Typography

GETTING a book published is a very difficult task, let alone when it’s one you’ve written in your second language. However, that’s exactly what Hannu Rajaniemi has done with his much acclaimed debut novel The Quantum Thief.

According to Rajaniemi’s website, he likes elephants and his favourite word is lumi. He’s also spent the last decade living in Edinburgh, Scotland. Well, I’m from Scotland, my daughter’s middle name is Lumi and I can pull off a mean elephant trumpet, all of which made me even more curious to meet the man while he was in Finland promoting the Finnish-language translation of his book.

When did you first get into sci-fi?

My first contact with science fiction was probably when I was seven-years-old. My primary school library had a copy of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne, so I kind of devoured that. I was really drawn to the sense of wonder it contained.

How do people react when you tell them you’re a science fiction author?

I don’t really tell many people unless it comes up in conversation. I think people find it more remarkable that someone has written a book, than what the book’s genre is. It’s maybe like telling someone you’re a mathematician.

So you don’t feel you get pigeonholed as some sort of really boring geek?

Hopefully not. [laughs]

There’s a story going round that you secured a three-book publishing deal on the strength of the first line of The Quantum Thief. Is this true and, if not, do you know how it originated?

I really don’t know how it originated, and it certainly isn’t true. It is true that I was offered a three-book deal by the editor of Gollancz on the basis of the book’s 24-page opening chapter, though. In saying this, by that point he had been exposed to my short stories etc. and was aware of the fact that my agent had a high opinion of my work, so it wasn’t a complete leap in the dark.

I do have a feeling, however, that Gollancz may have encouraged that rumour, but I can’t verify that. [laughs]

The book has received a lot of praise since coming out last year. Why do you think it’s become the hit it’s become?

That’s a difficult question. I certainly didn’t consciously write anything that was tailored for a particular audience; I was writing the sort of book I wanted to read, so maybe that means I’m not unique in wanting to read a fast moving, but intellectually challenging, adventure story.

One thing is maybe the approach I took, which was to avoid all “info-dumping”, so the concepts in the book aren’t really explained except through perhaps osmosis eventually. Some people seem to really enjoy putting the pieces together, while others don’t appear to like it so much.

Talking of concepts, the book is jam-packed full of them, but the one I found most intriguing was that of gevulot. Can you tell SixDegrees readers how you came up with it?

I very strongly wanted to have some element of crime and detective fiction in the book, but then the challenge was to imagine this far-future setting with ubiquitous computing and sensors embedded everywhere – in clothing, furniture, walls and even the air – which probably means that everything in this world is recorded and stored somewhere. Committing a crime in a world like that, therefore, would actually be quite difficult, and solving the crime would be relatively easy.

The route I took in the book, then, was to set the story in a society where there’s all this technology that records every sensation, event and conversation, but each individual has absolute control over all the information that is recorded about them and their experiences – a bit like Facebook’s privacy settings extended to the nth degree, including even your own thoughts, memories and social interaction.

So the detective wouldn’t have access to the precise records of what happened. The gevulot, a Hebrew word meaning ‘boundary’, is therefore the boundary people in that society draw around the information they choose not to share with others. For instance, before a conversation like the one we’re having right now would take place, our supporting software would form this gevulot contract where we’d agree which parts of the conversation we’d be able to even remember and share with other people afterwards.

What do you have lined up for the near future?

In terms of writing, I’m currently working on the next volume in the Quantum Thief trilogy entitled The Fractal Prince, which will come out in March 2012. Other than that, I’ll be continuing to work as a director at ThinkTank Maths.

Date and place of birth: 9 March 1978, Ylivieska
Place of residence:
Edinburgh, UK
Family:
My parents and girlfriend
Education:
B.Sc. in Mathematics (University of Oulu), Certificate of Advanced Study in Mathematics (University of Cambridge), Ph.D. in Mathematical Physics (University of Edinburgh)
I write science fiction because...
it allows me to play.
I'm scared of...
heights.
I always forget...
birthdays.

Text Allan Bain, Photo Tomas Whitehouse