In a far, far distant future, Teven Coronal is one of numerous space habitats orbiting a sun. Its inhabitants live within separate manifolds, virtual realities independent both physically and philosophically.  One manifold may be  a technologically-advanced culture where flying cars abound and individuals are able to project their consciousnesses into artificial constructs, duplicates called animas, while another may be primitive and technologically bereft.  All of these societies are generated and maintained by AI’s through neural implants via a technology called inscape.  Meanwhile, failsafes called tech-locks ensure technological purity (ie. developmental stagnation in the cases of those primitive manifolds) and that there is no bleed-thru between the the individual VR’s, making for a well-controlled system.  But the occasional glitches do occur…

One such glitch proved an almost-transcendent experience for two young people, Livia Kodaly and Aaron Varese.  Following the crash of a public transport, only they were able to handle the subsequent exposure to harsh reality, an ability that allowed them to lead many survivors to safety – and that, subsequently, set them apart from their fellow citizens of the Westerhaven manifold.  And yet, their brief intimacy with reality those many years back does little to prepare them for more shocking truths when a large-scale disaster strikes, upending their very existence.

The tech locks have been disabled and the barriers between manifolds is breaking down.  Livia discovers the source, a mysterious entity known as 3340, but it does little to save Westerhaven.  It is attacked, descends into chaos and soon, she is forced to flee.  With the entire solar system under threat, she and her allies journey to other coronals in search of answers. What she inevitably ends up with are answers to questions she never even thought to ask, surprises and revelations in the form of entities, cultures, and realities bigger, broader, and deeper than anything she could have imagined within the strict confines of Westerhaven.  To say any more would risk spoiling the novel for those who’ve yet to discover its wonders.

Wow!  Lady of Mazes was a head-spinner.  The world-building is vast, the technology intricate, and the thematic core of the book both challenging and thought-provoking.  I’ll admit to being slightly overwhelmed by its first fifty pages.  Although the concepts introduced aren’t overly complicated, they do require a fair amount of exposition, resulting in a slow narrative build over those first fifteen chapters or so. The use of exotic terminology lends another confusing element, forcing one to progress at a very deliberate.  Easy reading this aint.  But highly-rewarding it is because a basic understanding of these worlds, technologies, and philosophies form the launch point to a brilliant exploration of knowledge and existence, the sort of big ideas that shouldn’t be confined to science fiction alone (but, honestly, no other genre does a better job).  How does technology benefit our lives and what are the disadvantages of living in a technologically-advanced society?  Is happiness always defined by reality or can happiness flourish in a state of artifice and ignorance?  Should it?  Do absolute truths exist, or are they as fluid and volatile as varied environments and social constructs? We are posed these questions through the experience and enlightened eyes of our protagonist, a woman who ventures beyond the comforts of her constructed reality to examine and understand people and places once beyond her comprehension.  And, ultimately, we learn that the search for answers is just as important as the answers themselves.

Lady of Mazes isn’t the type of book I’d recommend to a friend looking for a fun SF summer read.  It’s dense and demanding, yet smart, inventive, illuminating, and incredibly satisfying.

So, those are my preliminary thoughts.  I’m very interested in hearing what everyone else thought.  Let’s hear ’em!  And start posting your questions for author Karl Schroeder!

27 thoughts on “February 14, 2011: Lady of Mazes, by Karl Schroeder

  1. It took me longer to read this book than I would normally take to read a book, but I was bound and determined I was going to finish one of the Book of the Month Club books. 🙂 I think a big reason for that is like you said–the theme, technology, and the world building were quite intricate, and it took a lot of the first part of the book to introduce it. I got the sense that Livia never wanted to be a leader that she felt forced into the role, but the only alternative, giving up, was just as foreign to her. So she kept pushing on, after the accident and after Westerhaven was attacked. The ability to tell what was real and what wasn’t was also a focal part of the book, I thought, and at the end, the author leaves a mystery when the reader is not sure whether Livia is alive or not. It was a challenging read for me, but one I was glad I took because it helped me stretch myself.

  2. Loved Lady of Mazes. I only finished it two days ago and my mind’s still abuzz with the jargon of the book – manifolds and anecliptics and inscape. And whenever that happens with a book I know it’ll stick with me. I’m definitely going to get Mr Schroeder’s other novels now as well.


