Surreal Action Sci-Fi from The Quantum Thief

In terms of comparisons, Hannu Rajaniemi‘s The Quantum Thief, most reminds me of Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson. While the novels take place in vastly different universes, Rajaniemi creates a surreal, action-filled sci-fi novel along the lines of Snow Crash. The writing is fresh. The ideas are unique. For the most part, I felt I hadn’t read this story before.

And, while there is no Hiro Protagonist, there are two characters, Jean le Flambeur, and Mieli, who embody the Protagonist spirit. Flambeur is the best thief in history and through technological advances may have been almost godlike, before being tossed in prison and forced to compete in the prisoner’s dilemma using a pistol day in and day out for years. Mieli, is a tech-enhanced warrior with allegiance to a godlike being, and she has wings, because, wings are cool. The gist of the novel is that Mieli breaks Flambeur out of prison to steal something and then shit goes sideways.

While Snow Crash was partly grounded in virtual reality, in The Quantum Thief, people, especially on the Oubliette, an ever-moving city on the ravaged surface of Mars, live with augmented reality, and designer bodies allow others in the solar system to basically shapeshift. The residents of the Oubliette are extremely private and are able to adjust their privacy settings so they appear to be nothing more than a blur to strangers.

Technology

A few of the futuristic concepts that stood out included:

  • Storing human consciousness in artificial, non-humanoid bodies.
  • Migrating between life
  • Combat autism (for when focus is necessary and emotions are not).
  • Quantum communication (there was a lot of quantum stuff that was sort of lost on me).
  • Physical identity theft.
  • Bullets that basically hack a person or device.

Every Thief Needs a Rival

A flamboyant thief by himself isn’t interesting. Rajaniemi opts for archetype instead of innovation and recreates a Sherlock-esque character to thwart Flambeur. It’s definitely the weakest point in the novel and Rajaniemi compensates by making him younger and slightly bumbling. How the relationships between characters fit together becomes obvious partway through the novel and it’s not quite the surprise that it may suppose to be.

Overall

The Quantum Thief is a fun book. I enjoyed the characters, the pace, and the strange universe. If you’re looking for an escape without a lot of depth, this novel is entertaining.

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