Ventus

Ventus

by Karl Schroeder

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Overview

Ventus is a large-scale Hard SF adventure novel in the tradition of Larry Niven, Vernor Vinge, and Arthur C. Clarke. Karl Schroeder, a physicist and writer, is a winner of Canada's Aurora Award. His first novel was called the best first fantasy of the year by Science Fiction Chronicle, and now his first SF novel launches a major career in SF.

Young Jordan Mason, on the terraformed planet Ventus, has visions. Kidnapped by Calandria May--a human from offworld sent to investigate the AIs (the Winds) of Ventus--Jordan is desperate to find the meaning of his visions, desperate enough to risk calling down the Winds that destroy technology to protect the created environment, who descend and wreak havoc. As a result Jordan escapes from Calandria and sets out to discover his destiny on his own. Calandria and others, both human and AI, search for Jordan, who holds the key to catastrophe or salvation.

Ventus is an epic journey across a fascinating planet with a big mystery--why have the Winds fallen silent? It is one of the major, ambitious SF novels of the year and the international launch of an important new hard SF writer.



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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466800076
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 11/19/2001
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 452,082
File size: 625 KB

About the Author

Karl Schroeder lives in Toronto, Ontario.


KARL SCHROEDER lives in Toronto, Canada with his wife and daughter. He is the author of New York Times Notable book Ventus as well as the acclaimed Virga steampunk space opera series. A member of the Association of Professional Futurists, Karl consults and speaks about the future as well as writing about it.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

THE MANOR HOUSE of Salt Inspector Castor lay across the top of the hill like a sleeping cat. Its ivied walls had never been attacked; the towers that rose behind them had softened their edges over the centuries and become home to lichen and birds' nests. Next to his parents, this place was the greatest constant in Jordan Mason's life, and his second-earliest memory was of sitting under its walls, watching his father work.

On a limpid morning in early autumn, he found himself eight meters above a reflecting pool, balanced precariously on the edge of a scaffold and staring through a hole in the curtain wall that hadn't been there last week. Jordan traced a seam of mortar with his finger; it was dark and grainy, the same consistency as that used by an ancestor of his to repair the rectory after a lightning storm, two hundred years ago. If Tyler Mason was the last to have patched here, that meant this part of the wall was overdue for some work.

"It looks bad!" he shouted down to his men. Their faces were an arc of sunburned ovals from this perspective. "But I think we've got enough for the job."

Jordan began to climb down to them. His heart was pounding, but not because of the height. Until a week ago, he had been the most junior member of the work gang. Any of the laborers could order him around, and they all did, often with curses and threats. That had all changed upon his seventeenth birthday. Jordan's father was the hereditary master mason of the estate, his title extending even to the family name. Jordan had spent his youth helping his father work, and now he was in charge.

For the first four days, Father had hung about, watching his son critically, but not interfering. Today, for the first time, he had stayed home. Jordan was on his own. He wasn't altogether happy about that, because he hadn't slept well. Nightmares had prowled his mind.

"The stones around the breach are loose. We'll need to widen the hole before we can patch it. Ryman, Chester, move the scaffold over two meters and then haul a bag of tools up there. We'll start removing the stones around the hole."

"Yes sir, oh of course, mighty sir," exclaimed Ryman sarcastically. A week ago the bald and sunburned laborer had been happy to order Jordan around. Now the tables were turned, but Ryman kept making it clear that he didn't approve. Jordan wasn't quite sure what he'd do if Ryman balked at something. One more thing to worry about.

The other men variously grinned, grunted, or spat. They didn't care who gave them their orders. Jordan clambered back up the scaffold and started hammering at the mortar around the hole. It was flaky, as he'd suspected — but not flaky enough to account for the sudden outward collapse of stones on both sides of the wall. It was almost as if something had dug its way through here.

That raised dire possibilities. He flipped black hair back from his eyes and looked through the hole at the vista of treetops beyond. The mansion perched on the highest ground for miles around and butted right up against the forest. Jordan didn't like to spend too much time on the forest-side of the walls, preferring jobs as far as possible inside the yards. The forest was the home of monsters, morphs, and other lesser Winds.

The inspector who built this place had been hoping his proximity to the wilderness would win him favor with the Winds. He used to stand on the forestward wall, sipping coffee and staring out at the treetops, waiting for a sign. Jordan had stood in the same spot and imagined he was the inspector, but he was never able to imagine how you would have to think to not be scared by those green shadowed mazeways. That old man must not have had bad dreams.

