposition, on page 1), and then to be nimble enough to follow Rajaniemi's fictional assemblages without any real help from the author. True, he's thereby refraining insulting his readers' intelligence, but at the same time parading his own, and I dare say it is only the most energetic, talented or disingenuous reader who claims to keep up. Many do.
One thing to draw from these confections: this isn't hard sci-fi, no matter how many name-checks there may be to Robert Axelrod or nanotechnolegy. I suspect Rajuaniemi is throwing round concepts and hoping they stick, and readers are blustered into pretending they do.
Personally I don't think hannu's impish ingenuity - and there is plenty of it, to be sure, is nearly enough to carry the day. I don't think he defies conventional narrative archetypes so much as is completely ignorant of them: Billy Sheehan once said, you have to know the rules before you can break 'em. This is a poorly plotted novel - there are far too many characters, significant ones are under-explained, and the characterisation is wafer thin across the board.
Science Fiction can do one of two things: either present a plausible alternative universe based on credibly worked out science (or alternative science) - this is "hard sci fi"; a spod's paradise, but has at least the merit of theoretical integrity - or it can function as a metaphor for an exploration of recognisably human dilemmas (as, for example, Philip K Dick's extraordinary body of work did). Or, optimally, both.
The Quantum Thief is neither: the "science" is way too airily thrown about (and under-explained) and the narrative is so confusing (and the baloney science too intrusive) for the story to have significant resonance as a morality tale.
What's left - all that's left, I think - is a buzzy brain. Now my own buzzy brain is exasperating enough; having a ringside seat at someone else's is a mite more than this koala can bear.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious,
This review is from: The Quantum Thief (Hardcover)
I would love to say that The Quantum Thief managed it, that what I read could actually be referred to as one of the best science fiction debuts since Altered Carbon. Unfortunately, I can't.
The Quantum Thief is an ambitious novel that consistently falls short of the mark due to the hindrance of one key aspect: its length. The novel, for all of its epic scope, is relatively short, which manages to work in its favor when it comes to its blazing fast pacing, but works against it for just about everything else. The novel is packed to the gills with ideas, all of which are machine-gunned at the reader with little to no explanation, leaving a page littered with technojargon and a heaping pile of confusion. Kudos go to the novel for mixing up the science fiction with various subgenres wrapped around the characters--Jean brings a bit of heist to the table and overarching mystery; Isidore is pure detective fiction; and Mieli is a transhuman badass, who immediately reminded me of what Neuromancer's Molly could have or would have been had the technology been as advanced. Again, length is the problem here. Wrapping up the subgenre with the characters is fine, but it is not pulled off as well as it could be because we just don't spend enough time with any of them.
We are informed that Isidore is a fantastic detective, but we are only ever shown the results of his work because while he is doing is figuring and thinking we are following Jean. And we are shown that Jean is a fantastic thief, brilliant, even, but we really only see the results of his plots and plans because we are following Isidore as that is happening. This makes it feel as though Isidore does his detective work by pulling the solutions from his cap and that Jean has no real plan going at all, he's just able to pull things off because the author wants him to.
Given more space, the characters and their actions could have been fleshed out. The pacing would not be half as breakneck, but slowing it down would be a positive thing. The speed of it turns problematic as the novel comes to a head--turning things into a confusing, chaotic mess that forced me to go back and reread passages that still made no sense the second or even third time around.
At this point, it may be hard to believe that there are aspects of the book that I thought were positive, but there are. I was impressed by the setting, which was well realized and presented a number of cultures, some of which were entrenched in the familiar while still remaining alien. One of these is derived from our modern MMORPG culture, which, at some point in this far-flung future, split off to become their own race. Another, the population of the Martian Oubliette, is obsessed with privacy to the point that they can cut themselves off from each other using Gevulot, a privacy protocol that can shroud them in an obscuring fog, as well as share memories.
The ideas, despite being lobbed at us, are not exactly the hard science fiction that has been claimed elsewhere, in fact they tend to move in the opposite direction. The technology is varying and versatile, just the sort you would imagine from the likes of a far future science fiction story, but it is more interesting because it conforms in every way to Clarke's third law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." The Quantum Thief's setting is so technologically advanced that one could say that it has more in common with your typical fantasy novel than your average science fiction novel. There's magic, gods, and even a race that lives for battle. One might take notice of another race, which inhabits a frigid planet, has evolved the ability to fly, and may inspire comparison to the Norse Valkyrie.
The prose is serviceable, certainly not the best that I've read, but not close to the worst. Both first and third person perspectives are used and this was pulled off rather well, differentiating point of view chapters. I have no complaints about the characterization, though I would have preferred more time with each of the characters.
