mordicai caeli (mordicai) wrote,
mordicai caeli

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Black Iron Sphere. (104)

Ashes of Candesce by Karl Schroeder.

When Candesce flickered,
eggs hatched into murderballs!
Slashing in the dark.

I've heard the Virga series described as "Hard SF Space Opera" before, & I've agreed with it; I really think I'm going to stick with that. The trick of the series is simple: zero gravity. The eponymous Virga is a sphere of air in the middle of outer space, just floating there in a bubble, with no gravity well. The books are at a sort of "dieselpunk" tech level-- though cleaner than usual-- with spinning wheels & the like used to simulate gravity with centrifugal force. I think that is sic, I think I mean centrifugal & not centripetal, but Karl Schroeder could explain it to you better than I could-- he's clearly spent a lot of time thinking about it. It really shows in this volume; Schroeder's skill at describing just how a rotating frame of reference works, how practical living in zero-gravity is possible, where & how the Virgans grow crops, how birds & fish behave without gravity-- in Ashes of Candesce, his practice writing the previous books has culminated in a descriptive knack for the setting. The big concepts & the little ones are explained so succinctly that they come to seem natural. Whereas some of the earlier volume might leave you (pleasantly) scratching your head trying to figure out just how something works-- trying to run little physics experiments in your head-- Ashes paints a picture you can immediately understand. There is a craftsmanship to the writing that is just really fulfilling. The "opera" part plays out in the drama of the world; all of the protagonists of the series, together at last! Of course, Schroeder isn't going to have them all team up; no sir! Nothing so easy. Instead, they all work cross purposes, parallel purposes, crooked purposes...any which way but up. The technological level of Virga is one of the big mysteries of the series, up front-- just what the heck is going on?-- that eventually is solved by realizing that most of the universe has moved into a sort of post-human mush. Which then becomes the threat to Virga-- these post-human forces outside the world, trying to get in, kept at bay by the mysterious qualities of the central fusion reactor "sun," Candesce. Not just post-human; post-everything, the so-called "Artificial Nature." There is a war going on in Artificial Nature...but which side is the right side? That conflict makes up the core of this book, as forces within & without the bubble of Virga all make their ideological bids & power plays. As usual, whenever Venera Fanning is on the page, she steals the scene. Alight, giant anime girl, library girl, back-wards aging kid, whatever, shut up & get me some Venera Fanning. She's the real breakout star of these series-- the sociopathic villain redeemed by just channeling her femme fatale impulses towards ethical ends? Yes, please, that is what I like.
Tags: books, haiku, schroeder, virga

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