Bad dreams ... Jordan was reminded of the strange nightmare he'd had last night. It had begun with something creeping in through his window, dark and shapeless. Then, as morning drifted in, he had seemed to awake on a far distant hilltop, at dawn, to witness the beginning of a battle between two armies, which was cut short by a horror that had fallen from the sky, and leaped from the ground itself. It had been so vivid....

He shook himself and returned his attention to the moment. The others arrived and now began setting up. Jordan had scraped away the top layer of mortar around the stones he wanted cleared. Now he swung back along the edge of the scaffold, to let the brawnier men do their work. Below him the reflecting pool imaged puffy clouds and the white crescent of a distant vagabond moon. Ten minutes ago the moon had been on the eastern horizon; now it was in the south and quickly receding.

He looked out over the courtyard. Behind him, dark forest strangled the landscape all the way to the horizon. Before him, past the courtyard, a line of trees ran along the three hilltops that lay between his village and the manor. To the right, the countryside had been cultivated in squares and rectangles. He could see the trapezoid shape of the Teoves's homestead, the long strip of Shandler's, and many more, and if he squinted he could imagine the dividing line that separated these farms from those of the Neighbor.

All of this was familiar, and ultimately uninteresting. What he really wanted to look at — up close — was sitting right in the center of the courtyard, with a half circle of nervous horses staring at it. It was a steam car.

The carriage sat in front, separated by a card-shaped wooden wall from the onion-shaped copper boiler. A smokestack angled off behind the boiler. The tall, thin-spoked wheels made it necessary to board the carriage from the front, and the gilded doors there had been painted with miniatures showing maids and plowmen frolicking in some idealized pastoral setting.

When the thing ran, it belched smoke and hissed like some fantastical beast. Its owner, Controller General of Books Turcaret, referred to it as a machine, which seemed pretty strange. It didn't look like any machine Jordan had ever heard about or seen. After all, if you weren't putting logs under the boiler it just sat there. And last year, on Turcaret's first visit, Jordan had watched the boiler being heated up. It had seemed to work just like any ordinary stove. Nothing mechal there; only when the driver began pulling levers was there any change.

"Uh-oh, there he goes again," grunted Ryman. The other men laughed.

Jordan turned to find them all grinning at him. Willam, a scarred redhead in his thirties, laughed and reached to pull Jordan back from the edge of the platform. "Trying to figure out Master Turcaret's steam car again, are we?"

"Winds save us from inventors," said Ryman darkly. "We should destroy that abomination, for safety's sake. ... And anyone who looks at it too much."

They all laughed. Jordan fumed, trying to think of a retort. Willam glanced at him and shook his head. Jordan might have enjoyed a little verbal sparring before, when he was just one of the work gang. Now that he was leader, Willam was saying, he should no longer do that.

He took one more glance at the steam car. All the village kids had found excuses to be in the courtyard today; he could see boys he'd played with two weeks ago. He couldn't even acknowledge them now. He was an adult, they were children. It was an unbreachable gulf.

Behind him Chester swore colorfully, as he always did when things went well. The men began heaving stones onto the rickety scaffold. Jordan grabbed an upright; for a moment he felt dizzy, and remembered last night's dream — something about swirling leaves and dust kicking into the air under the wing beats of ten thousand screaming birds.

A group of brightly dressed women swirled across the courtyard, giving the steam car a wide berth. His older sister was among them; she looked in Jordan's direction, shading her eyes, then waved.

Emmy seemed in better spirits than earlier this morning. When Jordan arrived at the manor she was already there, having been in the kitchens since before dawn. "There you are!" she'd said as he entered the courtyard. Jordan had debated whether to tell her about his nightmare, but before he could decide, she bent close. "Jordan," she said in a whisper. "Help me out, okay?"

"What do you want?"

She looked around herself in a melodramatic way. "He's here."

"He?"

"You know ... the controller general. See?" She stepped aside, revealing a view of the fountain, pool, and Turcaret's steam car.

Jordan remembered Emmy crying at some point during Turcaret's visit last summer. She had refused to say what made her cry, only that it had to do with the visiting controller general. "I'll be all right," she'd said. "He'll go away soon, and I'll be fine."

Jordan still wasn't sure what that had been about. Turcaret was from a great family and also a government-appointed official, and as father said constantly, the great families were better than common folk. He had assumed Emmy had done something to anger or upset Turcaret. Only recently had other possibilities occurred to him.

"Surely he won't remember you after all this time," he said now.

"How can you be so stupid!" she snapped. "It's just going to be worse!"

