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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.
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KARL SCHROEDER lives in Toronto, Ontario
Lady of Mazes
PART ONEThe Conquest of AbundanceDifferent ideas of social and political life entail different technologies for their realization.
--Langdon Winner, Autonomous Technology, 19771LIVIA KODALY OPENED her eyes to gray predawn light. All was silence within the crumbling stone walls where she had slept.Real sheets, not virtual, were bunched around her legs; she clutched a pillow and watched the faint radiance of dawn swing down from the eastern sky. Around and about her, within the walls and ceiling and floating on every minuscule speck of dust, a thousand other eyes watched. To them she might seem like a figure of porcelain, her mop of fair hair touched only now and then by an errant breeze. So still was she that to those ubiquitous eyes and monitors, she might seem just another fixture of the room.When the rectangle of black from the French doors turned gray, Livia sighed at the ceiling and untangled herself from rest. She walked through the French doors onto the broad stone balcony that encircled the estate's guest apartments. Curled up in one of the old crenels, she looked out over the manicured grounds with their posing topiary and past the indistinct forest tops. Stars still shone, Jupiter on her right, the pastel curves of the Lethe Nebula to her left. It was that time of day when the world seems to pause between breaths--the towering redwood trees that carpeted the hillside were motionless, and all would be silent if not for the chattering of thousands of wakening birds.When the solitude began reminding her of sadder times, she looked out one last time at the empty gardens and then summoned her Society. A hum of voices welled up around her and ghostly figures began appearing above, below, all about; some seemed to stand on the air above the gardens. Each luminous person acknowledged her with a wave, a smile, or a bow. Some were engaged in conversation, some stood alert but motionless. Livia didn't want to talk to any of the real inhabitants of the estate right now, so she excluded them from her sensorium. For now, she was alone with her phantoms.Mother's anima waved from an unlikely perch on one of the window lintels. "Up with the dawn today, Liv?" She laughed. "We have to drag you out of bed back home!"She shrugged. "I need time to review my animas, that's all."Livia strolled back to her bedchamber, hesitating by the dresser. She slept in the nude, and could easily eschew clothing for the day if it proved to be as hot as it was threatening; by default, she would appear dressed to anyone she met. Such informality didn't feel quite right when she was a guest in this house. Livia donned her shift and tuned it to resemble a Tharsis corset and voluminous silk pantaloons as she walked to the bathroom.Conversations bubbled around her as she scowled at the mirror. Some dialogues were happening now in the manor, but most were the peers, laughing and chattering in diverse places back home. Some voices were real people's; some were imitations performed by AIs. They were filtered for relevance by Livia's agents so that she only got the gist of what was happening today: "Devari has a new opera, but he won't show it to anyone. Claims he'll fall out of the manifold if he does!" (Laughter.) "We went flying yesterday. You should have seen Jon! He was practically blue." "What, he'd never been before?""Livia, we all heard about your performance last night. You've finally mastered that Mozart aria, congratulations!""Have you heard? Aaron Varese has vanished!"Livia had been crossing the room to her door. She stopped, looking for whoever had just spoken. It was raven-haired Esther Mannus, one of the most active peers; not the real woman, for she was back home in Barrastea, but rather her anima, which she regularly updated. She was laughing with an indistinct friend--someone not of Livia's Society, but not hostile to it either."Excuse me." The two phantoms swooped into tighter focus, almost becoming real enough to be opaque. Esther covered her smiling mouth with one hand. "Ah, Livia," said the anima. "We thought you'd heard already.""Heard what?""Why, that Aaron has left the city and won't speak to anyone."Livia had worried that something like this would happen. She said, "I'd wondered why he wasn't with me this morning. What's he working on this time?"Esther glanced around, then said quietly, "Something to do with 'science,' whatever that is. He was babbling on about traveling through space last time we spoke." She sighed. "We're used to his provocations. But we also know that whatever he's up to, you're involved."Livia shook her head. "Not this time." She didn't add that she and Aaron had been drifting apart lately. Anyway, it wasn't unheard-of for someone to isolate himself; everybody did now and then, just for sanity's sake. Still, no animas of Aaron had appeared in her Society this morning. Not to leave one behind was definitely an affront and maybe a deliberate insult. It was disturbing.A