Claire North thumbs through The Quan­tum Thief.

Claire North on a place where quan­tum me­chan­ics and magic col­lide

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Contents - by Hannu Ra­janiemi, 2010 Claire North’s The Sud­den Ap­pear­ance Of Hope is out now and re­viewed on p112.

In a di­a­mond prison float­ing through space, a man tries to con­vince a mon­ster not to kill him again, while in the cell next door his clone lux­u­ri­ates on a re­cliner and scoffs at the no­tion of redemp­tion. Wel­come to the Dilemma Prison, but don’t get com­fort­able – barely have we ar­rived than our main char­ac­ter has died and been re­made, eaten a self-repli­cat­ing com­put­erised jailor, and been ab­ducted by a woman who may be pos­sessed by a god­dess. And that’s just the warm-up.

Be­fore you can blurt “Whoa there, the Sobornost war­minds did what with a sin­gu­lar­ity on Jupiter?”, The Quan­tum Thief is off, plung­ing into a uni­verse of gogol pi­rates, as­cended be­ings, nano-tech phoboi, ce­les­tial wars, sen­tient space­ships, weaponised quan­tum me­chan­ics and ex­pen­sive choco­late with a stom­ach-churn­ing twist. Ci­ties walk across the sur­face of Mars, and death is noth­ing more than a change in eco­nomic sta­tus; mil­lions of copies of a sin­gle thought may be­come weapons or tools, or an amus­ing play­thing in a cor­ner of Zoku Realmspace.

If you were to say one thing about The Quan­tum Thief, “un­der­stated” would not be it.

And ar­guably that’s a prob­lem. The Quan­tum Thief has a lot to get to grips with, and throws events at the reader as read­ily as it drops ref­er­ences to past wars and cul­ture-al­ter­ing tech­nolo­gies. It can be­come frus­trat­ing, and you either have to en­gage metic­u­lously, or shrug and al­low the charm of the main char­ac­ters and the mo­men­tum of the story to sweep you on. “Sure,” pro­claim our he­roes, “we’re now bat­tling a float­ing vig­i­lante for ac­cess to a planet’s col­lec­tive mem­ory and the key that will un­lock the hu­man soul, all in a day’s work…”

Com­plex world-build­ing is wo­ven in with mo­ments of trivia and beauty. Mieli, a woman so teched up that she has a nu­clear re­ac­tor in her thigh, sang her some­what snarky space­ship into ex­is­tence out of an ice cloud. Jean de Flam­beur, our rak­ish semi-hero, hid his own mem­o­ries from him­self, and can’t even work out why he did it, or if he’s ready to pay the price to get them back. As they plunge deeper into a Mar­tian con­spir­acy, ques­tions of iden­tity, pri­vacy, so­ci­ety and the dif­fer­ent paths hu­man­ity might choose to evolve down are min­gled with the per­sonal; failed re­la­tion­ships and bro­ken dreams, mat­ters of mu­sic, art, fam­ily and re­li­gion.

It’s a novel that both de­lights in the pos­si­bil­i­ties of a post-hu­man­ity civil­i­sa­tion in flux, while at the same time re­tain­ing a quaint nos­tal­gia. The Zoku may be tech­no­log­i­cal gods, but their par­ties are pure cel­e­bra­tions of 1980s kitsch; Puss in Boots stalks the dreams of sleep­ing Mar­tian women, while fash­ion among the Time-rich no­bil­ity harkens back to a time of En­light­en­ment-era deca­dence, com­plete with added ro­botic war ma­chines.

In many ways The Quan­tum Thief is a cel­e­bra­tion of Arthur C Clarke’s maxim about ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy be­ing in­dis­tin­guish­able from magic. If you care about mul­ti­di­men­sional math­e­mat­ics you’ll prob­a­bly have a whale of a time read­ing it; if not, then yes, ba­si­cally, it was done with magic. But the book breezes along so eas­ily that any cul­tural ques­tions you may want to take from it are re­ally down to the reader.

Charm­ing and fas­ci­nat­ing, in­tel­li­gent and con­found­ing, whether you are de­lighted by this roller­coaster or ir­ri­tated that it doesn’t slow down for the cor­ners, either is a valid re­sponse, and some­thing about the un­cer­tainty of that in it­self seems very apt for The Quan­tum Thief.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.