"Well, what are we going to do?" Turcaret was a powerful man. He could do what he liked.

"Why don't you find some excuse to get me out of the kitchens? He comes by there, ogling all the girls."

Jordan looked up past the scaffold at the angle of the sun. He wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead. It was going to be a hot day; that gave him an idea.

He put his hand on Willam's shoulder. "I'm going to fetch us some water and bread," he said.

"Good idea." Willam grunted as he levered another stone out of the wall. "But don't dawdle."

Jordan swung out and down, smiling. He would get Emmy out here for the morning and keep his men happy with a bucket or two of well water in the face. It was a good solution.

He was halfway down when a scream ripped the air overhead. Jordan let go reflexively and fell the last several meters, landing in a puff of dust next to the reflecting pool.

Surprisingly, Willam was lying next to him. "How did you ...?" Jordan started to say; but Willam was grimacing and clutching his calf. There was a huge and swelling bruise there, and the angle of the leg looked wrong.

Everybody was shouting. Flipping on his back, Jordan found the rest of his men plummeting to the ground all around him.

"... Thing in the wall," somebody yelled. And someone else said, "It took Ryman!"

Jordan stood up. The scaffold was shaking. The men were scattering to the four corners of the courtyard now. "What is it?" Jordan shouted in panic.

Then he saw, where the men had been working, a bright silver hand reach out to grab one of the scaffold's uprights. Another hand appeared, flailing blindly. Bright highlights of sunlight flashed off it.

"A stone mother," gasped Willam. "There's a stone mother in the wall. That's what made the hole."

Jordan swore. Stone mothers were rare, but he knew they weren't supernatural, like the Winds. They were mechal life, like stove beetles.

"Ryman reached into a hole and the silver stuff covered him," said Willam. "He'll smother."

The second hand found the upright and clutched it. Jordan caught a glimpse of Ryman's head, a perfect mirrored sphere.

Jordan knew what was happening. "It's trying to protect itself!" he shouted to the scattered men. "Ryman was sweating — it's trying to seal off the water!"

They stood there dumbly.

Ryman would be dead in seconds if somebody didn't do something. Jordan turned to look at the open doors of the manor, twenty meters away. Clouds floated passively in the rectangle of the reflecting pool.

Jordan decided. He reached down, splashed water from the pool over his head and shoulders, then started up the scaffold. He could hear shouting behind him; people were running out of the manor.

He pulled himself onto the planks next to Ryman. Jordan's heart was hammering. Ryman's head, arms, and upper torso were encased in a shimmering white liquid, like quicksilver. He was on his knees now, but his grip on the upright remained strong.

Ryman was stubborn and strong; Jordan knew he would never be able to break the man's grip. So he reached out a dripping hand and laid it on the oval brightness of the man's covered head.

With a hiss the liquid poured over Jordan's fingers and up his arm. He yelled and tried to pull back, but now the rest of the white stuff beaded up and leaped at him.

He had time to see Ryman's blue face emerge from beneath the cold liquid before it had swarmed up and over his own mouth, nose, and eyes.

Jordan nearly lost his head; he flailed about blindly for a moment, feeling the coiling liquid metal trying to penetrate his ears and nostrils. Then his foot felt the edge of the platform.

He jumped. For a second there was nothing but darkness, free-falling giddiness and the shudder of quicksilver against his eyelids. Then he hit a greater coldness and soft clay.

Suddenly his mouth was full of water and his vision cleared, then clouded with muddy water. Jordan thrashed and sat up. He'd landed where he intended: in the reflecting pool. The silver stuff was fleeing off his body now. It formed a big flat oval on the water's surface and skittered back and forth between the edges of the pool. When it caromed back in his direction, Jordan jumped without thinking straight out of the pool.

He heard laughter, then applause. Turning, Jordan found the whole manor, apparently, standing in the courtyard, shouting and pointing at him. Among them was a woman he had not seen before. She must be traveling with Turcaret. She was slim and striking, with a wreath of black hair framing an oval face and piercing eyes.

When he looked at her, she nodded slowly and gravely and turned to go back inside.

Weird. He glanced up at the scaffold; Ryman was sitting up, a hand at his throat, still breathing heavily. He caught Jordan's eye, and raised a hand, nodding.

Then Chester and the others were around him, hoisting Jordan in the air. "Three cheers for the hero of the hour!" shouted Chester.

"Put me down, you oafs! Willam's broke his leg."

They lowered him, and all rushed over to Willam, who grinned weakly up at Jordan. "Get him to the surgeon," said Jordan. "Then we'll figure out what to do about the stone mother."

