In the eighth decade of the glorious reign of Her Majesty Tamra Lutui, the Queendom of Sol enjoys a peace and prosperity even gods might envy. In fact, two awesome technologies have given human beings all the powers—and caprices—of the gods they once worshiped. The first is wellstone, a form of programmable matter capable of emulating almost any substance: natural, artificial, even hypothetical. The second is collapsium, a deadly crystal, composed of miniature black holes, that allows the virtually instantaneous transmission of information and matter—including humans—throughout the solar system.
Bruno de Towaji, royal consort and the inventor of collapsium, dreams of building the arc de fin, an almost mythical device capable of probing the farthest reaches of spacetime. Marlon Sykes, de Towaji’s rival in both love and science, is meanwhile hard at work on a vast telecommunications project whose first step consists of constructing a ring of collapsium around the sun. But when a ruthless saboteur attacks the Ring Collapsiter and sends it falling toward the sun, the two scientists must put aside personal animosity and combine their prodigious intellects to prevent the destruction of the solar system…and every living thing within it.
Wil McCarthy is a certified science fiction treasure. A real-life rocket scientist with a gorgeous writing style and rapier wit to boot, McCarthy continually sets a very high standard for good old-fashioned space stories. In The Collapsium, McCarthy builds on a lovely novella to tell the far-future story of two scientists entrenched in a rivalry that may save, or destroy, the solar system. Tamra Lutui, the Queen of Sol, brings together the brilliant enemies in order to prevent the Ring Collapsiter, a vast ring of strange matter, from falling into the sun. So it is that Bruno de Towaji, inventor of collapsium—crystals made up of tiny black holes that can transport matter instantaneously across vast distances—must find a way to work with Marlon Sykes, who came up with the Ring to change the nature of communication forever. McCarthy makes liberal use of his extensive science knowledge, especially when he describes the nature of high-concept physics ideas like collapsium or wellstone (programmable matter!), but luckily, his literary skills are up to the task of moving the narrative along, keeping us in suspense, and creating characters who are worth reading about. His descriptions of the physical phenomena surrounding the artifacts of high-energy material manipulation are deft and fascinating:
A handful of collapsons in low orbit had become—seemingly overnight—a nested cage of fractured spacetimes, one within the other like wooden babushka dolls, magical ones, straining at the very underpinnings of universal law. And orbiting right overhead!
Towaji and Sykes labor to save the Queendom and outwit the saboteur trying to wreck the Ring, all the while burdened by a byzantine and bureaucratic social structure with demands for party appearances, verbal sparring, and quick thinking. While those of us who aren’t physics mavens might quail at some of the terms and ideas McCarthy casually uses, it’s his characters and story that make The Collapsium a book to savor, a complex and layered story in the grand tradition of science fiction’s masters. —Therese Littleton