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Pirate Sun: Book Three of Virga by Karl Schroeder
Review by Tom Easton
Tor Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765315458
Date: 05 August 2008 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Review by Ernest Lilley / Show Official Info /

The last time someone created a world floating in space without ground or gravity, we enjoyed Larry Niven's Integral Trees (1983). Niven's world was ring-shaped (he had a thing for rings), while that of Karl Schroeder's Virga series is a vast cloud enclosed by a barrier. Inside the barrier is air and water and occasional bits of rock. There is a central sun, Candesce, a made object, and around it cluster a throng of cities and realms, floating in the air, farming fish in water balls and crops on whatever chunks of dirt can be found or made. Transport is by flapping wing or jet-powered bikes that have quite astonishing amounts of fuel in their tanks. Cities are wheels of metal or wood, rotating to provide a bit of gravity. Further out, where the light of Candesce dims, people have made more fusion-powered suns. Since resources are in short supply, there is occasional war. Since people are forever people, there is also politics, intrigue, plot, and scheme.

The setting is thus quite intricate. Schroeder has carefully worked out a great many details (though he did give his jet-bikes so much fuel that I cannot help but think of cowboy six-shooters that fire many more than six times before running out of ammo). And he has used setting and details to tell a very satisfying tale in three volumes. In Sun of Suns, he gave us a sneak attack on the realm of Slipstream, whose lord (the Pilot) has forbidden his navy to act ("It's just maneuvers, guys"). But Admiral Chaison Fanning acted anyway, only to find himself in serious trouble. In Queen of Candesce, his wife Venera found herself marooned in a strange town-wheel, but because of her Machiavellian cleverness, she wound up on top of the heap and ready to mount a rescue attempt for her husband.

Now we have Pirate Sun, which begins when that rescue attempt goes awry. Fanning winds up in the hands of Antaea Argyre, an agent of the Virga home guard, who has an agenda that does not involve turning Fanning over to his wife or sending him home. And they are off, falling into one war zone after another until, finally, they return to Slipstream, where Fanning falls into the Pilot's hands, Antaea confronts a frightening representative of the "artificial nature" that rules outside Virga and wants to open Virga to chaos, and the loose ends get neatly tied up.

Schroeder builds his plots as compelling series of frying pans and fires. His characters tumble from one to the next, always somehow getting closer to their goals. Fanning demonstrates that though he is an aristocrat, he has the welfare of the people in mind; when cities are under attack, he does not flee; he pitches in to help the defense, leaving only when he must. Antaea, initially a stark "winter wraith," becomes warmly human. Together they enlist our sympathies and get us involved in the tale as an intricate setting and active plot alone cannot.

Good, fun space opera. Don't miss it.

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