The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi

Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by Werthead, May 27, 2010.

  1. Werthead

    Werthead Registered User

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    Jean le Flambeur gets up one morning and has to kill himself before his other self can kill him. Just another day in the Dilemma Prison. Rescued by the mysterious Mieli and her flirtatious spacecraft, Jean is taken to the Oubliette, the Moving City of Mars, to take part in crime and also to expose the secrets of his past, which have been lost on that planet lit by a moon-turned-singularity where time is a currency and memories are a treasure. Meanwhile, investigator Isidore Beautrelet, called in to investigate the murder of a chocolatier, becomes embroiled in shadowy conspiracies and finds himself on the trail of an arch-criminal, a man name le Flambeur...

    The Quantum Thief is the debut novel by Finnish author (but Scottish-resident) Hannu Rajaniemi and has been heavily trailed as 'the' big SF debut novel of the year. These accounts are correct. The Quantum Thief is a crazy joyride through Mars several centuries hence, a world of marching cities, people communicating by sharing memories and a race of hyper-advanced humans who originated as MMORPG guild members. It's the sort of book you'd get if Scott Lynch and Greg Egan teamed up, with the character and black humour approach of the former mixed in with the hardcore physics of the latter. It's at the harder end of hard SF, but is reasonably approachable by those without a degree in quantum entanglement, even if some sort of glossary to distinguish the tzaddiks from the Sobornosts might have been handy for the first few chapters. The opening feels like you're being machine-gunned with concepts and ideas, but once you manage to pause for breath and sort everything out, the story falls into place quite nicely.

    Despite the hard scientific concepts being flung around, the book is character-focused with Jean, Mieli and Isidore as the primary protagonists. They are all well-drawn with some depth to them, impressive given that in their world memories and personality traits aren't always what they first appear. The story unfolds briskly (whilst the final layout means that the book will come in at 400 pages, the ARC is a modest 260 pages in length) with barely a pause for breath, the plot is gripping, the ideas complex but thought-provoking, and there are all the requisite shocking revelations and intriguing plot twists you could wish for. The only negative that comes to mind is a late-book revelation that feels like it could be somewhat cheesy, but in execution is actually perfectly acceptable.

    The Quantum Thief is (*****) is a bravura debut novel, a confident and accomplished work that reinvigorates the genre. It is easily the best SF debut since Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon. The novel will be published in the UK on 30 September 2010, but has no US publisher as yet.
     
  2. suciul

    suciul Read interesting books

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    While it's a bit of quibbling, but Golden Age appeared two months or so after Altered Carbon at least as Wikipedia goes and I do not think there has been a sf debut as amazing as that one at least as inventiveness and sense of wonder goes in recent memory

    While it's less well known and it's quite dense and ambitious packing 1000 pages worth of stuff in 400 and doing it well, Gary Gibson's debut Angel Stations (2004) is considerably better than Altered Carbon as sf-nal qualities go

    This being said I am eager to read The Quantum Thief and I have very high expectations since I agree that a new sense of wonder voice in sf is quite welcome
     
  3. Highgarden22

    Highgarden22 Registered User

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    Hannu posted on Twitter that The Quantum Thief is the first book of a trilogy.

    I'm looking forward to this one, and am thrilled to hear that he has signed a U.S. deal for the trilogy.
     
  4. suciul

    suciul Read interesting books

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    Finished the book and the author's short stories give a good preview of this in some ways, so while the early reviews made me think it will be better, it was pretty mediocre in many ways.

    massively over-hyped debut that has mediocre writing and over-reliance on gadgetry, becoming basically "my magic is bigger than yours" and having a destined boy to boot (all done sf-nally true but in consequences as close to magic as to make little difference except in jargon, including the noble blood/ok genetic factors but same stuff different disguise).

    As comparisons go, this is so far from the great prose of RK Morgan to make it a ridiculous comparison, while in content Liz Williams Solar System novels (Banner Souls, Winterstrike) are more interesting and engaging and better written; a B for its goodies and the ending is interesting enough so i will check the sequel, but unless the author shows he can write fiction and not only gadgetry I am afraid this series will go on my dropped list soon
     
  5. Werthead

    Werthead Registered User

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    The reception to The Quantum Thief has been pretty impressive across the board. Stross and Clute have it glowing reviews, it's gotten top scores from SFX and SciFi Now, and most of the other review sites have given it top marks. Really good to see a decent, quality SF debut getting such good coverage.

