John and JP experimentally dispense with the usual review format to discuss Karl Schroeder’s latest book, Sun of Suns.
Sun of Suns is set in the world of Virga, an air-filled balloon three thousand kilometers in diameter whose major artificial light source is named Candesce, the sun of suns. There are smaller suns that exist to provide light to the many cylindrical habitats around Virga, which are spun up to create their own artificial gravities. Virga is low tech and the towns, built of wood and rope, are strung together to form nations. The story concerns Hayden Griffen, citizen of Aerie, whose parents were killed when they tried to assert their freedom through the creation of their own sun. Years later, Hayden seeks revenge on the man responsible: Chaison Fanning, head of the fleet of Slipstream, the nation that conquered Aerie.
John: Cool book! This gets big points for sensawunda. The world Schroeder created is amazing…even if its unique physics took some getting used to. Fortunately he frequently works it into the story through things like floating water spheres, ropes and wires to pull yourself along, etc. That reminder was always there just in case you become too wrapped up in the human story of Hayden’s quest for revenge.
JP: Yup, this has sensawunda by the bucketfuls. And while the built world of Candesce is extremely cool, I was reminded of the following: The Integral Trees, Last Exile, and The Amazing Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello, and that is a good thing.
John: I was reminded of Raft, Stephen Baxter’s first Xeelee novel. At least in the way that people dragged themselves along as a means of travel. I like that the cylindrical towns are spun up for gravity and strung together by their axes to form cities. The scenes where people look outside or leave their cylinders are cool since said rotation played prominently in what happened when they did.
JP: I liked the whole mix of high/low tech. They have towns that spin to produce gravity, yet fly the air in zeppelin-like airships.
John: Definitely. This also gets big points for being a pirate story. With airships! Woot! Me likes the swashbuckling. Arrrgh!
JP: And yet, all this tech is just hinted at and what we get is an exciting adventure story. Unlike Schroeder’s other novels (Ventus, Lady Of Mazes), Sun Of Suns is not deep on philosophy or science (although it is there), rather it focuses more on Hayden’s growth as a person. I hope we get more of the tech in later novels.
John: As much as I liked the world building, I’m not sure any of these characters were really as likable as they could have been. With Hayden Griffen, I was totally bought into his revenge-seeking ways, but then the time spent with Admiral Fanning seemed to soften that hatred. As a reader, I can see how this can occur because, from Fanning’s point of view, he’s the noble one. I’m just not sure that Hayden would be such a quick convert. Maybe I was looking for the revengeful determination of Gully Foyle from The Stars My Destination, but when we learn the ultimate truth behind the Aerie attack, it seemed too sudden (or convenient?) a turnaround for Hayden.
JP: I do think that Hayden is a sympathetic character. He discovers that his reasons for revenge are not what he thought, and neither are the objects of his revenge. Hayden is young and naive, and is a decent person, so I can see his change as being natural. I also think that Aubri is an interesting character. She has little choice in her overall actions, so in retrospect, its bittersweet to see what chances she took knowing what her overall goal is/was. And Aubri hints at extreme high tech outside of Candesce, mentioning Artificial Life, Chinese Room personas and a very cool distributed simulation that mimics consciousness.
John: Ah, yes…Aubri Mahallan…an outsider to Virga who I thought would be the avenue of explanation for The Way Things Are. Instead, we got hints and then finally a brief paragraph or two before the end. I want more to this storyline. The explanation of the world was an attractive mystery to me. But at the same time, I hope Aubri didn’t give away too much in this outing. There’s a fine line between foreshadowing and spoiling.
JP: I don’t think Aubri was spoiling anything. She never came right out and said, “This is the way things are, deal with it.” Instead, we got strong hints, but nothing concrete.
John: What about the ending? Although it wasn’t a cliffhanger, the ending still felt unresolved. Which is not to say I don’t want to read Book 2!
JP: I, too, am looking forward to the other books in this series. Perhaps Schroeder can be induced to write faster!
John: Here, here! Bring on Queen of Candesce!