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The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi

01/10/2010. Contributed by Gareth D Jones

Buy The Quantum Thief in the USA - or Buy The Quantum Thief in the UK

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pub: Gollancz. 266 page enlarged paperback. Price: GBP12.99 (UK only). ISBN: 978-0-575-08888-7.

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In a brilliantly imaginative future, Hannu Rajaniemi has created a distinctive world as the setting for his debut novel, ‘The Quantum Thief’. Set mostly in a city that moves across the surface of Mars, it’s full of quantum technology, physically and mentally augmented humans, secretive vigilantes and a whole host of bizarre developments that initially left my brain in a whir. The opening couple of chapters are packed with so many concepts that it was difficult to keep track of what was happening. Author Hannu Rajaniemi has avoided what could be a fatal dose of info-dumping by simply avoiding any exposition altogether. He has also avoided corny sounding technobabble to identify his innovations and instead given them exotic, foreign-sounding names. This means that many of the concepts are not immediately self-explanatory.

After this heady introduction into the world of master thief Jean le Flambeur, detective Isidore Beatrelet and mysterious agent Mieli, the plot begins to coalesce. After a term in an extraordinary prison, Jean le Flambeur has lost much of his memory. This also means that much of the early sections told from his perspective are even more obscure. Once we meet Isidore Beautrelet, though, things become clearer. He is initially investigating a selection of seemingly unrelated crimes. It is through his eyes, as he pieces together evidence from the complex society in which he lives, that everything starts to fall in to place. His Holmsian character gives the novel a distinctive voice, an almost Victorian feel to an otherwise high-tech, post-cyberpunk adventure.

Mieli and her intelligent ship are layered in mystery. They spring le Flambeur out of prison to help in their own quest. He joins them with his own motives and complicates things by attempting to dig up his own hidden past. The numerous secondary characters, all with their own extraordinary parts in this fabulous society, build up a mosaic of complexity that is just delightful.

The writing in this novel is solid throughout, displaying an artistic flair that contrasts yet complements the exotic hard SF subject matter. Hannu Rajaniemi certainly makes an impact with this debut novel. It is as quirky and outstandingly unusual as his short story ‘His Master’s Voice’ that appeared in ‘Interzone’ last year. I think he is going to be an author to watch.

Gareth D. Jones

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