Karl Schroeder makes a living plausibly guessing at the future. This might seem like it should be true of all science-fiction writers, but it’s really not. Some use fantastic situations to put the human soul under the lens; others dream up future settings, not because they’re likely, but because they make good jumping-off points for obliquely considering present-day societal issues. Others just want laser blasts and space battles. Few are professional futurists.
As fans know, however, Schroeder actually is a professional futurist, which is perhaps why he’s the one who works out plausible (albeit, yes, futuristic) new ways of reordering all society instead of writing an adventure story on Mars and calling it a day. You can read about which long-standing conundrum in space opera Schroeder has solved by reading my full review at the Free Press.
You can tell that Ashes of Candesce is a series finale. The heroes of the four previous books all come together for the first time. The stakes are higher than they’ve ever been. And almost every dangling plot thread, including some from the very first book, is finally tied off. If you weren’t entirely sure if the saga was finished or not, the book is capped with an epilogue for good measure.
Read my final Virga review at AE.
With book two of Virga, we pick up directly where we left off in the previous book, at least in one sense. . . . [But] [i]f Sun of Suns was sci-fi Treasure Island, with elements of coming-of-age, saving the day, and finding the long-lost pirate hoard, then Queen of Candesce is Henry VIII or Julius Caesar. . . . It’s a tale of intrigue and courtly politics, unlikely alliances and sudden reversals of fortune.
I forgot to post this, apparently. I’ve had the draft with the pointer to AE sitting here since June. Since my final Virga review goes up next week, here, belatedly, is Book Two.
In four books Schroeder has had four completely different main characters, in four completely different locales within Virga, with four completely different (immediate) plots. There’s a larger story, but Schroeder has almost been building it up by sonar. We’ve been getting a sense of larger, looming events by a series of glancing blows — collisions between our many protagonists and the greater story, as they pursue their own ends. But with Book Four, The Sunless Countries, one gets the distinct impression that we’re almost at the main event.
Read all about it at AE. One more Virga book to go.
“They had provided him with two torturers today.” With this, probably one of the greatest opening lines in literary history, Schroeder sets the stage as quickly as possible, and then we are right in the thick of it. An action-packed jailbreak precedes a novel-length journey for home, through foreign lands, an ongoing war, and the machinations of a larger extra-terrestrial plot the Admiral’s only seen hints of.
My full review of the third Virga book is up now at AESciFi.
The working out of the physics is one of the great joys of this novel. The combination of a microgravity environment that nevertheless contains a breathable atmosphere makes for some fascinating possibilities, and Schroeder takes us through them one by one. But it’s also a rip-roaring story.
I’ll be covering Karl Schroeder’s complete Virga series at AE over the next several months. Read along with me, starting with this one.