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The Quantum Evolution #1

The Quantum Magician

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Belisarius is a quantum man, an engineered Homo quantus who fled the powerful insight of dangerously addictive quantum senses. He found a precarious balance as a con man, but when a client offers him untold wealth to move a squadron of warships across an enemy wormhole, he must embrace his birthright to even try. In fact, the job is so big that he'll need a crew built from all the new sub-branches of humanity. If he succeeds, he might trigger an interstellar war, but success might also point the way to the next step of Homo quantus evolution.

478 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published October 2, 2018

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Derek Künsken

43 books410 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 602 reviews
Profile Image for William.
675 reviews324 followers
January 21, 2022
5-Stars! Outrageously Imaginative!

Delicious hard science, even to the mysteries of quantum unknowns, quantum possibilities. Great prose, fabulous characters, far better than any "Oceans 11" rip-off you could imagine. Rigorously founded in real science, and extrapolating wonderfully into sci-fi; I'm happy to watch various physical laws be broken now and then for such a great heist plot!

As usual with my reviews, please first read the publisher’s blurb/summary of the book. Thank you, NetGalley and Solaris for this ARC.

Some amazing world-building here, and the relationship between the "Puppet" race of humans and their "Divine" masters, the Numen, is extraordinary. I’ve never read such an incredible master-slave-race construct before.

This is a heist story, with each extraordinary character fulfilling a role in the crime, each one amazing and full-bodied in behaviour and thought. The heist barrels along, with unexpected but quite plausible twists and turns, and rockets to a dramatic and satisfying climax.

Perhaps the last 20% of the book could do with tighter editing, a bit more clarity. The pace is so high and the sci-fi quantum spiel is perhaps a bit too complex for this ending. But that’s a minor quibble to a truly extraordinary book. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.


Belisarius sold legal and illegal Puppet art and was curating the first exposition permitted by the Theocracy. Smell, lighting and sound influenced the aesthetic of Puppet religious experience, and for the exposition, Belisarius had laced the lobby with the faint citrus odor of Puppet sweat.

Quantum Qutrits ... Very, very esoteric!

Bel considers the Union request -
They were going to die. They were all going to die if they faced the Congregate navy, and they needed him to get to a place where they could die.

The Inspiration of Saint Matthew, by Caravaggio

Saint Matthew was probably the most sophisticated AI in civilization, the first of the long-sought Aleph-class of AIs being developed with the considerable resources of the First Bank of the Plutocracy.

Bel considers cards and gambling -
Cards possessed a kind of purity. The apparent evenness of the probability was Platonically untouchable. Politics, violence, foolishness, poverty and wealth meant nothing to probability.

(a random card magician picture, apologies to Kevin McMahon)

As intelligence was an emergent property of life, so games of controlled chance were an emergent property of intelligence. Intellect was an adaptive evolutionary structure, allowing humanity not only to sense the world in space, but to predict future events through time. Games of chance tested that predictive machine—so much so that games of controlled chance discriminated consciousness from unconsciousness far better than Turing.

Artist's concept of a quantum wave function ...

Marie the explosives expert -
“Happy for help,” Marie said, looking at them, wriggling her fingers. “This’ll be a three-or four-finger job.”
Gates-15 frowned at her. “What’s a three-finger job?”
“It’s how many fingers get blown off before I get it right. It’s way easier if we spread that around. Many hands make light the work,” she said cheerily.

click here for: Underwater Explosion at 120,000 FPS

A.I. Saint Matthew -
What if I’m the tool by which He actually ensouls machines? That would certainly force us to redefine the role of humanity in His plan. Imagine if humanity was just scaffolding for the creation and ensoulment of machines.”

Cassandra ponders love -
[Bel] smiled. And some of the weight on her chest lessened, until she realized that his smile was a lie, to make her feel better, and that only a month ago, she wouldn’t have known the difference between a smile and its imitation.

(just a lovely thought)


3.0% ... pretty good so far.

6.0% ... wow, delicious hard science, virtual particles and such. The prose is very good, so good you happily ignore the violation of thermodynamics.

20.0% ... very clever and literate.

39.0% .... the plot deliciously thickens!

50.0% ...
Risk and daring were a matter of calculation and feel, forceful attacks and timely folding, and lacing every choice with misdirection.

51.0% ... another fabulous plot twist.

59.0% ... wow, Puppet worship of Numen is really creepy, repulsive.

Intelligence was the first sense to see through time instead of space.

76.0% ... the Numen-Puppet relationship is unlike anything I've ever read before in science fiction.

96% ... word should be "precessing"
She measured her rotational speed and angular momentum against the stars, solving the differential equations to know how to extend her arms and legs to spin without processing.

Derek Künsken
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,962 followers
November 8, 2018
I have no problems raving about this book. It has everything I love about SF and then I get the best things I love about the thriller/mystery genre.


At first, I believed this was written as a homage or a more accessible version of Hannu Rajaniemi's Quantum Thief, and I was right... to a degree. It forwent the truly odd stuff and gave us a readable and full explanation of quantum mechanics and name-dropped a few more while throwing us into a more widespread future that never quite touched the singularity.

In other words, it had odd cultures and odder branches of humanity but it still felt a lot like everything we know. Bruisers coming in the form of gene-modded humans able to withstand punishing pressure, a technician in the form of insane AI who think he is a Saint from three thousand years ago or an inside man who is a part of a whole people modded to worship everything about self-torture as a religious experience.

Add our mastermind who is a broken quantum computer (in the old sense) who ought to be able to go into a fugue state and savant his way through any difficult problem except for the tiny detail that it hospitalizes him, and we've got an MC who needs a social challenge big enough to tax his brain without busting it.

There's a lot of great gallows humor here. A truly wild backdrop of space-opera with wormholes, big space-fleet conflict, and empires who all think they're the most formidable foes in the playground. What could go wrong?

Well, as it turns out, a lot, but the ride is fun as hell. After all, it's a HEIST! :) :)
Profile Image for David Katzman.
Author 3 books451 followers
August 3, 2019
I’ve read several science fiction/fantasy novels recently that all springboard off quantum physics (while at the same time reading several actual science books about quantum physics). At a high level, I’d summarize them as follows:

Quarantine (Subjective Cosmology #1) by Greg Egan is a mind-blowing far-future series that starts with a very hard-science premise grounded in quantum physics theory and then pushing the theory to an extreme.

The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi (and the entire Jean le Flambeur series) is a surrealist thriller that is only loosely based on real physics, but it’s a blast as a picaresque fantasy.

The Quantum Magician by Derek Künsken, the book I’m reviewing here, references quantum physics as a touchpoint, and legitimate aspects of theories are referenced. But just as in The Quantum Thief it’s only loosely inspired by them. Rather this is more of a fantasy/sci fi thriller heist story that has the most traditional character-based drive of the three quantum-inspired stories that I've read. Not a bad story, but for my taste, the least interesting of the three.

The Quantum Magician is rather like a cross between The Sting and a space opera. A con man named Belisarius is hired by a small military force to help them pull off a massive con that, in some unknown way, will help them achieve advantage in a galactic power struggle. In the end, I found it decent but not remarkable. Being as character driven as it is, a significant part of my reaction to it is how I felt about the characters. The characterizations were reasonably believable, but not particularly compelling. The emotions didn’t ring deeply true. When a book depends so significantly on character, I have a very high bar for how real the characters have to feel. There was something lacking in Künsken’s work here that failed to elevate this to the literary level. Acceptable as pulp characters but not elevating to a higher standard.

As far as space opera goes, it’s entertaining and rather dark. You never know who is really allied with who, motives are obscured, and power struggles abound. I can tell you that I enjoyed it…modestly. I would recommend it to fans of space sci fi dramas. The con artist plot structure isn’t perhaps as suspenseful as it could be because so many aspects of it are based on hypothetical far future science that aren’t particularly realistic. Unless those levers are extremely clearly delineated in advance, they can feel a bit too deus ex machina. The plan succeeded because of this magic science-y thing I made up!

Overall, it’s good. Just not great.
Profile Image for Gary.
442 reviews185 followers
October 8, 2018
Originally posted at https://1000yearplan.com/2018/10/06/t...

