Bits I learned from The Quantum Thief

Zee mind, she is blown. The Quantum Thief is one of those ‘why do I even bother writing’ books. Memorable characters, wildly intelligent science, solid action scenes, and a well-conceived world. Feel free to troll the ‘nets for reviews – suffice it to say I recommend giving it a read.

The presentation is today’s topic.  We see two points of view for the most part: the titular thief and a detective. Sure, sure. Two plots which have no choice but to collide at the climax. All well and good.

But the thief’s chapters are all in first-person present, and the detective’s in second-person present.  First-person present, I said. “I walk into a bright room and see all sorts of crazy business”.  As opposed to the detective: “Isidore walks into a bright room and sees all sorts of business, crazy and otherwise.”  And definitely not “Jean walked into a bright room and saw some business going on.”

As much of a psycho-noogie as the plot can be, the choice of tense here really sent me around the proverbial bend. The chapters don’t need to be tagged to explain who’s speaking, because the two stories are presented in different tenses. So whose story is it? Clearly the thief’s, but why not the detective’s as well? Why the different treatment?

When a mind can be copied, stored, reinserted into bodies et cetera, concepts of a person’s past and future change. The present tense works here, because all the characters can really say for sure is what is going on right now. Well done.


A few of the tips I’ve gleaned from other books (see previous posts) are represented well in The Quantum Thief:


A good sci-fi universe envisions the end-results of many technologies, not just one.

Nanotech, the mind as software, the cultural effects of MMOs, et cetera. The story could not work without these.


Give the reader some new vocab, and make it awesome.

Chock damn full.  Rajaniemi grabs words from Hebrew, Russian, from other lit – from all over the place.  Referring to a space elevator as a ‘beanstalk’ is bloody genius. The bit I’d most like to steal is the use of the prefix “q-“ with any quantum tech.

The setting is a character.

The majority of the story takes place in a city moved along the surface of Mars by giant robots controlled by the uploaded minds of the citizenry, forever running from the self-replicating killer drones which have taken over the red planet’s surface. Come on now.

The Oubliette is obsessed with personal privacy, to the point that every person has a way to completely control who can see or hear them. Shared public memories, open (and closed) spaces, the etiquette involved in just saying ‘hello’ to a stranger — the city’s privacy system is a part of every decision the characters make.

Final note: I  must admit I find the US cover to be totally bitchin’.

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