Reality and Karl Schroeder's The Lady of Mazes

Andrei Marks · August 11, 2013

I finished Karl Schroeder’s The Lady of Mazes last night.ladyOfMazes

He is making his way up to the top of my top ten favorite SF authors list, if he’s not there already. I first read Ventus years ago, and the idea of it has really stuck with me.

Which says a lot, because I tend to devour sci-fi books so fast that unless there’s some idea that really grabs me, I’ll quickly forget nearly everything I read. Until, of course, I pick it up again years later and realize it’s already been kicking around in my head.

Ventus writing and theme grabbed me enough, though, that it’s pretty much unforgettable. Oddly, another of his books, Permanence, is something of that other type, because I can’t really remember anything from it. Though I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten it from a library and read it years back.

Anyhow, Schroeder’s gift is how wonderfully his writing embodies the show-don’t-tell principle. And what makes that even more amazing is that he’s showing is some far future where life is radically different from our own.

Authors that do this really shine because their books become these intellectual puzzles. You start out lost and immersed in this strange world, barely able to make sense of it (though still caught up in a story), but as you continue through the book you gradually piece together all the details. You look back on your memory and say to yourself Oh! That’s what was happening! and you get a beautiful little head rush. You feel keyed into some secret world.

So, it was just fantastic. I leave you with one mind-bending exchange from the book:

"...I believe that the invaders think they are doing us a favor. They believe we are enslaved by illusions, and that they are freeing us from the ropes of a dream." "They seem to be primitives," agreed Livia. "They don't know that reality is always mediated. They see that Inscape is a filter between us and reality..." "But they don't see that when you're outside the manifolds you're just living with a different set of filters[...]"

Part of the book’s takeaway is very much that Harry Potter message from Harry’s dream sequence in the final battle. What does it matter whether it’s real or not, so long as you’re feeling it? It’s a powerful, maybe dangerous idea (think: the Matrix), and I haven’t decided my stance on it, however much I appreciate its expression.

Delicious side note: according to Amazon’s author bio for Schroeder, one of my favorite far future hard SF authors was raised by Mennonites.

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