Written by Finnish speculative fiction author Hannu Rajaniemi and published in the United States in 2010, The Quantum Thief is the first book in the Jean le Flambeur science fiction trilogy, followed by The Fractal Prince and The Causal Angel.

In the transhumanist, post-scarcity, post-singularity tradition of Iain M. Banks' Culture series (and with explicit acknowledgement given to Banks in the afterword), this novel is set in the extremely-distant (and arguably very idealistic) future, following a mysterious "Protocol War" in which a majority of human beings have been uploaded as artificial intelligence to vastly powerful quantum computers. Copies of each individual mind are used as a form of currency called gogols, and much of the conflict in the series centers on the ethics and economics of using living consciousness, nigh-infinitely reduplicated and functionally immortal, as money, tools, and weapons.

The protagonist, Jean le Flambeur, is a gentleman thief emulating Arsene Lupin - possibly even an incarnation of Lupin himself, depending how the reader chooses to interpret Jean's origins. Jean, a winged warrior named Mieli, and a flirtatious sapient spaceship named Perhonen, are on a quest from the pellegrini, a powerful and manipulative being who helps break Jean out of the Dilemma Prison in order to make use of his skills. Jean's opponent is the young man Isidore Beautrelet, a detective on Mars, the last "baseline" human settlement in the Solar System.

There is little more I can say about the plot, without divesting it of its most delightful twists and secrets. What I can tell you is this: Rajaniemi is a viciously clever writer, and it takes an acutely attentive reader to follow what happens throughout the story, because Rajaniemi never spoon-feeds his stories to the audience. I had to work hard to catch some of the subtler twists, and I found myself rereading more than one chapter, belatedly realising I had missed something very significant. Jean is as much a magician as he is a thief, and the narrative sleight-of-hand performed here is magnificent, but this comes at the expense of being very intellectually demanding. For me, this is one of its greatest selling points: I love a book which can keep me on my toes, and which forbids me to read ahead or make anticipatory guesses about what will happen next. I love that I could not predict even one plot twist, when too often science fiction novels tend to fall into well-established tropes and cliche resolutions dating back to the 1940s. I love that even when I think I understand the trick being played on me as a reader, it still sneaks up on me and reveals a hidden dimension which had never occurred to me.

If you enjoy science fiction, read this novel. Especially if you are a fan of the works of Iain M. Banks, read this novel. It is a singular delight.

Iron Noder 2016, 18/30

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