Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sun of Suns

My last blog entry was a stream of consciousness ramble on the various facets of writing that lead me to have an opinion about it. It was by no means the last word in such considerations and really personal, though I'd like to think that with what academic training I have had, it has some roots in critical scholarly thought. As you may recall, I decided that The Lies of Locke Lamora was just a plain old fun read.

And then I picked up Sun of Suns, also a highly regarded novel from 2006. While it has a really fun action-driven plot, what really grabs the reader about this book is its setting and how well the author, Karl Schroeder, has thought out the intriguing possibilities of it. Imagine a bubble of air some 3000 miles in diameter, floating out in space in the Vega system. And then imagine that that bubble is filled with rocks, animals, and miniature suns all providing resources for a human culture that exists in a completely gravity-less environment. Structures and ships within the bubble have to create artificial gravity through centrifugal force, so that "aircraft" rotate as they travel. Cities spin on an axis, as they would if they were satellites, but they are open to the "sky."

Sun of Suns is the best hard science fiction novel I have read in years that isn't about the science of electronics and computers. The inhabitants of Virga, as the bubble is named, live in a very steam-punk world, rediscovering things like radar, while interacting on a level not much above the Old West or Victorian England. Schroeder had to have spent a long time thinking about all the repercussions of the setting he has created for his story. This is especially evident in the society (societies?) he describes, adapting to the unique conditions of their habitat and reflected in the individuals we meet. While those characters are often typical of action/adventure stories, their habitat and its history give them subtle variation that keeps them from becoming cliche.

The story follows Hayden Griffin from the loss of his mother in an invasion by a neighboring territory to young adulthood, where he tries to enact his revenge against the invaders and eventually learns that plotting is far more easy than performing. Along the way, we get to meet such diverse characters as the admiral of an invasion fleet, Chaison Fanning, whose many levels of character outweigh the grim military facade he seems to exhibit and the admiral's wife, Venera, whose stark simplicity of purpose is terrifying. We also get to meet Aubri Mahallan, an alien to Virga, with her own hidden depths. There is also a large cast of minor characters, as there often is in military books, which is what this ultimately is. But it also melds in some aspects of fantasy and steam-punk, just making this a romp across many sub-genres of speculative fiction.

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