*NOT* A Hugo-Review: _The Collapsium_ By Wil McCarthy

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Courtenay Footman

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Sep 25, 2000, 3:00:00 AM9/25/00
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In article <j8rvssc6tovum9nsp...@4ax.com>, Steve Parker wrote:
>We've even got a good, old-fashioned SCIENCE-HERO, in the style of Doc
>Smith. I can't remember the last good Science-Hero (the type who's
>always first to save the day with a gadget, his quick wits or
>occasionally a good right-hook). Ralph-124C41+ and Richard Seaton from
>_The Skylark of Space_ would be happy to know Bruno de Towaji.
>
The last Science-Hero I remember was Sheffield's McAndrews. I may have
read others subsequent to him, but he was the last one that really worked.
(How do I know that any such hypothetical heros after him didn't work?
Well, I don't remember them, so they can't have worked!)

--
Courtenay Footman I have again gotten back on the net, and
c...@lightlink.com again I will never get anything done.
(All mail from non-valid addresses is automatically deleted by my system.)


Steve Parker

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Sep 25, 2000, 8:30:10 PM9/25/00
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Grade: A

Wil McCarthy knows something that Stephen Baxter doesn't: It doesn't
matter how B*I*G or exciting your ideas are if you don't have
interesting characters involved with them. I read and reviewed
Baxter's _Time_ a while ago and now, say 5 months later, can't
remember anything about the characters other than the protagonist's
name was something like Maleficant and a vague recollection of liking
the space-squid.

McCarthy's _The Collapsium_, on the other hand, deals with similarly
large ideas (well, not *as* large, but still pretty big), but is
populated with people who I knew and cared about; Bruno de Towaji, the
reclusive scientist; Tamra, Queen of the solar-system; Hugo the robot,
Vivian, Marlon, etc.

It's obvious that McCarthy is having the same sort of fun playing with
ideas that Niven did back in Niven's glory-days. I don't know how
accurate the science actually is, but as much fun as this story was, I
didn't care. McCarthy also uses a odd, fairy-tale-esque narrative
style that I found extremely engaging. The story isn't pulp
space-opera, but it has echoes of it. It's refreshingly readable.

I've got to ask, though: What's up with this "True Vacuum" thing? In
the last three weeks, I've seen it three times: It was in _The
Collapsium_, _Callahan's Key_, and a science book a friend's reading
called _The Last Three Minutes Of The Universe_(I think)...is this an
idea that grabbed everyone's attention at once like nanotech did, or
has it been out there all along and I've just missed it?

We've even got a good, old-fashioned SCIENCE-HERO, in the style of Doc
Smith. I can't remember the last good Science-Hero (the type who's
always first to save the day with a gadget, his quick wits or
occasionally a good right-hook). Ralph-124C41+ and Richard Seaton from
_The Skylark of Space_ would be happy to know Bruno de Towaji.

I highly recommend this book for the characters, 'sensawonda' and raw
fun. It's one of those rare books where it's obvious that the author's
having a good time writing it and his enjoyment is infectious.

In brief, the plot deals with period of the future rarely if ever
dealt with before in SF: the onset of God-Tech. We're *just* short of
being Ringworld Engineers. But we're getting there. In the book, the
technology exists to Fax oneself at the speed of light to one or more
destinations (multiple copies can exist at once and then you can
recombine yourselves later). They are, however, limited by lightspeed
which can be tedious if you're faxing yourself to a planet on the
other side of the sun. (You have to go through a relay station and
that can take minutes!). A grand project is designed to build a ring
of Collapsium (a type of super-compressed matter) around the sun
which, due to it's unique properties will allow instantaneous
transmission.

The story opens with the Queen of the Solar-System (Tamra) paying a
visit to Bruno De Towaji, the leading scientist in the Solar System
(he invented Collapsium). He's been hanging around the Kuiper Belt,
trying to build an Arc de Fin (a portal through which to see the end
of time). He's been a recluse for decades, but Tamra, his old lover
has come to get him to save the solar system. The Collapsium Ring is
falling into the sun.

S

P

O

I

L

E

R

S

He saves them, but a decade later, the same thing happens again. He
saves them a second time, and again, rushes back to the seclusion of
his planetoid.

