The Quantum Magician – Derek Künsken (2018)

The novels that have made the greatest impact to me are those that bring something new to the table at a conceptual level. Now you would think that when it comes to science fiction, this would be the norm, but actually, it’s rarer than you would think. Sure there are new races, strange and exotic planets, and gadgets by the handful, but presenting an actual novel concept remains rare.

As and example, reading Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep actually tripped me up and forced me to go back after reading a few pages because, for a minute, things did not make sense. And then it clicked. A game changer and all of a sudden I had to read the book from an entirely new perspective. The introduction of the new concept not only adds another layer to the story but forces you and the author to define new boundaries and break old ones.

While quantum computing has been a burgeoning topic in the electronic processing world, especially with the potential consequences to computer security (both pro and con), Derek Künsken’s debut novel The Quantum Magician imparts the notion of quantum states to sentient consciousness. But that is just the backdrop to a rollicking space opera where protagonist Belisarius Arjona, one of the Homo Quantus, leads a ragtag team of misfit recruits on a mercenary mission of galactic proportions. The operation must be performed under the noses of the Puppets, aliens that worship the Numen, the species responsible for multiple evolutionary branches they have created, Homo Quantus being just one of the cavalcade of characters in the novel.

Hired to aid the Union forces in their fight for independence from the Congregate (think evil empire), Bel is tasked to transport a dozen warships discreetly through a wormhole facing overwhelming odds. He recruits former accomplices and acquaintances that include an older, dying friend, a robot who believes he is Saint Matthew, a geneticist, an aquatic being, a mutant Puppet, and a playful natured rebellious female who likes to blow up things. Last but not least is Cassandra, another Homo Quantus who once had close ties to Bel.

This high rik venture also has a myriad of other aliens, complex relationships, trust and betrayal side plots and all based on hard science concepts like entangled particles in a slight-of-wormhole adventure with more than a few surprises along the way. Künsken has compared it to the movie The Sting (a big favorite of mine) wherein the overarching deception in the plot contains many other deceptions within the envelope. A fair enough assessment here but I would add that it includes a blend of assembled characters like The Dirty Dozen or even more that resembling Kelly’s Heroes.

The first of an intended two book series – the follow up The Quantum Garden is about to hit shelves – this can be easily read as a standalone without any cliffhanger leaving you pining for a conclusion.

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