Emmy ran up and hugged him. "That was very foolish! What was that thing?" He shrugged sheepishly. "Stone mother. They live inside boulders and hills and such like. They're mecha, not monsters. That one was just trying to protect itself."

"What was that silver stuff? It looked alive!"

"Dad told me about that one time. The mothers protect themselves with it. He said the stuff goes toward whatever's wettest. He said he saw somebody get covered with it once; he died, but the stuff was still on him, so they got it off by dropping the body in a horse trough."

Emmy shuddered. "That was an awful chance. Don't do anything like that again, hear?"

The excitement was over, and the rest of the crowd began to disperse. "Come, let's get you cleaned up," she said, towing him in the direction of the kitchens.

As they were rounding the reflecting pool, Jordan heard the sudden thunder of hooves, saw the dust fountaining up from them. They were headed straight for him.

"Look out!" He whirled, pushing Emmy out of the way. She shrieked and fell in the pool.

The sound vanished; the dust blinked out of existence.

There were no horses. The courtyard was empty and still under the morning sun.

Several people had looked over at Jordan's cry and were laughing again.

"What —?"

"How could you!" A hot smack on his cheek turned him around again. Emmy's dress was soaked, and now clung tightly to her hips and legs.

"I — I didn't mean to —"

"Oh, sure. What am I going to do now?" she wailed.

"Really — I heard horses. I thought —"

"Come on." She grabbed his arm ran for the nearby stables. Inside she crossly wrung out her skirt in a stall, cursing Jordan all the while.

He shook his head, terribly confused. "I really am sorry, Emmy. I didn't mean to do it. I really did hear horses. I swear."

"Your brain's addled, that's all."

"Well, maybe, I just ..." He kicked the stall angrily. "Nothing's going right today."

"Did you hit your head when you landed?" The idea seemed to still her anger. She stepped out of the stall, still wet but not scowling at him any more.

"No, I don't think so, I just —" A bright flash of light in his eyes startled him. He caught a confused glimpse of sunlit grass and white clouds, where straw and wooden slats should be.

"Jordan?" His elbow hurt. Somehow, he was on the floor.

"Hey ..." She knelt beside him, looking concerned. "Are you okay? You fell over."

"I did? It was that flash of light. I saw ..." Now he wasn't sure what he'd seen.

Emmy gently felt his skull for bruises. "Nothing hurts here, does it?"

"I didn't hit myself, really." He brushed himself off and stood up.

"You looked really weird there for a second."

"I don't know. It's not anything." He felt scared suddenly, so to cover it, he said, "No, I was just joking. Come on, let's check on Willam. Then we'd better get back to work."

"Okay," she said uncertainly.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Ventus"
by .
Copyright © 2000 Karl Schroeder.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Acknowledgment,
PART ONE - The Heaven Hooks,
PART TWO - The Wife of the World,
PART THREE - Resurrection Seed,
Copyright Page,

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Ventus 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ventus is a novel of information apocalypse set in the far future. For a thousand years the sovereign Winds have maintained the delicate ecological balance of the terraformed planet Ventus. Now an alien force threatens to wrest control of the terraforming system away from the Winds. Jordan Mason, a young tradesman, is thrust into the midst of an ancient galactic conflict when he becomes the only human on Ventus who can locate the source of the alien threat. But will he side with the Winds, who have brutally suppressed technological development among the human colonists of Ventus? Or will he throw in his lot with an entity that may be planning to remake Ventus in its own, deathly image? Ventus incorporates ideas about nanotechnology, terraforming, and information theory in an epic tale of war, tragic love, betrayal and transcendence. (Of course I've rated this book at five stars, but that's just 'cause I'm proud of it. You'll want to form your own opinion.)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not a very technical hard style but more of a charter discovery style. Could use a few sequels maybe since there was mention of humanity off world from the setting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I started this book tentatively, as it was on sale and seemed to start slowly. Then it picked up. It kept going, out the window and into the Beyond. This ranks up there with other groundbreaking novels. I'm surprised that I never heard of it before. It transforms AI into a wonderful friend and deadly enemy. I'll be checking to see what else this author has written. I highly recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fast paced, gripping. Very enjoyable read.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book after I read it had to do with nano-technology and world building. The beginning couple of chapters needed to be struggled through but once it gets going it delivers. Big time! He deals with issues that I've always wished the Star Trek people would tackle about the meaning of life and the definition of sentience. The world building is wonderous and thought provoking. Just a great read!