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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
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Ventus

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

The impressive venture in world-building in Ventus has one fascinating difference from all the other original worlds I've read -- Ventus is a terraformed world gone haywire, where the human colonists have lost control over the massive, intelligent network of terraforming machinery that runs the planet. In fact, as centuries passed, they even forgot that the "Winds" were AIs, and now they worship them as gods in a culture that has regressed to medieval technology.

Young Jordan, a newly qualified stone mason, is having strange visions -- episodes so vividly real that for a few seconds or moments he sees through the eyes of General Armiger, a man fighting a war in another land. Jordan has led a simple rural life, so he is bewildered when he is kidnapped by strangers (Calandria and Axel) who say they must use him to find Armiger, because Armiger is not truly a man -- he's a cyborg extension of a rogue AI that nearly destroyed the galaxy.

Both the galactics and Armiger are also searching for the answer to an old question: what happened to the AIs running the planet, and why can't the colonists communicate with them any more? If Calandria and Axel can find the answer, they may be able to rebuild the world so that humans no longer need fear the capricious, destructive attacks of the Winds. But if Armiger finds the answer first and takes control, the AIs will "cleanse" Ventus and start a new war against all humankind.

This is a very brief introduction to an enormously ambitious book with an immense cast and many many plot threads. Nonetheless, to Karl Schroeder's credit, I had no trouble following the action. All of his characters -- major and minor -- are wonderfully well drawn, with stories that tie together into a complex tapestry.

There is also a great deal of well considered science underlying this book. Readers who are tired of nanotech as a plot device, should nonetheless find the issues of artificial intelligence and its ultimate evolution to be very well thought out. And, for the most part, Schroeder shows his technology and its consequences through the action of the novel, rather than resorting to large swatches of exposition.

I still had a few problems with this book. There are not only a great many characters, there are a great many viewpoint characters -- by my count five major viewpoint characters and half a dozen minor ones. With so much leapfrogging first person narrative, I eventually found there wasn't enough focus on any one single protagonist for me to get emotionally involved. The maturing Jordan fades into the crowd, and is also overshadowed by his nemesis, Armiger, whose evolution as a human is simply fascinating. Finally, I felt that some characters spent too much time immersed in internal contemplations towards the end of the book when I was impatient to get on with the action.

Still, this is a most impressive novel, better than many of the epics currently being produced by the Big Names in the field. I'll make room on my overcrowded bookshelves for this one.

Copyright © 2001 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at

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