The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi [Book Review]

This is a book that doesn’t serve all the answers on a silver platter; it is also brilliant and fun.  I had high expectations on this one since I first heard the short story His Masters Voice on StarshipSofa.

The Quantum Thief is the first volume in a trilogy about legendary and flamboyant master thief Jean le Flambeur. It starts with a prison break and ends with a cataclysm as Jean sets out to find himself. It’s a world way past singularity where identity, time, memories and even reality are floating things that can be traded. Mieli and her ship Perhonen have a mission for Jean, but they need his full capacity. Jean was stripped of many of his talents and memories in the Dilemma Prison so first they have to get them back. The search takes them to Mars where we meet many interesting characters and concepts before the cataclysmic finale of this first book.

I like books that make me think and this is one of them. It was fun to read, I could not put it down but I had to stop and think at times. The story telling felt very visual. I had very vivid pictures of the moving Martian cities and many of the concepts. It was also fun and fast paced but not in any way cramped.

The many concepts and ideas in this book is mind blowing. I like wow moments and journeys of exploration where you learn the world around the characters and the story. There were plenty of moments like that in the book for me. I am afraid I can’t really tell you about them without spoiling it for you.

The flamboyant master thief Jean le Flambeur lends himself easily to a comparison with Harry Harryson’s Stainless Steel Rat there is even an Angelina of sorts or maybe two in Mika and his former girlfriend.

I got a feeling game-theory will play a central role in the rest of the novels too.

Hannu has really given both the characters and the world a lot of thought beforehand. This is not a run of the mill SF milieu. It feels solid, as solid as quantum physics and virtual reality can make it, and gives me the same feeling I get when I read Tolkien. This is not only a background to a story it has Lore at its core.

I like the way Jean is learning about himself at the same time we do, there is no need for info dumps or background story when the main character doesn’t know himself. Jean is not the only interesting character. There is Isidore, a brilliant detective with a passion for solving mysteries and his post human girlfriend Pixil. Jean’s liberator Mika and the ship she sang Perhonen (I wonder if that is homage to Helva – The Ship Who Sang?) are another two. You will understand why I think a comparison with Angelina is fitting for Mika when you read the book. Anyway, I have this thing for slightly bitchy or bantering ships and Perhonen is adorable.

The Quantum Thief is like a Finnish Tango, it got a strange rhythm to it and it takes you places you never imagined before. It is a great debut novel by Hannu Rajaniemi and probably a future classic.


Title: The Quantum Thief
Series: The Quantum Thief Trilogy 1
Author: Hannu Rajaniemi
Genre: Space Opera
Hardback: 336 pages
Publisher: Gollancz 2010

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 steal their thoughts, to stealing rare Earth antiques from the aristocrats of the Moving Cities of Mars. Except that Jean made one mistake. Now 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 . . .