This is an excellent (and properly mind-bending) debut novel, although not one without its problems. Here we have the Oubliette, a privacOw, my brain.
This is an excellent (and properly mind-bending) debut novel, although not one without its problems. Here we have the Oubliette, a privacy paradise on Mars*, as the central character; everything else in the novel is secondary to the sheer surreality of its technology and society. The novel deploys its phantasmagoric quantum-tech gewgaws rapid-fire and spends nearly half the book laying out the landscape.
The fact that it takes so long to effectively start the plot has two effects: one, with new terms and ideas thrown at you every other paragraph, the book seems more dauntingly complex than it is; and two, the characters spend very little time being anything other than a means of exposition. It takes half the book for the strengths of the novel to start to push through the excited novelties of the Oubliette. This may have been a necessary move, given the weirdness of the setting and the nature of the themes, but it works against the novel rather than for it.
The main characters--Jean le Flambeur and Isidore Beautrelet--get the bulk of the character development (natch) and end up being fairly complete by the end, although I would have liked a great deal more development with their respective female companions; Mieli is effectively Jean's Angelic Savior, and Pixil (view spoiler)[ends up being The One Who Dies for Isidore (hide spoiler)].
The Quantum Thief touches on a number of contemporary issues--social networks, privacy, panopticons, evading tough issues through frivolous entertainments, sentimentalized revisionist histories--and does an excellent job with them without jumping on the didactic train. The fact that it manages the bulk of this with half the novel's length is more of a testament to where Rajaniemi can go from here, rather than a problem with the novel.
*(view spoiler)[except that, you know, an oubliette is a dungeon-prison-labyrinth-thing (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
China Mountain Zhang is quite the unusual science fiction novel, in part because it’s a tranche de vie/slice-of-life SF novel, which is not a terriblyChina Mountain Zhang is quite the unusual science fiction novel, in part because it’s a tranche de vie/slice-of-life SF novel, which is not a terribly common thing in Western SF. The novel is set in a 22nd century world where the People’s Republic of China has spread its ideology across the world, particularly to America. China Mountain Zhang—and yes, that is his name, a translation of Zhong Shen Zhang—a half-Chinese, half-Hispanic twentysomething, lives in Brooklyn and works as a construction tech, and his primary concern is simply getting by from day to day. A misunderstanding between Zhang and his boss upsets the easy, carefree sort of life Zhang has been living, and the now-unemployed Zhang finds himself shunted away from his beloved Brooklyn, first to Baffin Island and then to Beijing, in order to acquire an advanced degree in engineering in the hopes of attaining better work.
China Mountain Zhang effectively dodges the tropes common to near-future societal novels (for lack of a better subgenre term)—Zhang never revolts against the Maoist regime, and the novel isn’t obviously structured as a critique of politics or social policy. Instead, it quietly and effectively paints a portrait of a possible future through Zhang and those he encounters in his life, focusing not on Grand Social Concerns but with the simple business of living life. It might be better to illustrate this point through comparison with William Gibson’s Bridge trilogy, which is somewhat similar in mood but functions much more as a piece of social criticism than the humanistic character study of China Mountain Zhang.
In terms of style, Zhang narrates his segments with simple, direct, straightforward sentences. The straightforward and stark nature of his narration is often what humanizes Zhang, revealing the turmoil and self-doubt of someone who lives a life chosen for him by someone else, rather than the emotionless robot he might seem from what he says.
I doubt China Mountain Zhang will appeal to everyone—it’s too niche-of-a-niche—but it’s definitely a pleasant find and worth a shot....more