    Does anyone think Lady Ellis’ proposed reinvention of science within Westerhaven would have ever been truly successful? Or would the tech locks (or rather the consequences of the tech locks) have inhibited any developments that were not within the set of technologies allowed in Westerhaven? If your toolbox is missing several tools, is it possible to build the missing ones with the ones you have? I’m not sure it would have worked with the horizons still in place. Livia’s seemingly preferred option – of having tech locks but no horizons – strikes me as allowing co-operation between manifolds. Everyone would be able to have a regimented home manifold, and the VR hedonism as seen in the Archipelago would be averted.

    I enjoyed the contrasts between interfering Archipelagic narratives (particularly as espoused by Ishani Chaterjee’s life story) and Aaron’s lies about Livia’s leadership after the crash. On the one hand a virtual program is doing what is ‘best’ for Ishani and enticing her to forget her troubles and questions. Whereas Aaron is doing what he sees as best for himself and his lies end up manipulating Livia’s life, creating social difficulties for Livia. Ultimately, Ishani views the narrative’s interference as negative, and while Livia feels betrayed by Aaron she rises easily to the persona he created in a way that helped her and her friends in a positive way.

    I also loved that there were such huge ideas in a tight word count. There’s a case for sprawling sci-fi, but reading books like this makes me forget what that case is.

    Questions for Mr Schroeder as they occur to me.

  3. “Lady of Mazes isn’t the type of book I’d recommend to a friend looking for a fun SF summer read. It’s dense and demanding, yet smart, inventive, illuminating, and incredibly satisfying.”

    The book sounds awesome, but herein lies my dilemma for doing much reading while I have small children. Distraction after adorable distraction. If I have a lull where I can put more than one thought together at a time, … nevermind, the 6 month old keeps kicking my hands off the keyboard, what was I saying?

  4. So far, I’m only 2/3 through Lady of Mazes and agree it isn’t a light read.

    I must say, though, I have never heard of anything quite so rude as the concept of the anima. The use of an anima says, to me at least, “I’m not interested in you, so I’ll leave this copy and go do something I find more worth my personal attention.” I would be very upset.

    Anne Teldy

  5. Hey Joe,

    What do you think of the Kindle as a Reader? Not sure how my longer my Sony has left in it. It’s been a good pal. Travels with me everywhere and is always entertaining. What more could you ask for? But poor Harry (the Reader – named after Harry Dresden) has a battery life that is starting to let me know he’s needing to retire. Still, to get through 2 books without a recharge is acceptable. Maybe I just need to let up on him in his old age…

  6. Hey Joe,

    Just wanted to wish you the best of luck on your new project. I want to give it a shot, since I’ve always enjoyed the eps you and Paul have written for SGA and SG-1. It seems like a series right up my alley.

    I am still very dissapointed about the SGA movie, and really wish something could happen on MGM’s end. I know that the movie would be a success if they just give it a chance. Sadly, taking chances in this business can be very expensive and risky. It just sucks because I know you likely wrote a great movie script.



  7. Hey Joe:
    So when are you going to send me that copy of Extinction ?
    I have been waiting since this weekend for it.
    Should I keep checking my mail ?
    Seriously though, when you can answer this please do:
    As far as that script does MGM own it, or are you free to do whatever you want with it ?
    If the movie never gets made (Hopefully it does) I hope it does not get lost in a box up in your attic that gets found 50 years from now after someone cleans your attic out to work on your house!

  8. So now that the Atlantis movie is kaputt you have to tell us who the crypto-gay of Atlantis was.

  9. It is definitely a good cover done by a very good artist, it clearly tells me that what the story is about and it sounds very interesting. I’d by this book on the cover alone as well.

  10. Was not able to read Lady of Mazes, but sounds like one I will look up soon. Meanwhile, Ghosts of Manhattan has been requisitioned. 🙂

    Anyone watch the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on USA network tonight? This evening they judged the hounds, toy, non-sporting, and herding groups. Tomorrow/Tuesday evening, they judge the terrier, sporting, working, and best in show groups. Re-runs air midnight (same-day-ish) and 9 a.m. the next morning. (Yay for that.) I’ll be rooting for the Sammies in the working group. 😀

    This dog show story was too good not to share:

    Happy Valentine’s Day! Hope everyone’s was decent. Mom & I got roses. And they’re pretty. 🙂

  11. I finished Lady of Mazes. I’ve already given my opinion on animas above. I found the idea that we may someday do away with government a bit unbelievable as was the lack of crime. Maybe I’m just too pessimistic about humanity’s future?

