on 11 February 2012
I agree with one of the other posters; this will probably become a classic. It is well written and highly imaginative, creating an original and yet oddly familiar future setting. Original in that it is refreshingly different to the well trodden space opera genre and is full of new ideas. True they are not all explained in detail and the author could have easily made the book 100-150 pages longer - but would it have been better? I'm not sure it would have been. It was refreshing to not have things explained in detail, scenes set , histories transcribed etc and to be catapulted into this strange and yet in some ways classic ie Martian setting - an almost Golden Age 1950's feel at times! It did feel slightly fragile now and then - but better that than the ponderous doorstops that get churned out all too often in this genre - and it has a welcome and subtle light touch that sets it apart from it's rivals. 4 or 5 stars? I'll give it 4 because I think he can get even better!
The best sci-fi I've read since early Banks' novels. I very much look forward to the next.
on 5 October 2010
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.
on 18 October 2012
This is great Hard-Core Sci-Fi, somewhat of a rarity these days. While reading I found myself trying to compare the authors style with other greats of the Genre. There are elements of Phillip K. Dick, William Gibson, Harry Harrisson and a bit of Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert thrown in. If the author ever reads this I hope he doe not take offence at these comparisons, they are certainly meant as a compliment! And the book itself is unique; I could not imagine any one of the fore-mentioned ever writing this.
Like others, the start of the book is a bit of a slog with science-y sounding buzzwords aplenty and names introduced with no history. As the story develops you gradually grasp some of the universe the author is trying to create, but even by the end I felt there were big gaps in my knowledge. It left a sort of empty feeling, '... what did this mean?', '... how are this group related to that group?' sort of questions.
But persevere and you end up with an excellent sci-fi/cyberpunk novel. The pace starts off slow and gentle but imperceptibly increases to the point where I was reading for two minutes in the car before going into work (sometimes longer much the annoyance of my boss!) just to see what happends next. The characters evolve at the same pace as the novel, becoming fuller and more three-dimensional as the novel progresses. Like another reviewer, I think this will in time become a classic.
But, being a physicist, I had to knock off a star for the bad science in some places, being a physicist. In places it seems the author knows a lot of science buzz-words but without enough understanding to make good use of them. I think with a little more homework, the next novel (or the one after since I think there is already a sequel) could get 5*. I know science fiction has to push the limits of what we know at the moment (the intertia-less drive of EE Doc Smith), but when you fly in the case of current understanding you are on dodgy ground and risk alienating some of your audience. Hopefully with the money he recieves he can afford a trip to CERN or the NIF where I am sure there will be people only too pleased to correct his mistakes.
on 21 March 2012
I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand this book is packed with some brilliant ideas that can fill many books on what future could hold for humankind. What if we are no longer bound by our mortal bodies and that we can simply live forever by uploading our minds and spreading our consciousness across the galaxy? What if we can share our memories and our most intimate information with others as simply as sending an instant message?
However on the other hand, I felt these ideas are wrapped in what is essentially a weak story, one where I never cared about the characters at all. At certain points, the book has the reader buried in so many unfamiliar concepts and terminologies that makes identifying with the characters less of a concern. Maybe the author wanted to keep the story short and snappy and decided to sacrifice depth for a fast-moving pace?
The problem is that the story doesn't guide you by the hand but rather expect you to figure out everything by yourself. I come from a science background so the concepts weren't that hard for me to figure out but at times you just feel so overwhelmed and lost that you want to give up. Luckily there is also a glossary available on Wikipedia. Even with the glossary at hand, I didn't have much idea of what was happening in the story until I was in the final chapters when everything finally clicked and realised what a clever ending this is. I felt my "Eureka" moment came too late and spoiled my enjoyment of the story.
This is a book that will definitely benefit from rereading. By the second or third time, you will already be familiar enough with the concepts and can just focus tackling the story. I will let you know if my opinion changes if I ever decide to reread this book.
The Quantum Thief is a book full of potential but not quite getting there yet. Let's see how the sequel, The Fractal Prince will do when it comes out in September.
Although I would consider myself a fan of science fiction films and fiction, I only read a handful of science fiction novels a year. Around five or so, and those I've liked best in recent years are by writers like Ian MacDonald, Richard Morgan, and Connie Willis. I was drawn to this one partly due to the effusive critical reception it seemed to be getting, and partly because the plot summary invoked a kind of swashbuckling rogue at the center of the plot, and I love rogues as protagonists (think Flashman, think Captain Blood, think the Grey Mouser). So I thought I'd make this one of my few science fiction books of the year -- big mistake.
