The Collapsium

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In this stunningly original tale, acclaimed author Wil McCarthy imagines a wondrous future in which the secrets of matter have been unlocked and death itself is but a memory. But it is also a future imperiled by a bitter rivalry between two brilliant scientists—one perhaps the greatest genius in the history of humankind; the other, its greatest monster.

The Collapsium

In a world of awesome technology, the deadly substance called collapsium has ...

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In this stunningly original tale, acclaimed author Wil McCarthy imagines a wondrous future in which the secrets of matter have been unlocked and death itself is but a memory. But it is also a future imperiled by a bitter rivalry between two brilliant scientists—one perhaps the greatest genius in the history of humankind; the other, its greatest monster.

The Collapsium

In a world of awesome technology, the deadly substance called collapsium has given humans all the powers and caprices—including immortality—of the gods they once worshiped. Composed of miniature black holes, collapsium allows the instantaneous transmission of information and matter—as well as humans—throughout the solar system. But while its reclusive inventor, Bruno de Towaji, next dreams of probing the farthest reaches of spacetime, Marlon Sykes, his ambitious rival in science—and in love—has built an awesome telecommunications network by constructing a ring of collapsium around the sun. It appears Sykes may be the victor—until a ruthless saboteur attacks the ring and sends it falling toward the sun. Now the two scientists must put aside personal animosity to prevent the destruction of the solar system—and every living thing within it.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"McCarthy is an entertaining, intelligent, amusing writer, with Heinlein's knack for breakneck plotting and, at the same time, Clarke's thoughtfulness."

“A standout novel. McCarthy has added a lyricism reminiscent of Roger ZelaZny to cutting-edge hard science in the manner of Robert L. Forward.”
The Denver Post

“‘Imagination really is the only limit.’”
The New York Times

“The future as McCarthy sees it is a wondrous place.”
—Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Even when faced with multiple disasters created by mankind's over-reaching itself, the future as robotics expert McCarthy Bloom sees it is a wondrous place, filled with interesting scientific problems and intelligent people eager to tackle those problems. Foremost among the titans of the future is Bruno de Towaji, a scientific genius so exceptionally rich he has built his own miniature planet. There he performs experiments on collapsium, a crystalline matter composed of black holes that allow for the "bending and twisting of spacetime to his personal whims." He has been at this for many years of his immortal life, until he is called out of his happy hermitage by his former lover, Her Majesty Tamra Lutui, the Virgin Queen of All Things. Her scientists, led by Declarant Sykes, have built a collapsium ring around the sun that is now dangerously unstable; Bruno's expertise is needed to save the day. Bruno is used to having people need too much of him. Yet as the story progresses, what with murder and treachery being uncovered and the problems the queendom faces growing ever more complex, Bruno grows nobly into his role of both scientific and heroic savior. While there are amusing attributes and quirks to McCarthy's characters such as Queen Tamra's virginity being a renewable asset, the greater pleasures of this novel lie in its hard science extrapolations. McCarthy plays up his technical strengths by providing a useful appendix and glossary for the mathematically inclined reader. Aug. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In a distant future where programmable matter and the discovery of "collapsium" guarantee both limitless power and relative immortality, scientist Bruno de Towaji desires nothing more than his own company. When a cosmic disaster, with overtones of sabotage, imperils the existence of the universe, Bruno must reenter the society of others--including his greatest rival--to save the world. The author of Bloom once again demonstrates his talent for mind-expanding sf. Vibrant with humor, drama, and quirky ideas, this is highly recommended for sf collections. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553584431
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/26/2002
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 428
  • Sales rank: 761,110
  • Product dimensions: 4.13 (w) x 6.38 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Wil McCarthy, after ten years of rocket science with Lockheed Martin, traded the hectic limelight of the space program for the peace and quiet (ha!) of commercial robotics at Omnitech, where he works as a research and development hack.

He writes a monthly column for the SciFi Channel's news magazine, and his less truthful writings have appeared in Aboriginal SF, Analog, Interzone, Asimov's Science Fiction, Science Fiction Age, and various anthologies. His most recent novel, Bloom, was selected as a New York Times Notable Book.

