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The Quantum Thief is a post-singularity SF novel, meaning it takes place in a future where the line between man and machine has blurred and things like memory uploads, microcomputers in the brain, and functional immortality can exist. Rajaniemi starts out this book by showing more than he tells, presenting the world of Jean Le Flambeur as he would tell it with little consideration for how little we understand of that world. Consequently, the first two hours or so of the book were utterly confusing. I had no idea what was going on, and I had lots of problems just visualizing the scenes and the environment. I began to worry that the whole novel would be told as a series of sense impressions.
A bit later, however, the writing style moves away from that extreme show-don't-tell style and it presents itself itself with detailed, character-driven scenes that caught me by surprise and delighted me to the end. The amount of detail Rajaniemi applies to his fictional future is staggering, and it's all presented in a coherent and enjoyable ride filled with enough action, intrigue, and general sensawunada to keep any SF fan happy. After having read it, I'm kind of surprised it didn't make the cut for the Hugo, if that tells you anything about how much I liked it. It's smart, and once you get into it you find it's got some panache with the way it incorporates technology, bits from contemporary culture, symbolism and tropes from literature, and homages to SF.
Charles Stross, another favorite of mine (and who writes a praising blurb on the book jacket of Quantum Thief) described Rajaniemi as "if you dropped Greg Egan's hard physics chops into a rebooted Finnish version of Al[astair] Reynolds with the writing talent of a Ted Chiang you'd begin to get a rough approximation of the scale of his talent." I find myself whole-heartedly agreeing with this estimation. I started off confused and annoyed with this one, and ended feeling like I could listen to it again and chomping at the bit for the next book in the trilogy. This was my first experience listening to Scott Brick as a narrator, and I think he did a pretty great job with it. Although at times he reminds me of Jonathan Davis in that moody, cloudy-day speech style of his (which can get a little old after a while), he performed the book instead of just reading it.
10 of 10 people found this review helpful
Rajaniemi throws a jumbled world at you and it sticks. Brick has never been one of my true favorites, but his competence and clarity help make a little sense, and his slower pace keep you from falling behind. I still might quibble on the casting, but The Quantum Thief does a lot of things well: non-stop action; semi-hard sf (it's hard sf but without the explanation, if that makes sense; as a security software engineer by day, I found the descriptions quite plausible for future privacy software and avatar interaction); but at its heart this is a heist novel. A strange (almost surreal) wall of new technology permeates the story, and we don't really stop for a breath or explanation. In the audio, character POV jumps are just one step too confusing for comfort without a few more clues -- still, as challenges go, The Quantum Thief is worth stepping up to consider and take on. Either way -- confused or exhilarated -- there's something to get out of this book.
9 of 9 people found this review helpful