    I liked Livia and Qiingy but I was never able to connect to anyone which is a negative to me when reading books. Perhaps the premise was just too fantastical for me to imagine myself there?

    Overall, not my cup of tea but I can see why hard SF fans enjoyed it.

    Anne Teldy

  12. Speaking of books, have you read The Swarm by Frank Schaetzing? Don’t wanna say anything else in case you haven’t, but would love to hear your thoughts.

  13. The resident SGA gay is Lorne. My Gaydar says Lorne, but it could be a false reading from Chuck.

  14. Hi Joseph, can you answer a few questions?
    (Small interview for a French site)


    Today, all the Stargate fans are asking these questions:

    • Stargate Universe is really the end? will we have a DVD ? a mini-series or a season 3 final to end the series ?

    • If Brad is a solution for SG-U, the actors will follow?

    • What would you and Brad for the rest of SG-U and the franchise in general?

    • Battlestar Galactica got another chance with “Blood and Chrome” … and Stargate … any news?

    • Is this the end of this beautiful and promising franchise?

    • If SG-U resumed for a final season / movie, you’ll be part of?

    • And the question: do you know the plans of the MGM for Stargate? have you heard anything?

    Thanks you very much Joseph Mallozzi !
    We are all with you in your future artistic projects!


  15. If you are doing “Transporter”, I’m glad to see that there are others who thinking of Mike Dopud. The first time I saw him was in SGA, “Tracker”. He stood out then and I was disappointed not to see that story line, including him, continue or take up at a later episode. It is undeniable that the man stands out and has “presence” or “IT”… whatever “IT” is… he’s got it…. and he would be a great transporter. I hope, at least, that he is considered.

  16. RE Varro – I enjoyed seeing Mike Dopud in SGU and that is one of the reasons that I am disappointed that the story comes to a brick wall.

  17. Not book related but I had to share. Showed husband your “keep away from eyes…. heart patients” warning and he said: KFC chicken is too spicy for me, I don’t want any of that.
    ROFLMAO, ya think?
    Joe, if anyone ever wanted to have you committed, you know they could use your blog foods for proof.

  18. Nothing to see here, move along.

    I just haven’t got an interesting thing to say today.

  19. Has Brad considered approaching Discovery Science channel? I’ve tried contacting them, but I haven’t had a proper response other than that Brad could contact them through this link:

    Science channel is picking up Firefly, so I’d think they might be interested in SGU –

    Even Dr. Michio Kaku himself said that some science fiction has done a better job at promoting science than some scientists have. That could be a selling point.

  20. SOMEBODY, SOME NETWORK, must be interested in a straight space program. Quite frankly, while sometimes interesting, I’ve had my fill of teeny bopper vampires and wrestling, while I’m at it.


    I haven’t had the greatest of days and am really p#ssed off. 🙁

    Chris said:
    -“Has Brad considered approaching Discovery Science channel?”
    -“Science channel is picking up Firefly, so I’d think they might be interested in SGU ”
    -“Even Dr. Michio Kaku himself said that some science fiction has done a better job at promoting science than some scientists have.”

  21. I’m STILL reading Lady of Mazes: Livia and company are just meeting Doran Morss on his worldship. One of the more challenging assignments in the BotM reading list. I haven’t read most of the previous comments because I’m avoiding spoilers.

    Like anneteldy, I find the characters a little hard to relate to so far. I do like the way the author included Qiingi, with his low-tech “Raven’s people” background to help give a point of view that is closer to how we “Moderns” would view that world.

    I think much of my problem is my lack of experience with video games/virtual reality/social networking/etc.

    But I’m going to stick it out and finish the story, partly because I want to find out how and why the Founders established their Coronal. And partly because your comments have inspired me: I like books that make you think about truth and existence and stuff.

    Only one question for the author so far:

    Are the “serlings” named for Rod?

  22. Chris and others

    Science may be picking up Firefly but i would bet my house on it being the one season that has already been shown on numerous other channels.

    Bit different showing an oldish repeat than a new series of a more expensive show!

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