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REVIEW: Ventus by Karl Schroeder

REVIEW SUMMARY: A high-tech story set in a finely detailed, low-tech world.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A rogue AI sends a cyborg to take over the planet Ventus in order to plant a “propagation seed” as a stepping stone to controlling the universe.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Detailed world-building; interesting plot with AIs and nanotech.
CONS: World-building often gets in the way of the story; less interesting plot involving civil war.
BOTTOM LINE: Holds a reader’s interest.


One thousand years after terraforming nanotech was sent to the planet Ventus, trouble is brewing. The planet is the target of a takeover of a cyborg named Armiger who was sent there by the rogue artificial intelligence known as 3340. This is 3340’s last ditch effort to conquer the galaxy via a “propagation seed” as the AI is on the verge of total destruction. To accomplish his task, Armiger has planted a device inside one of the Ventus natives – seventeen-year-old Jordan Mason. Unbeknownst to Armiger, the device in Jordan’s skull gives him visions that allow him to see what Armiger sees.

While attempting to understand his visions, Jordan meets the mysterious Calandria May who has tracked the cyborg Armiger to Ventus so that she may kill him and, thus, finally annihilate 3340. But the planet itself has something to say about this. The terraforming nanotech, known in the medieval Ventus society as the mythical “Winds”, is no longer operating on the command of their human creators. The Winds’ top priority is in the protection of the Ventus ecosystem and they will attack anything to protect it including any technology more advanced than a steam engine. Unfortunately, that also includes the implant inside Jordan.

Bummer for Jordan. It is through this character that reader becomes familiar with the meticulously detailed world of Ventus. Jordan, like all members of the medieval-level society on the planet, knows nothing about the true origins of the planet which are shrouded in myth. He only knows that the Winds discourage any advancement of technology lest the ecosystem become imbalanced. This fear of technology keeps the society from advancing and this provides a great backdrop to the high-tech story of rogue AIs, cyborgs and nanotech. (Oh my!)

Part of the fun of Ventus is in exploring the world. Many questions are raised about its origins. It is, in fact, some of these questions which are the thrust of the story. For example, why have the Winds stopped communicating with humans? The author has done an exhausting job in fleshing out the details about the world and its origins; perhaps too much. The book is filled with so many world-building details that the story sometimes shows signs of collapsing under its own weight. I’m a big fan of world-building, but not when it begins to get in the way of the story.

The driving plot for me was the mission of Calandria May and her partner Axel. Calandria a wonderfully three-dimensional (and strong) female character and Axel is also very likable. When she involves Jordan into her attempts to find Armiger, the result was a captivating plot thread that kept me reading. But my interest levels went seriously south with the introduction and loitering of the native civil war between Ventus natives. Much of the second act suffered for this very reason; it just moved too slowly and was mired down in medieval padding. It felt like I was reading historical fiction instead of science fiction. Maybe it was supposed to provide some sort of symbolism for the civil war being waged at the nanotech level?

There are some way cool sf-nal ideas here. As mentioned, there are the AIs, the cyborg and the nanotech, but there are also offshoots of the Winds to track. Namely there were morphs, mecha and desals – concepts that I must admit were a little too close in definition to do anything with them other than rat-hole them into the same bucket labeled “nano-creations”. (Another symptom of too much world-building.)

I do give Ventus credit for its ambitious and nearly-successful attempts to create a fast-paced high-tech story in a finely detailed low-tech world. It’s an attractive combination. Along the way, the reader is also treated to the thoughtful themes of what it means to be human, choosing one’s own destiny and doing the right thing. Some parts read faster than others (insert note about medieval padding here) but overall the book held my interest.

I read Ventus in expectation of reading Karl Schroeder‘s new novel Lady of Mazes. (While not a sequel, they are set in the same universe.) Although Ventus failed to overly excite me, I am still looking forward to reading the newer book, an expectation that is partly bolstered by the better reading experience I had with Schroeder’s Permanence.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.
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