Ventus

by Karl Schroeder

Cover image

Publisher: Tor
Copyright: December 2000
Printing: November 2001
ISBN: 0-812-57635-7
Format: Mass market
Pages: 662

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After reading quite a few books that were right around 300 pages, a 650 page book feels very long. In the case of Ventus, rather too long.

The ideas behind this novel are some of the better that I've read in science fiction in quite a long time. The title world, Ventus, is covered with nanotech, seeded before the arrival of colonists to prepare the world, but when the colonists arrived, the nanotech didn't recognize them. In the time since, the civilization has regressed to a medieval society that worships the manifestations of the nanotech and has found ways of cooperating with it. Then, to complicate matters, an agent of a recently destroyed rogue AI lands on the planet, chased by agents of the cooperative that destroyed it.

I've read a few other books about ubiquitous nanotech, but none that pose philosophical questions better than this one, or make the world feel as alive. I generally avoid nanotech-based fiction; frequently, it bogs down into predictable patterns and fails to retain a sense of humanity and relevance. This novel succeeds admirably where so many others have fallen short, and I truly loved the ending.

The problem is more with the other 400 pages of this book.

It isn't until about 180 pages into the book that things really start happening, and isn't until about 400 pages into the book that one really gets out of an almost entirely medieval world and into more details of the advanced technology that has been hinted at from the beginning. The extended setup does a good job of establishing one's sympathy with the sense of wonder of the characters, but it also makes for difficult slogging and stretches where you're just hoping for something more to happen.

The ideas, and solid, sympathetic characters, do sustain the book, but it's a close thing until the end of the book. The payoff in the end is worth it, though, if you can get there. I left this book with a true feeling of wonder towards the world of Ventus, and a feeling that I'd read and thought about a different attitude towards nanotech than I'd seen elsewhere. If it were about 200 pages tighter, I could recommend Ventus unconditionally; as is, I still do recommend it, but only cautiously and only if you have a fair bit of patience.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2004-07-05

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21