Lady of Mazes - Karl Schroeder

Lady of Mazes starts off as some kind of high-tech fantasy - the characters live within fantasy worlds controlled and mediated by nanotech, on a ring world. Then things change and warp, and the grander stage appears. Our protagonist has been living in a back-water of a huge society of trillions of humans, pawns of complex trans-human powers, and we're in the world of "hard sci-fi". This wider setting rather reminded me of The Quantum Thief, only a little bit less cartoon-like. Through-out there's a undercurrent theme of computer security and steganography, not entirely unlike A Fire Upon The Deep, but despite the "hard" label in the sci-fi, it must be said that it's not really very science-y. Nanotech cures all suspension of disbelief, it seems.

Enough science, what about the people? The book explores what society can be like when people can choose what they perceive, and all interaction is mediated. Moreover, it asks what reality is in such a world. Think Rainbows End on acid. From there, it gets rather philosophical about how humans can create meaning in a world of unbounded possibility. This is slightly undermined by an under-appreciation of the size of the space of possibilities - it's quite possible to be unique in a population of trillions, as the space of identities is the power set of individual traits. Despite this flaw, the book argues its thesis reasonably entertainingly.

It is a little on the touchy-feely side. People talk about and think about their feelings. But don't worry, there are spaceships and fights and stuff, too. It just doesn't really revel in that part. On the other hand, I have no idea why it's a "Romantic Times Bookclub Magazine Top Pick". That's sufficiently confusing that I have no idea why they stuck that on the back in big letters. Weird.

I can no longer remember where the recommendation for this novel came from. It's been on my "to read" list for years. It's really been an unexpected surprise, rather off my radar. It sits somewhere in the post-human story space of The Quantum Thief, but is much less manic, and frankly so much better. Highly recommended.

Posted 2015-08-30.