Jean le Flambeur is a post-human criminal, mind burglar, confidence artist, and trickster. His origins are shrouded in mystery, but his exploits are known throughout the Heterarchy—from breaking into the vast Zeusbrains of the Inner System to stealing rare Earth antiques from the aristocrats of Mars. Now he’s confined inside the Dilemma Prison, where every day he has to get up and kill himself before his other self can kill him. Rescued by the mysterious Mieli and her flirtatious spacecraft, Jean is taken to the Oubliette, the Moving City of Mars, where time is currency, memories are treasures, and a moon-turned-singularity lights the night.
What Mieli offers is the chance to win back his freedom and the powers of his old self—in exchange for finishing the one heist he never quite managed. As Jean undertakes a series of capers on behalf of Mieli and her mysterious masters, elsewhere in the Oubliette, investigator Isidore Beautrelet is called in to investigate the murder of a chocolatier, and finds himself on the trail of an arch-criminal, a man named le Flambeur….
The Quantum Thief is a crazy joyride through the solar system several centuries hence, a world of marching cities, ubiquitous public-key encryption, people communicating by sharing memories, and a race of hyper-advanced humans who originated as MMORPG guild members. But for all its wonders, it is also a story powered by very human motives of betrayal, revenge, and jealousy. It is a stunning debut.
©2010 Hanni Rajaniemi (P)2011 Macmillan Audio
"He's spectacularly delivered on the promise that this is likely the more important debut SF novel we'll see this year." (LOCUS)
Audible is my key to fitting my science fiction and fantasy pleasure reading into my schedule, so that's what you'll see me review here!
The Quantum Thief is a post-singularity SF novel, meaning it takes place in a future where the line between man and machine has blurred and things like memory uploads, microcomputers in the brain, and functional immortality can exist. Rajaniemi starts out this book by showing more than he tells, presenting the world of Jean Le Flambeur as he would tell it with little consideration for how little we understand of that world. Consequently, the first two hours or so of the book were utterly confusing. I had no idea what was going on, and I had lots of problems just visualizing the scenes and the environment. I began to worry that the whole novel would be told as a series of sense impressions.
A bit later, however, the writing style moves away from that extreme show-don't-tell style and it presents itself itself with detailed, character-driven scenes that caught me by surprise and delighted me to the end. The amount of detail Rajaniemi applies to his fictional future is staggering, and it's all presented in a coherent and enjoyable ride filled with enough action, intrigue, and general sensawunada to keep any SF fan happy. After having read it, I'm kind of surprised it didn't make the cut for the Hugo, if that tells you anything about how much I liked it. It's smart, and once you get into it you find it's got some panache with the way it incorporates technology, bits from contemporary culture, symbolism and tropes from literature, and homages to SF.
Charles Stross, another favorite of mine (and who writes a praising blurb on the book jacket of Quantum Thief) described Rajaniemi as "if you dropped Greg Egan's hard physics chops into a rebooted Finnish version of Al[astair] Reynolds with the writing talent of a Ted Chiang you'd begin to get a rough approximation of the scale of his talent." I find myself whole-heartedly agreeing with this estimation. I started off confused and annoyed with this one, and ended feeling like I could listen to it again and chomping at the bit for the next book in the trilogy. This was my first experience listening to Scott Brick as a narrator, and I think he did a pretty great job with it. Although at times he reminds me of Jonathan Davis in that moody, cloudy-day speech style of his (which can get a little old after a while), he performed the book instead of just reading it.
I'm a voracious audiobibliophile, mainly interested in speculative fiction, with the occasional mimetic fiction or non-fiction title sneaking in.
Rajaniemi throws a jumbled world at you and it sticks. Brick has never been one of my true favorites, but his competence and clarity help make a little sense, and his slower pace keep you from falling behind. I still might quibble on the casting, but The Quantum Thief does a lot of things well: non-stop action; semi-hard sf (it's hard sf but without the explanation, if that makes sense; as a security software engineer by day, I found the descriptions quite plausible for future privacy software and avatar interaction); but at its heart this is a heist novel. A strange (almost surreal) wall of new technology permeates the story, and we don't really stop for a breath or explanation. In the audio, character POV jumps are just one step too confusing for comfort without a few more clues -- still, as challenges go, The Quantum Thief is worth stepping up to consider and take on. Either way -- confused or exhilarated -- there's something to get out of this book.
The Quantum Thief is a brilliant novel, but I'm only giving it three stars. My rating is slightly unfair, so let me explain.
