Sun of Suns: Book One of Virga Hardcover – Oct 3 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
The swashbuckling space settlers of Schroeder's fantastical novel (after 2005's Lady of Mazes) inhabit warring nation-states inside a planet-sized balloon called Virga. This adventure-filled tale of sword fights and naval battles stars young Hayden Griffin of the nation of Aerie, orphaned by an attack on the artificial sun that his parents tried to build. He grows up to seek vengeance against the man who led it, Adm. Chaison Fanning of the nation Slipstream. Getting close to Fanning, though, entails infiltrating the flagship Rook and interfering in the schemes of the admiral's wife, the devious Venera. Schroeder layers in scientific rationales for his air-filled, gravity-poor world—with its spinning cylinder towns and miles-long icebergs—but the real fun of this coming-of-age tale includes a pirate treasure hunt and grand scale naval invasions set in the cold, far reaches of space. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
With this book Schroeder launches a saga set on Virga, a balloon-world warmed by artificial suns. The inhabitants build, besides their own suns, floating towns. The spaces between the towns, lacking nearby suns, are wintry cold, and only a few pirates and the utterly desperate live on the towns' edges. Hayden Griffen is dead set on revenge for his parents' deaths in the destruction of his home, Aerie, by the nation of Slipstream six years before. Somewhat unexpectedly, after catching the attention of Venera Fanning and becoming her driver, Hayden is dispatched on a mission under Admiral Chaison Fanning, the man he believes responsible for his parents' demise, to find a vast treasure and, even more valuable, a key to the sun and the world outside, where posthumanity reigns. The satisfying opening of a promising space opera. Regina Schroeder
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top Customer Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The most impressive aspect of this book has to be the sheer creativity of its world-building: the bizarre world of Virga--which seems to be equal parts Wild West, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Star Trek--is nevertheless utterly convincing (in part because of the even more bizarre Universe, only hinted at, in which Virga lies). Likewise, Schroeder doesn't forget the little details, such as what can, and does, happen when bullets don't hit their intended targets.
Of course, though, world-building alone can't carry a book, and, just as in Schroeder's earlier works, "Sun of Suns" doesn't disappoint. Schroeder constantly kept me guessing as to what the protagonist, Hayden Griffin, was going to do--and that includes even after Schroeder revealed the book's final surprise.
My only criticism, if it can be called that, is this book is relatively short: it is at most half the length of "Ventus." But, in a book as well-crafted as this one, knowing that a sequel awaits more than makes up for any such disappointment. I eagerly await Book Two of Virga.
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: [...]
If you like your SF rigorously hard-boiled, i.e. the universe laid out must be extremely plausible when measured against the physics and biology of our universe, you may be a tad incredulous of Virga (where do all these wooden airships get their lumber, when the floating forests of the Virga Dyson sphere seem to be few and far between?). If you're that sort of reader, you may be annoyed by some of the later story elements involving the technology that makes Virga possible, which relies heavily on Clark's Law ("Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.")
Also, in deference to the reviewer who found the language clunky: As a published non-fiction author, I don't agree. I didn't find any bugs in the language ointment of this book, and I usually notice.