The Collapsium by Wil McCarthy
Review by Ernest Lilley
Hardcover - 336 pages (August 1, 2000)
Del Rey; ISBN: 034540856X

 

I was afraid when I started Collapsium that it was about a future too post human for me to relate too. I needn't have worried. Wil McCarthy has again managed to meld the outrageous future with human forces, last time a video reporter on a moon outside of the nanomachine ridden inner solar system, this time a quirky genius immortal drawn towards the inner system to save it from the hubris of engineering. His own in fact.

Bruno de Towji, lately a recluse, is a mad prophet, a former lover of the Queen of the Solar System, and the richest person in all humankind. When the Queen sends her diplomatic robot minions to his planetoid beyond Saturn to demand his audience, he does what she expected and sends them home to fetch her to his laboratory world. Social graces were never his strong suit.

There's a ring around the sun, made of collapsium,  a form of ultra-dense matter, and the devices holding it in place have failed, due to solar storms. In six months it will crash into the Sun...with dire consequences. Shades of Ringworld! Can Bruno save the Solar System, foil a murderer and get the girl? Maybe, but whatever he wins will have a price and the plot deepens with every turn. And he's going to have to learn some manners or at least how to fit in a bit better at parties.

There's a lot of good thinking packed into this book. What does it mean to live for ever on limited real estate? When you can make multiple copies of yourself and reintegrate yourselves at will? What kind of a political structure is man wired for and can you achieve it in a technological society?

Well, for one thing, if there are lots of you around, death's sting isn't quite what it used to be, and that's a very interesting thing. I don't think anyone has written about reintegrating separate selves before, and that's a novel notion I like. The "original" gets to incorporate whatever his other selves have experienced and if they die, well, it's more like forgetting a few minutes than actually losing anything. Wil is a serious science guy, so it's no surprise that his main character is a scientist, a physicist working with black holes to create a window to the end of time, and so obsessed with his goal that he misses quite a bit going on around him. 

I don't recall the last time a book made me laugh out loud, though it should not have been too long ago, I fear it was. I did so here on page 146, an at the book's end I did so again...though my eyes were moist as well.

The automatic reaction with any SF author we like is to compare them to Heinlein. Wil McCarthy has created a story here that is distinctly Asmovian in flavor, though his voice is very much his own. Wil McCarthy is steadily getting better with each book, and he wasn't half bad when he started.