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Read an Excerpt

in which an

important experiment

is disrupted

In the eighth decade of the queendom of Sol, on a miniature planet in the middle depths of the Kuiper Belt, there lived a man named Bruno de Towaji who, at the time of our earliest attention, was beginning his 3088th morning walk around the world.

The word "morning" is used advisedly here, since along the way he walked through the day and night and back again without pausing to rest. It was a very small planet, barely six hundred meters across, circled by an even tinier "sun" and "moon" of Bruno's own design.

Walk with him: see his footpath cutting through the blossomy mea-
dow, feel the itch of pollens in your eyes and nose. Now pass through into the midday forest, with its shafts of sunlight filtering warmly through the canopy. The trees are low and wide, citrus and honeysuckle and dogwood, not so much a shady, mushroom-haunted wilderness as a compromise with physical law—taller trees would reach right out of the troposphere.
As it is, the highest limbs brush and break apart the puffy summer clouds that happen by.

Pass the Northern Hills; watch the stream trickle out between them; see the forest give way to willows at its bank. The bridge is a quaint little arch of native wood; on the far side lie the grasslands of afternoon, the vegetable gardens tended by stoop-backed robots, the fields of wild barley and maize tended by no one, lit by slantwise rays. Behind you, the sun dips low, then slips behind the planet's sharply curved horizon. Despite the refraction of atmospheric hazes, darkness is sudden, and with it the terrain grows rocky—not jagged but hard and flat and boulder-strewn,
dotted with hardy Mediterranean weeds. But here the stream winds back again, and as evening fades to night the channel of it widens out into cattail marshland and feeds, and finally, into a little freshwater sea.
Sometimes the moon is out, drawing long white reflections across the silent water, but tonight it's only the stars and the Milky Way haze and the distant, pinpoint gleam of Sol. All of history's down there; if you like,
you can cover the human race with your hand.

It grows colder; realize the planet shields you from the little sun—
the only local heat source—with the deadly chill of outer space so close you could literally throw a rock into it. But the beach leads around to twilight meadows, and the horizon ruddies up with scattered light,
and then suddenly it's morning again, the sun breaking warmly above the planet's round edge. And there is Bruno's house: low, flat, gleam-
ing marble-white and morning-yellow. You've walked a little over two kilometers.

Such was Bruno's morning constitutional, very much like all his others.
Sometimes he'd fetch a coat and take the other route, over the hills, over the poles, through cold and dark and cold and hot, but that was mainly a masochism thing; the polar route was actually shorter, and a good deal less scenic.

He'd already eaten breakfast; the walk was to aid his digestion, to invigorate his mind for the needs of the day: his experiments. The front door opened for him. Inside, robot servants stepped gracefully out of his way, providing a clear path to the study, bowing as he passed, though he'd told them a thousand times not to. He grumbled at them wordlessly as he passed. They didn't reply, of course, though their bronze and tin-gray manikin bodies hummed and clicked with faint life. Mechanical, unburdened by imagination or want, they were utterly dedicated to his comfort, his satisfaction.

Another door opened for him, closed behind him, vanished. He waved a hand,
and the windows became walls. Waved another, and the ceiling lights vanished, the floor lights vanished, the desk and chairs and other furnishings became optical superconductors: invisible. Projective holography created the illusion of his day's apparatus: fifty collapsons,
tiny perfect cubes visible as pinpoints of Cerenkov light, powder-blue and pulsing faintly, circling the holographic planet in a complex dance of swapping orbits.

He'd spent the past week assembling these, after his last batch had gone sour.

Assembling them? Certainly.

Imagine a sphere of di-clad neutronium, shiny with Compton-scattered light. It's a sort of very large atomic nucleus; a billion tons of normal matter crushed down to a diameter of three centimeters so that the protons and electrons that comprise it are bonded together into a thick neutron paste. Left to itself it would, within nanoseconds, explode back into a billion tons of protons and electrons, this time with considerable outward momentum. Hence the cladding: crystalline diamond and fibrediamond and then crystalline again, with a bound layer of well-stone on top. Tough stuff indeed; breaking the neutrons free of their little jail was difficult enough that Bruno had never heard of its happening by accident.

