Aug 022017

The Fractal Prince, by Hannu Rajaniemi

Synopsis: In a post-singularity world, a hacker/identity thief searches for the uploaded consciousness of a 7-year-old boy (that’s been on loop for centuries) who grew up to become a god.

Book Review: If he isn’t among the pantheon of post-singularity writers yet, Rajaniemi really deserves to be there. This is a wildly creative and extremely well-realized work. Often when people (even including myself) say “creative” they mean “oh, that’s a really neat idea!” But Rajaniemi just keeps piling on not only cool ideas, but great narratives that exploit those ideas, and has clearly spent a lot of time contemplating how they would change many aspects of life and how they interact with each other. This is a richly detailed and deep world, with delicious complexity.

In addition, the people that inhabit this world view it as normal. So when you’re reading it everything is presented in regular-life sort of colors and attitudes. But the more you learn about the world the more it is clear that this is an existence most of us would be horrified by, that’s been normalized by centuries of it just being this way, and by the fact that the story can (necessarily) only be told by the winners/survivors.

Of course the fact that extremely bizarre situations are presented matter-of-factly does make this a bit of a challenge to read. It is not a quick read, it demands the reader to a share of the mental lifting. I personally really like that sort of thing, as long as it’s not a damned chore (I’m looking at you, Joyce). It also means that as you progress a lot of things that were confusing at first resolve and make a lot more sense. You may even want to reread some of the early chapters later on and see how the feeling of “Oh wow… now that I know stuff it all makes sense!” feels like, again. It’s not unlike when you were a kid and algebra suddenly made sense (or whatever your pet Revelation moment is).

The one thing I disliked about the story was that our protagonist reused the same gambit a few times to win key conflicts. It was clever the first time, but it got old. I mean, IRL I would re-use a tactic that works as well, but it’s less fun in a story.

I like that I’m not entirely sure our hero is that great a person. And I really REALLY empathize with our villain, he has a truly noble goal. To the point that I believe the Shadow Plot is about how his Pure, Noble Goal led him to take increasingly drastic measures to achieve it, and ultimately twisting him into a villain through slow value-drift.

Anyway, if you like stories about uploaded minds cooperating and clashing with copies of themselves, and identity thieves literally stealing minds to become/corrupt their identities, and computer-virus warfare among planet-covering nano-clouds, and ancient meme-plexes bootstrapping themselves into existence by creating highly-fractal fiction… then BOY do I have a story for you!! Highly Recommended!

Book Club Review: This is the second book in a trilogy. We read the first book a number of years ago, back before I’d started writing these reviews, in fact. The Quantum Thief.

The Quantum Thief is a fantastic Book Club novel. It introduces the world slowly, sticks with more meat-space settings and characters, and is structured as a classic Heist story, with lots of action and fun. I highly recommend it for book clubs.

Since it had been so long since we read the first one, about half the people in our book club were new enough that they hadn’t read Quantum Thief. I hoped to make up for this by posting a HUGELY spoilery summary of Quantum Thief, that covered all the important concepts and plot details to get new readers up to speed. Because I couldn’t find one already written online even after a fair bit of Googling. It’s here. But it turns out that it’s not enough. One really needs to read the first book first.

Moreover, the second book ups the difficulty and weirdness enough that even among the people who had read the first book, not all of them enjoyed the second book. Not everyone is as interested in questions of identity and meme propagation and post-singularity weirdness as I am. So while there were a few interesting topics to speak on, the discussion didn’t go for very long.

I think if your book club consists primarily of people who are really into this sort of thing, Fractal Prince would be great. But for a general-interest book club with a wider variety of members, this may be a step too far. Stick with Quantum Thief. Fractal Prince, as awesome as it is, is sadly probably Not Recommended for book clubs. (and certainly shouldn’t be read without reading QT first)

  9 Responses to “SF/F Review – The Fractal Prince”

  1. Given this and your previous post, I’m going to check this series out.

    Completely off topic from that, when linking to Amazon, can you please use links? If you check out on instead of just regular, Amazon will give some money to a charity of your choice, and IIRC it also works with affiliate links so I don’t think there’s a reason not to use them.

    • Oh, I remember hearing about this, and then forgetting about it after a few days. I’ll look into it again. Thanks!

  2. Also on the subject, of amazon links, could you add an affiliate link to the quantum thief to this post? You currently only have a link to the second book in the series, but the review tells me that I really ought to read book one before book two. If I’m going to read book one, I’d prefer to buy it through one of your affiliate links since you are the one recommending it. Thanks.

    • Does he have an affiliate code? The link at the top of the post expands to, which doesn’t include an affiliate code. I think Amazon doesn’t let Colorado residents sign up because of some tax thing.

    • Sorry for the long delay in reply! I added affiliate links to most of the times the words “Quantum Thief” appears in the post. Here’s a direct link, if you prefer –

      If I recall correctly, if you follow an affiliate link and end up buying something other than the actual item that was linked, the affiliate still gets credit for whatever you did end up buying that session. So following a link for Fractal Prince but buying Quantum Thief instead should work. Altho if I’m wrong about this, I’d love to be corrected. :)

      Also, Daniel’s comment on the link in the post expanding to something without an affiliate code worries me, as that is the link that Amazon gave me to use for my affiliate-linking purposes. I’ll check my next monthly statement to see if there was anything for Fractal Prince/Quantum Thief on it. Because if not, I’ma hafta deal with Amazon support. /sigh

  3. Good job posting these two posts in quick succession (quick enough for me to not see the other one in the position of the latest post) so I decided to read the books and didn’t (motivated by your review) and didn’t read the spoilery other post (which I think I would have read anyway if you hadn’t make me want to read the book with the review). :D

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