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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Quantum Thief

Hannu Rajaniemi

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To purchase The Quantum Thief

Title: The Quantum Thief
Author: Hannu Rajaniemi
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010
Length: 330 pages
Availability: The Quantum Thief - US
The Quantum Thief - UK
The Quantum Thief - Canada
The Quantum Thief - India
Quantum - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B : elaborate language and ideas, a mix of the spectacular and confounding

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 7/8/2010 James Lovegrove
The Guardian . 11/9/2010 Eric Brown
Locus . 9/2010 Gary K. Wolfe
The Telegraph . 10/3/2010 Peter Ingham

  From the Reviews:
  • "Many an anglophone author would kill to turn out prose half as good as this, especially on their maiden effort. Like Nabokov, Rajaniemi gives the impression of someone approaching English as a child might a dressing-up box full of wonderful costumes. (...) It is, at heart, a noir thriller in cosmic drag. (...) With its jazzy style and hard-bitten protagonist, the novel is reminiscent of the work of Alfred Bester" - James Lovegrove, Financial Times

  • "No précis does real justice to Rajaniemi's unique, post-singularity vision. Nothing is as it is now, and the author makes no concessions to the lazy reader with info-dumps or convenient explanations. Patience is required and rewarded (.....) A brilliant debut" - Eric Brown, The Guardian

  • "Its clear that Rajaniemi feels he has to get a lot done with this widely anticipated first novel, and for the most part he succeeds brilliantly. (...) Rajaniemi is having as much fun with these characters as with his gonzo physics, and by the end of the novel wed be willing to follow them down any of the several sequel-corridors that Rajaniemi gives himself. For now, hes spectacularly delivered on the promise that this is likely the most important debut SF novel well see this year." - Gary K. Wolfe, Locus

  • "Rajaniemi has pulled off brilliantly the elusive trick of making the utterly other seem completely plausible. A masterpiece of intricate, sustained imagining." - Peter Ingham, The Telegraph

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       As its title suggests, The Quantum Thief is a work of fiction that plays with quantum physics, concepts that can be difficult to get a handle on (or are easy to remain vague about) -- which can work both well and to the detriment of story-telling. As it does here.
       The novel begins very impressively, a first person narrative in which the imprisoned Jean le Flambeur describes yet another typical day in the Dilemma Prison where he whiles away -- and repeats -- his days. His punishment is to be a role-player in a constantly repeated set of prisoner's-dilemma exercises: "We play the same game over and over again, in different forms." Often that ends in death -- but, no fear, that just means starting over yet again. The theory is that:

     The Archons change your neural makeup a little bit every time you come back. They claim that eventually Darwin's whetstone will hone any prisoner into a rehabilitated cooperator.
       Le Flambeur apparently still has a way to go, but suddenly finds himself in a new situation, as someone tries to break him out of this prison. Of course, those who help him obtain his freedom want something from him. The next stop is Mars -- and the so-called Oubliette -- and once there le Flambeur comes to realize that the place is more familiar than it should be -- and that: "I must have been an Oubliette citizen, before, at least for some time."
       Not sure of who he was, not sure of what he's being used for, le Flambeur finds he's traded one prisoner's-dilemma game for another. But nevertheless: he's game.
       The novel does not consist solely of le Flambeur's first-person account. There are also 'Interlude' chapters, as well as third-person accounts. Another prominent figure is Isidore, an art-history student with some other talents: "People call me a detective, but it is just problem-solving, really." Le Flambeur turns out to be one of his problems, but not an easy one to solve: there's a cat-and-mouse element to this story, as Isidore tries to investigate what is happening, but there's also a hell of a lot more.
       Rajaniemi's universe is a complex quantized one. The ability to connect on a purely mental level -- to become part of, to varying extents, another's mind -- is among the intriguing ideas presented here, but Rajaniemi heaps a lot more on, too. So, for example, there are scenes where:
     Far above, the ship sends down a burst of exotic weakly interacting particles through the room. The skeletons of the vasilevs ghost in her vision. Her metacortex matches patterns, classifies hidden weapons. Ghostguns. Sobornost weapons, with bullets that take over your mind.
       There are also quantum-encrypted Watches, which (among other things) measure how long Oubliette citizens are allowed to inhabit "baseline human bodies" -- and:
     This is how it works. The exomemory stores data -- all data -- that the Oubliette gathers, the environment, senses, thoughts, everything. The gevulot keeps track of who can access what, in real time. It's not just one public/private key pair, it's a crazy nested hierarchy, a tree of nodes where each branch can only be unlocked by the root node.
       At times, too much of The Quantum Thief can feel like "a crazy nested hierarchy", as Rajaniemi's stylized quantum playfulness leaves everyone (and readers, especially) uncertain about exactly what is going on. Without clear rules -- he adapts his fictional world constantly -- the prisoner's dilemmas, in all their variations, become a bit much. For much of the way -- and especially at the beginning and end -- this is a fun, wild ride. Still, as one of the characters notes late, late in the game:
It has its ups and downs. It is all very confusing. I don't really know what I'm doing.
       Which is not really something you want to hear from a central character, especially near the end of a novel.
       An impressive flight of fancy -- with Rajaniemi caught up as much in using language as science (fiction) -- The Quantum Thief is a slightly too often baffling but nevertheless still rousing read. A bit more development, perhaps a glossary ... and a bit more certainty as to the various concepts, identities, and objectives would have made for an easier and perhaps more easily satisfying read; as is, The Quantum Thief is an occasionally frustrating but still impressive work (and a promising start: look out for the sequels).

- M.A.Orthofer, 5 May 2011

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The Quantum Thief: Reviews: Hannu Rajaniemi: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Finnish (but English-writing) author Hannu Rajaniemi was born in 1978.

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