Karl Schroeder is one of the new stars of hard SF. His novels, Ventus and
Permanence, have established him as a new force in the field. Now he extends his
reach into Larry Niven territory, returning to the same distant future in which
Ventus was set, but employing a broader canvas, to tell the story of Teven
Coronal, a ringworld with a huge multiplicity of human civilizations. Brilliant
but troubled Livia Kodaly is Teven’s only hope against invaders both human and
superhuman who would destroy its fragile ecologies and human diversity. Filled
with action, ideas, and intellectual energy, Lady of Mazes is the hard SF novel
of the year.
Like the last book I reviewed,
Lady of Mazes is a novel full of big hard SF ideas, but here the
emphasis was on hard, rather than big, as in Hard to Read. When I saw
the publisher’s description, I wondered if it was so Hard to Read that the
jacket copy writer couldn’t figure out how to synopsize it (in fact, the
book jacket has some other copy, but it’s provided in the form of quotes
from Charles Stross and Charles Harness). Schroeder comes up with some
delightful futuristic, post-human scenarios, but he does it so convincingly
that at times it’s a struggle just to keep up with what’s going on since I’m
just a regular non-post-human human.
This novel is by no means entry level SF, which is
fine–not all SF is written for the novice reader (nor would I want it to
be). However, this book was chosen as part of the Tor/SCI FI Channel
cross-promotion program called "SCI
FI Essentials" (in which a science fiction novel is chosen each month to
be featured as the "Pick of the Month" and will be featured on SCIFI.com and
possibly in SCI FI Magazine),
and such a complex and difficult read would, I think, do more to turn off
new readers than bring in new ones. People who think cutting edge
science fiction can be found on the SCI FI Channel (or on TV in general)
aren’t ready for this sort of thing.
Moh’s Hardness Scale is a "a crude but practical
method of comparing hardness or scratch resistance of minerals"
(see below). I tend to categorize hard SF novels by how hard
they actually are. Ben Bova writes hard SF, but what he writes is very
accessible, entry-level type stuff. What he writes could be considered
say, gypsum hard SF. On the other end of the spectrum is
Charles Stross who writes ambitious, yet incredibly dense and challenging
SF, or diamond hard SF. This novel isn’t quite a diamond, but
comes close, as corundum hard SF.
So if you’re a hardcore SF geek, this book is sure to
entertain, though the effort of reading it might turn your brain to goo.
Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.