Lady of Mazes

By Karl Schroeder

Rating: 4 stars

Livia Kodaly lives on a ringworld called Teven Coronal somewhere in the vicinity of Jupiter and, like everybody else on Teven, neither knows nor cares about the wider solar system. This all changes when outsiders come into her world in preparation for an invasion that could change the face of the entire solar system.

This book is a prequel to Ventus, although there is almost no overlap between them, this showing the birth of the rogue AI 3340 that was the focus of Ventus. The book aims, like its predecessor, to cover huge themes of science fiction, philosophy and sociology in its pages. The protagonist, Livia, lives in Westerhaven, which isn’t so much a country, but a philosophy (called a ‘manifold’), where people of a similar mindset can gather and live together. Westerhaven is metropolitan and engages with high technology, but right under their noses is Raven, which eschews all this technology in favour of a communion with nature and spirit animals and totems. Not metaphorical totems, but enabled by the same technology that enables the animas and ‘societies’ of Westerhaven. A combination of augmented/virtual reality, nanotech and neural implants ensure that residents of Westerhaven and Raven could walk past each other and never see each other. These differing worldviews are enforced by ‘tech locks’ that prevent technology that lives outside of the worldview from working within that manifold.

This is a fascinating idea, and Schroeder explores it to the full, before taking his protagonists outside the shifting worldviews of Teven to the wider solar system, where they encounter yet more differing philosophies on what it means to live and be human, as they search for allies to help them fight back against the invaders who want to collapse the manifolds and make the inhabitants of Teven see a single view of ‘reality’.

That is really what this book is about, for me anyway. The nature of reality, and how it shifts depending on the values of the viewer. The manifolds and AR/VR of “inscape” just take that to the nth degree. As Schroeder says in one of the essays about the book on his website, we already inhabit different manifolds when we visit from the city to the country, or even different regions of a city (my own manifold, for example, is probably very different from someone living in The Gorbals). The technology described in Lady of Mazes just takes this to one logical conclusion.

And it’s a view that I loved reading about. I loved the ideas that it covered and the way that so different worldviews lived together peacefully on Teven and the clash that occurred upon exposure to the wider solar system. The idea that civilisation was now so complex that humans just can’t cope with it any more, and the Government has become a distributed AI, with a ‘vote’ (basically a new node in the Government AI) compiled and brought into existence to represent not just serious political ideas, once they gain traction amongst the population, but also fashions, pet lovers, Shakespeare and almost everything else.

There’s an awful lot to digest from this book and once I get through my (ever-growing) to-read pile, I’d love to come back to both this and Ventus and re-read them.

Book details

ISBN: 9780765350787
Publisher: Tor Science Fiction
Year of publication: 2005

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