I’ve recently received a book series for my birthday, picked from a reading wishlist kept on Amazon. I populate the list with books I’ve been meaning to get myself but haven’t budgeted yet and also books I’ve read about in blogs or articles which seemed interesting enough to warrant a try.
The, here unnamed, gifter chose 3 books from an author that I had not heard about before, but they ended up on my list while I was reading an article found by chance, which concerned some interesting and yet not well-known (at least to me) pieces of Sci-Fi literature. On the same day, I added a few books that were coming out during the month of June (my birthday month). Among them were: The Freeze-Frame Revolution, Hybrid Child: A Novel (Parallel Futures), The Robots of Gotham and Summerland. The latter, written by Hannu Rajaniemi, was the most interesting entry for me. It was mentioned, in the paragraph presenting the then future release, that the author also wrote a book series called the “Jean le Flambeur” series which was heavily inspired by the Maurice Leblanc “Arsene Lupin” stories. The three books in the series are, in order: The Quantum Thief (Jean le Flambeur), The Fractal Prince (Jean le Flambeur), The Causal Angel (Jean le Flambeur).
Having looked for these books on Amazon after seeing the mention in the said article (which I cannot for the life of me retrace since I regularly delete browsing history), I was immediately seduced by the premise. Jean le Flambeur, the protagonist (s?) of the stories of the series was very much similar to Arsene Lupin if Lupin lived in a post-humanist world of an extremely morphed future. Needless to say, they appeared at the top of my wishlist along with The Book of M: A Novel, which I also recommend although it requires quite the suspension of disbelief, the happenings being potentially far more magical than scientific speculation/extrapolation (Incidentally, I still have not bought or read Summerland even though it initially was the book I was aiming for). This is not to say that the “le Flambeur” series is any more grounded, but that it rather wades in waters of possibility. Before going any further, I will admit that I did not at first read the author biography or any other information apart from his name on the cover. After reading the first book, I closed the back cover and carefully read the bio. Unsurprisingly, him having degrees in Math and Physics made so much sense, and I’m glad I held out on finding out until after the end.
For anyone not remotely interested in physics or quantum mechanics, these books can be major head scratchers. As I mentioned, Jean le Flambeur is the Arsene Lupin of the post-human future. If anything, by the turn of the last page of the third book he can seem as an archetypal god of mischief, tricky enough to trick himself many times over and across a vast mindscape of his “self”. Any respectable story dealing with physics addresses in some way the nature of reality, or even time travel which is a speck of the previous topic. Rajaniemi handles all of these themes, theories, and aspects in an interesting manner. The lens through which many subjects of quantum physics are observed is that of the mind. How real is a travel back to 1970 if done within a simulation so real that it can be almost indistinguishable from reality even by the keenest consciousness? How real are you, if you also can be other, even given body and with the same level of hierarchical privilege?
The Jean le Flambeur trilogy is a ride to be taken. Above all else, it is a heist story in which the thief is often also the detective. It is also a detective story in which the thief is striving to retrieve that which he himself stole…from himself. One does not an advanced degree in science to enjoy it far from that. Most Sci-Fi aficionados will appreciate how deep the author went deep into certain aspects of physics related themes with little to no hand-holding for the reader. You either figure it out while reading or Google some of the information for a better understanding. I am loath to say more without spoiling bits of the story. I do say bits, as it seems to me a difficult thing to spoil it all without completely writing one book.
As I pondered the intricacies of the three book spanning story, I recognized a familiar flavor at the back of my mind. Following the trail, I found what it reminded me of. There is an episode in Series 4 (or Season 4 for us west of the Atlantic), called USS Callister, from the Black Mirror TV Show. I wonder if it was inspired by this author’s work in a way. Then again, this is at heart mainly a heist/detective story of a gentleman Quantum Thief, the science is universal. The use of said elements of science is quite novel and I highly recommend reading this series, just as much as I recommend watching Black Mirror.