The multifarious, space-faring human civilization Derek Künsken envisions for his debut novel The Quantum Magician relies on a network of wormholes to move from system to system. Powerful patron nations control all the wormholes while subordinate client nations must contract with patrons to use them. The Sub-Saharan Union, a small client nation, longs for independence from the hegemonic Congregate, which controls access to the only wormhole to and from their planetary system. For decades the Union’s Sixth Expeditionary Force, made up of obsolete, second-hand warships, developed advanced weapons and propulsion technology in secret. To launch their attack before the Congregate learns of its existence, the Sixth needs to cross a wormhole axis controlled and defended by the Federation of Puppet Theocracies. The Puppets want half the Union’s souped-up warships as payment for passage across the axis, a price too high for the Union to pay. Trying to force their way across the axis would end with more of their ships destroyed or damaged than they would have lost if they had made the deal.
Enter homo quantus Belisarius Arjona, one of an engineered human sub-species whose brains are essentially quantum computers. Belisarius is an exile from his own people, a free agent who uses his quantum intellect to pull off complex confidence schemes for paying clients. The Union hires Belisarius to do the impossible: move the entire Sixth Expeditionary Force across the Puppet axis without the Puppets knowing it. To do so, Belisarius needs to assemble a team comprising all the various sub-species humans have engineered over the centuries, each bringing a unique skill set to the table. But Belisarius has something more personal at stake in the outcome than he can let on, and the slightest miscalculation could mean sacrificing himself and everyone he cares about.
The future history Künsken conjures is a dizzying miracle, so expansive and packed with detail, yet we still get the feeling the author is only scratching the surface. The structure of the heist story, in which “getting the band together” occupies a significant portion of the narrative, is perfect for sneaking in plot-dependent infodumps: someone always needs something explained to them in such scenes. Meanwhile, Künsken keeps dropping brain-blistering science-fictional concepts on the reader, because why settle for one cool idea when several dozen will do. The Union’s ships are powered by virtual particles that jump in and out of existence and carry an inflationary force akin to the expanding universe. It's the kind of concept sci-fi authors build entire novels around, but Künsken just tosses it into the bin like he’s got plenty more to spare.
Crime caper stories are reliant on sleight of hand; the plot of The Quantum Magician features the requisite double blinds and bait-and-switches, disseminated with a proficiency and confidence expected of a veteran author (Künsken has been publishing short fiction for over a decade). I must admit that I preferred watching the dominoes line up to watching them fall. Once Belisarius and his crew set the plan in motion, the story hits all its marks, but the execution feels a little perfunctory. What the novel gets right, though, is that its band of gene-engineered ne’er-do-wells, and especially Belisarius, are desperate to find meaning in their lives and willing to risk everything to get it. Pulling that off is the long game The Quantum Magician plays well.
Profile Image for Ryan.
270 reviews58 followers
November 7, 2022
It's a heist story. A simple heist story where one party needs some thing(s) moved from A to B at the risk of upsetting the authorities.

A simple heist story set in the future. And in space.

A simple heist story where humans aren't only human anymore. Not all of them anyway. So it's a simple heist story set in the distant future, in space, with humans and sub-species of humans. Sub-species suggests a hierarchy, which would suggest resentment and the potential for conflict. Maybe this isn't that simple after all. But it is.

This book is smart but not too smart. Hard sci-fi with the accessibility of [insert blockbuster Hollywood movie title]. Künsken manages to interweave big sci-fi ideas into a simple heist story without breaking away horribly from the tried and tested formula or feeling clunky and bloated. It's masterfully done.

I'll be reading this again and again over the coming years.


Previous reviews:

The problem with this book is that it finishes. Didn’t want to leave this universe, but I hope to return to it. Great stuff.

29/03/20 Reread

I need to write a better review of this masterpiece.
Profile Image for Bandit.
4,509 reviews453 followers
May 1, 2018
Some books you know almost immediately aren’t going to work for you. And yet the obsessive compulsive reader might feel compelled to finish them anyway. And that kinda sucks. And yes, I am such a reader, a completist by nature. And this one had such a promising premise and title and turned out to be such a chore to get through. From page one it was just too…sciency, for the lack of a more appropriate word. Sure it is science fiction, some science is to be expected, but this was positively overloaded with the techy aspects, so that it was in fact top heavy. But the time you get to the bottom, fiction in this case, you’re tired and kind of indifferent. In fact it wasn’t until about quarter of the way in that the plot actually got interesting enough to engage me. And actually the character writing was very good and the characters themselves, particularly the terrifically belligerent Stills, were pretty great. The plot itself involved a sort of intergalactic con job on a huge scale. That also worked. So that basically edited in a different way, slimmed down, trimmed down, this would have been lots of fun. Instead it was a dense plodding slog through space time continuum that took sheer will power and effort to finish. Thanks Netgalley.
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books695 followers
August 17, 2020
I thought this was a lot of fun. If you like Sherlock Holmes but also say "that is NOT POSSIBLE," whenever he inducts something far fetched again, and heist stories, this is a good'un.


Things to love:

-The universe. So, the stuff Sherlock Holmes does is impossible...for a human. You'd need to be a quantum computer to do what he does. So what if a quantum computer was a human? And if we have that level of genetic manipulation/ bioengineering, what else could humanity do? What WOULD it do? What other sorts of crazy stuff might we have? All of this was really thought through and I liked all the wacky novel-to-me twists and turns the author's mind wandered inventing this.

-The heist. Like all good heists, you know it's not going to go to plan. Seeing it fall apart and recongeal was tons of fun and masterfully woven.

-The stakes. As yucky as some of the fallout was, I was glad that there WAS fallout. There were consequences, complications, and people got hurt in believable ways.

-A satisfying ending. I liked where things came to rest. And that it came to rest? Why don't stories f***ing end anymore?? Kunsken puts a neat, well-earned bow on his story and that was appreciated.

Things that might confound enjoyment:

-The moralizing. Some, sure, we want to think about what all this means to humans if it were to occur. But philosophy can be extremely heavy-handed if not delicately handled. Kunsken didn't even try. Just full on wrecking ball of classical thinking from the foulmouthed minds of humanoid aliens. And then, we add 3 different dogmas/religions into the mix. Oy.

-"Brain damage." So there are a lot of ties here to conditions such as Autism referred to regularly as brain damage which is kinda yikes. I think it was because the state that mirrored a lot of autistic elements was induced and brought with it fevers and such, but yeah. I don't think that's the word we wanted.

-The science. It's not right, okay? But it is internally consistent, and did give us rules for the world, so I still liked it. This is science fiction, emphasis on the fiction.

-The fascination with sexual humiliation. I'm not kinkshaming here. This is a real thing and I don't see it as often in books as I see fetishes of dominance and dubcon (although, there was non-con stuff here so, not sure what I'm supposed to make of this). But it did make long stretches very uncomfortable for someone without that proclivity. I also didn't find it believable that everyone discussed it so openly? Like...isn't the shame part of the fetish? Idk. The whole Puppet thing was meant to be uncomfortable and was. I'm not sure if that means it succeeded or made it weird in a way that was weird even when we're discussing non-standard human approaches to life.

-The French and cursing. A tiny little baby nitpick here, but it is suuuuper confusing hearing joual and French conflated. The accent isn't the same, the words often don't mean the same thing....Calisse is not really a swear in French-French. (désolée à mes amis Québécois pour le maudit, là) While I love the idea that joual or Acadien or something takes over French in the future, I'd have liked it if we'd sort of discussed this, then? Also, there was a distinct lack of puta/putain in a novel with lots of cursing in French and Spanish lol

Lots of fun. I'd recommend this to many (in fact, I have!) but I'm also not sure I need to read more? So I guess 3.5 stars, rounded up because I did enjoy it and found time to read it outside my normal reading times.
Profile Image for 8stitches 9lives.
2,780 reviews1,625 followers
October 3, 2018
I was overjoyed to come across this on a 'best books of October list' that I instantly grabbed a copy as it sounded right up my reading street. I have a soft spot for science fiction so long as it has an original and intriguing premise, and this most certainly did. I mean, what could be better than the heist of a lifetime... in space? Trust me, you have never read a book like this before. Make no mistake, this is hard science fiction at its absolute best, and a simply magnificent full-length debut! If you're a lover of Yoon Ha Lee's 'Ninefox Gambit' or think you'd enjoy Ocean's Eleven set in space, then I urge you to pick this up!