tiny whistle sounded from the doorway. She saw a flicker of light there, whirling in circles near the latch."Coming," she said. As she went to the door, Livia kept Esther's animabeside her. "I'll go speak to him," she said. "In person. Maybe he has a good explanation for this."Esther nodded. "I won't downgrade his anima until I hear from you, then," she said tartly. Livia nodded and dismissed the phantom.Her two favorite agents were waiting at the door. Since they were not physically real, but rather images painted on her senses by her neural implants, she could make them look like anything she wanted. She'd always had them appear as tiny faeries. The first one, Peaseblossom, said, "You were very busy last night!" in a pipsqueak voice. Cicada muscled Peaseblossom out of the way and proclaimed, "You were all over the place!" And in unison: "We think you're in trouble!""Oh, great," she said. "What did I do?""Jachman and his friends were scheming against Rene," said Peaseblossom, its wings a blur. "They didn't know you have the hots for him.""I do not!""You do. Jachman had your anima open while he was talking to the others, and you challenged him.""To a duel!"Livia groaned and put her hand to her forehead. "I did what?""That's not all!" Cicada puffed out his little chest in pride. "At the selfsame time, you were defending Aaron's honor at a party across town!""The duel," she pressed. "What happened with the duel?" She strolled down the manor's marble steps, following the scent of fresh bacon that was drifting toward her."You fought Jachman, and he killed you," said Peaseblossom. "It's gonna cost you."It certainly would. She was bound to lose some authority over this spat. If she'd been there in person ...She dismissed the idea as wishful thinking. If her anima had fought a duel, then Livia herself almost certainly would have done so had she been there in its place. Animas might only be imitations of people, but they were very accurate imitations."Okay," she said. "I'm going to have to visit that incident. You've got it ready for me?""Any time you say.""After breakfast, then."Cicada made an exaggerated gesture of toeing the ground (he was a meter in the air). "Well, I'm not sure you'll have the time," he said reluctantly."What do you mean?" She stopped and glared at the little man. "What else did I do last night?""You made a date with Lucius Xavier," said Cicada.She gaped at him.Peaseblossom elbowed his companion fiercely. "Not a date," he hissed. "Xavier's not that kind of friend." He cleared his throat and smiled up at Livia. "You agreed to meet him here this morning. In person, that is. You're going hunting Impossibles, remember?""No, I ..." Oh. Was that what his visit had been about?To be strictly polite, Livia should not have had her Society up during last night's soiree. After all, she was a physical guest of the Romanal estate, not just a virtual visitor. She owed her host and hostess her undivided attention at least during supper. Their daughter's confirmation as a true citizen of Westerhaven was important to them and Livia's own family had ties with theirs going back generations.So she had gone through supper and cocktails completely present, and sung her set with her Society absent. Only afterward had she answered the urgent summons of an old family friend, to take a walk in the estate's garden with his virtual self.Now she made herself visible and entered the guest house's kitchens. Here was Lady Romanal, her host, cheerfully flipping eggs on the giant gas stove in the corner. This, the real Lady Romanal, was talking to an anima of Livia herself, while her own anima chatted with another of the guests, Livia's violin player. The violin player was a taciturn man who looked uneasy under the lady's microscope. Livia had never really gotten along with him outside of a professional capacity. She split off an anima to join his side of the conversation and walked to the stove, quickly back-stepping through her other anima's conversation with the lady until she felt prepared.Then she replaced her own image at the lady's side. "Our politics aren't that radical," she said. "Aaron and I simply think Westerhaven's become too complacent. Too ... calm."Lady Romanal sighed. "But is that a real criticism, or just youth speaking? Bacon?""Yes, thank you.""You know what kind of reputation you'll get if you continue this pointless agitation," continued Lady Romanal. She was sweating from the heat, but seemed to enjoy cooking for these, her least important guests. "Your mother is quite concerned.""Concern is Mother's chief talent," said Livia as she held out a plate."Oh, you are a handful!" complained the lady cheerfully. "Is it true you've been advocating that we should all abandon our manifolds and live together?""That was Aaron, not me. He doesn't see why we should deliberately limit our realities.""Delightful!"Livia glowered at her. "He takes his politics very seriously. So do I."Lady Romanal smiled as she piled food on Livia's plate. "Maybe that's your problem. Too serious to be serious, if you catch my meaning." When Livia didn't answer she said, "Perhaps it's time to put the past behind