Another decade passes and his solitude is interrupted once again. A
bootleg copy of himself appears: the bootleg de Towaji has been
tortured by <the bad-guy...I don't want to spoil more than is
necessary>. <The bad-guy> has sent the bootleg copy to de Towaji to
prove that de Towaji can be broken. <The bad-guy> has turned off the
fax-network and sent a message via the bootleg (who is eventually
nicknamed "Muddy") that <the bad-guy> is going to destroy the sun. And
Bwah-ha-ha, de Towaji is helpless to do anything about it.

Not so. <the Bad Guy> has forgotten that de Towaji is...A SCIENCE
HERO!... And any science hero with a backyard, and raw materials can
build a spaceship. Not only does he build one, he builds an
inertialess spaceship. The last section with the chase across the
solar-system, the rescuing of a bunch of characters, the storming of
<the bad guy's> fortress and the saving of the solar-system is
wonderful. Great fun, dramatic, emotional...what more could one ask
for?

Again, highly recommended.

Steve
--
My Hugo-reviews Page (now featuring SPOILER SPACE!) can be found at
http://www.crosswinds.net/~sparker9/home.html

The Bene Tleilax

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Sep 25, 2000, 10:51:12 PM9/25/00
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Yup, this book's a keeper all right.

--
"Some mycora eat lightly, sucking up building blocks like carbon
and hydrogen while leaving the heavier elements alone, but this
one was pulling the gold right off the streets."
-- Wil McCarthy, BLOOM
Ben

dbt...@sp2n23-t.missouri.edu

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Sep 25, 2000, 11:45:45 PM9/25/00
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Courtenay Footman (c...@adore.lightlink.com) wrote:

: In article <j8rvssc6tovum9nsp...@4ax.com>, Steve Parker wrote:
: >We've even got a good, old-fashioned SCIENCE-HERO, in the style of Doc


: >Smith. I can't remember the last good Science-Hero (the type who's
: >always first to save the day with a gadget, his quick wits or
: >occasionally a good right-hook). Ralph-124C41+ and Richard Seaton from
: >_The Skylark of Space_ would be happy to know Bruno de Towaji.

: >
: The last Science-Hero I remember was Sheffield's McAndrews. I may have


: read others subsequent to him, but he was the last one that really worked.
: (How do I know that any such hypothetical heros after him didn't work?
: Well, I don't remember them, so they can't have worked!)

By thunder, now there was a man! Baxter had some later Cool
Science Dudes in his Xeelee universe (is Raft part of the
cycle?), but they weren't terribly well done, and I understand
his later work is even worse.

Hmmmm . . . do the protagonists in Egan's "Diaspora" count?

Captain Button

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Sep 26, 2000, 12:45:29 AM9/26/00
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Wild-eyed conspiracy theorists insist that on 26 Sep 2000 03:45:45 GMT, dbt...@sp2n23-t.missouri.edu wrote:
> Courtenay Footman (c...@adore.lightlink.com) wrote:

[ snip ]

> By thunder, now there was a man! Baxter had some later Cool
> Science Dudes in his Xeelee universe (is Raft part of the
> cycle?), but they weren't terribly well done, and I understand
> his later work is even worse.

Yes, Raft is explictly part of the Xeelee sequence. One of the
human warships attacking the Xeelee [1] falls through the ring into
the hi-gravity universe.


[1] They may be Cool Science Dudes, but they have a truely terminal
case of Swelled Head Syndrome. The human assaults on the Xeelee
make Japan attacking the US in WW2 look like strategic brilliance.
Their chances make the Idiran and Affront attacks on the Culture
look like walkovers.

Unless it was actually a plot to get rid of an inconvenient political
figure, that is...

--
"You may have trouble getting permission to aero or lithobrake
asteroids on Earth." - James Nicoll
Captain Button - [ but...@io.com ]

dbt...@sp2n23-t.missouri.edu

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Sep 26, 2000, 12:55:49 AM9/26/00
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Captain Button (but...@io.com) wrote:

: Wild-eyed conspiracy theorists insist that on 26 Sep 2000 03:45:45 GMT, dbt...@sp2n23-t.missouri.edu wrote:
: > Courtenay Footman (c...@adore.lightlink.com) wrote:

: [ snip ]

: > By thunder, now there was a man! Baxter had some later Cool
: > Science Dudes in his Xeelee universe (is Raft part of the
: > cycle?), but they weren't terribly well done, and I understand
: > his later work is even worse.