Being a total nerd, I loved the scientific discussion throughout the story from which it was evident that the author knew exactly what he was talking about. The inclusion of the science-y parts made the whole thing feel wonderfully authentic and more believable. The characters are beautifully drawn, and I really cared what happened to each of them. I also appreciated the humour that was sprinkled through the pages. Intelligently written, suspenseful and a wholly satisfying conclusion - this was a fun read!

If you're a fan of the genre and in particular scientifically accurate sci-fi, this is absolutely unmissable! It ticked every box in what I look for in a book from this genre. It deserves a wide readership as it's a pleasure to read, exciting and had me thinking that it would make a perfect series. Stunningly imaginative and grounded in real science/physics which makes it all the more interesting, there isn't a single aspect of the story I didn't enjoy! I feel I really can't get over just how great this book, so if it sounds like your cup of tea, just read it! In my opinion, Künsken has shown he has the potential to have a long and distinguished writing career. I for one will keep my eyes open for more from him in the future.

Many thanks to Solaris for an ARC. I was not required to post a review, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.
Profile Image for HBalikov.
1,733 reviews648 followers
July 11, 2020
“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?” Robert Browning

Will you like this book as much as I did? Let’s find out.

You must have your geek on and be ready for one of the most challenging “whitewater rides” you have ever taken through genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, nano-technology, astrophysics, exo-biology, and a plethora of planets and species that stretch the term “human.”

Belisarius Arjona is a self-described con man. He is also part of an augmented human species dubbed Homo quantus. Others seek him out because they see his skill verging on the magical. He orchestrates “a con” reminiscent of Ocean’s Eleven but jacked up a few orders of magnitude.

"“So all Homo quantus are built this poorly?”
“It’s fair to say I’m the sum of many generations of flaws.”
“You can barely navigate zero grav, you get sick when you try something unusual, and you missed the Mutapa,” she said. “Our own navigation could have come closer.”
“I get it,” he groaned. “You don’t agree with the decision to hire me.”
“Then don’t hire me if you don’t think I can do the job.”"

The “job” is massive, in every sense of that word. It involves getting a fleet of very special ships through a wormhole that is completely controlled by their enemy. To accomplish this takes a team as varied and as different as you might imagine. No, I’m not sure anyone but Derek Künsken could imagine this group which includes experts in so many fields including mayhem and deception.

This may not be the most beautifully written book, but the reader is being moved through the plot at “warp speed” and the writing is more than adequate. Some of the things that Künsken gets right include:

- A well-conceived “world” with a full measure of complexity
- Characters that have depth and complexity (and stay in character)
- Species that have significant and consequential back-stories
- Technology that could be part of our future
- An in-space battle that is not like anything you have come across
- Individuals with layers of motivations
- Terrifying and shocking behaviors that are not just add-ons
- Surprises all through the novel

Okay, I hope I have given you enough of the story for you to determine if it will work for you. For those who want to risk knowing more, I have now added some material that I feel makes the case for how extraordinary this book is. (without spoilers, I believe) 4.5*

[I was reminded of this introduction to an old radio show because I feel The Quantum Magician actually achieves what was promised: “From the far horizons of the unknown come tales of new dimensions in time and space. These are stories of the future; adventures in which you'll live in a million could-be years on a thousand may-be worlds.”] This book is the first of at least two books with Belisarius Arjona.

As I have asserted above, this book, though not massive in size, is massive in what it wants to convey. I am skating on thin ice, but my intention is not to spoil the experience for you, but to induce more of the readers of this review (who love good SF) to give it a try.

There are four major “human” species in play in this novel. The “normal” humans and three that have been created for various reasons: the Puppets, the Mongrels and Homo quantus. There are also several varieties of A.I. including The Scarecrow and St. Matthew.

These are distributed, but not equally, among the empires and hegemonies that are in constant competition. Getting some type of enhancement advantage is a way to shift the balance of power, but it may have unintended consequences. "Anglo-Spanish genetic manipulation had made caged monsters of the Homo eridanus, religious slaves of the Homo pupa and intellectual automata of the Homo quantus. All things considered, humans had done a terrible job of directing their own evolution."

Since Bel is part of Homo quantus there is more description of their home world, the Garret, and what it means to be a quantus. This may be the apex of the author’s imaginative brilliance. See below:

"The Garret wasn’t like that. The Homo quantus sought knowledge. They didn’t threaten anyone. But what would the Homo quantus do if someone threatened them? She honestly didn’t know. Human history was a concatenation of power struggles and people trying to get away with whatever they could, until someone strong enough came along to stop them. That was the world she’d stepped into."

"THE QUANTUM INTELLECT coalesced in the absence of the Belisarius subjectivity. Millions of magnetosomes fed the intellect billions of qubits and qutrits of magnetic and electrical information. The intellect constructed a map of the signals, in all their mutually exclusive, superimposed richness. Quantum perceptions bloomed in an array of overlapping probabilities."

"Most of the processing power of the quantum intellect was consumed in the constant navigational adjustments to the shape of the induced wormhole;"
"Even in his normal state, Belisarius could have mentally pictured five dimensions. In savant, he could picture seven- and eight-dimensional objects and complex state space geometries. The rendering programs had notations made just for the Homo quantus that allowed them to go past even this, to see the eleven-dimensional geometries that approached the complexity of wormholes."

"In the same way he could have played cards with even the most advanced computers and soon found the rules governing their choices, so he could have done with the living computer that Cassandra had become in the fugue. The objective intellect she became was not conscious in even the most rudimentary sense. She was a machine of flesh ridden by a web of algorithms that could in no way even be called a person. Cassandra did not presently exist, having been temporarily snuffed out by an electrical and biochemical lobotomy."

"She tumbled. But she was still in savant. She measured her rotational speed and angular momentum against the stars, solving the differential equations to know how to extend her arms and legs to spin without precessing."

"The Tribe of the Mongrel were promiscuous users of the foulest words from every language, from français 8 back to français 1, to most forms of Anglo-Spanish, Mandarin and Trade Arabic." (Which gives the author license to use invective, profanity, scatological references, curses, etc. and do so with some inventiveness.)

"Saint Matthew’s quantum computing capacities and hard positives on every sentience test made him advanced, even among the Aleph-class."

"She hadn’t experienced any of what her brain had done in the fugue. She couldn’t have. Cassandra the person had not existed for those hours. But she could review the memories of what her brain had seen and sensed and done, and she could try to understand it all. It was like revealed knowledge." "He’d pass out if this kept up. So he was playing smart. Their pings had gradually told him the kind of kit that was hunting him. They sounded like programmed defensive tech in mid-sized torpedo casings. He’d built a profile of their sense-and-search algorithms based on their pings and positioning, slowly improving his diversions and using cover better."

Every member of Bel’s “team” was tempted with some inducement (which of course included a massive amount of money). But that wasn’t always the prime factor:

"“The nature of the job is not as important as the context. Do you ever feel a sense of fate?”
“All the time,” Saint Matthew said.
“In fated times,” Belisarius said, “miracles are not only possible, but logically necessary.”
“Go on,” Saint Matthew said.
“Your coming to me twelve years ago can’t be an accident,” Belisarius said. “What I hadn’t figured out, until now, was where your mission had to start, or what my role was.”"

"“Things seem to be going well here,” Belisarius said.
“Yes. The batches of autonomous robots are at generation six, and are evolving quite nicely.”
“You didn’t want to design them directly? This is going to take longer.”
“I’m a craftsman, Mister Arjona, not a hack. Iterative design by the mutation of replicating units is better. Emerging complexity and self-assembly are too useful not to exploit. And it’s the only way to see if I could evolve robotic species with souls.” “What?”
“I admit, it’s a long shot, but while I’m evolving autonomous robots for one reason, why not test whether I can give them souls too?”"

