Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: The Quantum Magician, by Derek Künsken

A quantum con artist assembles a transhuman Ocean's 11.

The Quantum Magician

Solaris, 2018, 478 pages

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.

The title of the book is apt, as this is one of those SF novels that treats "quantum" as "magic," and while it's very much a science fiction novel, many sequences were more reminiscent of classic fantasy tropes. Indeed, Belisarius Arjona is a bit of a Grey Mouser, without a Fafhrd. Instead, he assembles a team of genetically engineered human-variant desperados for his grand scheme.

Belisarius is a Homo quantus whose brain is basically a quantum computer. He fled the ivory research tower of his fellow Homo quantuses (quanti?) to find meaning and purpose in his life outside of pondering all the particles in the universe. He found that purpose in ripping off space casinos and conning interstellar banks. Then one of the spacefaring nation-states comes to him with the job of a lifetime, and the payment is a super-advanced starship of his own.

In order to smuggle a fleet of ships past a wormhole, Belisarius has to assemble a crack team of specialists, meaning, a representative of each of the other genetically engineered subraces. There's another Homo quantus, who happens to be his teenage sweetheart; a violent, foul-mouthed "Mongrel," a race of aquatic neohumans built for violence and painful, miserable sex; a mutant "puppet," a genetically engineered midget slave race; a dying man who will be modified to simulate a member of the "master" race that created the puppets; a standard-issue human who's also a batshit crazy explosives expert; and an AI who believes he's the reincarnation of Saint Matthew. Yes, the Saint Matthew.

The Quantum Magician mashes up a classic heist story with a classic space opera. Belisarius is the George Clooney of this gang of hyper-violent, super-competent and super-unstable misfits. He masterminds his way through double and triple-crosses, and there are many explosions, space battles, and weird alien-human psychology that reminded me of Jack Chalker without the wanking.

An enjoyable romp with a lot of twists and a universe open enough for plenty more stories. I can't say this was the most memorable SF novel I've read this year, but it was enjoyable enough that I'll probably read more by this author.

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