THE FRACTAL PRINCE by Hannu Rajaniemi — a Review

THE FRACTAL PRINCE is the follow-up to Hannu Rajaniemi’s THE QUANTUM THIEF, and, like its predecessor, is a complex, fast-paced tale of gentleman thief Jean le Flambeur battling gods in a post-singularity world that only a mathematician or physicist will feel completely comfortable. But this time, Rajaniemi adds a layer of Arabian Nights and the power of stories to this hard-SF tale.

As you can probably guess from that first paragraph, THE FRACTAL PRINCE is not the easiest read. There is a reason all discussions of a post-singularity Earth tend to peter out into statements along the line of “It will be so unlike our current world,” or “We cannot imagine that future world.” Rajaniemi does an admirable job of trying to avoid such statements and describe a world of humanity with AI-enhanced brains, omnipresent nano-materials, and uploadable consciousnesses. It’s a difficult read, and I found myself at times confused and having to go back and re-read portions of the book.

But despite these difficulties, at its heart, Rajaniemi has written a beautiful story about the power of stories and the extremes to which people will go for love, honor, and family. So THE FRACTAL PRINCE isn’t so foreign after all. It’s just not easy on the readers. That being said, it is also wonderfully written. It’s downright poetic at times–a rare thing among hard-SF novels.

In this book, the second of a proposed trilogy (and do not pick up this book without having read THE QUANTUM THIEF), le Flambeur returns to a damaged Earth on assignment from a goddess. With him again is Mieli and her living ship Perhonen. His job? To break into the mind of a living god to steal codes that would allow him to manipulate reality on the quantum level. If he succeeds, he might earn his freedom. But a gentleman thief always has his own ideas, plans, and goals. While on Earth, he meets sisters who are struggling to survive a revolution that may bring about Earth’s demise.

THE FRACTAL PRINCE moves quickly, if not smoothly. The book takes place over two timelines that don’t meet up perfectly. Subplots are often told as stories within stories, leading to other complications. The ending has an almost epic scale, yet it feels rushed, cramming in so much action and important knowledge. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this book. Part hard-SF, part heist, part fairy tale, THE FRACTAL PRINCE will reward the patient reader with a story unlike anything he or she is likely to have read before.

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