To be sure, this debut is chock full of interesting ideas, and yet it's entirely unentertaining -- I can't recall the last book that I fell asleep to so many times. The protagonists barely register as characters, and since the consciousness of individuals exist in the book in various iterations of uploads, restores, and copies, it's even harder to become invested in any character's story or development. Meanwhile, the plot is an entirely convoluted caper that is both (A) exceedingly hard to decipher, and (B) ultimately kind of meaningless. The best precis of the book comes from one character's summation on page 293: "An interplanetary thief is building a picotech machine out of the city itself while the cyptarchs take over people's minds to try to destroy the zoku colony to stop the tzaddikim from breaking their power."
Uh...yeah... Maybe part of my problem is that I don't have much of a head for science, and all the stuff in this book about quantum particles and whatnot all just flies over my head. There's a whole ton of singularity, AI, social networking, privacy theories and ideas pumped up on steroids throughout. Sometimes these are really interesting (such as the concept that the Martian economy revolves around time, and once a person's time is all gone, they are turned into a worker drone for a number of years), but most just rattled past me at breakneck speed. I suppose that's the main problem I had -- so many elements were so conceptual that I had a very hard time picturing the setting, the action, and the people in my head. I mean, I generally have no problem with imagination (heck, I played paper and pencil RPGs for a solid 15 years of my life), but this book just never came alive in my head.
So while I really liked concepts such as the Martian social system of perception and memory sharing (you can instinctively fine tune your privacy settings per the situation, you can share a memory you've had with another person or group of people), I never found any stakes to make me care about what was going on. One reviewer really hit the nail on the head by calling it "the most tediously imaginative book in history" -- I'm not sure I would say "in history", but it's certainly the most tediously imaginative book I've read this year. Way too much technobabble and not enough people to care about.
on 25 November 2013
I first read this novel in 2011 and thought it was pretty good at the time, if a little complex in terms of the introduction of terms with no glossary. However, having read it again recently, I have to say that it's a book that definitely improves with the second reading - once terms like gevulot and spimescape are understood from the first time through, the novel hangs together even better than it did before.
The novel is at heart a detective story told on a number of levels. One one hand there is the tale of Jean trying to piece his life, or lives, together, and on the other there is the story of Isidore piecing together his past and the true nature of Oubliette. The pacing is good and the characterisation superior. This is hard sci fi at its best. Yes, the first fifty pages will give the odd "eh?" moment, but persevere and it is its own reward. Read it again and this becomes even more so.
on 8 July 2014
Reading this was like reading "Neuromancer" for the first time in the 80s. Initially it's unsettling as there are plenty of unfamiliar terms - some based on Russian, some Japanese, some quantum physics (as you'd expect) - just thrown out there with no explanation but if you have the patience to relax into not knowing exactly what's going on as you read and don't feel the need to be spoon-fed every little detail then things start to make sense and the characters and story pull you in. It's a process of discovery like all the best world-building sci-fi and if that appeals then I doubt you'll regret starting on 'The Quantum Thief'.
That said, there's plenty of action too with numerous cool but somewhat plausible future weapons on display.
(and if you're not quite patient enough then Wikipedia now has a glossary of most of the terms too)
on 17 May 2013
When I first read the Culture novels of Iain M Banks I didn't understand them, but over the years I have come to love them and prize them as literary gems. I guess I needed to grow-up to appreciate them. I mention this because reading The Quantum Thief it felt like it was happening all over again. It's a complex world with no handbook, but the absorbing characters and the quality of the writing make you want to understand it.
A fast paced mystery with well rounded characters in a complex and absorbing world. Some cool fights with even cooler tech and some sparkles of wit. I look forward to the next one.
on 28 January 2016
I’m not really sure what to think about this one. I’ve been searching for an Iain M. Banks replacement since his death and it’s all been a bit fruitless.
Why do I mention this? Well, this book was recommended to me on this basis.
First, the good. It’s very well written. Not just the vernacular and curious tricks like repetition and disjointed but imaginative and gratifying metaphors that are in abundance, but structurally, too. The tension, reveals and plot are layered on top of each other expertly. There’s no cheap shock or twist, rather, an inevitable but still surprising and satisfying series of conclusions that make the story feel tight and believable, despite its exotic location and characters. Simply, nothing feels forced in at an awkward angle – either character interactions of plot routes. It reads very much as though it was written with a lot of giant storyboards plastered on walls. It’s careful and modulated with extreme skill. This aspect of the book is delightful.
