The Quantum Magician by Derek Künsken
Reviewed by Benoit Chartier
Belisarius Arjona is a quantum man, or homo quantus. He's the product of eleven generations of genetic manipulation by the Anglo-Spanish banking conglomerate to create a human capable of generating more profit. In the eyes of the banks, the project has failed.
What makes the homo quantus special is that they can, with the help of their altered genome and certain implants, go beyond their already super-human capabilities. They have the capacity to enter two other states, savant, and the fugue, where they can reach out with their consciousness and calculate probability in a quantum state. For this, they must become removed from the subjective, as quantum states only exist when unobserved.
Arjona is driven by the genetic need to enter the fugue; to sense the universe and to discover its mysteries. He, however, has a genetic flaw not found in other homo quantus: the fugue may kill him, as the fever induced by entering this trance-like state is something he is unable to control. He has exiled himself from the others of his kind, and to control his need to analyze the depths of the universe, he has become a conman. This helps him by keeping his mind occupied and fends off the withdrawal-like symptoms of being without the fugue.
Now he's been offered the biggest con of his career, and he must assemble a team to help him bring a fleet of strange ships through a wormhole, intact, through a heavily defended territory.
The Quantum Magician is a space adventure built on the scaffolding of a classic con job movie (think "The Italian Job" or "Ocean's Eleven"). It hits all the right beats at the right time, and part of the fun in reading it is wondering: what will go wrong? Who will betray who? What will be the reversals? When done well, as in the case of The Quantum Magician, it's a delight to read.
Künsken also brings a whole new, fresh universe to bear: There are different alliances and peoples in this future space opera, such as The Puppet, a genetically created little people that are both slave and slave-masters. The Mongrel, another group of genetically altered humans that were created to swim at crushing depths, and barely resemble classic humans anymore. The Congregate, the most powerful military force in that area of the galaxy, descendants of francophone nations that had taken to space.
All these peoples and nations have their own psychologies, religions, dogmas, and Belisarius has to play them well if he wants his con to go off without a hitch. Will it? It's up to you to find out.
I thoroughly enjoyed Kunsken's take on our collective future in space. I'm looking forward to more of his full-length works.
The Quantum Magician is published by Solaris.