Science fiction and fantasy                                            

The Collapsium

by Wil McCarthy


Wil McCarthy, an engineer for Lockheed Martin at around the time he wrote this novel, clearly has more than a passing interest in physics. The Collapsium is full of the kind of scientific descriptions that would make New Scientist readers feel right at home.

The hero of this story is one Bruno de Towaji, a lone genius who lives on his own mini-planet out on the Kuiper Belt. Surrounded by robots and physics experiments, de Towaji is rich beyond measure thanks to his invention of collapsium. Collapsium is about as dangerous as you would expect a material that's composed of miniature black holes to be. But it makes it possible to transmit matter and information very quickly around the solar system.

A ring of this material, the Ring Collapsiter, has been built around the sun. Only the Ring Collapsiter is unstable. The Queen of Sol, Tamra Lutui, visits Bruno to persuade him to fix it before it falls into the sun and destroys the entire solar system as a result.

So Bruno has the task of saving humanity, as one of the few people who understands collapsium. After spending decades on his own Bruno's people skills are rusty, however. He gets off to a bad start with Marlon Sykes, the scientist leading the Ring Collapsiter project. There's rivalry between Bruno and Marlon, both for the title of Head Geek of all the Universe and for the queen's affections.

The Collapsium suffers from a surfeit of ideas, to the extent that there are too many radical things going on at once. People can "fax" themselves from one end of the solar system to another. In doing so their bodies are sundered, atomised, quantum-entangled and recreated elsewhere, in effect murdering and then instantly recreating themselves. This means that people can create many copies of themselves, copies which can later be reconverged into one individual or destroyed altogether.

People have also become immortal, thanks to the "fax morbidity filter" that removes all signs of illness and disease. Simply by going through the fax, people can change their clothes and physical appearance. Then there's Wellstone, a kind of programmable matter that responds to thought. Terraforming. The Arc de Fin. The list of big ideas goes on, and all of them combine to create a far future that's alien to our own and very difficult to relate to as a result. Any one of these ideas could have made a solid basis for a novel in its own right, but when they're all jumbled together there are too many concepts competing for our attention, and not enough time is devoted to exploring any one of them thoroughly.

Nevertheless this novel is more than a series of big ideas. The storyline is engaging at least, and some of the more technical passages are consigned to an appendix so if you don't like the science you can skip those parts. McCarthy's style is reminiscent of Isaac Asimov's, just as his imagination is similarly expansive.

This novel is more peculiar than thrilling, and the characters tend to lack a certain humanity that would make their troubles seem more immediate. It's the technical details that are described in such an intricate and specific way that you can really believe in them, rather than the people. Yet it doesn't fail utterly in its storytelling. The Collapsium is a little esoteric and dry, but still somewhat entertaining.

Book Details

Year: 2000

Categories: Books

  Science fiction

  Male Protagonist  

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3 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson