I need to start off talking about The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi by saying this book has a huge learning curve. Holy crap it’s huge.
The quick version of what’s going on… Jean le Flambeur is a thief. Every morning he has to kill a copy of himself so he can get on with his life. He gets busted out of his “kill your self in the cell next door” prison by Meili and her sentient spaceship. They’re off to Mars and Oubliette, a city that moves around the planet with some crazy privacy laws. With a detective on his tail, Jean has to steal something from someone who knows all his moves…. himself (dun dun DUUUUN!)
So that doesn’t sound too bad does it? Well lets have some background on our author, Hannu Rajaniemi. He’s from Finland but lives in Scotland and writes in English so the language itself doesn’t have any translation issues. Rajaniemi has a full on PhD in Mathematical Physics. His day job is running a math guy think tank. I read Discover magazine so I’ve got an awareness of things like quantum entanglement and some of that stuff where science and philosophy get all fuzzy and the learning curve was still pretty damn steep. The jargon and tech is very intimidating in the opening chapters. Early on with Jean’s quantum prison face off, the book reminded me a lot of the 60s and 70s New Wave science fiction and early Zelazny which can get pretty dense. I actually had to give myself a target page number, one of those “If it doesn’t hook me by page” whatever deals. Ironically, it was about three pages later it got me. I won’t ruin the surprise, but the zoku enclave is awesome.
Once you get used to the jargon and tech of The Quantum Thief it really starts to pick up as a futuristic caper story. Jean is pretty dashing as the thief with Meili reining him him, figuratively and literally. Isidore is the detective that gets sucked into the whole mess. There vigilantes and a Martian underground set in an truly unique backdrop. That’s not something I say idly having read a lot and seen a lot of futuristic literary worlds. The privacy laws engrained into Oubilette creates unique interactions between people.
But at it’s heart under all that is a cop vs robber kind of tale. This is set to be the first of a trilogy, I think the second is out in the UK already but don’t quote me on that, and I’m interested in seeing where this goes. They kind of got distracted from what I thought they were going to be doing. But the proper plot strings of this book get wrapped up in a satisfying way while leaving the requisite room for the next book. Jean and Isidore have character growth going for them. Meili has some but I get the distinct impression that she’ll have more of a focus in the next book so I wasn’t bothered by this.
There was actually a Book Throwing Moment towards the end during the height of the caper. I also love that the cover was pulled from a scene in the book itself and I found it. It’s a pretty awesome cover and an equally awesome scene. I would highly recommend giving this book a shot and if you get stuck, keep having at it for a few more pages and give it another shot. Also, get a primer in quantum mechanics.
Next up, another Tobias Buckell book, this time Sly Mongoose.