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Audiobook Review: Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder

Genre: Hard SF, Space Opera, Adventure
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: October 3, 2006
ISBN-10: 0765315432
ISBN-13: 978-0765315434
Author Website: Karl Schroeder

Karl Schroeder’s Sun of Suns is an interesting mashup of fiction. It borrows bits and pieces from the great stories by C. S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian, the hard science of Vernor Vinge, and the adventure of an E. E. “Doc” Smith or Robert Louis Stevenson novel.

The book is set in a future, where a group of humans dwell in a fullerene world three thousand kilometers in diameter. Due to the nature of the world in which they live, with its low gravity and scarce resources, people are forced to build their own fusion “suns” and live in towns roped together that reminds the reader of the seaside village that Jim Hawkins left from in Treasure Island. The primary character of the story is Hayden Griffin is a Jim Hawkins type character, resourceful and brave, but with an embittered edge brought on by seeing the death of his mother as she tried to build a “sun” for their conquered nation of Aerie. Vowing revenge, Griffin sets off to take the life of the man he holds responsible, only to find that the world is bigger, and in more trouble, than his petty revenge would let him see. He and others step to the fore to save themselves and their world.

This novel is supremely exciting. Schroeder has mixed together any different elements from various science fiction subgenres to create a truly unique setting. Though these people are technologically advanced enough to build fusion suns, they still live in towns that are reminiscent of 17th century England, and fly about on wooden airships (more like submarines) powered by kerosene. The world lacks much gravity, so the way objects in battles and onboard ships is more like what might be found in a grand space opera. Schroeder’s science seems to be sound, and he is always careful never to forget the tricky physics of the world he has created.

His characters are compelling as well. Though the story seems like it might be a coming-of-age novel or a revenge story, what it ends up being is more of a multi-cast movie, in which no character plays more of a part than others, and each is equally well-rounded. Hayden Griffin drives the plot for the most part, but we are also given two other perspectives, that of Admiral Chaison Fanning of Slipstream, the target of Hayden’s wrath, and his Fanning’s wife, the beautiful but scarred Venera, whose ambition knows no bounds. All of these characters become locked in a war that will change the fate of all three.

Though the setting and characterization are great, I did have some troubles with the plotting. Though the story is full of swashbuckling adventure that includes pirates and travel through parts of the world of Virga Odysseus would have avoided, it was not always clear on why some of the actions were taken, and in the latter half the novel, the whole Candesce (the primary sun of Virga) and the role of Artificial Nature (a force from outside Virga) in the story. This is primarily due to the book being read as an audiobook, where the single narrator, while using several voices, often dropped the ends of lines, or made it difficult to understand which character was actually speaking.

All in all, this is a fabulous novel, one which is better read – due to its complexity – than heard. Karl Schroeder did not limit himself to genre, and in doing so broke many of the “rules” while still telling a solid science fiction tale. Sun of Suns , with its tale of swashbucklers, ice-bergs, military society, warring nations, and limited-gee swordfights is one of the most creative, unique, and well-told stories currently in print.