|(Image via Goodreads)|
But there’s far more going on under the hood of this well-engineered machine than that reductive description conveys. It is a novel about self-identity, about colonialism, about being handcuffed by our own instincts, and about the subversion of human freedom.
Derek Künsken’s debut introduces the reader to con-man protagonist Belisarius, who gathers up a rag-tag group of his former associates to pull a scheme worth billions.
These associates include his childhood love, his dying mentor, an outcast from the Puppet society, a zany demolitions expert, and an AI that thinks it’s the reincarnation of a Catholic saint. To be fair, some of these characters seem like they’re straight from central casting, but for the most part their relationships and dialogue are engaging and enjoyable.
Belisarius’ scheme, which involves helping a small fleet of warships successfully pass through a heavily fortified transport hub, is somewhat grandiose, but it provides Künsken some interesting chances to comment on colonialism and economic justice.
The planning, execution, twists and turns of the heist are interesting enough to make the book worth your time. But it’s the interplay between human and transhuman motivations that elevates The Quantum Magician.
Central to what makes the book so enjoyable is the character of Belisarius, the Homo Quantus.
|It would be easy to imagine a|
young Michael Cane as
(Image via Mirror.Co.Uk)
Genetically engineered as part of a project to create a human capable of understanding quantum mechanics, he is able to enter various trance-like states in which he redirects portions of his brain that are usually dedicated to social skills or motor functions.
He is, however, a reject from the genetic engineering project, incomplete and unable to fulfill his instinctive need to understand. To distract himself from his inabilities, he focuses his prodigious intellect on understanding human motivations and working as a con artist.
Although they aren’t front-and-centre, the particular form of unfreedom embodied by the Puppets is
|Derek Künsken offers new ideas about|
how freedom could be subverted.
(Image via DerekKunsken.com)
More than anything else, it’s the subplots about the Puppets that might place The Quantum Magician into a grand tradition of dystopic science fiction novels that warn about the subversion of human rights. The work I was reminded of most often when reading this book was Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness In The Sky, and the particular unfreedom embodied by Emergent focus.
Science fiction is often at its best when imagining new forms of tyranny. It is clear that Künsken has a talent for imagining oppressions. On the strength of that alone, The Quantum Magician is well worth picking up, and may end up on some of our nominating ballots.