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Karl Schroeder
Tor Books, 477 pages

Alan Pollack
Karl Schroeder
Karl Schroeder was born in 1962 in Brandon, Manitoba. He moved to Toronto in 1986 to further his writing career. In 1996, he was elected president of SF Canada. His awards include the Context '89 Short Story contest for his story "The Cold Convergence" (then titled "Live Wire") and "The Toy Mill" won the 1993 Aurora award for best short work in English.

Karl Schroeder Website
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A review by Greg L. Johnson

When the nannite swarms that terraformed the planet Ventus had nearly finished their job, something happened that prevented them from talking to the human beings whose arrival was ostensibly the reason for which the nannites had done their work. In Karl Schroeder's Ventus, the humans who have managed to survive on the planet live at a near medieval level of technology as the nano-machines, known as Winds, go about their mysterious business. Unknown to the inhabitants of Ventus, who have lost knowledge of the rest of humanity, the universe is about to intrude on them in a big way.

Ventus is in many ways a typical modern high-tech science fiction novel. It contains ideas that will be familiar to readers of both Vernor Vinge and Paul J. McAuley. The use of nano-technology is fairly common in current SF, and Schroeder's doesn't really do anything that's never been done before. What sets Ventus apart is a few good ideas and artistic touches that turn a middle-of-the-road book into a first-rate novel.

The most clever idea is the glitch that prevents the Winds from operating as their designers intended. It is not only a technological puzzle, but also a philosophical one, and its solution adds insight and depth to the book. The glitch also provides a reason for keeping most of the action at a low-technology level. This plays to the book's artistic strength, a cast of characters who, if not all that complex, each have a definite personality of their own. From Jordan Mason, the native youth, to Queen Galas, to Cassandra May, who hunts gods, to the artificial intelligence Desert Voice and more, Schroeder mixes an interesting cast with his high-tech adventure story. The people are as much fun to read about as what's happening to them, and that adds up to the best kind of reading experience.

It breaks down a bit about two-thirds of the way through the novel when Schroeder adds one more big complication to the story. From that point on, the action takes over and the most important thing about the characters becomes getting them to the right place at the right time. That's a minor quibble, however, in a book that, from beginning to end, is a splendid piece of hardcore science fiction.

Here at the beginning of the 21st century, we seem to be in a period where writing a good science fiction novel is not so much about re-inventing the style and form of the field as it is about showing mastery of the conventional tools and concepts that make up modern day SF. Karl Schroeder does exactly that in Ventus, and while Ventus is not going to re-write our definitions of what constitutes science fiction, it is a finely-crafted story with interesting characters and engaging high-tech concepts. As such, it should appeal to all those who appreciate a good science fiction story, well told.

Copyright © 2001 Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson believes that the doldrums of winter is just the right time to get involved in an inter-stellar epic involving heroic adventurers and insane galactic intelligences. His reviews also appear in The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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