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Thursday, July 31, 2008

"Pirate Sun" by Karl Schroeder

Read An Excerpt HERE

Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu:

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Karl Schroeder is a Canadian science fiction author. His bibliography includes “Ventus”, the 2003 Aurora Award-winning “Permanence”, “Lady of Mazes” and the Virga novels, “Sun of Suns” and “Queen of Candesce”. He also co-wrote “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Science Fiction" with
Cory Doctorow.

INTRODUCTION:Pirate Sun” is the third book in Karl Schroeder’s hard SF Virga series, following “Sun of Suns” and “Queen of Candesce”. This book focuses on the character of Chaison Manning, former admiral of Slipstream which is one of the more powerful Virga nations. The series will continue with “The Sunless Countries.”

SETTING: Virga is a 5,000-mile wide balloon of air warmed by artificial suns, mostly built by the small nations inhabiting it, but with one huge central “sun” called Candesce. This huge enclosed realm contains a miniature cosmos of floating worlds and wheel-like townships, and since they tend to move around, their political relationships evolve in time based on the relative degree of closeness. In book one, we followed Hayden Griffin on a mission of revenge against Chaison Manning, the admiral in charge of the task force that suppressed the Aerie resistance and killed Hayden’s family and friends. In book two, we followed the ambitious, foreign born wife of Chaison, Venera, who believing her husband dead tries to build her own power base on the nation of Spyre. In “Pirate Sun”, we follow the admiral himself, Chaison Manning, who has been imprisoned for his daring raid that foiled the attack on Slipstream in the first book. After his rescue, he teams with a mysterious woman named Antaea from the outskirts of Virga—“the sunless countries” as those are called—and tries to get home and clear his name. But few things are as they seem, and some new facts about the Virga are revealed with more to come in the next installment.

FORMAT/INFO: The ARC edition of “Pirate Sun” that I own stands at 319 pages divided into three named parts and twenty numbered chapters. There is a prologue connecting with what happened in book two, and an epilogue that is a clear connection with the next book considering its title. There is also a map of Virga on the first page. The narration happens in the novel's present and is third person, following mostly the adventures of Chaison and Antaea, with appearances by several important secondary characters. Venera Manning also has some intriguing moments, but this is definitely Chaison and Antaea's book. While you can read “Pirate Sun” as a standalone novel, you will get more enjoyment out of the book after reading the first two volumes in the Virga series.

August 5, 2008 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “Pirate Sun” via
Tor Books. Cover art is provided by Stephan Martiniere.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS: After the connecting prologue, “Pirate Sun” starts off with a bang when Chaison Manning, on his way to the customary rough prison interrogation, manages to escape with several companions. Wondering about their mysterious helper when hiding from the ensuing pursuit, Chaison and his companions, Darius and Richard, finally meet their benefactor in the form of Antaea, who is disguised as a Virga home guard scout. From here, the novel keeps up its fast pace following the adventures of our heroes as Chaison wants to get back to Slipstream, clear his unjustly blackened in absentia name, and find out what happened with his wife. However, he is also strongly attracted to the warrior-like Antaea who makes a sharp contrast with the sophisticated and intrigue-prone, Venera.

On his way home, Chaison gets involved in local politics and war between various nations of Virga and shows a lot of courage in helping Stonecloud—one of those “city states”—use innovative tactics to defend itself against an attack by powerful neighbors that would have destroyed it otherwise. The final part of the novel mostly takes place in Slipstream itself and contains quite a few unexpected surprises.

One of the main pleasures of reading the Virga series is figuring out the strange environment of the setting and this book makes no exception. Both the technological and physical wonders of Virga are on display here, sometimes overshadowing the characters and story, but for me the interactions of the people of Virga are of special interest and here we get to see more of the worlds/nations there and their specific, and sometimes, unique socio-political setup. So we get to see “states” like Falcon Formation; Gretels; political movements like the hardline Aerie resistance fighters who, as it may be surmised, do not have a great fondness for Chaison; and also more of the internal workings of Slipstream itself. Topping this, there are hints about what's beyond Virga in the larger Universe out there.

The book wraps up quite a few threads from the previous novels and the ending is well done, but it is clear that the larger issues that hover in the background require more books in the series. The change of POVs between the novels work well in this case since Chaison—the epitome of “honor, courage, military and integrity”—while glimpsed first through the biased eyes of Hayden, is a very interesting character. The mysterious Antaea is also developed pretty well though some of her motivations remain murky and probably will be explored later. And if you like strong female characters, you cannot go wrong with Venera Manning, whose limited appearances here—after she was the star of “Queen of Candesce”—are some of the novel’s highlights.

Overall, “Pirate Sun” is a fast-paced and interesting hard SF adventure…


Calibandar said...

Hey Robert,

You've got a great couple of books forthcoming for review, really looking forward to all of them. Will you also be doing a review of Steel Remains soon?

Robert said...

I was planning on posting a review of The Steel Remains next week along with a Bonus Q&A with Richard. Unfortunately, my blog has been mistakenly tagged as a 'spam-bot' and I can't publish any new posts. For instance, the August 2008 spotlight was supposed to go up today. Instead, I have to wait for someone to review the website, which may or may not ever happen. Needless to say, I am extremely frustrated...

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