What if space had air in it? That’s the—ostensibly—insane premise of Schroeder’s latest wooden-hulled, middle-tech adventure (Lady of Mazes, 2005, etc.), the first in a projected series.
How to fill space with air? Well, enclose a planet-sized volume in an impermeable barrier, call it Virga, then fill it with air, water, rocks, dirt, life forms and people. Make it habitable by creating min-suns (actually fusion reactors that shut down at night). The inhabitants will have to create their own “gravity” by building huge wheels from wood and rope (metals are scarce) and spinning them to generate centrifugal force. Fish and birds—the two are practically indistinguishable—fly or swim with ease. Out beyond the suns lies the cold darkness of winter. Much of this construct, indeed, is counterintuitive but ruthlessly logical. You want a story, too? Eight years earlier, Chaison Fanning, admiral of Slipstream nation’s fleet, conquered Aerie, young Hayden Griffin’s tiny, sunless nation. Now a skilled jet-bike rider, Griffin, having wormed his way into the good graces of Fanning’s beautiful and ambitious wife, Venera, is poised to assassinate the admiral. But when spies uncover a plot by a totalitarian nation to invade Slipstream, Griffin finds himself assisting Fanning, who, he can’t help noticing, is brave and honorable and may not even be guilty. Meanwhile, Griffin notices ship’s armorer Aubri Mahallan; fascinating Aubri, he learns, comes from outside Virga, where a predatory and all but incomprehensible regime, Artificial Nature, reigns supreme. Still on the agenda: stunning naval battles, giant flying icebergs, zero-gee swordfights and a pirate’s treasure that’s at once much less and considerably more than it seems.
Outrageously brilliant and absolutely not to be missed.