by Karl Schroeder
- reviewed by Cory Doctorow
The planet Ventus is a marvel of the terraformer's
art. Rather than shoving around great loads of soil, gasses and
liquids to make the world hospitable, Ventus' designers deployed
a mere 70 kilos of intelligent nanotechnology. When the nanos landed,
they used the world's fabric to copy themselves, absorbing the world's
foundations as a sponge absorbs a bucketful of water, until the
very planet was intelligent -- or rather, intelligences,
a collection of autonomous gods and demigods and sprites and spirits,
collectively called the Winds.
Ventus sings. The ocean sings, "I am an ocean," and
the waves sing, "I am a wave." The Winds sing their songs as they
negotiate among themselves for the preparation of the world for
the human masters to come. The clouds negotiate with the crops to
provide water, the earthmovers negotiate with the sod over mineral
allocation. Ventus is a Garden, a jewel of a world in a universe
populated with innumerable humans and post-humans, and machine-human
intelligences that embody as entire planets.
Ventus is a garden, fallen. A thousand years after
the terraforming project, the Winds have forgotten their human masters.
Now the Winds barely tolerate the fallen inhabitants of the garden
world, capriciously manifesting as avenging angels that smash overly
technological artifacts and their makers; manifesting as sinister
morphs that maintain ecological balance by tearing bears apart to
make gophers; manifesting as the attenuated, magnetic celestials
whose Heaven hooks crush masonry and rend bone as they seek to expunge
Jordan Mason, the boy-hero of the story, has been
unwittingly implanted with off-world technology that turns him into
a spy for Armiger, the avatar of the fallen God/world 3340. It's
this very technology that makes him a target of the ruling machines,
who come to perceive him a foreign technology that must be eliminated
by the world's all-powerful immune system. Aided by the bounty-hunters
Caladria May and Axel Chan, Jordan learns to control his technology
and finds that the world itself is alive, shouting and singing in
a billion variegated voices. Gradually, the boy comes to communicate
with the planet itself, and to discover the internecine battles
that have turned Ventus from Heaven to Hell.
Schroeder's a voracious autodidact, and he weaves
his multifarious backgrounds into the storyline, burying clues to
Ventus's mysteries in avant-garde linguistics, in pervasive computing
theory, in cryptography, and in the theology of his apostate Mennonite
forefathers. The book is as epic in scope as The Lord of the Rings,
but more nuanced; it's as technologically daring as Snow Crash,
but better controlled, with a narrative that makes its many pages
fly past. Schroeder's created a startling, thought-provoking marvel
of a book, a voice to equal any of the new guard that the Commonwealth
has materialized of late: Scotsmen Ken MacLeod and Iain Banks and
Aussie Greg Egan have a new contemporary.
b i o :
is a gadget-fixated science-fiction writer and entrepreneur who
makes his home in San Francisco, California and Toronto, Canada.
He is the co-founder and Chief Evangelist of openCOLA,
Inc., and recently won the John
W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Writer at the
Hugo Awards in Chicago. His (nearly) daily eyemodule journal can
be found at www.craphound.com/eyemodule.html.