Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi

I just finished reading the Quantum Thief by an author named Hannu Rajaniemi (a native Finlander).

I enjoyed the book, but I’m not sure why because I found it very hard to follow. Not in that I didn’t know what was going on from moment, but that the twists and the way the world function is completely alien and never explained. That said, the world that Mr. R. has created is epic and excellent. The book begins with a breakout from a prison that literally subjects its inhabitants to repeat prisoner dilemma games and other theoretical constructs used by residents.

From there though, the book moves to Mars and the premise of the book is that the main character, a master thief is hired for a robbery, but what he’s hired for doesn’t really end up mattering and instead he gets drawn into trying remembering who he is, because apparently in his past life, he was the ruler of Mars and he saved his memories in architecture all over the planet, but I don’t really know how it works.

The epicness of the book is immense, and as I said, the world is incredibly imaginative and creative, but that’s exactly why it’s really hard to understand what does what. There are, for example “the Quiet” who have kind of died. They used to be residents of Mars, but then they are brought back to do menial tasks. Some are “Atlas” quiet, and they support the city and move it around the surface of the planet (think God of War if you ever played it). Also, there are random mutants always trying to destroy the city, but even though they are mentioned all the time, they are mentioned in such a passing way that you don’t know what they are until the last few pages of the book. Also, everyone has multiple identities through time because of body switching and the way consciousness can be manipulated.

There are also two huge technologies that play a role in the novel that are never really explained. One is the “time” that serves kind of a unit of money. Each person only has so much time before they must become “quiet” and so “die” in the limited way I explained above. The time is kept in “clocks” that are very special. They somehow work on quantum entanglement and can’t be duplicated, but the thief manages (seems like fairly easily) to duplicate the time and to fool the mechanism that enforces death when the time runs down.

The most confusing thing in the whole book is a a GEVULOT. I have no idea how this author came up with this name or word, but it functions as a kind of electronic cloak (or like a really sophisticated facebook page) in which the person can choose to reveal or not their memories and personal information to people. All people on Mars are equipped with this technology, and it allows people to share information by “co-remembering.” Rather than receiving a message, the target of a co-remembering, simply remembers that they have an appointment at some time, or remembers a person that they have in fact never seen. Memories can also be time limited so that two people can extend a gevulot contract to each other and have the contents of the resulting conversation wiped. The issue I have with this is that I still have no idea how it works or what it really is. The word “gevulot” gets inserted all over the novel as a way for characters to do all sorts of things, some of which are very important to the plot. There are also ways of interfering with one’s gevulot and “taking” another’s gevulot.

This is a really interesting book with an incredibly dense, artistic, and hard to follow plot. The most helpful thing I can say though is that this book is very much like Gibson’s neuromancer, but in fact, I think much better. The same poetic abstraction is here, as well as the way the novel treats memories, social structures, and political systems. If you liked Neuromancer, I expect you will REALLY like Quantum Thief. Otherwise, you’ll probably just like it the normal amount.


3 Responses to “Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi”

  1. October 9, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    The term gevulot is a hebrew term for “borders”. There’s a great discription on wikipedia and a load of glossary for the rest of the series here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glossary_of_terms_in_The_Quantum_Thief

  2. 2 jason
    June 28, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    Hey bud, I know this is kind of an old post but I thought I’d throw it out there. You mentioned you’re not sure why the author chose Gevulot as the name for the privacy filter in the book. Turns out there’s a very good explanation for all the terms used in the book. For example:

    Gevulot: Gvulot is an area in Israel, literally translates as “borders”. Its very misty there.

    Gogol: Nicolai Gogol was a 19th century Ukrainian novelist whose book “Dead Souls” is about a man going around collecting people recorded in out of date but also most recent censuses who have died for tax purposes.

    Oubliette: This is a French term for a prison, literally translates as “forgotten place”.

    You may not remember the book very well at this point but these names are chosen with a lot of care and forethought.

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