After being busted out of the Dilemma Prison by an Oortian warrior named Mieli, legendary master thief Jean Le Flambeur is taken to the Oubliette, one of the Moving Cities of Mars, and is tasked with the ultimate heist. Opposing him is a brilliant young detective named Isidore Beautrelet. But there is more to each man's quest than meets the eye...
My summary doesn't do the book justice. There are so many ideas crammed in it's slim 331 pages. Before Le Flambeur can even get started on his quest, he has to steal back his old memories. Isidore, on the other hand, has a lot of issues of his own, like his odd relationship with one of the tzaddikim, powerful vigilantes who work to keep the Martians safe from unseen enemies, and an equally odd relationship with his girlfriend.
Before I get any deeper into this review, I have a few things to mention. I bought this book the day it became available and then let it sit on my shelves for almost nine months. The reason was pretty simple: all the reviews I read mentioned that Hannu Rajaniemi throws the reader into the deep end of the pool. He doesn't explain a lot of his concepts, leading the reader to decipher the meaning of words like 'blink, gevulot, quplink, exomemory, and many others, soley by context. Having read both John C. Wright's Golden Age trilogy and Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun in 2011, I was a little apprehensive. Should I have been?
No! While it takes a little getting used to, I felt The Quantum Thief was easier to understand than either of the earlier works I mentioned. It's written in a breezy style reminiscent of Maurice LeBlanc's Arsene Lupin, a work that this one owes a great debt to. Not only is Jean Le Flambeur based on Lupin, Lupin is even mentioned in the text.
Where was I? Oh, yes. The world Rajanieme creates is a very interesting one. While the author used the Lupin tales as a blueprint, it feels like he fleshed out his creation with bits pilfered from books like Hyperion, The Golden Age, Neuromancer, and many others, welding them all together with his background in quantum physics. This is one of those books that has so many big ideas flying around you can hardly keep track of all of them. Hell, I'm already forgetting things I wanted to mention. Maybe I'll just list them. 1.
Time is used as a currency. When you run out of time, you die and the Resurrection Men come for you. After a period of time with your consciousness inhabiting a robot body and doing routine maintenance on the City, you get a new body.2.
Tzaddikim patrol the streets, keeping the general population safe.3.
By 'blinking, you can recall anything that happened anywhere in the Oubliette using the exomemory. It's like the internet, only better and with slightly less pornography.4.
Privacy is a big deal. By using a gevulot, you control the flow of information to other people.5.
There's a glossary of terms used in The Quantum Thief on Wikipedia. It would have helped immensely if I'd had it when I started but probably would have made the read a less rewarding experience: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glossary_of_terms_in_The_Quantum_Thief
The principle characters are an interesting bunch. I'd say the book approaches a number of ideas per page ratio comparable to one of China Mieville's works. It's primarily a heist tale but there's plenty of action. I sure wouldn't want to be in Miele's way. There's a point where sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. The Quantum Thief comes pretty close to that point on many occasions.
The ending met all my expectations, both in regard to actions and revelations about the overall setting. If I hadn't already known The Quantum Thief was the first in a trilogy (boo!), I would have been slightly disappointed.
While the Quantum Thief looks like a science fiction novel, it's really a heist story about a criminal and the man tasked with catching him. If you can handle being in the dark for part of the time, this is one hell of a read. I wouldn't say I like it as much as Hyperion but it's definitely WAAAAAAAY up there in my science fiction hierarchy.Additional thought:
Hannu Rajaniemi looks a lot like Jason Bateman of Arrested Development fame. Look them up and see for yourself.