Peter D. Tillman is a mining geologist
with two previous fiction sales and many professional and technical
publications. He's lived in Arizona for the past twenty
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by Wil McCarthy
1998, Del Rey, $24, 309 pp.
Reviewed by Peter D. Tillman
Rating: "A/A+". A thoughtful hard-sf novel of ideas. This is a
major work by an oustanding young writer. Highly recommended.
It's been twenty years since humanity was driven from Earth and
the Inner System by a runaway Bloom of mycora, a
"[nano]technologically generated lebensform" (TGL) that's eaten all of
Earth's life (and most of its crust). Humans have retreated to the
moons of Jupiter and the Belt -- the Immunity (Munies) and
Gladholders, respectively -- where constant vigilance is required to
keep the Mycosystem at bay. The mycora are generally thought to
have been created in an industrial accident, but human malice -- or
an extrasolar origin -- can't be ruled out.
[SF] was a commercial genre born in the old adventure pulp magazines
of the first third of the twentieth century, aimed primarily at
adolescent males, which, over the decades, in fits and starts,
evolved into an intellectually credible, scientifically germane,
transcendental literature without losing its popular base.
Of what other literature in the history of the western world can
this truly be said?
-- Norman Spinrad
The viewpoint character (who isn't the strong point of the book, but
is more believable than his girlfriend), is a part-time newsnet
columnist in Ganymede, a member-state of the Immunity -- a
rather Teutonic, no-nonsense culture, contrasted nicely with the
more laid-back, Latinate culture in the Gladholdings. The
Gladholders may be more technically advanced.
The Immunity is sending a well-protected (they hope) ship to the
Inner System -- the first since the Evacuation -- to plant sensors and
scout the Mycosystem. The ship leaves early, after a sabotage
attempt, and makes an unscheduled stop in the Gladholdings for
fuel and supplies....
Beh. I didn't set out to write a plot summary -- see links below for
that. As in many SF novels, the plot and characters are there to
support the Neat Ideas -- of which there are lots. And McCarthy
writes in a crisp modern style that is more than adequate.
Did I mention the ladderdown transmutation reactors? The cryonic
witch's tits? The Philusburg Optima (release 1.4) phage?
Hmmph. Am I getting across here? Sometimes these reviews just
about write themselves. Other times, like now, I end up with
disjointed bits and pieces all over the screen. What I'm trying to
say is, this is a really neat book. If you like the Good Hard Stuff --
Vinge, G. Egan, Nagata, WJ Williams -- this is your kind of book. So
go read it, OK? And let me know what you think.
And, if you like Bloom, go back and read Aggressor Six, his very
impressive 1994 debut novel. I'd tell you more, but I gave my copy
to someone who needed a Really Good book. (OOP but available
through author's website, below.)
I just finished The Fall of Sirius (1996), sequel to A6 -- it's another
first-rate book, arguably better than Bloom (and out in paperback).
His "Waister" alien invaders are convincing -- and chilling. See
Ernest Lilley's nicely-done review at http://members.aol.com/sfrevu/. Highly recommended.
I've now read all five of Mr. McCarthy's novels. All are well-
extrapolated, well-thought-out hard-sf, which is my sfnal meat-and-
potatoes. Three (A6, FoS, Bloom) are outstanding ("A/A+") books.
Murder in the Solid State (1996, "A") is a successful SF-mystery hybrid.
Check Christina Schulman's (slightly snippy) review, at
Flies from the Amber (1995, "A/A-"), suffers only in comparison to
the "killer 3".
Mr. McCarthy, now 32, is off to an amazingly strong start in what I
hope will be a long and fruitful hard-sf career. Five novels in five
years, and he's a Lockheed rocket engineer in his day job -- does the
man ever sleep?
Wil McCarthy on fiction:
I'd say he's pretty well on target.
"The problem with action/adventure fiction is that most of it is
dumb as rocks. The problem with literary fiction is that for all its
beauty and depth, there's usually not much going on.... [My] goal in
writing is to find the edge that balances action and depth,
entertainment and enlightenment, science and fiction."
Other reviews and plot summaries: