a review by Nalini Haynes
The Quantum Thief is Jean Le Flambeur is a thief trapped in a prison playing game theory with the other prisoners as a form of rehabilitation. Mieli and her ship Perhonen rescue Jean as a means of recruiting him to complete his greatest heist yet, a heist that he previously attempted and failed. After escaping the prison, they go to Mars in pursuit of information that will lead them to their long term objective. Memories are stored as computer data, which have been wiped from Jean’s memory making his quest to steal this item more difficult, as he doesn’t even remember what the item is he is going to steal.
The Oubliette is a society on Mars conflicted within itself, with tzaddik acting as police while trying to find who rules the city so they can revolt. The zoku are a technocrat subculture visiting Mars who have interfered with the society. There has been a revolution, but the king is still around.
Adam Roberts (Professor of 19th Century Literature at London University, author of Soddit and The Dragon with the Girl Tatoo) says, ‘The mix is something like 40% Dancers at the End of Time and 60% Charlie Stross. The book has Stross’s inventiveness and deep intelligence and farseeing imagination alongside Moorcock’s stylish feel and flow. This is one of the SF novels of 2010 that everybody is talking about; if you have any interest at all in contemporary hard SF you will read it. There will be awards.’
The Quantum Thief began with some definite hard science, including mention of game theory. I felt somewhat out of my depth at first, not knowing what was science and what was fictional invention. Most of my physics was picked up as a teen reading Heinlein, Asimov and similar authors. It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that someone told me Schroedinger and Heisenberg were real people, at which point in time I thought, if someone had told me physics got interesting after high school I might have continued with those studies. As I haven’t read much hard SF lately, I’m somewhat confused about the science content of this book. I think a good author will speak to more than just the most elite of his audience, so the responsibility lies both with the author and the reader to work together with the narrative.
Late in the book it appeared Rajaniemi may not have defined his terms because it enabled him to use ‘science’ as magic; for example, q-dots began as something inside a person’s replacement body, later there was a q-dot gun with q-dot bullets, later still the q-dots in the body enabled Jean to do a spiderman, and finally q-dots created a bubble in which a person was ejected from a spacecraft. So ‘quantum’ becomes magic with which a person can do anything. Likewise with gevulot, which acts as a personal portable privacy screen, contracting for relationships, screening what will be remembered and what will be forgotten and even allowing identity theft. Co-memories start as something that is almost tangible, that is carefully handed to another person to assist in mutual understanding, but later becomes a form of long-range telepathy used as casually and much faster than a mobile phone call.
Roberts may well be correct, The Quantum Thief may well win awards and may even be touted as classic SF literature. I should warn readers that I have read classic literature such as Sons and Lovers and Wuthering Heights voluntarily purely because it was literature. I grieve for the hours I spent that I will never get back, because I really do not like what seems to count as Literature. I take some comfort in the knowledge that all people are different; I do not believe there is any right or wrong in tastes, just different people prefer different flavours. Give me chili over meringue any day, thanks.
In my opinion, The Quantum Thief is as surreal as The Hitchhiker’s Guide but without the sense of humour. For the record, I’ve read and enjoyed some Moorcock but I don’t recall reading any Stross, and I definitely haven’t read Dancers at the End of Time.
This review was previously published in Dark Matter issue 2, January 2011, and predated on this website to reflect the original publication date.