    And I'm not sure someone who, apparently sober, said that The Left Hand of God was a good book is in any position to call another reviewer's opinion 'ridiculous' ;)
     
  6. suciul

    suciul Read interesting books

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    Left Hand of God has narrative energy as does Altered Carbon, while The Quantum Thief does not - you just compare how RK Morgan treats 'resleeving" and all the little details, how this new body feels right, wrong, how others feel, vs here where "new body, bah" - that just freezes my suspension of disbelief;

    Same with multiple personalities - having copyable personalities (of limited not godlike people) already opens a can of worms and I think that it ultimately leads to MorningLightMountain philosophy from The Commonwealth (exterminate everyone else, copy yourself everywhere) which incidentally is shared by the villain of the Metaplanetary series - so unless specific enforced restrictions are explicitly shown (Culture and the godlike AI's, the strong enforcement against copying in RK Morgan....) it's hard to buy the society the author describes

    As for the appeal to authority, well that's why I started reviewing to get away from that; i remember the the early 90's when i was groping my way seriously through sf with the Trillion Year Spree encyclopedia and the few reviews in Asimov's and the like and thought wtf is this review when this book reads to me completely different - now there is a flowering of opinions and that's much better

    The only thing I am sorry is "ridiculous" but that to me that was referring to the prose qualities of the two books (Morgan and Rajaniemi) since they are wildly different, though I agree they share some themes As mentioned also The Golden Age by JC Wright shares lots of themes with TQF (erasure of collective memories, age of mentality, evolved intelligences as "gods" with superpowers like Pellegrini here...) and I thought its ornate baroque like prose worked in a way the mostly light prose here did not...
     
  7. Andols

    Andols I like stories

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    Great, now I have to read it.
     
  8. suciul

    suciul Read interesting books

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    Some more things to think when reading TQThief (and similarly themed books like The Golden Age trilogy) - what does it mean for "there are a million of you out there" ? Even when there are two like in twins and there is great drama, casually tossing millions of a "person" as a matter of fact is something that should strongly influence a society...

    What about collective erasure of memory? To me that's close to solipsism but I can buy it with the right explanations (see Geosynchron, The Golden Age, even in fantasy the 6th Kushiel novel); here it is just bam-bam, plot device

    And of course the "my magic is bigger than yours" - not that the battles in TQF are not cool, but it was like reading a fantasy with q-thingies tossed around like the force from the magic wands; again that's fine if that what you aim for but TQThief was "sold" as "serious" sf and that is where the rub of the matter is.

    If I look at the book as fun and sort of smart but "light and turn your brain away and enjoy the ride", yes maybe I would rate it higher, but as 'sf to think about", not really
     
  9. Werthead

    Werthead Registered User

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    As well as astonishingly, mind-numbingly awful prose and ideas ripped off from vastly superior sources.

    Next time you write a review, review the book and don't try to score points off other reviewers. It might help your credibility.
     
  10. suciul

    suciul Read interesting books

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    If the gods of publishing decree a book is superior, it must be superior after all; I saw the hype and i just do not buy it and i explained why in the previous points; i can quote from the book (it's the beginning so not really a spoiler)

    "Trust me, you are out. It required considerable expense. Of course, there are still several million of you in the Prison, so consider yourself lucky.’"

    i would like to know how having millions of "oneself" - even the possibility of such - impacts society; same with collective erasure of memory; the novel uses both as plot points without giving a thought about implications and to me these are such important things in determining how a society is organized that it destroys a lot from the credibility of the novel.

    consider how Rk Morgan deals with the two Kovacs at the end of Altered carbon and how much emphasis is put on the resolution of that thorny issue, as opposed to the cavalier attitude here...

    As for TLoG, I stand by my review since I really loved that book and i put my money where my review is since I imported a finished a copy of that one from the UK, though i had an arc that I passed on to others (bought a copy of TQThief for that matter, but that's neither here nor there since I tend to make no distinction of how I got a book except for timeliness of the review - I still review whatever takes my fancy from sff to literary novels)

    And for "credibility", as mentioned I have been fed up with that for a long time since the "gatekeeper reviews only" of the 90's and I can quote you lots of recent suck-up reviews from the little circles (author reviews author reviews previous author and so on; or wannabe get-into-the-small approved list of reviewers sucks up to gate author with "important novel of the century .... it has the potential to be to the 21st century what Julie and Pamela were to the 18th " that made me laugh out loud) but I could not care less; I tend to say it the way i see it and I give no fig about credibility since I have no interest in conventions (never been to one, unlikely I will ever go since i have no interest), publisher parties (never been to one, unlikely I will ever go), and I am very wary even about email discussion with authors since nothing skews one's opinion more than to know someone personally...
     
