Sun of Suns is the first book in his Virga trilogy. The next one, Queen of Candesce is out in hardcover. Schroeder has the amazing feat of having his books published in HC first, something not many SciFi authors can lay claim to. And this is only his fourth book, the others being Ventus, Permanence, and my favorite, Lady of Mazes. In just a few books, he has established himself as one of the preeminent authors in the field. He is one of my all-time favorite authors.
Sun of Suns is a fairly short book, 331 pgs in PB form, and set in one of the most innovative "worlds" I've yet to encounter, and that's saying a lot, coming from Schroeder - the master of world-building.
Virga is a planet - where the inhabitants live inside! As the back cover says (but not at the outset in the book - you have to figure it out) - Virga is a fullerene balloon three thousand kilometers in diameter, filled with air, water, and aimlessly floating chunks of rock. The humans who live in this vast environment must build their own fusion suns and 'towns' that are in the shape of enormous wood and rope wheels that are spun for centrifugal gravity."
There are hundred of smaller suns inhabiting Virga, all originally powered off the main sun, Candesce. But to the inhabitants, it's all they've ever known - any other life outside Virga is "lost." Candesce is THE Sun of Suns, larger than all the rest, and providing sunlight for dozens of civilizations. It is the greatest source of heat, and creates the circulation cells of air that cause the nations to migrate slowly inward and outward. The winds drive the nations slowly around, but the stiff winds are normally exposed to the inhabitants only at the edges of the towns, or in the open air, where it could tear you off a "bike" if you were going too fast and not hanging on or tied on. Slipstream (a wandering nation) is a different sort of place. It has a large migrating asteroid that they mine, which is the source of their wealth - their sun is tethered to the asteroid, as are the towns, which are connected both inside and out via a series of ropes. Traffic between towns and within larger ones is done by bike, by hanging on to a rope and walking or pulling yourself along, depending on gravity, and by cable cars. Inside most of Virga and it's towns and nations is a mass of such ropes.
The towns inside this "planet" are mostly small ones, collectively connected into "nations." Small ones, like our protagonist's Aerie, large wandering ones like Slipstream, and even larger ones like Gehellen. The principalities are in "layers" - many close to the Sun of Suns, Candesce, others in the intermediate air, like Gehellen, and still others further out, like Aerie. In between these, are layers of winter - dark and cold, with choppy air due to jet-streams, which make living there hazardous, although pirates roam these areas.
In the lower, more populated areas, spiders weave dense webs, on which floating debris is caught, and eventually weaves itself into mats of grass, trees, and flowers. Birds, fish and insects fly in these areas, which make travel with the large flying boats difficult. Since there is no "vacuum" in the planet, crews can stand outside their ships, call to one another, or sweep aside debris. The only problem is that they have to fly blind - they can't see in the dark, except with lanterns, nor within cloud banks - they send ahead bike riders, who scout out the area for trouble-spots. But the Admiral has a plan to solve this...
The hero of the story is Hayden Griffen, described as a "very dangerous man." His parents, part of a resistance movement to rid themselves of the larger state of Slipstream (which, in it's wandering path, conquered Aerie and took over it's towns), decided to build their own sun, thus taking back their own world, so that when Slipstream finally moved on, as it naturally would, being a migrating state, they would have a sun to light it. But Slipstream gets wind of this, and comes with it's flying boats to "snuff out" the new sun, before it has a chance to shine, or to take it: a sun is a highly-sought after prize. His parents are killed in the ensuing fights and executions, and he is left alone. He ends up accidentally cast off from Aerie by a shock wave, when at the last moment, his mother lights the Sun so that Slipstream can't have it, and he is knocked out into the "winter," the dark, cold, outside edges of the planet (the inside of the balloon). It is there that he is press-ganged into the pirate trade, later escapes, and returns to Slipstream to avenge his father's death.
The book is an incredible journey through this planet, formed by outside influences, to protect the inhabitants from the world outside (can't give away too much!), but is still rather "backwards" in its technology. The only true technology is its main sun, Candesce. They have photographs, but not much else that is even remotely technical in nature. In some ways it's almost 18th century. But the outside world is so much more...
The story builds slowly, as the shape of the world is explored, and the characters built. The characters in Sun of Suns are fully-formed, not cardboard cut-outs, with warts and all. Even the Admiral is a man with conflicts, emotions and ambitions. While it did take me a while to get going, once I got about half-way through the book, it just took off. Much like Ventus is that respect, although shorter. Lady of Mazes was a barn-burner from the get-go. This one is slower paced, quieter, perhaps because it is part of the trilogy, and he needed to set-up the "scene" so to speak.
No-one can beat Schroeder for his world-building skills: his ability to create complete new worlds, with new rules, is amazing. There is nothing else like it out there that I am aware of.
Over all, I would give it 7.5/10, or maybe higher after reading the others in the trilogy - to see if it's just a third of a book, or is a stand-alone, in which case it suffers, to me - too much time needed to set it up, and I'm not a pirate, ship-battle type - no Master and Commander for me. But I always enjoy a Schroeder book, simply because he can write - no matter what the subject, he finds ways to make it interesting to all readers, and his concepts can be mind-blowing, like in Lady of Mazes.
So pick up a copy - I doubt you'll be disappointed. I stripped out some of the "spoilers" and reviews from my original review at: [...]