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REVIEW: Pirate Sun by Karl Schroeder

REVIEW SUMMARY: The continuation of Schroeder’s Virga sequence is an action-packed, hard sf space opera worth reading.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Chaison Fanning escapes imprisonment and works his way toward Slipstream and the ruler that betrayed him.

PROS: Fast paced, swashbuckling adventure; fantastic low-tech world building wrapped up in an intriguing high-tech universe.
CONS: Every representative town government portrayed as equally inept and deserving of being overthrown. Some variation would have been nice.
BOTTOM LINE: This is every bit as exciting as a pirate space opera should be.

Pirate Sun is the third book in Karl Schroeder’s Virga sequence and follows the events of Sun of Suns and Queen of Candesce. This time around the story focuses of Chaison Fanning, captured admiral of the Slipstream navy. The book opens with a daring rescue of Chaison, imprisoned after defying orders so that he might protect his home nation, Slipstream. Chaison escapes during the confusion (missing his rescuers) so that he might save Ambassador Richard Reiss and shipmate, young Darius Martor. On their way back to Slipstream (and to Chaison’s wife, Venera, and the ruler that betrayed him), the trio meet Antaea Argyre, one of the members of the legendary Virga home guard who patrol the inner skin looking for incursions from outside enemies. Antaea has ulterior motives of her own but it is clear she is looking for the all-powerful key of Candesce; the device that can power off Virga’s central sun and nullify its technology damping effect. Forming an uneasy alliance with Antaea, Chaison and his friends work their way back to Slipstream – not without many exciting adventures – only to become embroiled in a long-overdue rebellion.

Similar to the previous books, Pirate Sun entails many swashbuckling adventures. The difference here is that the adventure is more frequent, more exciting and – having had much of the setup done in previous books – faster paced. (This is not to say that the book does not work as a stand-alone; it does so quite nicely. There is sufficient hand-holding for uninitiated readers and forgetful readers like me, too.) Suffice it to say that the action pulls the reader along while keeping them totally immersed in the story while the plot offers enough twists and turns to keep interest levels high.

But the thing that stands out about Schroeder’s Virga novels – and Pirate Sun is no exception – is the marvelous world building. The world of Virga is a huge fullerene balloon dotted with artificial suns that light up nations which, in turn, are populated by towns. The towns are giant wheels spun up to create some gravity and decorated with ropes that secure the structure and provide pathways along which to travel semi-weightlessly. Against this, Schroeder has characters zipping about, floating and flying off structures in accordance with the laws of physics. Just about every scene is a reminder that this environment is not like our own. The low-tech atmosphere of the book is also very appealing and alluring. But we smart readers (and a few privy characters) know that there are high-tech forces at work beyond Virga’s borders and Shcroeder does more than drop hints about them; he gives some long-awaited explanations as well. The payoff and delivery were worth the wait.

Structurally, the swashbuckling, town-to-town adventures of our stalwart travelers as they travel towards Slipstream give Schroeder a nice backdrop against which to tell his story. Each town or nation visited gives another glimpse into the way this spectacular world works. The author has thought through the mechanics and politics of this world – even introducing a new underground economy – enough to make it believable and fun. I will mention, though, that the story gave the impression that every nation in Virga is hampered with a government that is ripe for being overthrown. What, are there no happy nations in this beautiful balloon?

Virga is a cool world and Pirate Sun, as forthcoming as it is, only hints at the wonder still in store for further adventures. Bring it on!

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

2 Comments on REVIEW: Pirate Sun by Karl Schroeder

  1. Joe Parrish // September 16, 2008 at 2:15 pm //

    This has became one of my favorite series of books, and now I am more than ready to read the Sunless Countries.  It lets us see Chaison up close, learn more about the guard and the outside world, and leaves it open for more stories with these characters if Karl decides to bring them back(please more Venera and for that matter Antaea and the rest).  And allows for more.  I really want next year to come around sooner for Sunless, and can’t wait for october for the shorter work Hero, and can not wait for the other short works as well that Karl has mentioned.  This series of books if you have not read them is  just a great bit of lowtech steampunk type fun, with a high tech background trying to break in.


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