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Science Fiction Saturday – Ashes of Candesce


Ashes of Candesce by Karl Schroeder


Review by Bowden P. (Trey)


This is the final book in Schroeder’s Virga series (Sun of Suns, The Queen of Candesce, The Pirate Sun and The Sunless Countries) wrapping the series up in a big enjoyable way all the while continuing to wrestle with the questions posed in The Sunless Countries.

So what is it about?

It picks up shortly after the end of The Sunless Countries where Leal and the survivors are trying to escape back the Virga. Along the way, they discover a hidden outpost or colony of rebels against Artificial Nature trying to rediscover science. Among them is one odd young man, Kier Chen, who is getting younger and loosing his memories. With his help, they escape back to to the familiar airs Virga and the story takes off like a rocket.

Hayden Griffin, Antea Argyre, Venera and Chaison Fanning and even Jacoby Sarto all return and have major roles along the viewpoint characters of Leal, Keir Chen and Antea. This band of heroes and villains has a mission worthy of their talents – to save Virgan and Candesce from the terrifying post-human forces outside.

This wouldn’t be the novel of big ideas and interesting characters it is if the plot were that simple. The world beyond Virga is composed of more things than terrifying post-human forces (as to them think of the Vile Offspring from Accelerando who want to turn all matter into computronium). Its more nuanced than that with potential allies and foes – sometimes in the same package. Another problem is, is Virga worth saving as it is? After all, aristocracies, monarchies can be interesting places – and also have little issues, like secret police and a lack of basic human rights. Problems that might be alleviated if the technology suppressing field of Candesce were dialed back or eliminated.

I mentioned a big idea and its a grand one – what happens when you place the tools of intelligence at the disposal of the non-sapient? The possible answer is interesting. It also completely upsets the order of things as we´re  used to it. Imagine an AI partnered with an oak tree, thus giving the tree access to everything from tools, to weapons, to lawyers at its disposal to further its ends – namely some sun, water and dirt, plus to make lots of acorns.

This novel and series are a blast for me. Where eles can you get a load of space opera tropes, married to a logical technology and physics with big questions? That, plus steampunk touches and chrome work.

Overall, 5 stars –

Likes: Setting; Ideas; Tribute to space opera tropes; Characters, particularly Leal and Keir – Keir because he is very human in a post-human world; Antea struggling with what the right decision is; Seeing other characters from previous books; Necklace towns; Colonizing winter zone spaces with mirrors.

Dislikes: Deus ex machina in the form of quantum gravity; Opposition that is occasionally mustache twirlingly bad.

Suggested for: Fans of the Integral Trees and Smoke Ring series; people who were intrigued by the aliens in Peter Watts Blindsight and the implications of Athena from Stross Rule 34; those that like steampunk with a brain; anyone that enjoys transhumanist SF and pondering the implications.






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