you, Livia."Livia left her anima to continue the conversation and went to sit down. That was a bit rude, but only a bit. Lady Romanal should know what subjects were sensitive to her.As the kitchen filled up with other performers and incidental guests, Livia turned her attention to last night's adventures. She should review that duel, but didn't relish the prospect of watching herself lose. She should also loose some agents to hunt for Aaron. Instead, she back-stepped into her conversation with Lucius."No, there's no emergency," he'd said as she sat down on a bench in the garden next to his virtual self. "But I'd like you here, if you can oblige me."Livia had glanced at the party, decided she was safely alone for the moment, and replaced her own sensorium with the one at Lucius's locale. He too stood outside, but on a wide balcony a hundred meters above the city of Barrastea. The buzz of night bugs was replaced here by the incessant murmur of the city, whose glittering lights spread away to the horizon and reared here and there halfway to the zenith. Livia made the anima she now inhabited move to peck him on the cheek."How are you, Lucius?" she began.He smiled at her in a distracted way. In this light he looked like a slightly shabby, careworn Poseidon, his hair and beard all atangle. "It's been too long since we talked," he said at last."That wouldn't happen if you didn't travel so much." She sat her virtual self down on a stone seat near him."It's my responsibility," he said, frowning into the night. "I sometimes don't like it much. But we're diplomats and ambassadors in Westerhaven, Livia--all of us, whether or not we want to simply stay at home and tend our gardens.""Is that what you want to do?""Sometimes." He brightened a bit. "But not always. Sometimes an adventure beckons. Like tonight. That's why I called you--I wanted a traveling companion for a day-trip, and couldn't think of anybody else who might want to go with me on it.""No? That seems unlikely."At about this point Livia had been interrupted by some members of Romanal's party spilling out into the gardens. She had severed her connection to Lucius, leaving an anima behind, so she didn't know what had happened next.She watched now as Lucius laughed. "You know perfectly well that most people run in tracks. We may be a manifold dedicated to bridging the gaps between other manifolds, but when push comes to shove, nobody you or I know has the courage to travel anywhere really exotic. Not across a real horizon, that's for sure."Livia's anima (which she now observed from outside) looked intrigued, but a little disturbed. "You want to cross a horizon? To where?""I'm not sure. But I'd like you to come with me, if you would."There was a pause. Livia's anima appeared surprised and confused. After a moment it said, "Please tell me that you thought of me because wherever you're going is a musical manifold.""No," he said, looking momentarily guilty. "I know you don't like to be reminded of the accident, Livia, but it did give you a unique perspective that--"Her anima stood up angrily. "Lucius, how could you? I will not travel outside of inscape again for you, or anybody else! Or to any manifold that doesn't use it. You of all people should know ..." She turned away.Lucius reached out to touch her virtual shoulder. "This won't be like that, I swear. I'm not proposing we leave inscape, or any of the manifolds you know. I just want to take a walk along the border of Westerhaven. Tomorrow. And I think you should come."She turned, suspicious. "Why?"He shrugged. "It might improve your authority. Won't hurt mine either. You see, people have been sighting Impossibles near the Romanal estate. It's been going on for several weeks now. So far it's all anecdotal; nobody's inscape has preserved a record. It's as if they're being seen by the eyes only, without the inscape system being aware of them at all."Livia's anima shuddered. The mere idea of inscape having problems made her nervous--would make anyone raised in Westerhaven squirm. No wonder Lucius couldn't find anyone to join him on his little expedition."What are they seeing?" her anima asked, turning back to face him. Livia was a bit surprised that she hadn't turned him down outright; shemight have if she'd been there in person. Then again, she might not. Animas tended to know the personalities of those they modeled better than the people themselves."Mythical creatures," said Lucius. "Bears and wolves that walk like men. Giant birds with masklike faces. They sound like Raven's people. All I want to do is verify that the sightings are genuine and not some kind of hysterical meme. I have no intention of going anywhere near one of the things, believe me.""And you want me along because ...""After the things you've seen, Livia, I think you...
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Book Description Tor Books, 2005. Hardcover. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110765312190
Book Description Tor Books, 2005. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0765312190
Book Description Tor Books, 2005. Hardcover. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX0765312190