Read these books
I’m granting myself amnesty for about six months of unreviewed books to mention a couple of recently read books.
Pirate Sun, Karl Schroeder
I think that of all the authors I enjoy, Schroeder is the most criminally under-read. If you like SF, I tell you that Virga – the background of Pirate Sun and its two predecessors – is the coolest SF construct since Ringworld. Schroeder could write novels in it for the next forty years and only scratch the surface of what’s possible. And at that, I’m not sure that the three Virga books – great as they are – are his best. Permanence is an exceptional space-opera type book, and Lady of Mazes takes a background that by all rights should be nigh-incomprehensible and makes it clear, compelling, and fascinating.
Anyway, Virga is a 5000 mile sphere filled with air and intermittently lit by dozens of small artificial suns. There’s not much metal, and electricity is somehow dampened. Most people live in towns that are basically the interior of cylinders that rotate to generate gravity. Because it’s not a vacuum, you can travel between towns by almost anything: winged bikes, jet cycles, wooden rocket ships.
Pirate Sun is the third book in the series, and without getting into a jillion paragraphs of backstory, the main character is Chaison Fanning, a disgraced admiral hoping to get back to his tiny country to clear his name (I oversimplify, you understand). Along the way, he deals with war, a threat to the basic nature of Virga, not to mention the most amazing thunderstorm SF has ever produced (Hint: Zero-G = Large Raindrops).
You know how sometimes a book will have two viewpoint characters who are trying to find each other but keep missing and that’s really irritating? Schroeder does something interesting with that here – he never shows the second viewpoint character. We know she’s there from the previous books, plus a brief showing at the beginning. The bulk of the book, though, is all Chaison – we can infer what other characters are up too somewhat. It’s very effective, and not at all irritating.
On top of all that, there’s a city on city battle seen that is jaw-dropping, and Schroeder casually drops a really neat idea in the background that we’re clearly going to hear more of later in the series (please tell me there’s a later in the series…).
Zoe’s Tale, John Scalzi
Scalzi, you’re more likely to have heard of, since he’s become a very popular writer, especially on the Internet. Zoe’s Tale is the fourth book in the Old Man’s War trilogy. And I mean that more literally then you might think, since it covers nearly the same ground as The Last Colony, only instead of being from John Perry’s viewpoint, it’s from his adopted daughter Zoe’s (hence, you see, the name).
This works a lot better than you might expect, for a couple of reasons. First off, Zoe has a unique place in the OMW universe, what with being a near godling to an alien race, and her perspective is interesting. Second, Last Colony had a couple of obvious Zoe-sized gaps in the story that were worth exploring. Third, Scalzi is smart enough to tell a completely different story against the same plot background – in this case how Zoe reconciles who she is with what she is.
Scalzi has said in a few places that he struggled a bit to find a plausible sixteen year old female voice. I’m not completely qualified to say whether he succeeded (it’s enough for me to say the voice works perfectly well as the narrator of the story). But I will say there are spots in the story where Zoe’s narration sounds much more like Scalzi-the-blogger than anything else he’s written.
So, another great book from John Scalzi, and I hope he comes back to this universe a few years on to show the result of the actions of Last Colony and Zoe’s Tale