By Karl Schroeder

Rating: 5 stars

I got this book on the recommendation of Charles Stross, and although I downloaded the free ebook to my smartphone I wasn’t expecting to get to it any time soon. It was only because I finished my paper book while on holiday sooner than I expected that I turned to this. And I was gripped within the first chapter. It starts off very much as a typical fantasy story where the young protagonist is stolen away and ends up on a quest to discover himself, but as the world widens, we discover a very hard SF story.

The world of Ventus was seeded about a thousand years ago by a nanotech seed pod to terraform it. Powerful AIs called Winds oversee this process, but when the settlers finally arrive, they find the Winds refusing to communicate with them. Worse, seeing them as a threat to their ecosystem, they wipe out their technology, reducing them to a pre-industrial civilisation. Fast-forward to the present day, and young Jordan Mason finds himself kidnapped by off-worlders because in his head is a remote sensor placed there by a former slave of the destroyed evil AI “3340” who wants to take control of the Winds and recreate his former master.

The scope of the world building is tremendous, from the Archipelago of human worlds to the immensely intricate world of Ventus itself. The idea of a completely artificial world, where nanotechnology is in everything but where everything could also be out to get you is a powerful one. Jordan is a good everyman character through whose eyes it’s fascinating to see the world, and to see him grow as the story progresses.

The other really interesting character for me, is Queen Galas – a monarch with remarkably progressive views, who tries to make radical changes in her nation, thus sparking off a civil war with the establishment. Her experimentation and struggle in such a staid civilisation felt remarkably fresh, if somewhat doomed to failure.

There’s also a strong philosophical thread running through a lot of the book about intelligence and narcissism which I enjoyed. There’s an awful lot to like in this book. It’s grounded and has an almost space-opera feel to it which is unusual but which I sometimes see in Iain M. Banks’ work (definitely a compliment, I love Banks’ Culture novels).

Although an option to buy the book (through PayPal) is available on the author’s website, I didn’t pay for it at the time since I didn’t know if I’d like it or not. As soon as I finished it, I went back and left a donation via the PayPal button. This is definitely an author I’d encourage to keep writing, and this is my little way of doing that. I’ll definitely look out for more of his work in future.

Book details

ISBN: 9781429983945
Publisher: Tor Books
Year of publication: 2000

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