Queen of Candesce
Venera is alive. The world is in trouble
Cory Doctorow says:
Karl Schroeder's Queen of Candesce picks up where his amazing Sun of Suns left off, in Virga, the strangest and best-realized world I've encountered in science fiction's many universes, a vast pressurized bag floating in dead space, with Candesce, the artificial sun, in its center. The many strange cultures of Virga exist in a variety of habitats; some are nomadic jet-bicyclists, some live on ring-towns that are little more than splintery lumber under minimal rotation for centripetal gravity, and some live on Spyre, the world that this volume explores in loving detail.
Spyre is an ancient, disintegrating cylinder close-in to Candesce, one of the old worlds built by the Virga builders. It is surmounted by a collection of meshed towns, rings that clack together like the workings of a clock as they spin up their gravity. Greater and Lesser Spyre (as they are known) are carpeted in minuscule kingdoms, paranoid satrapies barely bigger than a building, where courtly intrigue, decadent economics, and ancient feuds conspire to create one of the best-realized cramped and mad spaces since Peake's Gormenghast.
It is Spyre where Venera Fanning lands, drifting through space since the end of Sun of Suns, and it Spyre where she comes into her own, going from penniless refugee to captive to plotter to general in a breathless adventure story that puts the whole world of Spyre at risk -- and that gives us a glimpse into the superb worldbuilding that is Schroeder's hallmark (don't miss his ideas about AI-mediated "Emergent Democracy" to have your mind really bent).
...There are a million things to love about this book, but there's one thing that will stay with me as a stroke of Schroederesque genius: a low-gee swordfight that had me flinching and ducking as Karl gave the subject of low-gravity melee a really serious working-over.
The Virga books buckle a shitload of swash, and they keep on getting better. I just read in Locus Magazine that Karl has delivered book three. I can hardly wait.
The Rollicking Sequel to Sun of Suns
All along I'd intended to write the Virga books as linked stand-alone novels rather than a traditional single-story trilogy or tetralogy or whatever; still, a lot of people expected Queen of Candesce to pick up the thread of Hayden Griffin's story where it had left off at the end of Sun of Suns. Yet for me, his story had been satisfactorily ended. I was happy to leave him where he was.
I'd left several other characters hanging, though. In order to make the second book dramatically different from the first, I decided to take one of these secondary characters and run with her. In Queen, I chose Venera Fanning, the ruthless anti-heroine who sets much of the plotline in the first book in motion.
Like Sun of Suns before it, Queen of Candesce was serialized in Analog magazine, starting in March 2007. George Krauter came on board as my artist for a second time, and delivered a fascinating cover and some excellent interior illustrations.
Publisher's Weekly had this to say:
Schroeder’s ambitious sequel to 2006’s Sun of Suns further explores Virga, the vast enclosed realm containing a miniature cosmos of floating worlds, wheellike townships and intriguing mysteries about the construct’s origins and creators. Heated and lit by numerous artificial suns, the individual populations have evolved on divergent paths. When the delightfully amoral Venera Fanning finds herself on Spyre, an ancient and decaying cylindrical world that’s slowly breaking apart, and realizes the Key of Candesce could not only unlock the secrets of a long-lost technology but also destroy entire worlds, she inadvertently disrupts Spyre’s delicate political balance and rigid cultural mores and ignites a revolution. Comparable to classic SF epics like John Varley’s Gaean trilogy and Jack L. Chalker’s Well of Souls series, Schroeder’s saga is an awe-inspiring example of masterful world-building. A myriad of themes, from rogue artificial intelligences to the evolution of human bodies and culture, make this futuristic epic one to reckon with.
Bookmarks Magazine said:
The ingenuity and inventiveness of Karl Schroeder's miniuniverse has ushered the acclaimed author into the ranks of leading world-builders. In this second chapter of the Virga saga, Schroeder takes a different approach, with mixed reactions from the critics. He largely abandons the worlds and characters introduced in Sun of Suns and focuses on one character, the Machiavellian Venera Fanning, and one place, the world of Spyre. Most critics agreed that Venera was one of the most interesting protagonists in the earlier book, and she shines here, but it is Virga itself that steals the show. Frequent flashbacks and explanations allow the novel to stand alone, but the brisk plot and vivid settings will leave readers anxiously awaiting the next installment.
. . .and SF Revu:
"With Queen of Candesce, Karl Schroeder's Virga saga establishes itself as an SF saga of the same order as LeGuin's Earthsea stories, Asimov's Robot stories, and Niven's Ringworld stories. "
Queen of Candesce . . . offers a generous abundance of reading pleasure, and its confirms that Karl Schroeder belongs in the front ranks of SF world-builders.
The Globe and Mail:
SF remains the home to some of the most visionary writers of the day, and to some of the most overlooked. With Queen of Candesce, [Schroeder] has achieved a clockwork balance of deftly paced adventure and humour, set against an intriguing and unique vision of humanity's far future.