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Book Review: Sun of Suns

Posted by Sunday on Feb 20, 2008 at 12:21 pm in Literature

Sun of Suns, by Karl Schroeder (Tor, 2006)

In this first book of a proposed series, we are introduced to Hayden Griffin and his giant gas-bag world of Virga. Hayden seeks revenge, as all good pirate-raised adolescents do, and no amount of sword fighting or nefarious ne’er-do-wells can slow him. Or can they?

Spoiler-bloat after the jump.

There is a common and fallacious piece of writerly advice that drives me mad, one that I’d rank up there with ‘write what you know’: Don’t put every great idea you have in one novel.

Back when I read how-to books for aspiring writers – something that undoubtedly set my writing back two or three years – I’d regularly come across this little cubic zirconia gem of a point. I suppose the criticism was that too many ideas can make a novel top-heavy or appear to be trying to hard. I don’t know what the objective of withholding ideas is; I can’t think of a story that suffers from an overabundance of interestingness. On the contrary, far more writing groans under the opposite strain of carrying too much narrative on the back of one flimsy idea.

It strikes me when reading Karl Schroeder that no one ever suggested to him to reign in his ideas a little, or if they had he has since retaliated by making sure that no less than twenty or thirty fantastic and previously unconsidered ideas find a home in a single novel.

sunofsunscover.jpgSun of Suns the pronounced to be the first of several books to take place in the lauded world of Virga, a massive fullerene sphere that contains a planet’s worth of cities, forests, farms, wastelands and mysteries, all floating freely. Towns are decidedly steampunk, made of wood and rope, cobbled together and spun to create oases of centripetal gravity. Much of the buzz surrounding Sun of Suns is in regard to Schroeder’s world-building of Virga – accolade well-deserved. Whether by accident or design, his books are being published just as steampunk culture is really hitting the streets, something Schroeder will hopefully know to milk for all it’s worth.

Effusive praise aside, Sun of Suns has one major flaw: Hayden Griffin. Hayden is a reckless and angry young man, prone to showing his emotions. This is well and good for a typical dude, but Hayden has gone undercover in order to kill the Admiral Chaison Fanning, the man Hayden thinks is responsible for the death of his mother (oh, and the destruction of his town/nation, but whatever). There is a dungheap of deus ex machina to put everyone together in the same place at the same time, and even still the Fanning household seems improbably tolerant of Hayden’s suspicious presence.

I expected young Hayden to receive a solid beat-down in order to learn a lesson about being a hot-head, but it never came. In fact, his erratic behavior only convinces the ruthless badguys that Hayden is a trustworthy character, when a more likely scenario would have Hayden flung into the airless pockets of Virga’s “winter” 20 pages into our story. Lesson: fiery simplemindedness is the key to success.

Sun of Suns is an entertaining novel, but as the story progressed I wondered if Schroeder had only a passing interest in producing believable people. Transparent character desires and schemes made for some seriously predictable sub-plots, the kind of thing that would make a fun movie but as a novel tempts the reader to skim. Clumsy dialog was another painful element. In this scene, Hayden faces off with a man who Hayden discovers is indirectly responsible for his mother’s death (and the death of the man’s own son):

“You still have a chance to save yourself!” said Hayden as Carrier braced himself for another leap.

“Save myself?” Carrier laughed. “I’m the better swordsman by far!”

“You betrayed him! Betrayed him and had him killed. And it eats away at you. Your life has been barren since that moment, hasn’t it? Anyone can see in the way you walk, hear it in the tone of your voice. I just didn’t know why, until the other night.”

“My life’s not your concern,” grated Carrier. “Look to your own.”

“You don’t believe there’s any way you could make up for what you did to him. I’m saying there is. Can you even imagine such a thing any more? There is.”

Carrier visibly fought to control himself. “No.”

“How would your son feel if he knew that, in the end, you took back your choice? – That you let his project succeed?”

Now Carrier was silent, his eyes wide.


Carrier lowered his sword, his face eloquently puzzled at a possibility he had never even considered. Then, gradually, Hayden saw his features harden again, as if in the end his guilt were all he was really comfortable with.

“Nice try!” he shouted, and then he leapt again.

Boy, that bit was a triple-whammy: adverb, cliché and then silly exclamation by a villain. Oof! It’s not all that bad and certain parts are superb, but it only takes one ill-tasting peanut to make one wary of the bag.

Schroeder is kindly offering a free download of his novel Ventus at his website:

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February 20th, 2008 | Literature

One Response to “Book Review: Sun of Suns”

  1. Halcyon Says:

    “Nice try!”

    For me, it’s all about the exclamation point. It’s so lighthearted and encouraging. You almost have to say it with a can-do British accent. Cheer-io!

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