Sun of Suns: Virga, Book 1
by Karl Schroeder
Cover Artist: Stephan Martiniere
Review by Ernest Lilley
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0765315432
Date: 03 October, 2006 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
There's almost no way to talk about Sun of Suns without spoiling the fun you'd get coming to grips with the world Karl Schroeder has created. If you came to find out if this was something you'd enjoy, and you consider yourself any kind of SF reader at all, the answer would be yes, absolutely, stop here and go buy, borrow or steal a copy and come back when you've read it. Even if you're not an SF fan, it's worth giving a serious look at, as it manages to blend several genres, including the sort of Horatio Hornblower adventure you find in Master and Commander, and none too shabbily. For the first few pages of Karl Schroeder's new novel I was afraid that whatever world he'd conjured up this time was going to be too fantastic for even my malleable brain. Not to worry. While a certain amount of cerebral stretching will occur as you follow the protagonist, spurred on by the ringing of the gravity bell as he goes to start up the bike to spin up the town, though he knows that it's, really a false alarm...his mother is about to start up their new sun...but you'll get the hang of it soon enough.
If that all makes perfect sense from the outset, its my fault. Once you understand the workings of an unusual paradigm, there's no way to renter the fog of uncertainty again. Suffice to say that with Sun of Suns Karl Schroeder has entered the ranks of, and possibly moved to top place in the world builders of SF along with greats like Hal Clement (Mission of Gravity), Frank Herbert (Dune), and Larry Niven (Ringworld).
Niven is of special interest because he has actually written a book with a similar world called "the Smokering" in his novel, The Integral Trees. While Vigra, the world of Sun of Suns, shares some characteristics of both Niven's creations, his take on them, and his realization of them is completely new. As Vernor Vinge points out on the back flap, "the longer one ponders Sun of Suns, the less paradoxical -- and infinitely more sensible--it comes to be."
But Science Fiction needs more than an interesting setting to be good, and Karl Schroeder's work is very, very good indeed. His command of plot and character provide the perfect foil for his imaginative world building, and Sun of Suns turns out to be nothing less than spellbinding. Feel free to stop here and go read the book, because knowing anything more will take the edge off coming to grips with it.
The world of Vigra is an immense bag of air with an artificial sun at its core, though there are other smaller suns running in the dark reaches. Towns, Villages and City States float around on the air currents, harvesting chunks of floating rock, or balls of water for resources. The story starts out when young Hayden Griffin witness the death of his mother during a raid by the nation of Slipstream which was passing though their own smaller nation of Aerie and had conquered them in the process. Hayden's parents had been trying to create an artificial sun for Aeire to provide energy independence from the larger nation, but word had gotten back to Slipstream and a fleet of warships had come to destroy the work. That job was done with more vigor and carnage than was really needed, and Hayden barely escaped with his life and a desire for vengance on the admiral who's ship commanded the attack.
Fast forward to the city of Rush, Slipstream's heart, where Hayden has managed to work his way onto the admiral's household staff and finds himself in a perfect position to exact his revenge...but instead he finds himself bound up in an adventure aboard a taskforce led by the admiral against an enemy even worse than Slipstream, and though Hayden still considers the admiral his enemy, he has to place duty before honor despite its bitter taste. But as the mission progresses and against his will, he Hayden finds friendship and even love aboard the cruiser Rook. At the end he must choose the man he will become, and the dream he will dedicate his life to.
It's a fantastic bit of swashbuckling set against a really breathtaking backdrop of imaginative engineering, one that merges spaceships and sailing ships so that fans of either can't help but be dazzled by the result. Sun of Suns is only the beginning of the saga, but it's got a well realized story from start to finish, one that will satisfy the reader and leave them eager for the next volume. It's definitely on my Hugo list.