Sun of Suns (Virga 1, Omnibus Virga: Cities of Air) by Karl Schroeder [Book Review]

In many respect Steamapunk is the new black. That is true in general but Karl Schroeder brings his own unique post singularity angle to it.

Space Opera with feudal castles and wooden ships, ancient compasses, old revolvers, and frothing beakers on on hand, and flying bikes, space travel, and cyborgs on the other.

The Globe and Mail (Toronto) sums it up up pretty well. The story take place inside Virga, a spherical world filled with air and floating rocks, artificial suns, and nations  with a central sun Candesce – the Sun of Suns.

The migrating nation of Slipstream has subjugated Hayden Griffin’s home, Aerie and denied them a sun of their own. The opening scene of the book depicts how his mother attempts to light a sun for their home and the brutal response. He swear revenge on the man he believe responsible Admiral Chaison Fanning.

The story continues with Venera Fanning wife of the admiral. She is heading a network of secret informants and security agents and seems to be a force to be reckoned with in Slipstream. A dying scout bring photos and information to her that a rival nation, Falcon Formation is building a huge dreadnought, almost 3 km long in preparation for an attack on Slipstream. Her page for the day impresses her with his knowledge as he glimpses the photo and explains how he knows its size. That page is Hayden trying to get at the Admiral.

The Admiral is ordered to attack the nation in Slipstreams path knowing that the Falcon Formation is contemplating an ambush of the capital while the fleet is away. He and his wife develop an extensive plan to defeat the ambush involving travel to the skin of Virga, finding a legendary  treasure and using it to sneak up on the enemy.

The plan takes them and Hayden on an epic tour through the sunless countries and the central nations of Virga that involves pirate attacks, mountain dropping, fleet battles and running through airless patches. It is all a great adventure remembering of the high seas.

This is a story about fundamental ideas even if it at first glance is a wonderful romp on the high seas, sorry airs with compelling characters. Hayden befriends many new characters in his travels among them Aubri Mahallan a woman from outside Virga. From her he learns that the outside world is governed by Artificial Nature, sort of like a hive mind that has lost its creativity in artificial reality. But Candesce, Virga’s largest sun, disrupt Artificial Nature and prevent it from entering Virga so this is in many respects the last place where you can find true humans. The series works with this conflict between integrated artificial reality gone to far and ‘primitive’ humans in the real world.

Sun of Suns is a wonderful, fast paced adventure story with airships, pirates and artificial suns with one of the most compelling and impressive world buildings I have ever seen. My only complaint is that it is a bit short. All the books in the Virga universe are standalone with tie ins to previous books. I can recommend it to hard science fiction readers as well as to the steampunk adventure audience.

This is part one of my reviews of Virga: Cities of the Air. Expect part two Queen of Candesce next week.


Title: Sun of Suns
Series: Virga book 1
Omnibus:  Virga: Cities of Air (Sun of Suns, Queen of Candisce)
Author: Karl Schroeder (
Genre: Retro futuristic steam punk
Paperback: 296 (592) pages
Publisher: Tor (Omnibus 2010, First 2006)
Excerpt: Chapter 1-3

Order from: Amazon US | UK | B&N | sfbok

It is the distant future. The world known as Virga is a fullerene balloon three thousand kilometers in diameter, filled with air, water, and aimlessly floating chunks of rock. The humans who live in this vast environment must build their own fusion suns and “towns” that are in the shape of enormous wood and rope wheels that are spun for gravity. Young, fit, bitter, and friendless, Hayden Griffin is a very dangerous man. He’s come to the city of Rush in the nation of Slipstream with one thing in mind: to take murderous revenge for the deaths of his parents six years ago. His target is Admiral Chaison Fanning, head of the fleet of Slipstream, which conquered Hayden’s nation of Aerie years ago. And the fact that Hayden’s spent his adolescence living with pirates doesn’t bode well for Fanning’s chances…