Review

The Quantum Thief

by Hannu Rajaniemi

One thing to be said for Finnish author Hannu Rajaniemi is that
he is not remotely concerned with holding your hand and walking you
through a cookie-cutter science fiction novel. In fact, he drops
you immediately into action, puts a blindfold on you, spins you
three times, rips off that blindfold, and kicks you in the pants
and down the elevator shaft. THE QUANTUM THIEF motors forward,
often at faster-than-light speed. While you can find yourself
holding your head trying to follow and understand all that happens,
any frustration you feel is washed over by one very telling
sensation: this book is sensational.

Trying to explain the plot is like trying to look at a plate of
spaghetti and perfectly pick out the opposing ends of the same
strand of pasta amidst the jumble. Jean le Flambeur has to awaken
every day in prison and kill himself. This has to be done before
his other self gets to him first. Things don't get less
confusing when Mieli busts him out of the prison and whisks him
away to Oubliette, the Moving City of Mars. Jean has had many
lives, and his past is shrouded in mystery. One thing that is true
is that his notoriety stretches throughout the Heterarchy, and as a
master thief he has worked hard to hide his past from one person in
particular: himself. Now he wants to finish the one great heist
that has eluded him, but in order to do so, he will need to
rediscover himself and all his old mysterious lives, while, in the
meantime, investigator Isidore Beautrelet is tracking him as the
suspect in a murder.

That may seem somewhat straightforward, but as you turn pages
you'll find that it's not. That only covers about half of it. Let's
be honest, though. It's not a stretch to expect that Rajaniemi
would lead us through convoluted and tricksome roads, especially
when you consider that he has a Ph.D in string theory. One way much
of the confusion may have been resolved is with an index, but, as I
said, the author has no interest in holding your hand. Therein lies
one of the great beauties of allowing yourself to be taken along
for the ride. If you yield to the adventure and endure the first
third with its confusing and seemingly unrelated interludes, you
will ultimately be mesmerized as the story collides, merging the
strings of Jean and Isidore into one world-bending tale.

THE QUANTUM THIEF is a spectacular debut novel. It's a hard book
and a confusing one at times. It's also dense --- not a rote space
opera, but an edgy and intense hard science fiction adventure. This
is its greatest strength as well as its greatest flaw, for it may
alienate some readers who become too aggravated with not having
clearly laid out answers from the beginning. But the payoff for any
misgivings they have is paid back tenfold by the time they turn the
final page, if they have the fortitude to simply let go of the
safety bar and enjoy the plunge.

Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on June 6, 2011

The Quantum Thief
by Hannu Rajaniemi

  • Publication Date: May 10, 2011
  • Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books
  • ISBN-10: 0765329492
  • ISBN-13: 9780765329493