The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi
Published: Gollancz (Sep 1, 2010)
Posted: Goodreads (Nov 14, 2014)
Edited: Sep 10, 2016
[Edited 9/10/2016 — This is a review of one of the greatest post-singularity science fiction novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading. The novel contains plenty of action and high-tech speculation. A large part of this review was written back in 2014, prior to me claiming the all powerful mantle of “Reviewer.” Tread carefully. There are probably a ton of grammatical mistakes. Although it contains some spoilers, they are no more numerous than those found in the famous Wired write-up of the novel or its official synopsis, so they should be fine!]
(From the official book trailer.)
The Quantum Thief is the beginning of Rajaniemi’s ambitious post-singularity heist trilogy. It’s the story of a super, post-human thief named Jean le Flambeur. Jean has the ability to steal intangible things that are important in a futuristic, high-tech world: in TQT this translates to quantum states and minds! He is, for all intents and purposes, the ultimate hacker.
Interestingly, the author Hannu Rajaniemi studied a quantum physics and possesses and in-depth knowledge of string theory. The series puts the “hard” in hard sci-fi, despite this, the technical concepts present are offset by plenty of adventure and fantasy. Despite what some reviewers claim, this series is easy-to-read and is a masterfully woven science fiction tale. I never found myself confused for very long.
The futuristic universe described in the trilogy is one set in a post-singularity setting. This means that humanity has achieved the ability to transcend physical bodies and live on various planets throughout our Solar System. The universal consensus in which their minds exist is known as the Sobornost: a vast array of uploaded minds that can be exploited by their Founders.
Jean’s new body – given to him by Miele and her shadowy employer – is actually a Sobornost Founder’s creation. Its potential is limitless but Miele keeps tight control over it. Unfortunately there’s another catch: he’s incomplete and broken. TQT recounts Jean’s quest for completion, a sense of self and greater purpose.
In Quantum Thief, we’re introduced to Jean when he’s rescued by a combat-ready winged soldier named Mieli. Mieli is his partner and employer during the series. She rescues Jean from a Dilemma Prison: a crystal clear structure in space that pits your mind against you, requiring you to make impossible decisions only to die an infinite number of times. But the true gem is not the witty and wild rogue Jean, it’s the Oubliette.
The Oubliette – the primary location of Quantum Thief – is a moving city on Mars. Unlike other novels, the city’s currency is Time; each individual possesses a temporal allotment, when one’s Time runs out their minds enter Quiet. Those in Quiet become semi-automatons used to maintain the Oubliette.
But unlike other novels that have similar space-based storylines, Rajaniemi designed a social exchange element that marks The Quantum Thief as one of the most interesting stories I’ve ever read. The gevulot is an asymmetric cryptographic system similar to public key encryption that allows citizens to share what they want about themselves (gevulot requests are handled with a thought and can include the sharing one’s entire past).
One of the coolest things about gevulot is the concept of Agoras. These locations are “public squares” where all information is recorded in exomemory. Elsewhere in the Oubliette, people share what they want including their physical presence! For example, Jean’s antithesis – Isidore Beautrelet, a young investigator – lives in an apartment with another person. Although Isidore can be in the same room as his roommate, he doesn’t actually see her unless she allows for it.
Without giving too much away, Jean goes to the Oubliette in hopes of recovering lost memories of his past. While attempting to restore himself to his former glory, Jean will learn about the city’s power structure all the while trying to evade the clever Isidore Beautrelet. If Jean reading The Crystal Stopper in prison isn’t indication enough, TQT is a post-modern telling of the adventures of Arsene Lupine.
An interesting concept in the novel is that of the Zoku: a group of individuals opposed to the Sobornost. The Zoku are based on MMO guilds; they play in quantum entangled realmspaces (the less equivalent version of Sobornost virs). Their immortality is not from mind uploads or science but through a video game-like parallel. They are the coolest post-modern creation yet. If you enjoy the Zoku in TQT, you’ll love them in the third book in the series entitled The Causal Angel, it focuses on them exclusively.
One of the other cool things about the novel is Mieli’s sapphire ship, Perhonen (“butterfly”), resembling a spider and its web. Each segment is like a teardrop caught in the web-like design surrounding it. The ship itself is actually alive and manifests its personality through butterfly avatars.
While this review gives you the foundation for things you’ll find in TQT and the Jean le Flambeur series, it’s by no means exhaustive. TQT features an awesome story and stellar characters. The target audience is strictly fans of hard science fiction. If you enjoyed the author’s high-tech fantasy short The Server and the Dragon, you’ll probably love this. Enjoy. 5/5