Hannu Rajaniemi's The Quantum Thief garnered rave reviews when it was released in the UK last year. Some went as far as to claim that it was the very best science fiction debuts in years.
Sadly, I never received a review copy of the UK edition, so I relished the opportunity to finally give it a shot when the American version ended up in my mailbox.
And although it is a fun and entertaining read, I felt that far too many of the concepts were underdeveloped in a way that prevented this work from being as memorable as it could have been.
Here's the blurb:
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-turnedsingularity 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.
Rajaniemi's debut is a hard scifi offering, yet it doesn't read like one. It's more of a character driven science fiction book, making it easier to read and more accessible than regualr hard scifi novels. Problem is, we are bombarded by concepts and ideas throughout the book, especially at the beginning. There is obviously much more depth than meets the eye, but the author offers basically no explanation regarding these. Hence, all the concepts that make The Quantum Thief such an interesting and thought-provoking read, turn out to be so underdeveloped as to rob this work of most of what could have made it a great read. It is a good read, mind you.
But I have a feeling that depth was sacrificed for the sake of a fast-moving rhythm. Hence, though The Quantum Thief is a complex and inventive work filled with wonders, the book doesn't hit you with the knockout punch that I expected. Rajaniemi left the door open for various sequels, so here's to hoping that the forthcoming installments will shine some lights of that panoply of concepts and imbue these works with more depth.
Hannu Rajaniemi's storytelling skills are right up there with the best writers of the genre. His witty narrative was reminiscent of Scott Lynch's, making this one a joyride to flip through. The characterization was well-done and focuses on the three main protagonists: Jean, Mieili, and Isidore. Mieil could have used a bit more depth, but the other two principal characters are surprisingly well-drawn.
The Quantum Thief moves at a breakneck pace. On the upside, this means that there is never a dull moment from start to finish. The downside would have to be that depth in regards to worldbuilding and characterization was sacrificed, lessening the impact many of those aspects could and should have had for the sake of a quick rhythm.
In the end, The Quantum Thief is a fun and fast-moving read. But the lack of depth and development prevent this one from living up to its full potential.