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. Lady of Mazes is the story of Teven Coronal, a ringworld with a huge multiplicity of human civilizations. It's the story of what happens when the delicate balance of coexisting worlds is completely destroyed, when the fabric of reality itself is torn.Brilliant but troubled Livia Kodaly is Teven's only hope against invaders both human and superhuman who threaten the fragile ecologies and human diversity. Filled with action, ideas, and intellectual energy, Lady of Mazes is the hard SF novel of the year. At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
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June 01, 2006
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Excerpt from Lady of Mazes by Karl Schroeder
The Conquest of Abundance
Different ideas of social and political life entail different technologies for their realization.
--Langdon Winner, Autonomous Technology, 1977
LIVIA 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."
"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?"