If a few pages were added, some explanations thrown here and there, and the pacing was slowed down a little, The Quantum Thief could be a much better novel. As it is, the novel is a middle of the road affair that fails to live up to its potential. The next book in the series could balance the scales and even tip them in the right direction, but I am on the fence as to whether or not I am willing to continue on. I'm not sure I could recommend this to anyone, even the most hardcore science fiction fans... if they haven't already heard about it.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Some of Gene Wolfe's works make more sense than this...,
This review is from: The Quantum Thief (Hardcover)With every work of fantastical fiction, we encounter new words that have been created by the author, to represent the ideas - the concepts, the technology, the political groups et. al. with which the author has seeded their work. So there's a period of adjustment while we figure out what means what, until we start to understand how everything fits together and how the world works (from the usually-limited initial perspectives of the characters, at least).
With Quantum Thief, I was building my conceptual framework of how the world works for the first two chapters. Then we jump to two new characters investigating a 'murder'. I put that in quotes because it involves more than just the physical death of a body, but I could not tell you much about what else it did involve beyond 'mind theft'. And I could not bring myself to go on when, a couple pages into chapter 3, I encountered a paragraph with not one or two but FOUR completely new made-up words that are meaningless to me. There was a fifth that was a proper name whose provenance I could not decipher, either. Check it out:
"'When you called me,' Isidore says, 'I didn't think it was just another gogol pirate case.' He tries to sound casual: but it would be rude to completely mask his emotions with gevulot, so he can't stop a note of enthusiasm escaping. This is only the third time he's met the tzaddik in person. Working with one of the Oubliette's honoured vigilantes still feels like a boyhood dream come true. Still, he would not have expected the Gentleman to call him to work on mind theft. Copying of leading Oubliette minds by Sobornost agents and third parties is what the tzaddiks have sworn to prevent."
The entire book is like that, or at least, the parts of it I read.
Yeah, there is some information there. And a few pages later, you get some more info that lends more definition to the words before. But then there are another 5 or 10 new words in the next couple of pages. Understand, I'm not fond of exposition. We did not need exposition in Star Wars to know what a lightsabre was - it's a finite-length super-powerful laser with a handle. We don't need to know how it works, we just need to know what it does. The point is that it is possible, and in fact desirable, to communicate to the audience what the new concepts of the author's are, albeit without exposition. Because otherwise the reader or watcher will get bored and quit reading or walk out of the movie, which is the ultimate failure of communication of a work of fiction.
I have had books grab me from the first chapter, the first page, even the first line - "The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts." "The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed." The first two chapters of Quantum Thief were cohesive enough that I got through them, but then the author lost me. The books I have put down and not finished number around a dozen; ones I have put down less than 50 pages in are few and far between, but QT is one of them. For comparison, Shadow and Claw by Gene Wolfe was more cohesive and made more sense. I even like hard sci-fi, so it wasn't the genre.
I gave this two starts instead of one, because I can tell that the author's prose in and of itself doesn't suck.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to Write Hard Science Fiction by Gene Wolfe,
This review is from: The Quantum Thief (Hardcover)The Good: Blows the top off of your f***in skull.
I switched to short fiction reviews because I am not good at summarizing the merits (or lack thereof) an entire novel. Sometimes, however, a novel comes along that is so satisfying, so progressive, that I would have my Speculicensure revoked if I didn't at least attempt to review it. Of course, The Quantum Thief is one of those books.
Basic summary: Legendary criminal Jean le Flambeur is busted out of prison by an Oortian transhuman monk-warrior woman to complete a heist on the Oubliette, the massive moving city of Mars. There are many other plotlines and character arcs, but I honestly wouldn't be able to sum it all up in under 2000 words.
Hannu flings you through an antiquated gauss canon into his far future, posttranshuman world of immortality, quantum engineering, and game theory. Hardly a word is wasted on exposition. You either infer what a q-gun, computronium, metacortex, gogol pirate is, or you become lost in a sea hermeneutics. This has been a sticking point with many readers of this novel. Science fiction has coddled the reader with entire chapters of exposition and explanation (I'm looking at you reanimated corpse of Arthur Clarke) for neigh on a hundred years. That's what readers of SF have come to know, expect, even enjoy. However, Hannu writes SF as it should be. The world he creates is so rich, and the jargon so pervasive, that I felt the history of the world. I felt how these devises, belief systems, organisms developed over the untold years. The only way Hannu could have accomplished this iceberg world is by not explaining the technology, and this is how I was taught to write. If the characters need no explanation of a device/land/person/event then it makes no sense to include it in the story.