I generally rate books according to how good I thought they were (inasmuch as "good" can be objectively evaluated), and how much I enjoyed them; these two factors are usually closely related, but not always. The Quantum Thief, as many other reviews make clear, is an idea-dense novel. Right from the first chapter, you get terms flung at you without explanation: oubliette, Gevulot, gogol, Tzaddikim, Sobornost, etc. This is a transhumanist sci-fi novel where people and Artificial Intelligences coexist in a solar system where the human mind has been engineered and colonized as thoroughly as the inner planets. The plot involves all sorts of wheels-within-wheels conspiracies going back to the origins of the post-human societies presented here, and Rajaniemi doesn't do a lot of exposition.
I listened to The Quantum Thief as an audiobook. I usually listen to audiobooks while I am driving or working out. In other words, my mind is not always 100% on the narration, and I can miss a bit here and there. So books where you have to pay attention to every single sentence or you might miss something important really aren't a good choice for me as an audiobook, and The Quantum Thief is such a book. I had to go back and Wikipedia it to figure out half the story I missed.
So there it is — I'd probably have liked it a lot more if I'd read it in print form. But what I did get out of it was brilliant, full of awesome tech and plots. The protagonist, Jean le Flambeur, begins the first chapter in a Dilemma Prison, which is the ultimate application of Game Theory. He's broken out by a beautiful winged warrior named Mieli with a sentient ship named Perhonen. Mieli needs Jean to do a little job for her. She doesn't trust him, with good reason, and the banter and the tension between them kept things interesting throughout the book. Jean le Flambeur, of course, is one of those master criminals with a sense of honor that you just know is going to end up being his undoing, as does he.
The second protagonist is Isidore Beautrelet, who begins the book investigating the murder of a chocolatier. Isidore is one of those obsessive Javert-like detectives who just can't let things go, though he's got his own personal problems.
Everything eventually weaves together in a way that probably made sense to someone who was more focused on the story than I was. There were certainly some awesome moments, though, and the writing is stylish and hip hard SF with a cyberpunk edge. Someday I may try this book again at more leisure and see if I am more captivated. So, 4 stars for being a cool setting and story in a universe that will appeal to fans of Alastair Reynolds or Charles Stross, 3 stars for not giving the lazy reader(listener) any breaks.
Yes, Scott Brick did a magnificent job. His voice and presentation fit perfectly with this world. It sounded as if Dr. Manhattan was reading it, his voice was just what I would expect from this world of the Oubliette.
This book has some similarities to the Commonwealth Saga (Pandora's Star is the first, by Peter F. Hamilton). In that it has very high technology, post-human scheming using thoughts and abilities beyond 'normal' humans.
The way he read made it sound like Jean Le Flambeur was actually talking to me.
I never laughed or cried, but it did make me pause the audiobook at times to reflect on what had just been said, and attempt to decipher the small clues thrown in.
Can't speak higher on Scott Brick's performance, get the book to hear his narration!
I really wanted to like this book more, and parts of it were quite entertaining. And I get that the author wanted to make you figure out all his terminology through context rather than exposition, but frankly it just made it too challenging of a listen to be fun. It probably wasn't until nearly the end of the book that I had most of the terms down well enough to understand what was going on. Not all exposition is bad, this book could use more.
Suzanne Collins has written several books that might appeal to the sensibilities of the negative reviewers... I'll bet they can even follow the plot on those.
For anyone who loves that rarest of science fiction treasures, a complex and fascinating tale couched in prose that shows genuine competence with the written language, stop here.
unique book, a bit confusing
If u dont really like scott brick..dont read this..its hard enough to follow the story if you like him (I do)
not for everyone
very interesting nano-tech notions
and the quantum stuff is delicious
The start is horrible, I had no idea what's going on and he doesn't help explaining. Then you get to a ship somehow (not explained) . this book could use a world setting or back ground chapter before all the confusing stuff happens
I picked this book because Scott Brick is the voice actor and I loved him in Atlas Shrugged but this book is impossible to follow as an audio book since it has too many elements of a universe that we have no previous reference of.
If I had a book group, I suspect we could pull a lot out of this book. I did Torah study for many years and, given time and intelligent friends, you can have a lot of good thoughts based on obscure prose. But, as with the Torah, it's not very much fun to simply read.
If you are not going to study this book, read, re-read and think long and hard about the themes, characters, etc (hint, the color blue definitely means something; I don't know what, but it's mentioned very significantly), then don't bother.
That said, inch by endless inch, it's a pretty cool book. I'm pretty sure that he has fabricated a really interesting world. It's just that it's too hard to figure out.
And too long. And completely unsatisfying. GAK!!
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