mordicai caeli (mordicai) wrote,
mordicai caeli
mordicai

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Virga, Aethyr, Crucible. (25)

Sunless Countries by Karl Schroeder.

Is the worldwasp come?
The Referendum has passed:
vote if you think so.

The fourth book in the Virga series, after Sun of Suns, Queen of Candesce, & Pirate Sun. It is natural for the post-Tolkien brain to sort books into trilogies, & I think it works here: though one of the main supporting characters is Hayden Griffin from the first three books, the protagonist is new & the direction of the plot is towards exploring issues brought up by the first three, but not addressed by them. Specifically, the book trends towards the higher end science, & there is more transparency as to the technological background of Virga. Some of the back cover copy on this uncorrected proof calls it "Hard SF space opera," which sounds like contradictory hyperbole, but when you presuppose that the Singularity has already happened, it makes a lot more sense.

The main character, Leal Maspeth, is a historian. Right there, Schroeder gives a strong & easy device for explaining more of Virga's backstory. The setting is the nation of Abyss, a cluster of wheels spinning to produce gravity (remember, Virga is a planet-sized ball of air, essentially a livable zero-g environment) without one of the artificial fusion reactor "suns." They are sunless by choice, living off fungus farming, industry, & scavenging. Or, well, scavenging used to be a source of income...one of the major sources of tension is the rise of the Eternist regime. The Eternists are pretty terrifyingly dystopian, & a pretty clear real-world political statement (without bursting the bubble of suspension of disbelief). The Eternists legislate the age of the World-- timeless. Virga has always been! Despite all the scientific evidence to the contrary. There is nothing outside of Virga! Despite all the evidence to the contrary. Evidence to the contrary, did you say? Well, we better burn that library then! Besides that, the Eternists are full on populists: the newspapers come with quizzes attached; if you don't like the news, vote that you disbelieve it & they'll make that version of reality illegal. Schroeder evokes the slow, crushing drift into ideological nonsense in a distressingly compelling way, & puts Leal in the heart of it; should she collaborate with the Eternists to try to salvage some representation of science & history (even if she has to teach it as heretical, along side accepted dogma) or should she make a possibly meaningless ideological stand?

Outside of that conflict is Hayden Griffin, the scoundrel made good from the previous books. The sun-lighter, who brought nuclear fire & daylight to his captive nation. Hayden Griffin is looked to as a hero, but frankly, he is kind of an idiot. He doesn't want to meddle with politics, & when things start happening in earnest, as the conflict between Virga & the hyper-tech of Artificial Nature outside of Virga starts to escalate, he takes the easy path of opposition, rather than trying to figure out what is really going on. Leave that to Leal; she has to stop looking to others to shoulder responsibility & take it up herself. She has a nice character arc through the series; you want her to step up, & eventually she does. Besides which, who doesn't want to root for a character who has "I need to break into the library!" near the top of her priority list? It is Leal who takes the story to its weird heights, & eventually outside of Virga itself. If I had any complaint with the book, it is that it is less self-contained than the others of the series; it ends with, if not a cliff-hanger, than with things unfinished. On the plus side, Virga is a good enough story-telling universe, & Karl Schroeder a good enough writer, that I am excited for more novels to come out of it.
Tags: books, haiku, schroeder, virga
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