These "neubles" were the seeds of seeds—it took eight of them, crushed unimaginably farther, to build a collapson—and the little "moon" was actually just Bruno's storage bin: ten thousand neubles held together by their own considerable gravity. Another fifteen hundred formed the core of the tiny planet, a sphere about half a meter across, with a skeleton of wellstone built on top of it, fleshed out with a few hundred meters of dirt and rock and an upper layer neatly sculpted by robots and artisans.

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Interviews & Essays

Hmm. Bantam has asked me to spice up this newsletter with something fun, interesting and unique, about my two Bantam Spectra novels, THE COLLAPSIUM and THE WELLSTONE. Or about science and technology and their impact on human affairs ("like the stuff you do for WIRED and the SciFi channel, Wil."). But you know, that's the sort of writing I do every day. That's my job. Well, that and engineering; over the years I've worked on robots and rockets, lasers and satellites, quantum dots and programmable matter, and even some secret stuff I can't tell you about. People do seem to find these subjects interesting, but I've written all about them for years and years. Read my novels if you want that stuff. That's what hard science fiction is for.
But what's really on my mind right now -- and on a lot of other minds out there, I'm sure -- are the basics of daily life: love, sex, food, death, home improvement, and the raising of children. I have two kids of my own, and yeah, they're a handful. And no, I can't think of anything I'd rather be than their daddy. It's a title I'll hold until the day I die, and indeed, there's nothing like a birth or two to remind you -- albeit pleasantly -- of your own mortality.
Like most people, I feel my life could be better in a number of particulars. But one thing about real life is that "better" usually gets steamrollered by "good enough." I've lived in the same house for 13 years now, not because it's my dream house but because it was the finest I could afford at age 23, and since then I've had no compelling reason to move. But now the kids are getting bigger, my wife and I are feeling restless and cramped, and theHouse on the Hill we've been staring up at for years just went on the market. And we're buying it, though the cost is dear. Like anything worth having, houses are always too expensive.
Is there anything more romantic and terrifying than purchasing a piece of the Earth? Is there anything quite as cleansing as a move? You pack up all the things you love, throw away all the things you don't, and when you're done the view outside the window is different. Hopefully better, but definitely different.
When there are children involved, you can't help wondering if you're doing the right thing. Is this better for them? Is it worse? Is it good enough? Kids are adaptable -- they'll slot right into any environment and call it normal -- but we all remember the way we ourselves grew up. We're anxious to give our children the same opportunities we had, and to shelter them from the problems we suffered through. Each generation finds its own answers, and each one gets it wrong in various ways which then crystallize the resentments of the next generation. And so it goes -- one way or another, we're definitely screwing our kids. But we mean well, and in the end that's all the little bastards can ask for.
This, by the way, is what my books are about: Life. People. Moving on. Solutions which bring fresh problems. Oh, sure, I love the eye candy, the brain candy. I throw in some quantum gravity, a space battle or two, and a bit of "wellstone" programmable matter (which really is cool stuff -- look it up if you're interested). These keep the story hopping, which is good because a brisk plot is important to me. They also give readers a bit more to think about than a mainstream novel really allows. But "hard science fiction" can be an intimidating label, because in addition to providing outlandish stories which could maybe actually happen, it can sometimes obscure the things that matter even more. If you ask me, any honest story is, at heart, a reexamination of our own humanity -- our love, sex, food, death, homes and families -- in a fun, fresh context. Or why bother telling it at all? Laser beams are cool, but what we really care about are the people who use them, or get shot by them, or whatever. Why do they need a laser? How are they going to get power for it, and are they going to die or maybe have sex? That's drama. That's what great fiction is all about. And mine, too! <wink>
-- Wil McCarthy, November 2002
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