| Article by Daniel Eskridge |
Livia Kodaly lives on a world known as Tevan. The inhabitants of Tevan experience lifein their own realities called manifolds, which are similar in concept to virtualrealities, but rather than having consciousness downloaded into computers, thesemanifolds are made possible by programmable matter and perception controllingimplants. One person walking down a street may see a thriving metropolis, whileanother may see forest trail. The two may be walking right next to one anotherand not even see each other! Their implants also link them to inscape, a sortof super internet that they can use to instantly access information or even togenerate AI copies of themselves to interact with others while they do somethingelse. A technology known as techlocks organize the manifolds so that theyresemble nations and also keep the residents of one manifold from seeing thoseof another.
Livia's home is in the manifold known as Westerhaven, which is sort of the metropolitancapital of Tevan. Due to a past trauma, Livia is easily able to adapt tosituations outside her comfort zone. As a result, she can easily travel fromone manifold to another and therefore acts as a sort of diplomat when she is notwrapped up in the social intrigues of Westerhaven. Livia's life is thrown intochaos when the forces of the mysterious 3340 arrive and invade Tevan, saying thatthey are there to bring the people of Tevan into reality. Livia and two others,her long time companion Aaron, and the aboriginal Qiingi manage to escape Tevanand go seeking the forces behind 3340 to save Tevan.
After visiting other empty worlds soon find themselves in the Archipelago, themainsteam culture of the solar system. The techlocks do not exist in the Archipelagoand the people live in a mad jumble of customized realities. So confusing is itthat some residents of the Archipelago deliberatley choose to live in crippleview,abstaining from creating their own realities and choosing to experience life inthe more traditional way. Among the people of the Archipilago are entities knownas votes, AIs that are spontaneously created from a groups opinions and views,these in turn create the government of the Archipelago( which also represented by ahumanoid AI). Counter to this virtual tangle are the forces of the Good Book, asort of role playing system that governs the interactions between people. Liviaand her friends soon find themselves drawn into the politics of the Archipelagowhere they hope they can find the answer to Tevan's salvation.
I've vastly oversimplified the plot here. Lady of Mazes is quite complex, butthat complexity does not hinder the reader as much as the reviewer. While it soundsdizzying in summary, I was able to follow the story easily enough while reading.Schroeder does a good job of making his ideas clear and understandable. I neverfelt like I was lost in a deluge of made up words, and his future, while alien,is easy to conceptualize. Also, lots of clever and subtle bits of humor highlightthe narrative making it enjoyable to follow along. I especially liked Livia's twoAI servants who appear as sarcastic fairies.
Schroeder's vision of transient realities has a nice dreamlike quality that couldtranslate well into a visual medium should it ever find its way to TV or even the bigscreen. He does a good job of exploring his idea of overlapping existences. Iespecially liked a brief visit to Tevan's cartoonish manifold for the mentally retarded.Thankfully, he spends enough time on Tevan to get used to its strange existence beforethrusting the reader to the chaos of the Archipelago where Livia, who finds the placealien and strange herself, acts as filter for the reader, translating her experiencesfor the understanding of the reader.
The novel is not without its flaws though. While the characterization for Livia iswell done, I would like to have seen more time devoted to the villains of thestory. I always believe that it is a well developed antagonist that makes a good story into a great story.While 3340's situation turns out to be quite interesting, others such as the godChoronzon, seem to lack personality and a good background story.Furthermore, the story might be hard to follow for someone who does not know a bit aboutsome of the fundamental concepts of computer science and artificial intelligence.
There are some plot points that felt a bit unresolved. For instance, the Solarsystem is controlled by mysterious super powers known as the Anicleptics. Whilethey play a role in the story, their motivations and situations were largelyunexplored. However, Lady of Mazes takes place in the same setting as othernovels of Schroeder's, which I admit that I have not read. Perhaps they are dealtwith more in other novels.