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Wil McCarthy
Del Rey Books, 310 pages

Art: Rick Berry
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 works 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.

Wil McCarthy Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Mark Sumner

Nothing in the SF / fantasy field stirs up more excitement than the emergence of a new, honest-to-Asimov science fiction writer. Oh sure, there are thousands of new SF books issued each year, and dozens, if not hundreds, of new authors. But, only a handful of these hopefuls can aspire to the mantle of a Clarke, or find a place among the "Killer B's." Hard science fiction writers who really know their stuff are as rare as common sense in Camelot. In his earlier work, Wil McCarthy hinted (strongly) that he was a contender for the pantheon of hardware gods. With Bloom he assures his ascension.

Like John Varley's Eight Worlds series, Bloom tells of a future in which man has been ousted from the Earth by hostile organisms. But, where Varley's "Invaders" are unknowable, immensely powerful aliens, McCarthy has evicted the would-be lords of the Earth through the actions of creatures so small they can barely be detected. Infinitely tiny nanotechnology has filled Earth with a swarm of hostile creations -- cyber-diseases running wild and growing far more explosively than any plague of nature. Not only has Earth been depopulated by this swarm of hyper-invasive technology, the entire inner portion of the solar system has been lost.

The planets nearest the sun, along with the space between them, are filled with spores of the ever-expanding "Mycophora" colonies. A single particle of this vast colonial organism is capable of converting the metals, ice, and flesh of a human settlement into more mass for the swarm. Only in the coldest, most isolated portions of the system, where the spores operate in the reduced energy environment near absolute zero, is mankind able to cling to a tenuous existence. Even in these desolate places, they must remain ever vigilant against the arrival of the destroying spores.

It's a terrific setup, well in the tradition of scientific dystopias, and a very decent novel could probably have been written against nothing more than this stark, well-thought-out background. But, no sooner does McCarthy paint the picture of this society clinging to the cold edge of our system, than he tears the reader away from dubious safety and plunges straight into the fire.

What follows is a journey that's part odyssey and part a kind of societal coming-of-age, and a prime example of what separates the best hard science fiction of today from some of the novels now regarded as nuts and bolts classics -- characters. Bloom not only has a unique, science-driven story, it has a cast of characters that are thoroughly interesting and generally believable.

As the ship carrying the main character dives toward the deserted, radically-transformed Earth, the story brings readers past a parade of politics, intrigue, and people as strange as the colony of expanding microstuff they struggle against. By the time the end of the novel approaches, revelations abound -- including some that change the whole concept of the microscopic threat.

Bloom is not without some awkward moments: the relationship between the main character and his shipboard object-of-romance seems a bit manufactured, some of the shocking revelations are considerably more shocking to the characters than they are for the observant reader, and the end of the novel leaves more unresolved than I would have liked (probably a sign of an impending sequel). It would also be nice to see more of the universe that McCarthy has created, as the opening of Bloom seems so intent on rushing us into the sunward journey that there's little time to appreciate the real consequences of the universe we're seeing.

But these are minor gripes. Throughout this book, McCarthy has the ideas flying as thickly as the spores that populate his solar system. Bloom is a novel that keeps the fires of Science Fiction well-stoked and still manages to remember that stories are about characters. If another trip into this universe is required to give a complete picture of what's really happening, I'm certainly prepared to buy a return ticket.

Copyright © 1998 Mark Sumner

Mark Sumner is the author of two fantasy novels of the Wild West, Devil's Tower (a 1996 World Fantasy Award nominee) and Devil's Engine, both from Del Rey. He also writes about Savannah Skye, a journalist of strange events, in her adventures News From the Edge: The Monster of Minnesota and News From the Edge: Insanity, Illinois from Ace. For more information, visit Mark Sumner's website.

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