Schroeder, Karl -- Ashes of Candesce (Virga, book 5)

After an onerous wait, Schroeder assembles the main characters from the first four Virga books plus a new protagonist, and attempts to wrap up the series in a multi-viewpoint blaze of glory. I can't say all the threads held together for me. I can't say he should have spent more pages gluing it together, either -- this series could have bloated out into another three volumes of resolution, and I give Schroeder credit for avoiding this.

Instead, he appears to followed the "write all the awesome scenes, skip everything else" model of novel construction. The result is undeniably full of awesome, but leaves me wishing he'd spent less time setting up and more structuring a single coherent series arc.

The worldbuilding mystery of the series -- "what does Artificial Nature mean?" -- is pretty well answered, but in a tell-not-show way; I didn't find it a satisfying Big Idea. Yes, aggressive oak trees and killer tulip planters are nifty. No, they don't add up to a good portrayal of posthuman/postconscious ecosystems. Schroeder has been tackling this one since Ventus. (Stross has taken stabs at it too, with "Missile Gap" and the Economy 2.0 stuff and so on.) I hope he (they) keep at it; I think there's something down there, but the great Idea SF Novel for it has yet to be written. Unless it was Blindsight, in which case eww.

(There's also a quantum-gravity-math macguffin which I don't buy at all. To be fair, it only shows up in one scene. To be fair in the other direction, it's crucial to the Virga setting and its weakness undermines the whole series for me. Oh well.)

But, setting aside my inner twelve-year-old's "I want my mind-blowing idea" tantrum, the series wraps up with a perfectly acceptable action blowout involving end-to-end avalanches, missile attacks, bug hunts, triple-intertwined hostage rescue missions, fleet actions, and (of course) a chase scene into the heart of a live fusion reactor. So you can read it for that.

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