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The Sunless Countries: Virga, Book 4
Karl Schroeder
Tor, 336 pages

The Sunless Countries
Karl Schroeder
Karl Schroeder was born in 1962 in Brandon, Manitoba. He moved to Toronto in 1986 to further his writing career. In 1996, he was elected president of SF Canada. His awards include the Context '89 Short Story contest for his story "The Cold Convergence" (then titled "Live Wire") and "The Toy Mill" won the 1993 Aurora award for best short work in English.

Karl Schroeder Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Pirate Sun
SF Site Review: Queen of Candesce
SF Site Review: Lady of Mazes
SF Site Review: The Engine of Recall
SF Site Review: Permanence
SF Site Interview: Karl Schroeder
SF Site Review: Permanence
SF Site Review: Ventus
SF Site Review: Ventus

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

There's a whole universe out there, and figuring out who your friends are isn't easy. That's the lesson to be learned by the inhabitants of Virga in The Sunless Countries, book four in Karl Schroeder's series set in the large artificial environment. But learning that lesson will have to wait for a little while, there are troubles closer to home that need to be taken care of first.

Leal Maspeth's life is about to change because of those problems. First, a mysterious voice starts talking to the inhabitants of Pacquaea, Leal's home. Second, an election brings to power people who don't place much value in historians, especially those who don't toe the party line. Wondering at the voice, and her professional life disrupted, Leal finds herself swept up in matters that will determine the fate of her home and possibly Virga itself.

For those new to the series, Virga is a many thousand mile diameter balloon-like object that contains an atmosphere and several artificial suns. It is a refuge for human beings from what is going on in the rest of the universe, and some of its inhabitants have forgotten that fact. One of the features of Virga is a technology that prevents other high tech devices from working. Schroeder uses this supposition to give us the incongruity of wooden space ships sailing through freefall to cities and villages built to spin for artificial gravity, a marvelous combination of images that has served the books well and helped make Virga one of the best continuing series in science fiction.

The Sunless Countries does nothing to alter that standing. Each book in the series has introduced us to a new aspect of life in Virga, and The Sunless Countries is no exception. Pacquaea is situated too far from an artificial sun for there to be light, and travel always presents the fear of getting lost in the dark. That and other problems associated with life in the dark are daily facts of life for its inhabitants. But Paquaea's problems have grown larger and now force a confrontation with something big and powerful, something from outside Virga itself.

That something allows Schroeder to introduce some of his ideas regarding the nature of intelligence and self-consciousness -- this is science fiction -- without breaking up the flow of the story. It also widens up the scope of possible future stories. Virga, and now the universe that surrounds it, are realms ripe with ideas and adventure, and should continue to make repeated visits worthwhile for both the author and his readers.

Copyright © 2010 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L Johnson imagines that if fictional worlds were ever made real, Virga would be among the most popular tourist destination. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction. And, for something different, Greg blogs about news and politics relating to outdoors issues and the environment at Thinking Outside.

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