I think this is likely to become a sci-fi classic. Considering that it's also the first published work by Hannu Rajaniemi, that is pretty impressive.
I have to admit that, for the first chapter or so, I thought this was just going to be another techno-geek gadgetfest but I was definitely wrong. Like another reviewer, I found the start pretty confusing as the author does not give you much of a chance to get to grips with his terminology, with the result that I was left floundering about but hanging in there; a feeling I'm used to after reading a lot of Tricia Sullivan
and C J Cherryh
. And, like those writers, if you bear with it long enough, it starts to come together and repays the effort with interest.
Along the way, the story pays it's dues to it's sci-fi ancestors. I mean, the Quantum Thief - Jean le Flambeur - really reminds me of Harry Harrison's 'Stainless Steel Rat
', while other characters, and even whole scenes, bring to mind Alfred Bester's 'Tiger! Tiger!
' and 'The Demolished Man
However, even the technology has literary and classical references - 'Gogol
' becomes a noun to describe disembodied minds, and that gives rise to 'gogol pirates' as a major theme within the story; the control of privacy and access to memory is central - thus the architecture of the great moving Martian city has classical Greek 'agoras' or public 'places of assembly' built in to it; the use of 'exomemory' brings to mind (but in a rather more subtle way) Richard Morgan's 'Altered Carbon
'; and, of course, there is the nice 'double entendre' of the 'Oubliette' itself. All this, though, comes together in a truly original world.
So, a very well put together world - not just the tech but the whole back story, as we get hints and bits of history of a Kingdom, a Revolution. Then, besides Jean le Flambeur, there is a whole zoo of exotic characters - the multi-talented Raymonde (who reminded me somehow of Robin Wednesbury
), Mieli and her ship Perhonen, Isidore the brilliant young detective and his girlfriend Pixil from a 'zoku' tribe of virtual game players, and the millenniaire Unruh (when Time is a currency, how else to describe the mega-rich?). The variety of characters is also reflected in the narrative - alternating between Jean (first person narrative), Mieli (third person), Isidore (third person) - and the chapter structure too as, occasionally, the chapters are interrupted by 'Interludes'.
That's the tech, the characters and the story structure. But that's just the start. The story itself is wonderful, multi-layered, mind-expanding stuff. It starts off straight-forwardly enough - a prison break for the thief, a mission or perhaps commission, and off he goes. But the way it develops is extraordinary. It becomes clear that all the technology is not simply 'for show' but is central to not just the workings of the world but also to the identities of the characters. The story becomes a shifting palimpsest of memories and all those feelings of Alice
-like disorientation from the beginning of the book return. Hints of realities within realities, virtual and otherwise, leave plenty of room for Hannu Rajaniemi to further investigate his remarkable world.
On top of all that, it is really well written. There are a (very) few odd clunky bits but overall the story flows really well, the imagery is strong, original and powerful.
As I said, I think this is destined to be recognised as a sci-fi classic.