Welcome to the Lockstep empire, a sublight civilization maintained by careful hibernation. Here citizens survive for millennia, traveling in slumber for decades on the long voyages between worlds, awakened for mere weeks at a time. Not only are the lockstep worlds the new center of the galaxy, but Toby is shocked to learn that the empire is still ruled by its founding family: his own.
Toby’s brother, Peter, has become a terrible tyrant. Suspicious of his long-lost brother’s reappearance, and careful to guard the McGonigal DNA that controls the lockstep hibernation cycles, Peter sees Toby as a threat to his regime. Now, with the help of a lockstep girl named Corva, Toby must survive the forces of this new empire, outwit his siblings, and save human civilization.
Livia Kodaly lives in Westerhaven, an advanced society enhanced with VR and AI. She is one of the few who find it relatively easy to cross the barriers separating the diverse parallel virtual societies that make up the world. When invaders arrive, breaking down those barriers, Livia and her companions must escape to find help. But what they find when they leave their world may threaten to destroy it forever.
This takes place in the same universe as Ventus, but is independent of it, and set far away and much earlier. The plot has fewer parallel strands, but the slow reveal is done here just as well as in the previous book. The info-dumping is done with a light hand: most of the time the message is revealed by the plot.
The complex use of VR and AI makes for a very different world, with a lot of interesting extrapolation of how people would adapt. Additionally, it asks how humanity can have any freedom or purpose in a world of weakly godlike AIs and transcendents. The question is explored in depth, with different possibilities mooted, but it is certainly not resolved. Much food for thought here.
Jordan Mason has just been put in charge of his first project, to boss a gang repairing a stone wall, when his world changes forever. His planet, Ventus, is maintained in its terraformed state by nanotechnology controlled by mad AIs. These "Winds" keep the human population at a mediaeval level of technology. An even madder AI has recently been destroyed far away in space, and one of its minions, General Armiger, has come to Ventus, hotly pursued by agents Calandria and Axel, who want to prevent him planting a Resurrection Seed. Meanwhile, a war on Ventus between different factions threatens their pursuit. Jordan gets caught up in all of this.
If that sounds complicated, it is. There are several strands interwoven, and new key characters can pop up in the narrative at any point. The whole tale is a rich tapestry of different cultures. The story starts off firmly in mediaeval fantasy mode, but quickly diverges into something much more complex. I found it a bit slow going for about the first third of the book, as the rich background is carefully layered into place. But the ending rips along nicely, with ever-growing vistas, artificial ontologies, and all the conflicting protagonists each acting for the best in their own, often mistaken, way.