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Ventus Hardcover – December 8, 2000
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From Publishers Weekly
Although Aurora Award-winner Schroeder is probably best known for his fantasy fiction, this novel, his first large-scale SF work, should greatly expand his reputation. A thousand years ago, highly advanced artificial intelligences (AIs) called Winds terraformed the planet Ventus into a comfortable world for human settlementDbut something went wrong, and the Winds never relinquished control. Now they rule as gods, using their "mecha" creatures to squelch anythingDor anyoneDwho creates imbalance in their perfectly groomed environment. Enter young Jordan Mason, whose visions show him dreamlike images of far-distant events that are somehow linked to the Winds. But Jordan only begins to realize the truth after he meets two off-worlders, the assassin Calandria and her partner, Axel. Jordan's visions link him to Armiger, a spy created by a megalomaniac AI called 3340. Though Calandria "destroyed" 3340, she fears Armiger carries the seeds to resurrect the entity. Jordan's link offers the only hope of finding Armiger, but there are other forces at work as well. Civil war fomented by the Winds threatens to overthrow mad Queen Galas, the most egalitarian ruler in Ventus's history. And in a distant system called the Archipelago, Calandria's boss, a rival AI, is sending warships to decimate Ventus and insure 3340's demiseDpermanently. Canadian Schroeder handles his large cast of characters with impressive dexterity. Fans of the high-tech foundation and grand world-building of Iain M. Banks and Ken MacLeod will feel right at home here, as will anyone else who appreciates a challenging, original story. (Dec. 18)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Jordan Mason of the planet Ventus comes from a long line of stoneworkers, and he has a clear understanding of his place in his world. He is subservient to the aristocracy, who in turn bow to the Winds, who control the weather, plant and animal life, and human undertakings. Lately, Jordan has had troubling visions, in which his immediate surroundings are blotted out by a different sky and a different forest, and he sees through another man's eyes. One night, searching in the forest for his sister, Jordan meets captivating Calandria May, who says she can explain his visions if he will help track Armiger, through whose eyes he has gazed. Armiger is a rogue artificial intelligence (AI), sent to Ventus to co-opt the Winds, which are also AIs, into enslaving humans and creating a powerful, ruthless world-mind. Through Armiger's eyes, Jordan sees how his interactions with an independent, tender peasant woman and a fierce, lonely queen are changing the AI's cold objectives. As Jordan and Calandria close in on Armiger, they see that the Winds are divided into pro-human and antihuman camps. Wondering whether he is on the right side, Jordan uses his visionary power to speak directly to the Winds. A final battle for Ventus brings human generals, intelligent moons, and a roving off-planet archaeologist onstage. Although strictly hard sf, full of technology, Schroeder's novel is so rich in character and emotion that it feels like classic fantasy. Roberta Johnson
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Top Customer Reviews
Ventus sings. The ocean sings, "I am an ocean," and the waves sing, "I am a wave." The Winds sing their songs as they negotiate among themselves for the preparation of the world for the human masters to come. The clouds negotiate with the crops to provide water, the earthmovers negotiate with the sod over mineral allocation. Ventus is a Garden, a jewel of a world in a universe populated with innumerable humans and post-humans, and machine-human intelligences that embody as entire planets.
Ventus is a garden, fallen. A thousand years after the terraforming project, the Winds have forgotten their human masters. Now the Winds barely tolerate the fallen inhabitants of the garden world, capriciously manifesting as avenging angels that smash overly technological artifacts and their makers; manifesting as sinister morphs that maintain ecological balance by tearing bears apart to make gophers; manifesting as the attenuated, magnetic celestials whose Heaven hooks crush masonry and rend bone as they seek to expunge infectious humanity.
Jordan Mason, the boy-hero of the story, has been unwittingly implanted with off-world technology that turns him into a spy for Armiger, the avatar of the fallen God/world 3340. It's this very technology that makes him a target of the ruling machines, who come to perceive him a foreign technology that must be eliminated by the world's all-powerful immune system. Aided by the bounty-hunters Caladria May and Axel Chan, Jordan learns to control his technology and finds that the world itself is alive, shouting and singing in a billion variegated voices. Gradually, the boy comes to communicate with the planet itself, and to discover the internecine battles that have turned Ventus from Heaven to Hell.
Schroeder's a voracious autodidact, and he weaves his multifarious backgrounds into the storyline, burying clues to Ventus's mysteries in avant-garde linguistics, in pervasive computing theory, in cryptography, and in the theology of his apostate Mennonite forefathers. The book is as epic in scope as The Lord of the Rings, but more nuanced; it's as technologically daring as Snow Crash, but better controlled, with a narrative that makes its many pages fly past. Schroeder's created a startling, thought-provoking marvel of a book, a voice to equal any of the new guard that the Commonwealth has materialized of late: Scotsmen Ken MacLeod and Iain Banks and Aussie Greg Egan have a new contemporary.
Into this world comes Armiger, once a part of a God (a self-programmed artificial intelligence with superhuman powers and knowledge). If he can subvert the nanotechnology to his own ends, Ventus can become a power base stronger than anything known in the Universe.
Against Armiger stand a pair of off-planet near-humans who defeated the God he served before, and Jordon Mason, a local implanted with a portion of Armiger now turned to be a tool against him. All of their off-world powers offer little help, though, in a world where anything external is treated as a disease and eliminated.
Karl Schroeder makes this intriguing concept a powerful reality. Both characters and philosophical arguments are fully developed and convincing. The growth of Jordon, as he discovers that easy answers don't answer, the humanization of Armiger against his will, and the parallel changes in Calandria May (the off-worlder who seeks Armiger's destruction) are all sympathetic and believable.
Ventus is the best SF novel I've read this year.
Karl Schroeder beat me to it.
This book is, to say the least, fantastic. Schroeder blends Vinge-esque transhuman themes and nanotechological "fantasy realism" with a coming-of-age quest reminiscient of Robert Jordan's "Eye of the World". (I have a suspicion that it's more than just coincidence that the main character's name is Jordan) Thrown into the plot are interesting characters- transhuman assassins, a cyborg demigod, noblemen and royalty who can communicate telepathically with nanotech devices, a sentient starship, a cosmopolitan anthropologist, and more, thrown together in a mission that could decide the fate of the galaxy. Schroeder's intense, fast pace writing style echoes the best cyberpunk, while never succumbing to that genre's attitude. Best of all, the last section of the book explores an interesting philosophical discussion of the relationship between man, science, and nature, one that will hopefully provoke dialogue between environmentalists and transhumanists alike.
All in all, a fantastic book, and a worthwhile read for science fiction and fantasy fans alike.