Wild Speculations, Baroque Setting, Light Tone,
This review is from: The Collapsium (Hardcover)Wil McCarthy's new novel, The Collapsium, is built around such scientific speculations based on "edge science" ideas like using black holes as elementary particles. McCarthy plays happily with these ideas, treating them in almost a Tom-Swift fashion, which makes for an implausible but fun SF novel.
The book is set several centuries in the future, or, as the opening line declares, "in the eighth decade of the Queendom of Sol". The social setting for McCarthy's baroque scientific speculations is thus appropriately baroque. The Solar System is united under a monarchy, and the ruler is the heir to the only monarchy that has survived to this time: the Queen of Tonga, Tamra Lutui. The central character is Bruno de Towangi, a brilliant scientist from Catalonia, now living a hermit's life in the Kuiper Belt, on an artificial planet, playing with miniature black holes arranged to form the "element" collapsium, trying to see the end of time. Bruno is a Declarant-Philander, a title which reflects both his high scientific achievements, and his status as former official lover of the "Virgin" Queen, Tamra.
As the novel begins Bruno is summoned by his Queen back to the inner Solar System to solve a problem with the Ring Collapsiter, a ring of collapsium which his rival Marlon Sykes is building around the Sun. This ring will allow faster than light travel and communications, improving on the current system of "faxes", by which people travel at light speed anywhere there is a receiving station, making copies of themselves, copies which retain their memories, and which also can be "edited" to correct internal problems. Thus, humans may have also become immortal.
The novel has three sections which involve successive efforts by Bruno to save the Sun. McCarthy keeps on multiplying his weird scientific speculations: adding in such ideas as "true vacuum", elimination of inertia, electromagnetic grapples, and so on. All this is on the one hand pretty fun, but on the other hand not wholly believable. It's not so much the science itself that is unbelievable: sure, it's all speculative, and probably mostly not very likely to be true, but that's all part of the game, and all the weird stuff is pretty well (for some value of "pretty well") explained in a series of appendices. Rather, Bruno's Tom Swift-like ability to whip up new gadgets base on the new science in quick time becomes somewhat implausible.
That said, given the rather light tone of the whole book (albeit a tone which is at odds with any thought for the millions of innocents who die), it all ends up being quite entertaining. The science is larger-than-life, and so are the characters. Neither is quite believable in a realistic fashion, but both are acceptable within the conventions of this book. It's baroque, superscientific, stuff: kind of like bad '30s pulp SF rewritten to be a pretty good new millennium (almost!) take on those old tropes. It's not great SF, but it's good fun, and full of neat and wild ideas.