Thursday, November 29, 2012

Book review: THE QUANTUM THIEF by Hannu Rajaniemi

THE QUANTUM THIEF is a science fiction novel, and science fiction is a great platform for ideas.  Ideas about technology, about politics, about economics.  In a sci-fi novel you can discuss all sorts of disciplines in a 'safe zone' where you aren't talking about anyone's homeland, or their political affiliation, or something horrible their ancestors did.
Sci-fi can also be about fun.  STAR TREK and STAR WARS style fun where you can bend or even ignore the laws of physics and just thrill readers with a fantastic tale.  Sometimes you get ideas, sometimes you get fun, and once in a while you get both.  With THE QUANTUM THIEF (TQT) you get both, plus chocolate syrup, a cherry, and an inexplicable slice of mango on top.
TQT is about a thief, a detective, and a horde of lost memories.  It is set in a future of scary panopticon prisons, sentient spaceships, moving cities (perhaps in a nod to a Michael Moorcock concept), and rampant cryptography.  At first read, it's all a little overwhelming.  I found myself paging through the back of the book, hoping for a glossary to help with all the unfamiliar terms.
Sometimes you have to trust the author and extend that tentative handshake.  I went with the story and quickly found myself caught up in the interesting characters without worrying overmuch about the extensive world-building taking place on the stage behind them. 
We've all read novels where the ideas the author wants to share drown the story, but this is not the case with TQT.  The Great Swampy Middle (as Jim Butcher calls the middle of a novel) is the most dangerous part for a writer because it's easy to get bogged down.  And in the middle of TQT, there were moments where I worried Rajaniemi had lost the thread of the plot.  But he increased the pace, forced the characters into collisions, and produced a very exciting ending.
When I shut the book, I smiled because it was fun (and he set it up for a sequel).  Days later my head is still buzzing with ideas I have only a vague understanding of.  I especially like that Rajaniemi thanks his writers' group in the Acknowledgements.  His novel is a good example of how someone with a bundle of neat ideas can benefit from the help of other writers when it comes to telling a story.
If you enjoy science fiction, I recommend THE QUANTUM THIEF.
(THE QUANTUM THIEF was copyrighted in 2010 and first published in Great Britain, then in the USA in 2011.  I believe a sequel, THE FRACTAL PRINCE, is already available.  The book cover is from Macmillan.)

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