Sun of Suns: Book I of VIRGA
Above is one of my "Virga Visualizations:" in this case, a major city spinning in the weightless skies of Virga
I put it this way in an interview with Paul Raven:
“Sun of Suns is pure unabashed fun. Imagine sky above, sky below, infinite blue to all sides peppered with cloud, randomly floating spheres of water and chunks of soil - and you flying free of gravity. This is my world Virga, a rigorously extrapolated and completely possible artificial world that’s the perfect playground setting for a pirate adventure - a tale of revenge, betrayal, treasure maps, swordfights and boarding parties, yet set in a world where fish fly and where young, bitter Hayden Griffin zips around on a wingless jet engine mounted with a saddle and handlebars. Hayden’s bent on revenge for the deaths of his parents, but the man he’s targeted is a prominent admiral who hires Hayden as a flyer on a dangerous and possibly illegal trip into the darkened corners of Virga–the empty places collectively known as Winter.
There’s low humour and high drama, massive set-piece battles and intimate moments amongst the clouds. And Sun of Suns is only the first book in a series - there’s much more to come …”
Standard thriller? Nautical adventure? Sun of Suns could be these things, but for the fact that the novel takes place in a world without gravity. To be exact, the world known as Virga is a balloon five thousand miles in diameter, orbiting a distant star. This vast sphere contains only air, water and aimlessly floating chunks of rock. The humans who live in this bizarre environment build their own fusion suns and “towns” that are basically big wood-and-rope wheels which they spin for centripetal gravity. They fly home-built fanjets that use bicycle-level technology, and fight wars with jet-powered cylindrical ships that fire broadsides of rockets at one another. The technology--except for the suns--is early twentieth-century. The places and situations, though, are mind-bogglingly different from any earth-bound story.
In Sun of Suns, we follow Hayden on his luckless quest for revenge, as he is shanghaied into Slipstream’s navy and made to work for the very man he has sworn to kill. Sent on a secret mission into the realms of “winter” (the unlit, frozen spaces between the fusion suns) he meets a cast of rogues and odd characters who each have their own private demons and hidden agenda. Together they dodge pirates and giant tear-drop oceans, ferret out spies and try to keep their own goals secret from one another as they tick down the days to a planned sneak attack against the overwhelming forces of Slipstream’s enemies.
Just for fun: A new kind of science-fiction world
In 2005, I'd pretty much broken my brain writing Lady of Mazes and needed a rest. I decided to write an entertainment in the purest sense: a story purely for fun, set in the coolest setting I could imagine. The result was Sun of Suns.
Other people had set stories in a shirt-sleeve weightless environment before. There was Larry Niven's Smoke Ring, of course; and Iain Banks had used a setting essentially identical to my world of Virga in Look to Windward several years before. So in that sense I've done nothing innovative with Virga; what I did decide to do was follow the implications of this idea as far as I could--which, strangely enough, nobody had done before.
For Sun of Suns, that meant crafting a kind of 'grand tour' of the whole world--a technique that also has precedents, such as Niven's Ringworld. In this case the tour was framed as a nautical adventure, complete with pirates, boarding parties, lost treasure, treachery and revenge.
Before it was published as a novel, Sun of Suns was serialized in Analog magazine. George Krauter did the art for the cover and interior, subsequently winning the 2006 AnLab Award for best artist for this image.
Tor Books released the hardcover edition on October 3, 2006, and the paperback came out the following summer.
Sun of Suns was nominated for the 2007 John W. Campbell Memorial Award, and the critical and public reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Here are a few snippets from some of the reviews:
“An adventure-filled tale of sword
fights and naval battles... the real fun of this coming-of-age tale includes a
pirate treasure hunt and grand scale naval invasions set in the cold, far
reaches of space. ”
—Kirkus Reviews (listed in top 10 SF novels for 2006)
"We already knew
that Karl Schroeder could do Kubrick. Now it turns out he can do Dumas as well.
And more: not since Middle Earth have I encountered such an intense and
palpable evocation of an alien world. Sun
of Suns puts the world-building exercises of classic Niven to shame."
"Mix in one part thrilling action, one part screaming-cool steampunk tech, and one part worldbuilding and you've got Sun of Suns. And oh, what worldbuilding! Schroeder is a master."
—Cory Doctorow, author of Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leave Town and co-editor of Boing Boing
“Karl Schroeder's Sun of Suns not only creates an even more unusual and evocative setting than his previous work, but is replete with adventures and turns, and characters that are anything but one-dimensional.”
—L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
“I loved it. It never slowed down. The background is fascinating and the
characters held my attention. It reminded me a little of The Integral Trees, with technology a little more advanced.”
"Sun of Suns is a rip-roaring story full of marvellous images and cutting-edge ideas. Schroeder has the rare and invaluable ability to develop wholly new concepts and turn them into compelling narratives. The scientists are already studying Schroeder's ideas.Take him very seriously."
“Karl has managed to have his cake and eat it [too]. . . .It’s a satisfying story in itself, but raises enough questions for me to want to buy the next in the series.”
—Neal Asher, author of The Skinner
“Schroeder's deft alchemy fuses scrupulously detailed, mind-expanding world-building with unabashed, rip-roaring pulp adventure to produce a twenty-four carat story sparkling with science fiction's finest virtues.”