Fiction Reviews

The Collapsium

(2001) Wil McCarthy, Gollancz, £6.99, pbk, pp325, ISBN 1 85798 326 2, alternate format lgpbk, £10.99, 325pp, ISBN 0-575-06893-0

My first impressions were that techno-babble ruled supreme and that we didn't really need a story from Wil. I was pleasantly shocked a wee while later when I discovered that McCarthy was playing far more than I'd realised. Despite the title and the connotations of Supersymmetry gone mad (well, we do have Baxter if we need that), I feel the core of the book revolves around the culture. They have teleportation, and depending on this McCarthy expands on a theme used at least once before: multiple copies of people abound in this culture. I recall a short story of a criminal using teleportation this way, but this is the first I've encountered where "Copy Hours" is an economic factor for everyone. Although this is not hilarious in itself, there is a distinct sense of fun pervading the novel; fun with modern physics and fun with conversations between copied people who had to find out what the other had been up to.

I like this idea and would recommend this book as a fun, easy read. But I'd love someone with a heavier weight and darker insight to work with this.

Graham Connor

Tony Chester provides a second review below

The promise engendered by McCarthy's first novel, Bloom, has been more than fulfilled by this gorgeous novel. There is a glorious nostalgia inherent in its rigorous scientific speculation, and in its format of appearing like 3 novellas stuck together, just like in the good old days (ahem). There are 4 appendices (including a glossary) which, hither and yon include a technical/scientific reading list for those readers so inclined, but you don't need to read all about 'squeezed vacuum', 'zero point energy' and 'semi-safe black holes' to enjoy this thrilling ride.

It begins when Bruno de Towaji, inventor of collapsium, is called upon to prevent the fall of Marlon Sykes' Ring Collapsiter into the sun. Bruno would much prefer to be spending time on his own planet at the farthest reaches of the solar system, building the probe that will allow him to see the end of time, but his Queen (and former lover) Tamra commands him to help. At first he does not get on well with Sykes, also a former lover of the Queen, but necessity helps him to co-operate. But who sabotaged the Ring Collapsiter project in the first place, and what other dastardly plots does the unseen villain have in store? Can Bruno save the Queendom of Sol and, if so, at what cost…?

This book is an utter delight to read and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I'll admit that that's partly because I'm now of mature years (cough, cough) and this novel is reminiscent of the way SF used to be (ie. plot, rather than character, driven), but mostly it's just that (reading list or no) it's nice to see someone who cares to have some honest-to-god science in their science fiction. In that respect, I think that McCarthy is up there with Greg Egan and others, and long may he be so. Roll on the next one…

Tony Chester

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