Another great part of this book is the variety of ideas – most of them excellent. There are concepts and consequences of these that light the imagination with possibility, and if they aren’t delved into too deeply in the story, that’s just fine (although one aspect grates, which I will describe later), because it’s a joy to fill in the gaps yourself. Specifically, the writer’s approach to the issue of privacy in an interconnected future is very well thought through and seems entirely plausible, despite the technology required being little different from actual black magic.
However, for all this, there are many faults, and ultimately they are ones that mean I won’t be reading the squeals until well into the future, when I’ve run out of other recommendations to get through.
For all the maturity of the writing style, elsewhere the book reeks of immaturity. References to video games in video game language (epic mounts, achievements etc.) are particularly cringe worthy; Snow Crash is not a book worth trying to emulate.
Another offender is the volume of technobabble. I love a bit of it (I love Star Trek, for instance), but it shouldn’t act as the main narrative structure for entire paragraphs. Sometimes it works, and you find yourself building up a picture made of extremely abstract and insulated shapes and colours, which is fine and good, but more often what the writer is trying to do collapses into itself under the weight of so much, well… babble. In this case, less is definitely more.
Tying into this is the violence. I like violence in certain stories, and this qualifies as one of those. But it’s too much written too gleefully. There are excellent sentences nestled inside over-the-top paragraphs. You can’t keep something high-octane for so long without something to contrast it with. It’s sharp writing with some cool concepts, but when it’s coming at you so relentlessly, it turns into mush.
But, most of all, the story just falls flat at the end. It promises insight but it doesn’t deliver anything much more than a shiny, hi-tech action fest. Which would be fine, but there is something more hidden inside here, which you will glimpse from time to time but never quite grasp with both hands.
Specifically, the book raises some interesting ideas about the commodification of living, in a roundabout way – the way people are developing a desire to ‘log’ every moment of their lives (you don’t go somewhere, you check in on Facebook), but this is done in such an off-hand manner and so quickly moved on from that one starts to wonder if it was even brought up on purpose – so you can well imagine how it’s explored within the book – that is, not at all.
This feels like a missed opportunity rather than a good book, and for that reason I mark it down. The quality is evident but it is just not realised.
on 14 October 2012
This novel created a lot of buzz in 2010 when it first came out, with people citing it as the SF debut of the year, so of course I was curious. I got myself a copy. In true Slow Reader form, I didn't actually read the thing until a year or two later. So, let's see what all the fuss is (was) about then, eh?
The Quantum Thief concerns the exploits of master thief Jean le Flambeur. Imprisoned in the beginning of the story, he is promptly jailbroken by a mysterious warrior lady on behalf of a mysterious employer for mysterious reasons. The official reason, as explained to the thief, is that they require his kleptomaniacal services to steal something from a walking city on Mars, somewhere he lived in a previous life as a master criminal, yet the memories of which are long gone from his mind.
This premise sounds simple, but I assure you the book is not. What strikes you most about this novel is that, on first reading, the language is almost impenetrable. Rajaniemi's style is to avoid info-dumps almost entirely, leaving it up to the reader to keep up and try to figure things out gradually (or with the help of Wikipedia). Much terminology is introduced and used as it would be in the world, a matter of course without need for explanation, but of course this makes for incredibly frustrating reading as one doesn't really understand what the hell's going on. What's a gogol? What's this "exomemory"? Who are the Sobornost? What the hell is happening???
But about half way through, everything clicks.
Once this happens, the book becomes hard to put down. The story, the teased and dense backstory, the gradual drips of information revealing the great mystery behind everything all keep you coming back for more, provided that you've made the effort to understand the concepts that Rajaniemi is attempting to get across. Many interesting themes are covered, such as personal privacy and posthumanism. There is plenty of action and drama. The prose is often inspired and often frustratingly esoteric in equal measure, but a pleasure to read all the time. Rajaniemi has an obvious academic pedigree in science and isn't afraid to use it, making for some perplexing paragraphs for those not quite in the know (including me). Part of the genius of the book is that there is enough plot, action and character (often rare commodities in hard SF novels) to not let the scientific details detract from the reader's enjoyment.
That's not to say that this book isn't challenging. If you want to read it, prepare to be a bit miffed by the first half, but the reward is great if you can stick with it. I would recommend re-reading the first half after you've finished though. I'd give it a 10 out of 10, but I'll take a mark off due to the lack of glossary (I enjoyed the challenge, but still...).
A great read, best I've read in a while.