Tor Books May 2011
Hardcover, 336 pages
Hannu Rajaniemi burst onto the SF scene in 2010 with his debut novel, The Quantum Thief, published by Gollancz in the UK. Fast forward a year later (the time this review was written) and Tor books released the novel to the US market.
The novel opens as our protagonist, Jean le Flambeur con artist and theif, is in the midst of a prison sentence in the Dilemma Prison at the outer reaches of the solar system. Since we likely wouldn’t have a book to read had he not been broken out of prison, that’s just what happens though le Flambeur isn’t set free to do as he wills. His rescuer, a warrior by the name of Miele, indicates he must use his skills as a thief in a mission for her employer. However, since Jean has changed bodies and personalities so many times over the course of his career, he must secure those past memories from the Martian Oubliette where Time is a currency, before fully completing the task Miele sets before him.
In a parallel plotline, a piracy scheme is being uncovered in the Oubliette by detective Isidore Beautrelet. Isidore and le Flambeur’s story intertwine when the recently sprung thief is announced as a crasher to the party Isidore is attending.
The basic framework to the novel seems a rather straight-forward mixture of espionage, thriller, heist, and adventure. That said, the meat attached to those bones is spectacularly science-fictional WOW. Rajaniemi is a mathematician and reading through the novel, I got the sense that Rajaniemi tried to put as much of that science into the story as possible. Thankfully, those SF-nal details are mostly expounded in a readable and interesting manner; and give a new perspective on which to view life, our galaxy and where humanity can go in the future as it achieves that much-fictionalized goal of post-humanity. Some of those SF ideas include an intelligent ship, a virtual prison, life on Mars, telepathy, shared and public memory, and Time as a currency.
Though their stories are quite different, I couldn’t help thinking of Mark L. Van Name’s enjoyable Jon and Lobo novels when the intelligent ship was communicating with the characters. My US copy published by Tor has a great blurb from Charles Stross and at times, Rajaniemi’s story felt similar to some of what I’ve read by Mr. Stross (Saturn’s Children, in particular). Comparisons aside, Rajaniemi is a fresh and exciting new voice in the genre who is greater whole than the sum of the writers plying a similar storytelling trade.
Exciting ideas notwithstanding, the novel isn’t without its flaws. At times, the narrative felt a bit uneven. The first 100 or so pages were supremely readable and flipped past my eyes rather quickly. Though the narrative was strong after, I felt some of the wind was no longer blowing the proverbial sails. I also would have appreciated a glossary of terms identifying the ideas, locations, and character types Rajaniemi seemingly introduced on every other page to help with a more complete understanding of what he was conveying.
In conclusion, I think The Quantum Thief is just the beginning of strange and interesting things to come from Rajaniemi. The scheduled sequel, The Fractal Prince, only confirms this. What’s the more impressive is that Rajaniemi’s native language is not English, though the novel is written in English.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the beautiful cover by Ketai Kotaki adorning this cover. Kotaki has been doing stellar work in recent years and Tor seems to be the beneficiary of some of those great images.
© 2011 Rob H. Bedford