  11. Rob B

    Rob B \m/ BEER \m/ Staff Member

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    Alright Liviu and Adam, you are both better than resorting to a pissing match.

    On the other hand, it is funny how readers tastes can align so closely with certain writers/books and vary so wide with others.
     
  12. Werthead

    Werthead Registered User

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    The only thing I can say to that is that if someone's going to take pot-shots at me, they're going to get a full broadside in return. If you're going to make snide comments, you have to be prepared for the consequences. If you aren't, don't make them in the first place.
     
  13. suciul

    suciul Read interesting books

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    I apologized for the "ridiculous" comparison with R. Morgan from the original post, but you are not the only to have made it: "The most exciting SF debut of the last five years - a star to stand alongside Alastair Reynolds and Richard Morgan." are from the Orion Books website, so I hope I can refer to them as ridiculous (imho); not that there is not the potential from the author since after all I liked the book, found it fun to a large extent, but light not "serious" in the vein of Altered carbon and I explained why with textual references.

    So again, no quarrel with you, just with all this throwing around of hype which in this case I do not think justified (yet) - the potential is there but look say at the Plenty books by Colin Greenland and how they were once said to be the future of sf (and they were fun but light) and now i am curious how many people have heard of them or read at least some, while a book like Use of Weapons from the same period is still with us so to speak..

    Future will decide where TQThief will go...
     
  14. Werthead

    Werthead Registered User

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    Fair enough.

    I actually have a copy of the first Plenty book sitting unread and you're right, they were huge at the time and little-remembered now. In fact Colin Greenland is better known now as being Mr. Suzanna Clarke, which is possibly a little unfair. Going to get round to reading it sometime.
     
  15. suciul

    suciul Read interesting books

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    I read at least two Plenty books in the 90's, maybe all 3 and i liked them but mostly forgot them, though I remember some scenes since they were striking;

    One more recent example of 'exotic hard sf" that I did not hear too much after a big launch is The Collapsium by Will mcCarthy (and sequels); this one I did not really like for its writing style but again it may be of interest for people looking for that
     
  16. DurzoBlint

    DurzoBlint http://tinyurl.com/363ogv

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    I just finished this book the other night. I figured with all the hype surrounding it that even at its worst the book would at least be decent. Not the case, the first third was confusing and left unexplained. The next two thirds were boring and what little I could glean from it I found obvious. If this is the first in a trilogy I am going to have to pass on the rest of the series.

    What little action found in the book was over in mere seconds and regardless of the outcome, I found I did not care as the characters were so two dimensional and lame. I am left feeling very disappointed.
     
  17. Rob B

    Rob B \m/ BEER \m/ Staff Member

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    I'm about 2/3 into the book right now and I like it a lot. I'm reminded of Iain M. Banks and parts, small parts, remind me a bit of Mark L. Van Name's Jon and Lobo novels. I don't think it will stand up to either of my top two SF reads of the year at this point (Kings of Eternity by Eric Brown and Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey), but I don't know that any SF book this year will stand up to those two
     
  18. pox

    pox Registered User

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    I really enjoyed it. Pretty sure it could have been twice the size and made me happier though, but that's me.
     
  19. Westsiyeed

    Westsiyeed The Fifth Dominion

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    Got about half way through this and stopped, and from what I read I agree with Durzo and Suciul. Too much jargon that wasn't explained enough, from the start the story was an information/technical overload, and the characters were uninteresting. It's almost like the author was trying too hard to make an impact with his first novel (though he did!) but for me it just comes off as a fairly unreadable mess.

    Not my cup of tea!
     
  20. Rob B

    Rob B \m/ BEER \m/ Staff Member

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    I just posted my review and for the most part, I enjoyed the novel and recommend it. The pacing was a bit uneven and the book really, REALLY should have had a glossary of terms.