Book Review 2007 #39: Lady of Mazes

And now with a return to SF, next up is Karl Schroeder’s Lady of Mazes.

I bought the book because of the cover and artist.
I had heard of Schroeder before picking this up, although I didn’t read his Ventus or Permanence. However, after I saw the cover art of the book, done by my favorite SF artist Stephen Martiniere (get a look at it here), I was more intrigued. And since I’ve heard good things about his new Virga novels, I decided to pick this up instead, and read it.
Livia Kodaly lives on a medium sized ringworld called a Coronal, living in a high tech environment where the various cultures living on the Coronal keep themselves walled off from each other by some very clever technology. Societies can live side by side without interacting with each other, and even having very different sociologies and technologies. She is somewhat different than her peers, a natural leader, having survived and thrived in a horrible accident when she was young.
That leadership is put to the test when strange visitors to a nearby society herald changes to the Coronal, changes large enough that will propel Livia off of the Coronal, and into the huge Archipelago of human civilization that comprises most of the solar system…
Lady of Mazes is strongest when it focuses on the actions of its sympathetic, well drawn protagonist, as well as the societal and philosophical questions that it raises. Progress, society, human dynamics, government and the limits of technology are explored as we follow Livia’s story. Schroeder’s imagination is in full force as he explores these questions in the backdrop of a future solar system where the only constraints on humanity are…well, that would be telling.
What works less effectively are the other characters, who are not as fully fleshed and developed as Livia is. I did feel at some points that Livia was doing most of the heavy lifting in character development, as opposed to the other characters like Aaron, Doran and Qiingi, who are less autonomous and real, to me. They felt more like “Sims” of characters, compared to the shining beacon of Livia. Too, some aspects of the future society feel a little unfinished and off of the cuff, and the denouement is a bit rushed in my opinion. Although the novel is a lean 400 pages and I wouldn’t necessarily want an 800 page tome, I think things could have been paced a bit better in the endgame.
Still, Lady of Mazes strongly reminded me of The Golden Age with its depiction of future humanity and technology and the questions progress raises, although its a stand alone novel rather than a trilogy (of which I have only read the first). I did like it, and I look forward to reading more novels by Schroeder.