Another great thing Hannu does is have every action forward either the plot or a character, and usually both. Like the story contained within, the structure of the book is a puzzle. If a single piece is out-of-place or removed, the puzzle can never be whole. This emphasis on sparsity gives the book a pace like no other I've read. It isn't frenetic, but it has so much momentum that it is hard to put it down.
Character is paramount to the story, which is a rare treat indeed in a hard SF book. Without the heavy personalities, layered histories, unclear motives, and constant evolution of the characters, the plot would fail, and this book would follow.
Hannu is the shot of adrenaline to the heart of science fiction that the genre needed. I've never been one to say the genre is "dying" but it has been stagnating. Writers like Jason Sanford have tried to infuse some originality back into the field by warping and bastardizing its fuzzy bastions, and his stories are some of the most entertaining of recent memory, but they aren't SF in the traditional sense. Hannu writes SF that is internally consistent, scientifically rigorous, and jaw-dropping. This is where SF needs to go in the near future. Sensawunda bleeds from this book.
The Bad: Needs to be read in as few sessions as possible.
Because this book is so complex and fast, it needs to be read in as few sessions as possible for full effect. A day without reading at least fifty pages will make you forget crucial details and plot points, especially with the changing viewpoint characters and points of view.
This novel will win the Nebula next year. It has to for science fiction's sake.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars You'll Love It or Hate It,
This review is from: The Quantum Thief (Hardcover)
I can't say which of these categories "The Quantum Thief" falls into, as it's one of those books that you will absolutely love or completely hate. I don't think there will be a lot of intermediate opinions. It's billed as a scifi debut, and it is; but it's far from the ordinary. If you're a fan of so-called "hard" scifi, a la Ben Bova or even Peter Hamilton, you won't care much for this book. Strangely, the book does contain a noteworthy amount of "hard" science, but it's wrapped within a sort of fantasy-whimsy shell. The science is almost completely unexplained and if you don't have scientific training or familiarity, it may be problematical; and the overall feel is very unlike traditional scifi.
There is a story and plot line of sorts, but it's mostly a series of sketches, incidents, and self-contained short episodes. In that sense, it's not a traditional novel, either. It's a little like some of the scifi from decades back which relied on the "gee whiz" factor to cover the lack of plot. But here it isn't "gee whiz" in the sense of abounding wonders, but in the sense of flowing, image-rich prose, which apparently is intended to largely stand on its own. Does it succeed? Again, it depends on whether you like this sort of thing.
The book is written in a combination of first and third person, and just about completely in the present tense. These stylistic choices suit the book very well; the sustained present tense perspective definitely gives the book a very particular character and feeling.
There is no doubt that the author is a talented writer. This novel shows the author's prose abilities, world-building skills, and to a lesser extent, character creation skills. Plotting, story-telling, and related arts take a back seat. Two sequels are promised, and if you like this book, you'll surely want to read them.
A book of this type is often described as "a romp," "a humorous blend of scifi and fantasy," or other similar phrases. Personally, I found it almost impossible to read, but then, I'm not a fan of this style. You may well be, and you may love the book. But it's certain that you won't be neutral about it.
152 of 209 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Way over hyped debut,
This review is from: The Quantum Thief (Kindle Edition)I will call a spade a spade and tell you this is overhyped rubbish. I read a lot of sci-fi and saw much gushing and praise about this debut on the sci-fi blogs. So let me describe to you what this book is...... imagine Morgan or Gibson at their most futuristic craziest, writing a bugs bunny cartoon, while everybody is on acid. You think I am joking? Think again.
Hannu Rajaniemi is kind of like Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory tv show. Apparently in real life he was a quantum physicist or something like that, and he displays all the storytelling and thinking skills of the fictional Sheldon Cooper.
It's all about being very clever, very intelligent, dazzling concepts one after the other, with complex language. It is not hard science, but more like a cartoon in an alternate fantasy reality. This is not grounded at all. There is a complete lack of any story or coherence or even interest in what is going on with the characters.
After reading the other reviews on Amazon I noticed nobody really enjoyed the book, they are just giving it 4-5 stars for zanyness and originality. So that is why I am giving this harsh review, to let people know what they are really in for. This sort of writing would work better as a short story, and that is all this book really is, multiple high concept short story ideas stitched together and called a novel. In fairness I will say that Hanni Rajaniemi has the most brilliant and creative mind probably ever seen in sci-fi, but that does not translate into an enjoyable book. This is just too over the top.
I recommend you go read Kevin J Anderson if you want good sci-fi......just kidding. So you know where I am coming from my respected and favourite sci-fi authors are Alastair Reynolds and Richard Morgan.
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The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi (Hardcover - May 10, 2011)