Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Fractal Prince, a review

Here we are, at the end of the world. That was the feeling I had when I finished this book. I was pleasantly surprised by the climax and resolution, both showing innovations that I might later consider for my own work.

Of course, I am talking about The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi, the second part of a planned trilogy. But more on this novel later.

So far this week, I've been duking it out with Quantum volume 3, and the wizard of Santa Monica. By Saturday I will know for sure if I'm still on schedule for an October 1st release. I may just go for mid October because I am also duking it out with that nagging need to just get The Quantum of the Past off of my plate already so I can move on to other things!!!!!


***



Overview

Author: Hannu Rajaniemi

Genre: Science Fiction

Premise: After failing to regain his memories in the previous installment of the trilogy, Jean le Flambeur, legendary thief, must return to the planet Earth to steal a valuable "artifact" that will help his employer, and secure his freedom.


What didn't work for me

The premise makes this seem like a one man show, but The Fractal Prince shares its wealth well. There are so many story arcs here, that it may be difficult for some to keep up. I had no problem with it except that the author has the habit of just going from one point of view character to the other, mostly within the same chapter. It really makes it a chore to keep up. And just wait until you get to the last few chapters where there are several twists... I had to go back to The Quantum Thief to make sense of one of those twists.

With that said, the main difficulty I had with this book was its aggressive use of made up words. Granted, the author explains more about them this time around, but it is still overwhelming. In the previous review, I showed an example of what Mr. Rajaniemi could do. The prose is denser this time.

The world-building of the Earth city Sirr would be more than enough for any novel, but here it is added on top of the previous novel's world building. It boggles the mind for a while, trying to figure out if the effects described are science or not, like the athar (which I think Jean calls the spimescape--a concept from the previous book).


What worked for me

The novel considers the role of identity in this post-human world in a very entertaining way. There is the All-Defector and Jean, and Jean and Sumanguru, and the multiple Mielis, and the Founders and the Aun. Without giving anything away, these characters are and are not each other. Their role in the story is unique in that identity can be flexible in a way that allows for two different entities to have, and be, the same identity.

It is more philosophical, without being obnoxiously so.

I also loved the way Mr. Rajaniemi plays with this old idea: What if we were all the dream of a greater being?

He bring to life a science fiction version of the idea. But I won't steer you the wrong way; the end is not some cop-out where all the events turned out to be someone's cryogenic dream or something.

It is well done, and allows for a few twists at the end.

I also enjoyed reading the development of the characters of the previous novels. Jean is less a cartoon character, showing multiple signs of being an A-hole. And Mieli is more than just the vessel of violence she was in the previous novel. She has to make some tough choices that brute strength cannot solve. Jean and Mieli cross a line that shows how desperate they are to accomplish the mission if only to get what the goddess they work for promised.

For Mieli it is a reunion with Sydan, her female lover. For Jean it is freedom, from himself and his obsession.

And yet, the novel concludes that it is impossible to run from yourself. When your "essence" is digital information that can be uploaded into bodies, there are few chances to become someone else.

Also, beyond the plot points, the novel is beautifully framed by stories. At the beginning, Jean meets the main antagonist of the trilogy, Matjek Chen in a dream. Of course, in this world, a dream isn't simply a dream, it is a vir (virtual reality scenario) where these digital people can interact--at least that's how I understood it. During the meeting, Jean begins to tell him a story, using the first lines of the next chapter. And that's how it goes. The novel is the story Jean is telling Matjek in his dream.

Along the way, stories take on a very important role. They are traded, used as currency, and as a way to steal your body! Ouch!

They tell me the structure used mimics an older story, The Arabian Nights (Thousand and One Nights). I haven't read that. But the framework of stories adds a dimension to this novel that makes it stand apart from other novels in this genre I've come across. So far at least.


Overall

The surprising nature of this novel made me want to buy it, if only to understand it later. At no point did I think that the author was lost in his own world. I am sure that the author knows this place in and out. It read that way, even when there were confusing elements.

Overall, The Quantum Thief and the Fractal Prince are challenging novels. They are dense with science and ideas that, when explained, arouse a world of questions. The author answers few of these, so if you keep going, like me, it is only because you love a good challenge.







LC