"“I’m glad you asked. I’m bored of trying to help Bel with his love problem and Matt with his god complex.”
“They’ll shit sunshine when they hear you’re going to stop helping them.”
“I decided to help you.”
“You can start by washing my ass.”
“I’m figuring you out. You’re one of those dish-it-out types but you’re not interested in taking it.”
“Are you a mongrel whisperer now?”
“Let’s say I am. I think the whole Way of the Mongrel code is this big defensive screen, putting yourselves down before someone else does.”"

Another area where this book shines is in imagined technology:

"An inflaton drive. He wondered if she was lying. He usually could tell, but he didn’t think she was. She was tamping down her own pride in the telling. How did they do it? Inflaton particles carried the inflationary force that caused the ongoing expansion of the universe. In some theories, a wave of inflation was self-reinforcing, a runaway effect. Their own drive could destroy them. And the energy cost must be enormous. Then it clicked. “Virtual inflatons,” Belisarius said. Iekanjika started. Virtual particles were pairs of particles and anti-particles that could jump into existence as long as they vanished back into nothingness quickly enough."

"In front of the ship, a pocket of space-time bulged at right angles to the three dimensions of space. Semi-melted space-time distended like a questing pseudopod. The shape and focus of the magnetic field pushed the tube of space-time across dimensions accustomed to being curled. The questing finger reached down, around the intervening space, until a narrow, unstable bridge reached a point far to galactic south. Then the display greened. They had induced a wormhole."

"At twenty-two kilometers below the surface, the view opened on one side. The tower of carbon containing their elevator carried them past slush dotted with moving icebergs, and then into the dark, open water of a protected bay. At this depth, the frame of the elevator creaked as it endured eight hundred atmospheres of pressure. If any of the systems failed, they would be crushed instantly."

"The thinnest of vines wrapped up a narrow, smooth-barked tree trunk. Transparent gossamer leaves sprouted from it at regular intervals…(he was led )… up the leaves. They fluoresced as…(h)is brain ripped apart the engineering in the stairs as he followed…: plant cells engineered to grow carbon nanofilament, probably reinforcing the xylem and phloem to steely hardness. And likely colonized intracellularly by bioluminescent bacteria that glowed under pressure. Lovely."

"….had a computational and robotics lab, equipped with atomic force microscopes and X-ray lithographers for the nano-level engineering of parts he needed. He grew other parts and tools in small bioreactors. Various pieces of equipment ran, their fans humming softly. The bready smell of yeast floated on the air. Little multi-legged robots scuttled on the floor like polished insects."

And then there is the “con:”

"He was... worldly, dishonest, money-chasing. Or he was lying. He said he wanted the data as badly as she did. They were going to try something never before tried. They were going to touch the inside of an Axis Mundi in ways that no Homo quantus ever had. Who was he telling the truth to? Maybe he didn’t tell the truth to anyone."

"You do not make all the choices, and not one this big.” “
Would you ever play poker as part of a committee?” “Do not insult me, Arjona. I do not appreciate whatever comparison you are making.”
“I’m playing against the psychology of the Puppets. You more than anyone else can understand what it is to stare down someone across the table.”
“I bet my stake, on my cards, against my opponent.”
“That’s what I’m doing, Antonio.”

"He had the start of an idea for getting the Expeditionary Force to the other side of the Puppet Axis, but that was just navigation, playing the cards. The larger problem would be playing the Puppets. They wouldn’t be easy marks."

“And if the Puppets do not swallow your bluff?” “They will,” Belisarius said. He felt an icy certainty slipping into his voice."

"You meant to con me, but you were telling the truth.”
“I said it because it was meaningful to you, like my nonexistent soul,” Belisarius said. “Just because neither exists to me doesn’t mean they don’t exist for you. I’m Homo quantus; I live in an observer-dependent world where very important things can exist and not exist at the same time.”"

"“You never really needed me. You didn’t need to be a con man, either. You were always made for more.” Belisarius shook his head. “I was built wrong, Will. If I hadn’t found cons, I would have died a long time ago. You saved me.”"


"Hemoglobins were remarkably sensitive to partial pressures because they flexed from one shape to another as they functioned: fold to grab the oxygen, unfold to let the oxygen go."

"But the space above the Free City was alive with artillery explosions and chaff. Lasers heated up any debris in their firing arcs. Small fighter craft, tough old Anglo-Spanish Mark 21 Daggers and bigger cast-off Congregate Perceuses, flew nasty."

"The poised watchfulness that had ill-fit her in civilian clothes now suited, as if a hard gem had been returned to its setting."

"Nothing in the memories of the Belisarius subjectivity was helpful. The Belisarius subjectivity’s memories of each discussion of his plans were deceptive and contradictory, and even occasionally self-deceiving. The Belisarius subjectivity operated on multiple levels of deception, with overlapping realities and narratives, interacting and interfering so that knowledge was less factual and more probabilistic, similar to superimposed quantum waves. The quantum intellect could not cede this decision to the Belisarius subjectivity."


"“Happy for help,” Marie said, looking at them, wriggling her fingers. “This’ll be a three- or four-finger job.” Gates-15 frowned at her. “What’s a three-finger job?” “It’s how many fingers get blown off before I get it right. It’s way easier if we spread that around. Many hands make light the work,” she said cheerily. Cassandra resisted a shiver."
Profile Image for DivaDiane.
948 reviews88 followers
November 28, 2021
More like 4.5 but I’m feeling generous!

This is an excellent heist in outer space. It’s a look at what could happen if augmentation, gene manipulation and other similar mods are allowed and run rampant. But that’s just the backdrop.

I love the cast of misfit characters and the plot and world are complicated enough to make you pay attention. No skimming or just letting it wash over you!

I listened to this and the narrator is very good. One quibble is that his narration pace is painfully slow, until it gets exciting. then it’s not. I listened at 1.5x normal speed with absolutely no problem. If he did not quicken his pace in the exciting parts, 1.8x probably would’ve been just fine.
Profile Image for YouKneeK.
642 reviews78 followers
September 13, 2021
This was another one of my series-sampling audio listens, to see if I might want to pursue it in print someday. The answer: no, please, no!

Audio Narration
The narrator is T. Ryder Smith. He did ok, but wasn’t a personal favorite. His regular narration voice reminded me of a not-very-nice person I have known in real life, so I think there was an entirely unfair association going on in my head that kept getting triggered by his tone of voice and his reading style. It didn't help that both this person I knew and the main character in this book told a lot of lies.

The only tangible complaint I had was with the way he sloooowed. down. the. speech. soooo. much when a character was in a “savant” or “fugue” state, or for a character speaking through a speech synthesizer. It did successfully convey their altered state, but was annoying to listen to. I sped up the playback speed, but that doesn’t really help for a variable speed situation. I became used to the faster speed of the normal text, so the slower speeds for the relevant character dialogue still felt very slow by comparison.

The main character, Belisarius, is a “Homo quantus”, an engineered species given exceptional computational abilities. Although he does use his skills, he has rejected his people because he believes mistakes were made with him in particular, and with the Homo quantus concept in general. To try to keep his overactive mind under control, he does various jobs as a “confidence man”, the more challenging the better. Near the beginning of the story, he’s asked to help transport a bunch of warships through a guarded wormhole. He knows the mission will be nearly impossible, even for him, but he recruits several people who have all sorts of interesting skills and personalities and sets up a plan to utilize all of their areas of expertise. Of course, the inevitable problem is that not all of them share the same motivations or goals.

I had trouble focusing on this story. I didn’t care much about the characters, wasn’t invested in the heist plot, got tired of the heavy-handed philosophizing (especially the stuff which I feel has been done to death), got tired of all the lying, and was annoyed by the romance even though it was admittedly a small part of the plot. I had to constantly remind myself to pay attention to the audiobook and not space out instead.

