The book Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder is the beginning of a series that not only contains vivid and interesting characters—but the world building itself is a formidable, complex entity filled with a compelling science fiction ecology of technology and ideas. We’ve seen from other works that I’ve received written by Schroeder that he has some ideas about the Singularity and the anthropological evolution of post-humanism such as portrayed in Lady of Mazes. The book, Sun of Suns, however, is much more about the world affecting humanity rather than humanity re-affecting the world unto themselves.
World building seems to be Schroeder’s strong point and it comes across with clarion oomf in this book.
The world of Virga is more of a large volume of space than a world: a fullerene balloon filled with breathable air three-thousand kilometers in diameter. The inside is populated not just with air, but globes of water, chunks of rock, and the artifacts of human habitation. Microgravity rules the day and the way that humanity devises technologies for transportation, communication, and even habitation. Most of the cities in the world are spoked-wheels built out of rope and wood, spinning slowly around a counterweight and designed to use the centrifugal force (much like space stations might to generate gravity.) Thus allowing buildings and stand-on-the-rocks sort of habitation in otherwise microgravity.
The title refers to the technology that keeps Virga in energy. The Earth receives much of its life energy from the Sun; Virga also has her own artificial sun, near the center of the expanse, called Candesce. It goes through a regular cycle of luminescence with a quiescent period of “no light” and then a reignition and light again. During the quiet period it’s actually possible to venture into the “sun” and visit its internal components; and certain enterprising towns of Virga have even taken “generators” from Candesce in order to light their own farms further away. Near the edge of the balloon, far away from the sun, it can become very cold.
All of these factors lead to a recourse-hungry world where only a particular band between sun and edge are habitable without resorting to a “sun” spot stolen from Candesce. And in this region are the major powers.
The story of Sun of Suns is a rip-roaring swashbuckling tale told about ancient murder and vengeance on the high seas—well, seas being the airstreams of Virga—which follows the vendetta quest of one Hayden Griffin. He’s seeking the blood of those who murdered his parents many years earlier when another nation-state within Virga destroyed his spoke-town during a surprise attack. His parents and their city, had attempted to break away from one of the major powers and to do so, got themselves a “sun” generator from Candesce. The attack had been spurred by the nation-state they intended to break away from—having their own sun would mean they wouldn’t rely on their space for aid and comfort—and, of course, would be a sort of secession.
The game of vengeance isn’t as simple as it at first might seem for young Hayden, however, and he finds himself thrust into a plot that spans further and wider than he might have imagined. A plot that spans two massive powers within the world of Vigra—and has strings pulled by forces potentially outside the world itself.
Here, Schroeder does not disappoint. The nature and quality of all of Virga are brought to the forefront as Hayden travels from the coldest edges of the world and all the way back to the sun of suns itself, Candesce. All the while he makes friends, learns of new enemies, and must make decisions about his life choices and how he must approach what’s happened to him and his kin. The people he interacts with have a life of their own and some of them even expand into the sequel books.
It’s a slow waltz, the way that the plot unfolds, and in a way its as much an exploration of the lives and humanity of the characters as it is the environs of Virga and even the socio-political landscape. All of this, Schroeder weaves nicely together into a slowly expanding bubble as Hayden shifts from a backwater know-nothing boy angry about the death of his parents and hellbent on vengeance, into someone a bit more worldly and better suited for the strange life ahead of a airbound vagabond.
Expect a sort of 18th century piracy and naval powers story carefully overlaid onto a world of blimps, and vast expanses of air. Many of the problems faced by the dwellers of Virga could be seen in any pirates and swashbuckling story—but there’s always the twist that instead of looking out into the ocean from islands of humanity, they’re looking out into a great expanse of air.
There’s a lot going for this story in the science and awe that is Virga and its told through the slowly transforming worldview of someone who expands almost as much as the world building does.
Buy Sun of Suns through the Digital Science Fiction store today.