2012 Sci-Fi Challenge 3 of 7: The Quantum Thief

The Quantum Thief
(The Quantum Thief Trilogy #1)
by Hannu Rajaniemi
First published in 2010

Jean le Flambeur is a post-human criminal, mind burglar, confidence artist and trickster. He is condemned to play endless variations of a game-theoretic riddle in the vast virtual jail of the Axelrod Archons – the Dilemma Prison – against countless copies of himself.

Jean’s routine of death, defection and cooperation is upset by the arrival of Mieli and her spidership, Perhonen. She offers him a chance to win back his freedom and the powers of his old self – in exchange for finishing the one heist he never quite managed…

I actually read this book at the end of September, and have finished another SF challenge book after it. I’m not completely sure if I can get up to seven sci-fi books read this year… but I’ll certainly try.

Now I have to admit that I was a little afraid/hesitant to read The Quantum Thief. I had heard that it was quite hard to understand at times, plus the scary (to me) term ”hard scifi” was thrown around. My fears didn’t come true, though. I found the book entertaining, the characters interesting, and the writing flowing and easy to read. That said, there is an added difficulty level in the writing. Let me try to explain it…

Imagine if you were dropped in to a country where you almost, but not quite completely understand the language – some words are just gibberish to you. You have no idea what the people mean when they make a passing mention to a ”fabber” or a ”gevulot”. Most of these terms are never explained to you, but slowly, slowly, you see patterns emerging and start to make out their meaning from context. This is what reading The Quantum Thief is like. Rajaniemi’s characters mention things in passing, things they don’t explain because those things are utterly everyday for them. Meanwhile the reader learns to just read on, and slowly deciphers the meaning when the book progresses. I have to say that first I found this learning while reading confusing, but then I began to enjoy it. I found it refreshing, something I haven’t met before, although it could be pretty confusing at times.

The characters were well written and interesting to follow. I was perhaps most interested in the detective Isidore, since I liked reading about the world from his point of view. I also enjoyed reading about the other characters, the mischievous Jean, the guarded Mieli, the clever-tongued spider-ship Perhonen and the mysterious tzaddik (in this world, a sort of a P.I./superhero, from what I gather) the Gentleman. I didn’t absolutely love any of the characters, though.

The heist plot was entertaining, if a little convoluted sometimes. There were times when the characters themselves didn’t know what to do next, which led to a lull. I liked many of the world-building ideas, such as using time as currency. But when all is said and done, although the book was entertaining, I wasn’t really invested in it. I was never on the edge of my seat, waiting to find out what would happen next.

The main heist plot was wrapped up well, but, since this is a series, some larger questions were left unanswered. I have to say that I’m a little disappointed by that, mainly because I would’ve preferred a stand-alone. I wasn’t so invested that I would pick up the next book the instant I had the chance (which would be now, since the second book, The Fractal Prince, has been out since September).

I give the Quantum Thief 3,5 stars. It was interesting and entertaining, but I didn’t love it. I might read the continuation some time in the future, but am in no rush to do so.

Favourite character: The spidership, Perhonen. She was such a smartmouth. She was a side character I would’ve liked to read more of.

Next up: The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester, which I’ve already finished.


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