Some of the characters introduced by the author were pretty creative though, and I did occasionally laugh at some of the humor. I rather enjoyed the bits with Marie and Stills in particular, which maybe doesn’t say much for my refinement, and Matthew was sometimes amusing. The Numen/Puppet stuff mostly made me cringe. Also, I don’t have much personal experience with or knowledge about autism, so maybe I’m way off base, but I felt like some of Belisarius’ attitudes came across as pretty offensive and I wasn’t always sure if that was supposed to be just the character or if it was the author too.

I’m rating this at 2.5 stars for the sake of the parts I did enjoy, but rounding down to 2 stars on Goodreads due to my over-all difficulty getting through it.
Profile Image for Peter Tillman.
3,623 reviews325 followers
November 25, 2018
This is a good debut novel that could have been better with tighter editing. Inside this 480 page book is a first-rate 300 or 350-page novel struggling to get out. Still worth reading, though Künsken seems to assume that 21st century physics (the Standard Model) will persist into the indefinite future. OK, there's plenty of great superscience stuff too, some halfway plausible. I always love to see inexplicable Forerunner tech, here an ancient Wormhole subway system that provides FTL links to the Great Powers. But the hard-SF goodness gets diluted by filler. And the pacing, for a caper story, sags badly in places, for info-dumps and philosophical musings. It does come to a first-rate ending, with exploding spaceships! , superscience weapons, a big payoff for Our Heroes, and hooks for the sequel. So: 4 stars for the cool SFnal ideas, 2 stars for the caper and editing. Your mileage may vary: read some other reviews too. Gary Tognetti’s is a good one: https://1000yearplan.com/2018/10/06/t...

I’d previously read and liked his 2016 novelette “Flight from the Ages”, set in this same universe: Two sentient AI reps of the Bank of the Plutocracy race to save the universe! “The blistering sheets of x-rays. The thrumming of space-time shuddering with gravitational waves.” Marvelous fun, 4.5 stars. Reprinted in Dozois #34, and which led me to read the novel.
Profile Image for Lowell.
81 reviews11 followers
August 18, 2018
Full disclosure: Review ARC provided by Netgalley.com, in kindle format.

I was unable to finish this book. I read the first 25% and was interminably bored by the setup. While the plot seems to be the setup of an ensemble heist story, more than the first quarter of the book is just a setup to that ensemble. The main character is a flat stereotype without any personality, and the side characters (bar one) lack any hooks that would make me think there is something to them. There is neither humor nor sadness, joy or pain or suffering or any emotional involvement.

It is clear that the author did a significant amount of worldbuilding, however, instead of focusing on the interesting parts of the universe and galaxy he's created, we are railroaded into a story which might focus on one very small piece of the puzzle. Further, the book is overly long, and in need of some serious editorial focus, with questions like on "what story are you telling?" being the key to making it a tighter and more compelling read.
Profile Image for Carlex.
500 reviews90 followers
August 22, 2021
Excellent! Innovative, well-thought-out science fiction and a sense of wonder in abundance. A story that captivates with good characters.
Profile Image for Hank.
793 reviews73 followers
May 1, 2020
Just how I like my sci-fi, weird, techy, made up words and space! This is an Oceans Eleven in space (except there were only 8 of them) with space guns and space ships and space people and tons of modified humans. It really was fun even if it was heavily inspired by the movie above. A sweet con job with all the geek stuff that I love. 4.5 stars.
Profile Image for Майя Ставитская.
1,324 reviews133 followers
March 3, 2022
Do you think that in the future there will certainly be a singularity and a qualitatively different type of person with qualitatively different relationships: interpersonal, family, collective, economic? Different kinds of "Economy 2.0", "Politics 2.0"? And if there is no singularity? That is, there will be changes at the genetic level, even races of genetically modified people, but the type of social relations will not go far from the current ones, even minorities will continue to be driven into reservations, however, allowing casinos to be opened there for budget adjustments.

Could it be that? Why not? The ways of progress are inscrutable. Archon's Belisarius belongs to a rather privileged part of the new humanity, Homo Quantus, and balances on the edge between two states, savant and fugue - his device is such that for short periods of relaxation one has to pay with intense mental activity, doing the most complex probabilistic calculations involving many significant factors in his mind. Such a chained mental galley, without it he will die or go crazy.

He desperately strives to achieve integrity, realizing that it is hopeless and applies his unique abilities to the development of various kinds of scams that allow him to get by with one-time earnings. He's actually a fugitive from the labor front, he didn't want to work for the creators. I am not the one who will judge. In the course of his fraudulent activity, the hero closely cooperates with the dolls, turning geshefts in their open city.

Квант милосердия
– Я хочу стать целостным. И не на несколько недель, а на всю оставшуюся жизнь.
– Все мы хотим стать целостными.

Думаете, в будущем непременно сингулярность и качественно иной тип человека с качественно иными отношениями: межличностными, семейными, коллективными, экономическими? Разного рода "Экономика 2.0", "Политика 2.0"? А если без сингулярности? То есть, изменения на генном уровне будут, даже расы генно-модифицированных людей, но тип общественных отношений недалеко уйдет от нынешних, даже меньшинства продолжат загонять в резервации, впрочем, позволяя для поправки бюджета открывать там казино.

Может быть такое? Почему нет? Неисповедимы пути прогресса. Велизариус Архона принадлежит к довольно привилегированной части нового человечества, Homo Quantus, и балансирует на грани между двумя состояниями , савант и фуга - его устройство таково, что за короткие периоды расслабления приходится платить интенсивной умственной активностью, проделывая в уме сложнейшие вероятностные расчеты с участием множества значимых факторов. Такая прикованность на ментальной галере, без этого он умрет или сойдет с ума.

Вел отчаянно стремится достичь целостности, понимая, что это безнадежно и прилагает свои уникальные способности к разработке разного рода афер, которые позволяют перебиваться разовыми заработками. Он вообще-то беглец с трудового фронта, не захотел работать на создателей. Кто осудит, тот не я. По ходу своей аферистической деятельности герой тесно сотрудничает с куклами, проворачивая гешефты в их открытом городе.

Куклы еще одна раса генных модификатов, ненавидимая и презираемая остальными. Это такая теократия существ, созданных с утилитарной целью донорства органов с изначально интегрированным мощным религиозным чувством, направленным на людей. То есть, понимаете, главное, ради чего они живут - жертвенность, желание жизнь положить за боги своя. Пропорционально сложенные, но мелкие (около 80 сантиметров) люди, власть в общинах которых сосредоточена в руках священства.

А есть еще дворняги, и вот кому достался действительно хреновый жребий.Потому что, нет, они не на собак похожи, а на помесь тюленей с чудищами из "Вождей Атлантиды", был такой древний фильм ужасов. Созданные для работы на дне океана (не забыли, что Земля по большому счету планета Вода?), они приспособлены к жизни в условиях высокого давления, дышат жабрами и попросту взорвутся от кессонной болезни, если рискнут подняться к поверхности и увидеть солнце.

И вот, Архона нанимает Северо-Сахарский Союз - небольшой конгломерат двух планет, по сути колония, вынужденная поставлять бойцов для войн космической метрополии. Нанимает для одного безнадежного мероприятия, которое почти совершенно точно приведет к гибели участников, но если просчитает верно, куш обещает быть космических масштабов, а главное - сам он обретет вожделенную целостность.

И он просчитывает. По всему выходит, что миссия требует участия лучших представителей всех рас, как в народной сказке "Семь Симеонов", и это, на самом деле, круто. Канадец Дерек Кюнскен по образованию ученый, микробиолог, но профессий перепробовал много, двадцать долгих лет посылая в издательства свои книги и получая отказы. Однако пробился, и это хорошо.

Умная, яркая, наполненная бьющей через край энергией книга с довольно высокой плотностью поверхностного натяжения - в нее не влетаешь на салазках и не плюхаешься с разбега. Для того, чтобы проникнуться реалиями, нужно совершить достаточно серьезное ментальное усилие, но затраченная на него энергия окупится сторицей. Сложное плетение ткани "Квантового волшебника" пронизывает соединение по-настоящему умной твердой НФ, космической оперы, авантюрного романа, философской прозы, довольно рискованным черным юмором и полирует все это олдскульной фантастикой в духе Жюля Верна,

А прекрасное чтение Игоря Князева дополнительный бонус для слушателя.

Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,920 reviews1,255 followers
October 29, 2019
For a while now, I’ve been eschewing posthumanism. Walking on the wild side of nanotechnology was starting to get too much like science fantasy for my tastes. The Quantum Magician is an exception that I’m happy I made: Derek Künsken’s story of a genetically engineered con artist is delightful, and it explores posthumanist ideas in a way that feels fresh. Although I wouldn’t say any of the characters (not even the protagonist) endeared themselves to me, the plot is enjoyable and thought-provoking.

Full disclosure, I received this through NetGalley! Send me all ur free books.

Belisarius Arjona, or “Bel” to his friends, is a Homo quantus. In this far future universe, humanity has tinkered with genetic engineering, producing such offshoots as the Numen (who created the reviled Puppets), the Tribe of the Mongrel (aka Homo eridanus), and Bel’s own subspecies. The Homo quantus have biological adaptations that help them sense not just magnetic fields but quantum states. Bel is capable of entering a fugue state where his consciousness decoheres, leaving an intellect of pure quantum computation. Bel has parted ways with the project that created him, and he lives on his own, pulling cons for organizations large and small to keep his brain occupied. When a military hires him to con their fleet through a wormhole junction, he has to assemble a rag-tag group of misfits to pull it off. Oh yeah, there’s a “getting the team together” part to this book, and it delivers.

The Quantum Magician actually is rather formulaic when you look at it from a macro view. The thing about formula is that it’s good when it’s used the way Künsken uses it, i.e., to ground the reader in an otherwise unfamiliar setting. The same might be said for something like The Lies of Locke Lamora , wherein Lynch likewise exploits the familiar tropes of a con artist team in order to spin a much more fantastic yarn. That’s what’s happening here: strip away the fancy terminology, the genetic engineering, the AIs who think they are reincarnated saints … and you just have a con. You have a caper. It’s Ocean’s Eleven but in space in the far future and with wormholes and so, so much better as a result.

I love the pacing in particular. The book builds and builds and builds, but it never feels like it’s running slow. Künsken never infodumps. Each chapter is a new scene, a new place, as we follow Bel on his travels to assemble his team, and each visit brings new ideas and new information to the forefront. It’s like a whistle-stop tour, and it hints at this big, rich universe beyond that we don’t get to explore as much as we might want. Leave them wanting more! Finally, after we have the team and the walkthrough and the twists and betrayals, there is an action-packed climax that actually got me worried for a moment about how the con would go. There are a lot of moving parts, and I’m impressed with how Künsken brings everything together.

As I mentioned earlier, the handling of posthumanism is quite well done. Obviously there’s Bel himself. We meet another Homo quantus, old flame Cassandra, whose opinions of their genetic engineering are very different from Bel’s. This juxtaposition is really nice, and it lets us consider the pros and cons of what Bel and Cassandra are capable of doing. It also sets up a romance that is, in my opinion, quite well done because of its subtlety. It’s there, but it isn’t a big focus in the story.

In addition to Bel, each member of the team embodies other posthuman qualities. Some, like Del Casal and Maria, might not be as obvious—they are closer to baseline human, but they live in a posthuman world and are used to interacting with posthumans. William’s conversion into a faux Numen, and his relationship with Gates-15 and the other Numen–obsessed Puppets, takes us down quite a chilling and disturbing rabbithole. Then we have Stills, the Homo eridanus, in whom Künsken explores how far from baseline human we can get and still be “human”. While we learn relatively little about the origins of these projects, who oversees them, etc., it’s clear that in this universe, humanity remains a dynamic, fractured, squabbling civilization that just happens to have some wormhole junctions nowadays. It’s fantastic.

If, like me, you are a sucker for a good con story, you need to check out The Quantum Magician. It’s posthuman SF blended with con artistry, with fun characters, lots of swearing, and perfect pacing and action.

My reviews of The Quantum Evolution:
The Quantum Garden

Creative Commons BY-NC License
Profile Image for Jamie.
1,158 reviews103 followers
July 31, 2019
3.5 stars. This debut novel from Derek Künsken has a lot going for it. In particular, some creative and quite unusual hard sci-fi concepts, much of it based on the bio-engineering of specialized human sub-species, some fascinating world building, plus an interesting heist themed plot. However, the storytelling suffers to some extent from overdone character stereotypes and frequently trite dialogue. Also, with a ton of characters, locations, factions, alliances, and more twists than you can shake a stick at, I was often left scratching my head wondering what exactly was going on. To be clear, this is a thoroughly enjoyable and exceedingly fun story, with some of the makings of greatness.
Profile Image for Antonio Diaz.
321 reviews62 followers
December 25, 2018
De lo mejor del año. Con estructura tipo Ocean's Eleven que camufla unas ideas ingeniosas y sentido de la maravilla a raudales.

El complemento perfecto es en programa de los Verdhugos donde entrevistan al autor (que habla perfectamente español)
Profile Image for Soo.
2,598 reviews257 followers
October 7, 2021
10/07/21 Notes:

3.5 Stars Raised to 4 Stars

My thoughts from reading the book in March still hold true. Though, I enjoyed the re-read more than my first few passes at the story. Fun characters and great core concepts. Curious to see if the potential for the series will be realized. Onto book #2!

03/29/21 Notes:

Enjoyed the story more as the "crew" for the job were gathered. They have more personality than the MC. There needed to be more active scenes to balance out the mental cartwheels and technical bits.
Profile Image for aPriL does feral sometimes .
1,889 reviews428 followers
September 7, 2021
'The Quantum Magician' by Derek Künsken is a mind-blowing brain-bending novel! I read fast, but I had to slow down for this book to understand not only the quantum playground the author created, but also to keep all of the pieces that were flying about in some kind of organization. After all, in a heist plot, the main character is often adept with the juggling of many balls in the air, so readers need to keep up with the author's world-building and plot architecture! This is especially true in a heist taking place in a completely alien science-fiction universe far into an imaginary future!

Below is a copy of the book blurb because I think it is accurate:

An audacious con job, scintillating future technology, and meditations on the nature of fractured humanity” - Yoon Ha Lee

“Technology changes us—even our bodies—in fundamental ways, and Kunsken handles this wonderfully” - Cixin Liu


Belisarius is a Homo quantus, engineered with impossible insight. But his gift is also a curse—an uncontrollable, even suicidal drive to know, to understand. Genetically flawed, he leaves his people to find a different life, and ends up becoming the galaxy’s greatest con man and thief.

But the jobs are getting too easy and his extraordinary brain is chafing at the neglect. When a client offers him untold wealth to move a squadron of secret warships across an enemy wormhole, Belisarius jumps at it. Now he must embrace his true nature to pull off the job, alongside a crew of extraordinary men and women.

If he succeeds, he could trigger an interstellar war… or the next step in human evolution.

There are several political governments spying on each. Each space power - the Union, the Federation of Puppet Theocracies, the Anglo-Spanish Banks, the Congregate - either controls a wormhole axis or needs to travel through an axis for trade. It is trade which keeps everyone in a nervous state of peace for the moment, although everyone is in a technology race for supremacy. Those powers with superior technology and war ships control the black holes everyone uses to transport supplies and people. Some of the governments are neutral, like the Banks. Some are client states, forced into servitude from past wars or dependence. The Puppets are despised by all of the other governments - the only one thing all of the other space powers agree on. The term 'Humanity' has become fluid due to genetic engineering. Most people are implanted with augmentations, too. It is around 2515 CE.

Some of the 'humans' Belisarius Arjona hires from previous heists he has pulled are not what anyone today would recognize as human, particularly a whale-like creature and a religious AI. Every character is a tongue-in-cheek creation, btw. But all of those, except one, who agreed to work with Bel are mavericks whatever their DNA or computer modifications. They need to trust each other for Bel's plan to break a wormhole's security systems - whether the security is warships standing by the Axis mouth or digital traps - to work. Or maybe not. Bel possesses a brain designed to become a quantum computer and he believes he has all of the possibilities figured out.

