Virga: Cities of the Air – Karl Schroeder + Giveaway

About the Book
It is the distant future. The world known as Virga is a fullerene balloon three thousand kilometers in diameter, filled with air, water, and 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 centripetal gravity.
The complex and fascinating world is the setting for the novels of Virga, Karl Schroeder’s interstellar far-future space habitat sealed off from contamination by the rest of the inhabited universe.
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2670-6
Published by: Tor
Pub. Date: July 6, 2010
Author’s Website
Thanks to Tor for sending me a review copy of this book.
I wasn’t going to read this book. In fact, I had absolutely no intention of reading it until I read that it took place in a world that was located inside a fullerene balloon. How on earth could I not read a book based inside a gigantic balloon? It became a “must read” purely on those grounds. I simply had to see how the author would accomplish building a world with such a unique premises. In fact, I received this book when I was in the middle of reading about four others. I sat it on my coffee table and I swear to god the thing stared at me – taunted me until I caved and read it well before I was planning on doing so. 
Before I continue on I should say that Virga: Cities of the Air is the first two books in Schroeder’s series combined in one volume. The individual books are called Sun of Suns and Queen of Candescence. Furthermore, these books are considered science fiction, and while they do have some scifi elements, in my mind they are more of an epic steampunk odyssey taking place in outer space somewhere.
Being in a world as unique as this one, Schroeder has to be one hell of a world builder, and he is. He seemed to think of every detail from how cities would acquire gravity to how the act of living inside a huge balloon would affect motion, invention, history, knowledge and everything else. It’s quite interesting how Schroeder unravels his world and paints it vividly and believably for the reader. At some points I did feel as though I was in a classroom learning some science lessons, but those info-dump moments are tolerable due to the fact that the information given really is very interesting and important to fully understand the world this adventure takes place in.
If there is one place that this book seems to falter somewhat it’s with characterization. For example, the book opens with the main protagonist, Hayden, when he is a teenager (I’m assuming). Then, we run into Hayden years later when he is (again I’m assuming here) in his late teens or early twenties. Why I keep saying that I’m assuming is that his age is never really given and he’s written in such a way that, at times, he seems much younger than the chronology of events makes him out to be. There were points where I had to keep reminding myself that Hayden was a young man rather than a twelve-year-old boy.
While the characters, other than that, are well done and interesting with their own unique motivations and goals, it really is the world that makes Virga shine; aided by the interesting and action packed adventure quest the protagonists find themselves on. In the matter of the quest, Virga has a bit of everything from politics, rumors of invasion, romance, spying, pirate attacks, military battles and some nice gray characters you love on one page and hate the next.
Schroeder’s writing should be noted. He’s a very detail oriented author and if it wasn’t for those details, the book really wouldn’t have worked. The setting is too unique, too different for anyone but the most detailed author to be able to pull it off. Everything from the fusion created suns to the cities that spin on gigantic wheels to create gravity to the social structure is fascinatingly unique. I quickly found myself reading Virga as much for the action-adventure as to learn more about the deftly drawn world Schroeder created. However, Schroeder’s detailed writing did, at times, make this text seem slightly bloated, as though about a fourth of Sun of Suns could have been taken out with no ill effect to the overall story being told.
As a small aside, I should note that the cover of this book is incredibly helpful when figuring out what Schroeder means as he’s describing the cities within Virga. It’s rare that a book’s cover is so helpful with understanding such an important aspect of the world, but this one was and it was a very nice, helpful touch.
All in all, Virga: Cities of the Air was a pleasant surprise. The characterization wasn’t as vibrant as the world building and the text was a little overly bloated but otherwise this was a fun action-adventure romp through one of the most unique settings I have ever had the pleasure of immersing myself in. While this is considered a SciFi book, the SciFi details are subtle enough that it seems more like a steampunk epic to me – but it has enough of both to please fans of either genre.
3.5/5 stars
Giveaway Details
And here’s the part where you, my dear readers, are supposed to get excited. The lovely people at Tor sent me two copies of this book which means I would be more than pleased to give one copy away to one of my readers. Here are the details:
  1. Contest is only open to U.S. residents (apologies to all of my readers who live over The Pond or in the Great White North, eh). 
  2. If you would like to be entered for this giveaway please leave a comment below letting me know you want to be entered. I don’t care what it says. You could say, “Hey Sarah – you smell like sauerkraut. Oh, enter me in the contest, yo.” Whatever. If you let me know you want to be entered, you’ll be entered.
  3. On Monday, December 20 around 1pm Mountain Time I’ll assign everyone who entered a number and randomly draw a number from a hat (otherwise known as a computer based randomizer program).
  4. I’ll make a post saying who won. You’ll have till Wednesday December 22 to email me with your address. If I don’t hear from the winner by Dec. 22, I’ll draw another number/name.
  5. I’ll try to ship Virga: Cities of the Air as soon as I get the winner’s address. Now here’s my addendum: if the line for the post office is going out the door and down the road, I will wait until after Christmas to ship the book (meaning the following Monday). I hope that’s not what happens but just in case… I’ll let you know when I get it shipped. 
So, good luck to all of you who decide to enter, and thanks to Tor for making my first blog giveaway possible.