Thursday, January 5, 2012

Lady of Mazes - Karl Schroeder

This is a sort of prequel to Ventus, in that Ventus is dealing with events following the destruction of the rogue AI 3340, and Lady of Mazes includes the birth 0f 3340, but it is mostly an exploration of what it means to be human, and what can happen when you layer virtual reality on top of reality to the point that your body and your consciousness are no longer necessarily in the same place. When you can create virtual versions of yourself, so real that your friends will happily interact with them as if they were you - to the point of getting upset if they don't always have a personal version of you available (in much the same way that everyone is constantly available on their cell these days, except that your cell is being answered by a machine so sophisticated that very few people even care about the difference). Obviously you need to synch up with your alternates frequently enough that you aren't caught totally offguard.

Inscape is a technology that allows you to see the world exactly as you wish, and also causes the world to react to your wishes. You'll never be cold or hungry or lonely, your friends (or copies of them at any rate) are always with you. Life without inscape, as Livia Kodaly discovers following a tour bus accident, is terrifying, difficult, and enough to make the average person simply give up.

Livia's world of Teven Coronal uses "Tech Locks" to create regions of consensual realities called manifolds where only previously agreed-upon levels of technology will operate. Her own manifold of Westerhaven has a relatively high level of technology, however she has visited adjacent manifolds which are quite primitive, even by our standards. While she is visiting, her own high tech will refuse to work for her.

The accident, it turns out, was a warning of worse things to come. Some force is trying to destroy the tech locks and force all technology to be freely available to all people - destroying the manifolds and their way of life in the process. In an effort to get help, Livia and some friends travel beyond the world of Teven Coronal and discover the world of the Archipelago - also occupied by people originally from Earth, also reliant on inscape technology, but without tech locks and with a very different system of government. In this crazy new world of totally unlimited possibility, people have come to rely on AIs, residing within inscape, to craft personal narratives in order to keep everyone sane and happy. Life is virtually meaningless, nothing new is being created, but people's perceptions of their own lives are as full of wonderful things as possible. The dangers of something like this are insidious, and difficult to perceive, and the people of the Archipelago are fascinated by Livia and her life in Westerhaven.

The actual story is fairly interesting - political intrigue in a world without geographical boundaries, battles against technology designed by ourselves to protect and shield us from reality, the possibility of using humans linked together in virtual reality as elements of an incredible artificial intelligence. There's a lot of stuff going on, but I found things were often too bizarre for me to completely follow. Perhaps re-reading would help, but I'm not really in love with the characters enough to do that.

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