However, there be surprises! Like an unsuspected betrayal or two....
Profile Image for Cathy.
1,621 reviews239 followers
December 4, 2021
Ocean‘s 11 in space, with genetically modified humans and transhumans. The first dozen chapters are all about getting the crew together, with some backstory explaining the world. Your classic heist caper 101, but in a post-human world.

Very short chapters with changing POVs, cycling through the various members of the crew.

Pretty interesting interview with the author from 2019 in Locus magazine:

“Two things a con man had to keep in mind were pay-off and risk. No con was risk-free. And risk was unmeasurable without reference to payoff.“

After the long set-up things heated up a little. For me the pacing was much too slow for a heist caper. There were some parts I enjoyed, but the author lost me somewhere after the midway point with all the techo-, science- and wormhole babble. It didn‘t bring the plot forward and bored me. A hundred pages less would probably have given me a tightly scripted plot that I would have enjoyed.

The puppet and numen dynamic was pretty disturbing. I found it so disgusting that it nearly made me toss the book. It was yucky, unsettling and just too much.

I liked Stills and Marie. As a book with an ensemble cast this was just ok. Shards of Earth did a much better job with it earlier this year. But a certain je-ne-sais-quoi was missing here. Yes, the characters kept talking French, no idea why.

I started with the audio. The narrator was less than ideal. He kept changing his speed, going from fairly normal to sloooow as molasses and back to slightly frantic, matching the situation. Shouldn’t that be a big no-no in audiobook narration? It’s a bitch, when listening at slightly exaggerated speed. I switched to the ebook in the second half of the book and preferred it. At least until I checked out of the narrative. I went back to audio, upped the speed and rushed through it, not wanting to DNF it. I am sure I missed stuff. Besides my pacing issues and the info dumps I blame the audiobook narrator for my lack of enjoyment. The book probably deserves at least 3 stars—I eye-read the last few chapters, where all the loose ends were tied up and I actually liked them.

Note to self: don‘t get any more audios narrated by T. Ryder Smith.

Note to others: plenty of gratuitous swearing. And that disgusting master/slave dynamic. Nope.
Profile Image for Quintin Zimmermann.
229 reviews33 followers
May 23, 2018
Belisarius Arjona was taught by a con man that there are only three bets: "Sometimes, you play the cards. Sometimes, you play the player. Sometimes, you just throw the dice."

Well, as the Quantum Magician, Bel played all three simultaneously in the ultimate con. For you see, Bel is a Homo quantus, born from a scientific project founded upon the precept that consciousness collapses quantum systems into clear outcomes, as epitomised by Schrodinger's cat. A Homo quantus brain has been engineered at will to discard the consciousness and subjectivity, to enter into a quantum fugue that does not collapse the quantum phenomena and thereby exposes an array of overlapping probabilities.

So begins the ultimate heist wherein he assembles a disparate team consisting of an experienced con man, inside man, demolitions expert, navigator, electronics wizard, exotic deep diver and a geneticist.

I really enjoyed the diverseness of advanced life from the loathsome Puppets and Numen, sentient AI, the Tribe of the Mongrel, to my absolute favourite, Homo quantus.

An eclectic cast of characters in a hard sci-fi setting where there is always a con. If you think that you know what is going on, you have no idea. If you have no idea, then you are right where you should be.

An imaginative, well realised world inhabiting by the most unique characters that we revile and adore, all at the same time.

Highly recommended for any sci-fi lovers wanting to read something very different.
Profile Image for Don Dunham.
272 reviews14 followers
September 15, 2021
Mr. Kunsken channeling Iain M. Banks. A great caper story set in the distant future in a solar system far away. Hard-ish Science Fiction. Rated PG-13 for language and adult situations. Definitely waiting for this Author's next book.
Profile Image for Ergative Absolutive.
330 reviews9 followers
January 11, 2023
Mph. It followed a pretty standard heist format--which is perfecty fine! I like a good heist!--but I had difficulty keeping track of the moving parts of the heist as planned, so when the underheist was revealed, it was not satisfying and clever, but instead mostly confusing. I think this book might benefit from re-reading, but I'm not sure I want to reread it. The characters felt a little bit stale and remote--which, again, is fine if the focus is on something like clever heist mechanics, but since we've already established that the mechanics fell a bit flat for me, the book suffered from the weak characters.

What was brilliant, however, was the deeply fucked-up Puppet society. Puppets are a population of humans who were genetically engineered to feel religious awe for their historic ruling class, the Numens. However, for various reasons involving genetic drift and unforeseen consequences and the Numens basically being really, really dumb in building themselves a society of slaves who worship them as gods, the Puppet society has evolved into something utterly bizarre. The way the book plumbs the depth of that creepiness as events unfold was really, really great. So, in the end, I'd recommend this book on the basis of that component of the plot. Cripes, what a creepy bunch of weirdos those Puppets are.
445 reviews25 followers
May 17, 2018
The Quantum Magician is the debut sci-fi novel from Derek Künsken. It’s a book nominally about a heist and a con, moving some impossibly precious things from one place to another without interacting with the intervening authorities. But it’s also a story about humanity and transhumanism; about the way people are willing to change themselves or others to adapt to an environment, and about the costs that are born out of that decision. It’s about old friendships and new alliances – the trust you can put into those who have never betrayed you, and in those who have hurt you before. It’s a human story – well, mostly. One about people, the way they interact with each other, what they’re willing to do, and what (or who) they’re willing to compromise to reach their goals. But there’s also a sweeping array of space battles, and a sprawling universe out there to explore between warhead splashes.

Belisarius is the centre of the story – part of a new species of human, one able to make astounding leaps of intellectual analysis by stepping away from their individuality. Belisarius is charming, thoughtful, and clearly off the map of standard humanity. He struggles with his own identity, with the sense of being himself. At the same time, he’s willing to disperse his consciousness for focus, to obviate the self for the sake of more mundane goals. There are some allusions to engineered individuals being focused on the broader concepts of the universe, unwilling to engage with the minutiae, with individuals who work within a cash economy and are willing to discourage disagreement through superior firepower. Belisarius isn’t one of these – he ties up to reality, and seems largely willing to accept its existence, despite his priorities being elsewhere. Some od that is just a desire to keep his mind engaged, to escape the cosmic unutterables of the universe and get down and dirty with the human. Bel is an intriguing creature, one struggling against a genetically engrained purpose. They are at once an endorsement of the individuality of consciousness, and a triumph, or warning, of the results of engineering.

Belisarius, delightful as they are, complex as they are, struggling, human as they are, is not the only individual on the page. There are some truly startling post-Sapiens individuals. These include an individual from the deep pressure divers – built to populate a liquid pressure environment far higher than normal, and survive, never comfortable, but unable to return to the world outside – and the Puppets. The puppets are a masterpiece. A populace created to experience awe under pheremonal cues, a subservient species of man, They overthrew their masters, not in revulsion to their genetic goals, but in their service – protecting their living deities by restricting access, by refusing to obey damaging commands, by taking the personal gods thy were given and breaking them on the wheel. The Puppets are breathtaking, a species of man which works within constrains but expands, horrifyingly and understandably, beyond them.

There are other characters of course. Belisarius is smart, funny, and can talk people into anything, but that’s the con. He needs people. Puppets. Doctors. Monsters. Lunatics. Each makes the heart sing and hurt in equal measure. The individual in a tank, living for speed outside their pressure boundary, fighting and killing and willing to accept a creed of death before acquiescence shares a table with an ex-Marine whose enthusiasm for explosives may be a smidge out of hand. If t hey’re not as much there as Belisarius, still they carry the full freight of humanity on their shoulders, odd as it may be in some cases. This is a story about a con, to be sure, and it has the highly tense emotional weight to prove it, the payoff which rewards you for turning pages. But it’s a story about people, as well, about the larger unions – how a client state struggles against colonialism, how it tries to overthrow its masters – and about the individual, about the self-realisation of our actors.

Admittedly that realisation if often backed by explosives.

