Dec 25, 2012

[Books] The Quantum Thief (Jean le Flambeur Book 1) Review

This is probably one of the best science fiction books that I've read this year - or in a while. And admittedly, The Quantum Thief is no easy book either.

When I first started reading this book, it reminded me a lot of my experience in reading Peter F. Hamilton's Reality Dysfunction back in high school. I knew from the start that it was an interesting book, but I also knew that it wasn't going to be the kind of book that one can read while distracted by other things. It was a story set in a very rich setting with a lot of unique concepts and terms and the book was mature enough not to stop and explain everything to you as a reader. You just had to keep up and gain better understanding on thigns as you go along.

I definitely had that initial sense of confusion when I started with this book, but over time the story just kept me more and more hooked as I gained a better understanding of the unique reality that Rajaniemi setup. And quite frankly, it was worth every moment of the experience.

It's good to note that this book is but the first in a trilogy of stories (and maybe more in the future). But it stands quite well on its own, to be frank about things.

Although I must admit, the timing of this review was not intentional. It's not like this story has any direct connections to Christmas in any way.

Synopsis: The Quantum Thief is the debut science fiction novel written by Hannu Rajaniemi. It was nominated for the 2011 Locus Award for Best First Novel and has ranked in the top five for various rankings of science fiction novels after its initial 2010 release.

Our story begins in some far-flung future. One Jean le Flambeur is trapped in some elaborate prison where his rehabilitation involves him killing himself every single day. But with the aid of the Sobornost agent, Mieli, Jean manages to escape. But naturally his freedom comes with a price. The pelligrini - a powerful entity that Mieli serves - has need of Jean's abilities as a master thief. But the actual job is not immediately disclosed. The challenge here is that Jean needs to first recover his memories of who he was. And those memories are somehow hidden away in the Oubliette - a city that moves across the surface of Mars.

On Mars we also meet Isidore, an architectural student who has demonstrated a particular penchant for detective work. Under the tutelate of his mentor, The Gentleman (a somewhat police officer / vigelante called a tzaddik), he is aiding with the investigation into gogol piracy case where someone's identity was stolen. But this is just the tip of the iceberg for Isidore given there is an even greater mystery for him to solve should he dare to take on the challenge.

Now this is definitely a book that follows that old analogy of teaching a baby how to swim by throwing him into a pool. In this case, you find yourself already immersed in a different world with a lot of elaborate terminology and no in-book glossary to help you. If you think you really need that sort of thing, then you can keep this Wikipedia article handy as you go through the book. But I'd otherwise recommend that you just stick with it and try to understand the terms based on context or until the characters themselves give you more information. This is a book that does require a fair amount of thought and the experience of learning the ways of this universe is a reward in itself.

The exploration of Mars does present us with a most interest notion of human interaction - one were privacy is just as much a valuable commodity as time is for these people. Through the careful manipulation of gevulot, one can determine if people can see you or not ranging from the general public to your flatmate. It's the same protocol that dictates how you share information with others starting with your name or whatever else. And how people use gevolut makes for an interesting realm of possibilities as far as storytelling is concerned.

Even just come to terms with the way these individuals live is a fulfilling challenge in itself. It takes a while before it becomes clear that not everyone is actual "human" in the physical sense and others are just uploaded minds living in constructed bodies and what have you. It seems terribly hard to imagine how just one man came up with all these ideas and found a way to marry them into a single narrative universe.

Given our main character is in fact a thief, the story does have that how "heist story" feel to things, which is ironic given how much Leverage I've been watching as of late. But we also have  a detective involved, and thus there is that rather Sherlock Holmes quality to things as well. And the interplay of these two characters (as it is impossible not to have their initially separate storylines merge at some point) does make for some very good reading along with the greater implications of what each person unearths.

On the whole, I know that I've barely scratched the surface in terms of the world that was created here and it'll take a combination of re-reading The Quantum Thief and picking up the other two books of the trilogy in order to get a fuller appreciation of things. And I certainly won't mind doing this at all given how much I enjoyed my first run-through with the book. Thus I happily rate this title a full 5 Quiet constructs keeping the Oubliette in motion out of a possible 5.

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