Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
The Collapsium
Wil McCarthy
Victor Gollancz, 325 pages

Chris Moore
The Collapsium
Wil McCarthy
Wil McCarthy was born in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1966. In 1984, he moved to Boulder, Colorado, to attend the University of Colorado. He worked as an aerospace engineer for the Lockheed Martin Corporation in Denver, designing satellite orbits for the Titan series of rockets for NASA and the Department of Defense. He is now a robotics engineer at Omnitech.

Wil McCarthy Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Collapsium
SF Site Review: Bloom
SF Site Review: Bloom
Review: The Collapsium
Review: The Collapsium
Review: Fall of Sirius
The zero-point field theory: does the zitterbewegung wag the dog?

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

One of the time-honoured SF themes is the exploration of what we might call "edge science": ideas that are current in the scientific world, but far from established, often very speculative, sometimes even close to kooky. Wil McCarthy's novel, The Collapsium, is built wholly around such wacky scientific speculations.

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, in an attempt to create an arc de fin, which will allow him 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.

The first section, "Once Upon a Matter Crushed," was originally published as a novella in SF Age, in 1999. In this section 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.

This first section sets up the conflict that will be repeated in all three of the book's sections. Bruno is called in-system to solve a problem with the Ring Collapsiter that endangers the Sun, and hence all humanity. He needs to deal with Marlon Sykes' jealousy, with the technical problem causing the danger to the Sun, and with the human problem motivating someone to so endanger the Ring Collapsiter and the Sun. Thus, to some extent the three sections are a bit repetitive. In addition, 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 explained in a series of appendices. Rather, Bruno's Tom Swift-like ability to whip up new gadgets based 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, super-scientific, stuff: kind of like bad 30s pulp SF rewritten to be a pretty good new millennium take on those old tropes. It's not great SF, but it's good fun, and full of neat and wild ideas.

Copyright © 2001 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide