Tuesday, 17 February 2015

The Causal Angel Is A Good Book

Or why you should read the third book in the Jean Le Flambeur trilogy
by Hannu Rajaniemi

There will be *SPOILERS* in this post for The Quantum Thief and Fractal Prince in this post. To read a spoiler free introduction to the series go here.

The Causal Angel is maybe the book I was most looking forward to reading this year. The novel is the third book in its trilogy, a series of stories written in a post-singularity future that sees the solar system split between the powerful Sobornost gods, human-derived software-beings that seek to upload all human consciousness into a single giant computer as part of the Great Common Task, the Zoku-clans, quantum-entangled post-humans who live their lives according to games and incentives, and a variety of flesh and blood humans trying to live their lives sandwiched between the warring Sobornost and Zoku. In the first two novels gentleman thief Jean Le Flambeur and Mieli, a fierce Oortian warrior, are sent on a quest by the Sobornost goddess Pellegrini to retrieve a powerful the Kaminari jewel, a Zoku artifact so powerful that Jupiter was destroyed to prevent it's use. In the first novels we saw the pair steal an earlier version of Le Flambeur from the privacy obsessed Oubliette society of Mars and steal the childhood memory of a god from the Wildcode deserts of barren, ruined Earth. And now, in The Causal Angel we see the pair make their final attempt to steal the Kaminari jewel with the fate of the solar system, of all of the warring, diverse forms of humanity resting in the balance. 

This is a fantastic book. Like it's predecessor it is this beautiful tapestry of wildly diverse literary influences and facets of geek culture all perfectly balanced. You can see elements of greek myth, post-revolution french literature, arabic legend, MMORPG culture, superheroes, Scandinavian legend, theoretical physics, and classic Science Fiction all fit together so that they are all obvious and discrete but still working together harmoniously. It's.... I once had this chocolate at this fancy-pants food fair my wife's work sponsors that was a fucking journey: it was fruity and then richly chocolate and a little spicy and then there was this swell of sea salt flavour that trailed off to the bitterness of dark chocolate. This was something like four years ago and I still remember the incredible balance of flavours and the individual quanta of tastes. This series of novels is like this chocolate: an exotic mixture of geek culture blended with amazing discretion into something fantastic and new. I really, really liked this book.

Oh, and it ends the series on a very satisfying note. 

The Causal Angel also fascinates me in that it is at once a very literary, very mature work of speculative fiction and just gleefully mad and geeky. When I was younger I defined myself foremost as a geek, and then, as I got serious about my studies, as a geek and a Scientist. And now, as a semi-functional adult in a grownup relationship I've been trying to bootstrap myself into some sort of adult man with something approaching an understanding and relationship to grown up masculinity. Some new adult version of myself that is true to my geek-love but also not caught in that singularity of perpetual 12-year-old-ness that seems to trap more than a few geeks. (Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with that, but I don't feel like that kind of stasis is for me.) The Causal Angel is like the Sci-fi fictional equivalent of the ideal synthesis of identity I am striving for: it's filled with brilliant ideas and is nuanced and mature and debonair all while being geekier than a lightsaber popsicle. It's Sci-fi dorky glee filtered through restrained and elegant literature. And I kind of want to emulate it in life.

Would I recommend The Causal Angel? Well, obviously yes, I think it's really good. But I do think this is a novel that needs to be appreciated in order, so unless you have also read The Quantum Thief and The Fractal Prince I feel like you will get lost in this novel. Actually, I think it's probably best to read all three books in a row: they are very much throw-you-into-the-ocean Sci-fi, and without the slightly more gradual construction of the world in The Quantum Thief it can take a while, even having read the previous books, to find purchase in the complex world of the series. But yeah, if you have any interest in Sci-fi as a genre than these novels are essential reading.

Post by Michael Bround

The Quantum Thief and Fractal Prince

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