Book Review: The Quantum Thief
The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Language: English
ISBN : 978-0765375889


In the mid-to-late 21st century, mind uploading was perfected and shortly thereafter the Singularity hit the solar system. Centuries later, the Founders of Sobornost rule the Inner System with their billions of golgol copies while the Zoku control the Saturn and the Outer System. The Founders seek to remove all uncertainty from the Universe while the Zoku base their entire civilization on quantum uncertainty and changing one’s mind and identity to suit the situation (or a whim). The two groups do NOT play well together. Earth is largely a backwater, rogue nanotechnology infecting almost anything and destroying any foreign tech that tries to land there. Jupiter has disappeared in the Spike, a possible Second Singularity that either converted it into a black hole or some other strange space-time artifact (no one seems to be quite sure). And Jean Le Flambeu, a post-human thief of superhuman ability, is trapped in the Dilemma Prison, forced to fight duels against an unlimited supply of copies of himself. At least until Mieli, an agent from the Oort Cloud shows up with her living spaceship Perhonnen to bust him out and use him to find out just what happened to Jupiter. But first they have to go to Mars to steal his memories back. Possibly from himself.

OA Relevance: Moderate to High

The Quantum Thief is the first of a trilogy of books and depicts a future that could almost pass for a busy system in Y11k. Mars has been terraformed, artificial black holes are not uncommon, super-intelligent post-human minds are all over the place. The main differences are that Rajaniemi plays a bit more fast and loose with his physics than is generally considered normal in OA and some of the tech is based on concepts that were considered for OA and then rejected. A big item is programmable matter, with quantum wells being used to transform stuff all over the place. There is also a dash of femtotech and, of course, all the technology is invented (and understood) by humans or post-humans. In this universe, attempts to create true AI went so horribly wrong that all research was halted and the remaining creations are used as world killing terror weapons.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:

The story itself is very well done, but a bit confusing at times. Rajaniemi likes to throw in lots and lots of concepts without really bothering to explain them, and this is further complicated because he often uses a mix of less well known terminology, languages other than English, and neologisms that can leave a reader scratching their head. I have the advantage of years of exposure to OA and transhumant concepts in general. For someone just encountering these ideas for the first time via this book, the experience is likely to be overwhelming, possibly not in a good way. The whole story is also told through the eyes of characters who, being products of the civilization described, completely understand what is going on and so generally don’t bother to explain it.

On the flip side, there are some awesome concepts here and they are described in a fashion that, if you can understand them, will hit you between the eyes with the cool factor. In addition, I more than once found myself wondering if Rajaniemi reads either OA or knows of Anders Sandberg’s work or both. The story makes a passing reference to ‘Zeusbrains’ (if you’ve read Anders’s paper on ‘life among the Jupiter brains’ this will ring a bell. And in the second book of the series (which I’ll probably review later), there is a description of a utility fog system in action - it’s referred to as an ‘angelnet’.

Overall Rating:

Excellent - If you find yourself feeling that a lot of modern sci-fi is rather pedestrian in comparison to the Big Ideas that OA throws around, then The Quantum Thief will fix that problem right quick. While the story is only scaled to a single solar system, and the themes are more human scale than cosmic - this universe will stretch even a veteran OA fans mind. And I like to think that’s saying something. Buy it and get a nice infusion of ‘sensawonda’.

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