Stumbling across something new and unique is always exciting as a reader, especially in genres that can be full of tired characters setting out in search of (insert magical object or fabled technology here). Science Fiction is one such genre can too often be disappointing. I’m happy to report that Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder is a departure from the norm.
Virga is a world adrift in space. Contained in one massive balloon (it sounds silly, but is never treated as such in the story) the people of Virga mine the resources of asteroids and live in ringed cities, vying for access to Candesce, the original massive star the provides energy for those lucky enough to take advantage. Since its initial construction, the technology that created the sun has been lost, and all the people of Virga can muster is miniatures of Candesce. Now control of these smaller stars is the basis of power in a place where everyone is adrift, and alliances readily shift.
Add two mad scientists who work to discover the secrets of the sun in an effort to change the circumstances of their own small corner of the world by building their own star. Enter powerful empire who has a lot to lose if this happens, and you have a bizarre space battle that sets in motion the events of the rest of the book.
Sun of Suns is a display of master world building, though I had to get used to the parameters of that world. I am fairly familiar with astronomical distances and units of measurement (in the abstract way that humans can think about these sorts of things) and at times I felt Virga to be overwhelmingly big, and at others, too small for the events being described. Nevertheless, it provides an arena for unique storytelling and allows the reader to really get immersed in the narrative.
When I think back over the plot details and the character development, I’m struck by how little seems to have happened. As this is book one of a series, there is obviously a fair amount of set up that Schroeder needs to do, especially when we are entering a world that is completely foreign to us. That being said, I never felt that things were moving too slowly, or that the book was full of filler. The details were essential to the story, and the characters and their motivations are key to this. Our hero, Hayden is driven by a need for revenge, but this quickly takes a back seat to the events surrounding him, and he changes into someone more complex and frankly, worth reading about. The supporting cast is designed to be the key elements that make the story work, and none of them are there just to throw in the extra line about how they’re all in trouble. They each serve a valuable purpose, and Schroeder leaves the extras in the background where they belong.
I’m excited to see what comes next in the series as we follow some of the other characters around Virga. There will be more to learn about the world outside of the balloon (we’ve only heard some hints and tidbits at this point, but it’s enough to keep my interest peaked) and to see how societies develop in this strange world of pirating and low-tech technologies (this has the flavour of steampunk). Book 2, Queen of Candesce was published in 2008 and it eagerly awaiting a good read-through on my bedside table.