Writing book reviews can be difficult. One person may like a book… another person may not. As a rule, I don’t like to review books that I haven’t enjoyed. I know how difficult it can be to write a book, and I know that in addition to large amounts of time and planning, a writer also has a personal involvement with his or her books. Out of respect to the writer, I try to follow that rule my son is now learning – if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Now, in all the years I’ve been reading science fiction, I can truly say that only maybe a dozen or so have been solid disappointments… books that I would gladly warn others to steer clear. Fortunately, most SF books are enjoyable (as fiction entertainment goes), and even those that don’t strike my fancy will still exhibit elements that other readers are sure to enjoy given the wide range of SF interests out there.
Quantum Thief, by Hannu Rajaniemi, falls into that last category. I really wanted to enjoy this book. I mean, the title alone would have been enough for me to pick it up and read the inside jacket for more details. But I knew plenty about this book before it even hit the shelves, as the word-of-mouth buzz has been loud and insistent regarding this author’s first SF novel. So I picked up my copy without hesitation and headed home to dig in.
I’m going to try to do my best to avoid spoilers, but the actual subject matter of the book makes it almost impossible to talk about without some leaking of details. The title character is, of course, a thief of universal renown. He inhabits a universe where quantum computing and technology controls every aspect of life. From clothing to food to weapons, everything in this novel relates back to this q-dot technology that the author has created. (The author, by the way, holds a PhD in String Theory, so much of the technical theory in the book may or may not have actual science behind it… I really don’t know.) But this quantum-based technology also allows humans to change their body shapes, transfer their memories to other bodies (and even share them with others via copies that are often illegally obtained by pirates and sold and traded), and even block out others from talking to them or even seeing them. Brains have been hard-wired with this technology that allows them to control ships, fight hand-to-hand with unheard-of weaponry, and turn ideas into real-world items.
It’s a world that is 100% alien, with pseudo gods and goddesses, believe it or not, that have millions or even billions of copies of their personalities controlling and manipulating the humans in the overall story. And humans is a loose term here — in one location, humans transfer their consciousness to machines before they die as a way to achieve immortality. Another location allows humans to continue maintaining a physical presence only for a limited time — when the time is up, their consciousness is transferred to machinery that maintains the well-being of the city they inhabit. But this is also for a limited time — when that period, called The Quiet, ends, they get a new body with a new time limit and start the process over. Other groups exist that use the q-dot technology for their own ends, and the novel throws them all together as various parties fight and negotiate for the thief’s knowledge.
I know — I’m being vague about the major plot. But as I mentioned earlier, it’s difficult to really explain the story not because the plot is complicated… but because the technology and terminology that’s thrown at you with this novel are fairly complex. And that’s where my real issues with this novel begin.
A few weeks back in my review of Leviathan Wakes, I talked about how some stories can be so complex that you almost need a dictionary and history summary to grasp the world that the characters inhabit. Well, this is one of them. After finding myself reading and then re-reading entire paragraphs (sometimes even multiple pages) to clear up my confusion or just to try to make sense of some new technology that was introduced, I took to the Internet for help. I found an online dictionary that explained many of the terms. Go ahead and take a read if you like, but be careful — it does contain better explanations of some of the factions, weapons, worlds, and technologies that you encounter in this book but you might encounter a spoiler or two. The explanations are not all complicated (after having finished the book), but … when I started reading the book and hit words such as Gogol and quptlink and Oubliette, I began to get frustrated. It’s just pure overload on terminology. I will say that once you get to the midpoint of the novel and beyond, many of the technologies do finally get an explanation, but by that point I’d pretty much given up on trying to keep track of all the tech and instead just focused on the actions of the main characters.
This is one of those books where I’m certain that another read would clear things up. But I don’t want to read it again — I’ve got other books in the queue and I don’t want to spend any more time here. And that’s disappointing to me, as the ending clearly points to a sequel… a sequel that I’m curious about but also unlikely to purchase.
But let me return to my initial statement by saying that although I didn’t enjoy the novel, I’m certain that there are geek dads out there that will love it. This is a hard technology story… and the settings are so complex, so unusual and original, that I can assure you that you’ve not read anything quite like this before. It’s way beyond cyberpunk, trust me. And if you enjoy made-up worlds, especially worlds that you absolutely will not recognize with their unusual customs, laws, beyond-bleeding-edge tech, and slang, then Quantum Thief will certainly entertain you.