Nanotech & AI meet high fantasy in my first novel
My first novel: Ventus
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, Booklist Review
Ventus was a highly personal project for me. It took me seven years, off and on, to write this book. I'd written several novels when I started this one; none had sold. One of my problems was that I had been trying to "write to market"--trying to figure out what the readers might like, and do that. In frustration after those failures, I decided to write a book just for myself--a book I knew nobody would buy. I worked on it in my spare time for several years, and then reluctantly (since I'd been talking about it) showed it to several friends. They declared it the best thing I'd ever done.
When the book was about 1/3 done, I mentioned it to David Hartwell at Tor Books, and he was interested. He encouraged me to do exactly what I wanted with the project (though in the end he also oversaw massive cuts from the original 180,000 word monster).
I couldn't be happier with the result. I love this book, and were I not intimately familiar with every page, I would reread it myself, just to recapture the sense of magic that inspired me to write it. I hope you read it and enjoy it; best of all, if you're unsure, you can download it for free from this site!
Reviews and Reception
Ventus was extremely well received, a 2001 bestseller in the SF category according to Locus Magazine. The December 2, 2001 issue of the New York Times Book Review listed it as one of a few "notable" books for that year. Reviewers were highly enthusiastic:
Norman Spinrad in Asimov's:
"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 settlement--but something went wrong, and the Winds never relinquished control. Now they rule as gods, using their "mecha" creatures to squelch anything--or anyone--who 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 Cahners Business Information.
Karl Schroeder herein, at least for my money, has done more on both a technological level and a literary level with what is by now the hoary cliché of nanotechnology than anyone has before, with the possible exception of Greg Bear in Blood Music, and particularly where the technological and literary levels cross in the territory of metaphysical speculation on the question of where and when and how being arises out of artifact.
New York Review of Science Fiction:
New York Times Book Review:
If there is such a thing as a pagan sf novel, Ventus is it. Science has placed humankind at the center of the universe, as discoverers, observers, and definers of the essence of everything else that exists. The creators of the Ventus Winds challenged that claim of definition. So, too, does the author.
Deeply SatisfyingKirkus Reviews:
Delightful and engaging, both intellectually and viscerally: a superb achievement.
Lady of Mazes & Thalience
Ventus is chronologically the sequel to Lady of Mazes, and deals with many of the same themes. In particular, where Lady of Mazes is about people's relationships with one another--it's about "the technology of culture and the culture of technology"--Ventus is about our personal relationships to nature. All of that is summed up in the concept of thalience.
Will Sargent described thalience in an article, Thalience and the semantic web:
I wrote Lady of Mazes several years later, and it picks up these threads and runs with them.
To humans, who have concepts thousands of years old for naming and identifying the world around them, from Eden onwards, it would be a little unnerving to have trees, rocks and soil identifying themselves. However, this is precisely what the omnipresent Winds must do; as the form changes from sand grain to rock to brick, the Winds exchange information about what they are and what they do. When there isn't a clear word for what they are, they invent one and scatter consensus information about it. The end result is that while a human can pick up a sand grain and talk to it individually, he has no hope of talking to the desert, which is the communual intelligence of billions of sandgrains and an uncountable number of nanotech entities.
Editions and Free Ebook
You can download and read Ventus for free. I'm anticipating a new edition from Tor Books in the future, but for now, it's yours to read, distribute and discuss. Check out the ebook link in the navigation box for download links.
There have been foreign editions of Ventus: Russian and French to date. I've made a page for these as well.