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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 years.

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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.

[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

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.
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 http://cafe.ambrosiasw.com/~schulman/SF/. 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:

"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."

I'd say he's pretty well on target.

Other reviews and plot summaries: