Read: The Casual Angel, by Hannu Rajaniemi

The Casual Thief has been lurking in my TBR-pile ever since I first pre-ordered and then fetched it from the SF Bookshop, two years ago. There are, of course, multiple reasons for this delay, but I really did want to understand what was going on in that faraway version of our future universe populated with the Sobornost, the zokus, Jean de Flambeur, and Mieli, in The Quantum Thief and The Fractal Prince books, so though late I did recently began to read it.

It was, from the start, as splintered – post-modern, if you so wish – as the previous installations. Rajaniemi has a brilliant imagination.  He has peppered his tale with references to contemporary pop culture and ancient mythologies galore, and armed with those images one can easily conjure explosive, florescent, fractal, visuals to go with a tale, and it is told in shards – sometimes having to wait for things to make sense. The Thief  – Jean – is on a quest that neither he nor the reader fully understand the ramifications of, to find the Kaminari jewel, but is he a tool, and for whom, or is he self-determined? Mieli, wandering the universe to find her lost lover. Is she a tool (too)? Is this a game? Do I care? Am I made to care?

Am I compelled to read beyond the first pages?

Yes.

As I once more dived into the fantastical imaginary world that he built, and as I kept adding his world-specific concepts and their labels to my mental dictionary, the pace slowly but surely picked up. And surely soon everything would come to a conclusion, surely soon everything would start to make sense? But as  I kept turning pages, searching for content and meaning, the more I felt left floundering in the void, hope for sense and conclusion diminishing as the number of pages left to convincingly pull the trick dwindled.

The visuals and imagination is both daring and stunning, as is the world-building. But beyond that at least I need something more than one more fantastical set of props and toys, more than what if fireworks. More than a creeping revelation that everything is a game, and relative.

I found it difficult to engage with the characters, to feel for them. At times it felt a bit like I was in the middle of a Skylanders challenge, or dropped on a Minecraft plain. Cunningly designed to keep your attention, but impersonal. It is possible to smile at the odd Harry Potter reference; at the gesture of showing how storytelling creeps into our reality. But still – impersonal.

There are other authors – like the late Iain M Banks, whose Culture universe is as post-human as this one – who manages to pull it off with more conviction, adding depth beyond wonder, despite veering off on personal rants against (or for) this or that.

I do think the trilogy would benefit from being read as one book, in one sequence, as I imagine that will make the experience an easier one. Maybe then one would be able to empathise with Jean, with Mieli. As it is I didn’t feel the experience worth the effort to start it all over again, just to test this hypothesis.

Kudos though  to Rajaniemi for the trilogy being well crafted, imaginative, and consistent; I imagine that a lot of people will enjoy reading it, as did I, as long as it lasted. Fireworks can be fun. Our stories do make us who we are. Just not a once more into the breach-experience for this one.

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Review: The Quantum Thief, by Hannu Rajaniemi

Ages ago Isaac Asimov grafted the detective story trope on the science fiction stem (Caves of Steel), and over the years the two have become more comfortable with each other – in The Quantum Thief so much so that only allusion is needed to convey the set of ideas; in itself a sign of maturity, perhaps?

The Quantum Thief is the début work of Hannu Rajaniemi, and as such an impressive one. Well written, and then I haven’t even considered the fact that he doesn’t write in his native tongue. Well conceived. A main character that grows on you, even if his main feature is neither he or we really knows who he is (more than once he reminds me of Hergé’s Tintin, in his relative featurelessness). Interesting concepts, well drawn. Hints of lifestyles and cultures I’d love to know more about.

But. Is it me or is this just one more of the same? One more in the British Literary SF canon, bravely daring the quantum ice ledge? One more experimenting with the texture of time and reality, of perception?

I’m not ready to answer that yet. Time will show if this is the start of a series featuring dashing breathless adventures against an exotic but inconsequential backdrop culture, or if he’ll be ready to tackle the ethical, moral and ideological consequences of the world he has created.
Will he be able to break free from the Brit SF idea-maze?

But for a début – well done. Very well done.
I’ll definitely look out for his next book, with the hope that I won’t have to wait an eternity ;-)

Review: Century Rain, by Alastair Reynolds

First of all I need to state that YES, I did enjoy reading Alastair Reynold‘s Century Rain. But. And that’s a large BUT – a 530 page story that needs 250 (or so) pages for setting the stage, then captures for the rest of the ride, only to end in a dissapointment?

Reading a 530 page story is an investment – I set off time to read, and I want to get something in return. But when I finally closed the covers for the last time I was left with an impression of rather large deficiencies in the plot department, like a lot of nice scenes being patched together.

For the record I’m not averse to idea driven stories. I like the exploration of an interesting idea or three just as much as I enjoy good character development, and if the ideas are interesting enough I can live without the characters developing at all as long as they are believable and well drawn. But when the protagonists starts to do things out of character I’m unimpressed.
Examples of this is when Verity cried while leaving Floyd on E2, when she’s else described as pretty hardheaded, or Floyd, elsewhere described as stubborn, when he don’t want to spend his life without her don’t react much at that same occasion. Also it seems rather shallow of Floyd to suddenly fall for Auger when he has held out all these years, waiting for Greta’s improbable return.

The reason for these inconsistencies are, of course, that romance is only ever hinted at when it helps drive the story – else it’s unessential and not developed. But to make the romance believable when it’s needed as a plot device it needs to be sustained throughout the story. This lack of consistency messes with the balance of the story and takes focus off from the ideas. I’m sure some classical editing would help, as when an editor or alfa-reader suggests things to the author. As now I think Reynold’s rather awesome potential goes underdeveloped.

But I know – as long as his books moves off the shelves and into peoples’ homes no publisher is going to pay for a proper editor. And that’s more a comment on the sorry state of publishing than it is on this book which, after all, was worth the time it took reading it.