If you’re not here for the imaginatively and evocatively realised universe, or the compellingly flawed characters that make up Belisarius’ flawed team of con artists and criminals, you might be here for the plot, and the wonder. It’s out there, in a larger universe, one of unexplained, ancient alien artefacts, manipulated by segments of humanity close enough to be recognisable, and odd enough to be alien. There’s immediate politics, too, backed by the kind of gunboat diplomacy that gets your attention. Then there are worlds teeming with the broken, the accepted the outcast, the strange and wonderful – and the text gives you environs which bring them to life. It’s a universe tied together by jump points, at least in part sustained by unutterably ancient and unknowable external actors. It’s an intriguing world, one which clearly has several further layers out of view, behind the transhuman cast, the foul-mouthed marines and frantic interstellar battles.

The atmosphere is one of a heist, that thin wire of tension drawing you from page to page, waiting for each other shoe to drop, each cunning stratagem to either unfurl or unravel. It’s handled with a stately precision, revealed to the reader like clockwork, giving us enough room to guess what’s coming, to hope and wonder and despair – and then to be blindsided by the result. Con games and heists are always hard to write – one like this, which comes out pitch perfect, wrapped in a nuanced and striking sci-fi narrative is, to say the least, a rarity.

In some ways this is a story about a con game – with segments of meticulous planning, with character analysis, with motivation a primary factor. In other ways it’s a space opera – with carefully analysed science, with high stakes and high yield munitions. In other ways it’s a character study of the ways man can rebuild man, and they way they can react. In all those ways, this is a book you want to read.
Profile Image for Hélène Louise.
Author 18 books81 followers
October 28, 2018
Many thanks to Solaris and Netgalley for this read :)

I was very excited to read this book, but also a little apprehensive. In theory I love hard science-fi, because it seems so real, so true, so possible. But in practice, I'm easily lost: most hard science-fi books dwells on physics and, if I know that universe and space mean physics, and if I'm genuinely interested in the subject, it's alas a case of unrequited love there... I love science in general, but my kind of science is clearly biology  (which is not, in my opinion, enough developed in science-fi) and advanced physics are difficult for me.

I went through three phases reading this book.

At the very beginning I was quite happy: the story was immediately interesting, the characters were engaging, and the quantum magician seems to be absolutely there, in a human kind of way, not as a concept floating in an esoteric no-space or such as I had feared (in some hard science-fi I frequently have the impression of reading with my eyes closed, as in some dreams, when and where I can never focus whatever the efforts I make). So a good start!

At about ten per cent in the story, I had quite a shock: suddenly I was facing a long explanation about the functioning of the quantum man's brain. Quite fascinating in theory, but absolutely abstruse for the reader I am. And - have I told you yet? quite long. I read on, not understanding much, till I had to stop and think about my dilemma. I clearly wasn't able to appreciate this kind of explanation, but on the other hand had really loved the story so far and really wanted to know some more. So I pondered a few minutes and finally decided, sighing sadly, that I was perfectly able to skim through unintelligible passages and understand, if not all of it, at least the general idea. Not comfortable, but manageable. 

Actually, I had kittens for nothing ! Those difficult passages were very few in the books, and always useful, never gratuitous. After some more exposition I understood more and more about the quantum brain and was able to surf upon some other explanations (those less interesting in my point of view). In fact, during the book I never had another difficult moment before the final grand action, which is never my cup of tea anyway (during Still's parts to be precise). The whole read was delightful, and very supple.

In the end I had just two discomforts during my read. The brainy-quantum explanation which happened in my opinion to early in the book (not to mention too long :P). Also I was also frequently discountenanced, in the very beginning, by the narration using the third person, as it had clearly a first person vibe for me. Maybe the very first had been written at the first person before being rewritten in another way? This dissonance disappeared very quickly though (so I could have shut up about it; maybe).

I must seem quite a quibbler there ! If so, it's because I loved this book so much that I was frustrated by these little flaws... And also because I have a self-appointed mission: to reassure the readers who may feel lost at the same very point I was, that it won't be the general tone it the story, and that any reader may be able to appreciate it without any suffering!

The fantastic points are plentiful.

Firstly, absolute different voices for all the characters, which is finally quite rare. The characters are wonderful, their personalities, their stories, their interactions - just flawless!

The story in itself is quite interesting, with a strong general idea around quantum people and why the main character, who differs from the quantum people's norm, decided to chose another live, one of criminal projects. The sub-story around the Puppet people is so brilliant that it could be the only reason to read the book!

One particular aspect impressed me a lot and made for a wonderful read: the way the author skillfully develops its story's background, without never ever frustrating his reader. From the start some particularities of the science-fi world are exposed, as the three new human races, bio-engineered (I must confess a soft spot for this theme, what a treat here!), making the reader wanting to know more about it. Then, through future developments, all you'll need and want to know will be displayed, just at the perfect moment, without any info-dump nor artificial exposition: du grand art, vraiment :) The same thing can be said for the characters' stories, which are unveiled, little by little, with perfect subtlety.

I could rave and rave for hours about this book which, despite one or two details, turned out to be exactly what I expect from a science-fi story, but I'll stop there, hoping to have help future readers! And for me, I'm looking forward reading the next author's book... Soon I hope ? 

(A review copy (e-galley) of this book was provided by the publisher through netgalley)

*some delicious quotes*

"It actually sounded like a great way to get killed, but he needed something complicated. His restless brain gnawed on all sorts of problems he didn't want it touching whenever he didn't give it enough to do".

"The homo quantus genetic engineers had engineered far more sensitivity and control into the electroplaques for their precious snowflakes. As always, the tribe got the dog deal".

"And for the record, half the lies I tell are the truth"

"The sinking, aching feeling of not enough intellectual stimulation was suffocating".

"But sometimes feelings are so strong, that even diminished, they hurt".

"He's got a lot of patience. He's a contemplative, after all".

"What real con? Why won't anyone tell me the real plan?"
Profile Image for Megan.
454 reviews74 followers
June 4, 2018
This was like a four star book spliced together with one that I would barely give two stars to. It made for a disjointed reading experience; I alternated back and forth between invested and bored so much I got a little dizzy.

This is a heist novel, and our con-man is Bel; a genetically engineered human who can manually enhance his brain to view quantum states. (If, like me, you barely understand quantum physics the book actually does a really good job of explaining it. Don't let this be a deal-breaker for you). But the thing with heist stories is, they need someone charismatic to lead them. They need a Locke Lamora or a Danny Ocean, and Bel doesn't even come close. He has the confidence but none of the swagger.

The rest of the team (assembled in the time-honoured tradition of a getting the team together montage) fare better. Marie the bombs expert is a delight, Stills the deep diver grows on you, against all odds, and the two form a prickly sort of bond that I enjoyed watching develop. Saint Matthew, the AI who believes he is a saint, is delightful, William, Bel's one time mentor, is steadfast and likeable, and Gates-55 is... Well, he's a puppet.

I mean that quite literally. Bel isn't the only kind of mutated human in this world. Stills is another, basically an unholy mix of a man and manitee, and then Gates-55. Originally of a race bred to be like miniature sized humans (ie, puppets) and biologically hardwired to serve the specific race who created them. And of course they eventually realised that the best way to serve them was to rise up and enslave them. Keep them nice and safe in cages.

The whole thing with the puppets was the best part of this book, in a horrific kind of way. I don't want to go into too much detail because the way the full implications of the puppets and their deal is slowly revealed is just a treat. A really fucked up treat. The little snips of world-building, the visceral revulsion the book makes you feel towards them even though logically you know you should sympathise; it's compelling stuff.

But, sadly, it's not all there is to the book. There's another team member I didn't mention yet; Cassandra. Another quantum-freak like Bel. And his love interest, I guess. I mean the book tries really hard to sell that, but there is absolutely no chemistry between them, and Cassandra is one of the most boring characters I've come across. Her sections are basically endless repetitions of is Bel lying? Why is he lying? Why did he leave home? Is he lying to me? Why is he lying? On and on and on and ugh. Nothing about how Bel feels about Cassandra, or the home they grew up in (which he left, and she didn't) feels real. All tell, no show. And considering it plays a big part in his ultimate motivations, that's a problem.

There's a fun and compelling heist story to be found here, with some really fantastic world-building. But it's dragged down by a flat main character and jarring swaps to pages of hard science that don't gel at all with everything else.
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