Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

"The Quantum Thief" by Hannu Rajaniemi (Gollancz, 2010)

From the start, readers know what they're letting themselves in for. Chapter 1, entitled "The Thief and the Prisoner's Dilemma", begins "As always, before the warmind and I shoot each other, I try to make small talk". Most of the action takes place in a walking city on Mars. With the aid of technology, people have control over how much of themselves they want others to see. People die at prescribed times and a reincarnated, often as dumb workers. The Web/cloud has developed in the exomemory.

It's a multi POV novel with 1st person and 3rd person-priviledged sections. There are allusions to other works - on p.157 for example there's mention of a magnifying glass and a locked room mystery; on p.161 there's "When you eliminate the impossible ...". There are hints of Proust, with Marcel and Gilbertine. And it might help if you've read Maurice Leblanc (I haven't). Cryptography's public/private keys are mentioned. Every so often there are short flashback chapters described as Intervals, whose common factor becomes clear later. There's a sleuth, a thief, and romance - enough momentum to keep readers interested while they're discovering the world they're in. Here are some extracts to give a flavour of the style -

  • And this is good matter to turn into a Prison. Its mouth waters in anticipation of the taste of the patterns that the iterated Dilemmas will make. Its copyfather discovered a defector pattern that tastes like pecan ice cream: a replicating strategy family like a flyer in a Game of Life (p.28)
  • Isidore massages the entanglement ring he wears on the index finger of his right hand: a silver band with a tiny blue stone, speaking directly to his brain. He has yet to get used to the zoku method of qupting. Sending brain-to-brain messages directly through a quantum teleportation channel seems like a dirty, invasive way to communicate compared to Oubliette co-remembering (p.38)
  • His Watch tickles at his mind. She offers him a gevulot contract, like a cautious handshake. He accepts: the conversation over the next five minutes will not go into his exomemory (p.44)
  • The Resurrection Men are good. They will fix her, if they can. And then it will be early Quiet for her, I suspect, depending on what the Voice says (p.54)
  • He lets his mind wander through the crowd, looking through other eyes, looking for traces of manipulation in fresh memories like disturbed leaves in a forest (p.57)
  • It is a square where one of the Revolution monuments stands, a low slab of volcanic rock, sculpted by the Quiet. It is engraved with the billions of names of the gogols who were brought here from Earth (p.60)
  • I must have been an Obliette citizen, before, at least for some time. That means I had a Watch: and here, having a Watch also means having an exomemory, a repository for your thoughts and dreams, where they keep you as you flip between being a Noble and a Quiet (p.61-2)
  • I squirt some Time from my temporary Watch (a little silver circle on a transparent strap around my wrist; the hair-thin dial moves a millimetre) into the fabber next to the bench. It spits out a pair of dark sunglasses (p.63)
  • There must have been times when I flicked from one identity to another, posthuman, zoku, baseline, Sobornost (p.147)

Never good with names, I decided to make some notes about words and characters (some definitions appear hundreds of pages after a word's first used) -

  • Archons - immortals
  • 'blink - accessing "the WWW"
  • copyfather
  • cryptarchs - "There are people, one or more, who are manipulating [the exomemory] ... We call them cryptarchs" (p.196)
  • Deveraux - a chocolateer, murdered
  • Elodie - daughter of chocolateer
  • fabber - 3D printer
  • gevulot - a sensory/cyber access control. Its keys decrypt the owners mind.
  • gogol piracy - uploading a mind without permission
  • Jean le Flambeur - the thief. Begins in prison. Has a Sobornost body.
  • Isidore Beautrelet- a Martian detective who reputedly found the missing city. An architecture student. Used to be Paul Sernine, friends with Raymode (who is now a tzaddik?)
  • Miele - kidnaps the hero. Scarred. Perhonen is her ship. Brihane is her grandmother. Employed by the Sobornost
  • millenniaire - someone rich in Time?
  • Oubliette - A place on Mars
  • pellegrini - goddess?
  • phoboi - "hybrid biot/biological weapons, breeding themselves through billions of virtual generations and then modifying their own design accordingly" (p.305)
  • Pixil - Isidore's girlfriend. A zoku. The 1st child created in Mars. Parents from Jupiter. Her mother is Drathdor
  • a posthuman - The Eldest is one.
  • q-dots - "artificial atoms capable of assuming any range of physical properties" (p.146)
  • a Quiet - something Martians are transformed into; a speechless entity that performs community/military service
  • Sebastian - boyfriend of Elodie
  • Sobornost - they rule the inner solar system
  • spime - an app?
  • Sydan - a female?
  • Time - money?
  • tzaddiks
  • vasilevs
  • Voice - the Oubliette's e-democracy system
  • Watch - "A device that stores Time as quantum cash - unforgeable, uncopyable quantum states that have finite lifetimes, counterfeit-proof, measures the time an Oubliette citizen is allowed in a baseline human body. Also responsible for their encrypted channel to the exomemory" (p.108)
  • zoku - a race who lost a war to the Sobornost. They "have machines that turn thoughts into things" (p.220)

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