: Yes, Raft is explictly part of the Xeelee sequence. One of the
: human warships attacking the Xeelee [1] falls through the ring into
: the hi-gravity universe.

Thanks. Haven't read it yet, hadn't intended to, but will now
do so for completeness' sake

: [1] They may be Cool Science Dudes, but they have a truely terminal


: case of Swelled Head Syndrome. The human assaults on the Xeelee
: make Japan attacking the US in WW2 look like strategic brilliance.
: Their chances make the Idiran and Affront attacks on the Culture
: look like walkovers.

: Unless it was actually a plot to get rid of an inconvenient political
: figure, that is...

Yeah, I got that a lot of Baxter's heroes have a rather fine
opinion of themselves.

Jordan S. Bassior

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Sep 26, 2000, 3:00:00 AM9/26/00
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Captin Button said:

>[1] They may be Cool Science Dudes, but they have a truely terminal
>case of Swelled Head Syndrome. The human assaults on the Xeelee
>make Japan attacking the US in WW2 look like strategic brilliance.
>Their chances make the Idiran and Affront attacks on the Culture
>look like walkovers.

Our actual motive for attacking the Xeelee, rather than simply studying them,
trying to communicate wtih them, and in the meantime building up our strength,
seemed unclear. I think Baxter said something about us having to challenge them
because 1) their giga-engineering projects endangered us, and 2) they were top
dogs, but it rather had the flavor of the Rats of NIMH trying to start an
atomic war with America.


--
Sincerely Yours,
Jordan
--
"Whoever would be a man must be a non-conformist" (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
--

James Nicoll

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Sep 26, 2000, 3:00:00 AM9/26/00
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In article <20000926074658...@ng-cr1.aol.com>,
Jordan S. Bassior <jsba...@aol.com> wrote:

>Captin Button said:
>
>>[1] They may be Cool Science Dudes, but they have a truely terminal
>>case of Swelled Head Syndrome. The human assaults on the Xeelee
>>make Japan attacking the US in WW2 look like strategic brilliance.
>>Their chances make the Idiran and Affront attacks on the Culture
>>look like walkovers.
>
>Our actual motive for attacking the Xeelee, rather than simply studying them,
>trying to communicate wtih them, and in the meantime building up our strength,
>seemed unclear. I think Baxter said something about us having to challenge them
>because 1) their giga-engineering projects endangered us,

On a timescale long than it would take the sun to burn out.
The Xeelee sequence humans are just daft.


--
Much apologies but my return path is temporarily broken. Please
use jdni...@home.com instead.

dbt...@sp2n23-t.missouri.edu

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Sep 26, 2000, 3:00:00 AM9/26/00
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James Nicoll (jam...@nyquist.uwaterloo.ca) wrote:

: In article <20000926074658...@ng-cr1.aol.com>,


: Jordan S. Bassior <jsba...@aol.com> wrote:
: >Captin Button said:

: >
: >>[1] They may be Cool Science Dudes, but they have a truely terminal


: >>case of Swelled Head Syndrome. The human assaults on the Xeelee
: >>make Japan attacking the US in WW2 look like strategic brilliance.
: >>Their chances make the Idiran and Affront attacks on the Culture
: >>look like walkovers.

: >
: >Our actual motive for attacking the Xeelee, rather than simply studying them,


: >trying to communicate wtih them, and in the meantime building up our strength,
: >seemed unclear. I think Baxter said something about us having to challenge them
: >because 1) their giga-engineering projects endangered us,

: On a timescale long than it would take the sun to burn out.
: The Xeelee sequence humans are just daft.

iirc, it was more like five million years. Some group of
mysterious beings were causing the universe to age much
quicker than current astrophysical theories allowed for,
and the Xeelee most emphatically did *not* want to tangle
with them.

Jordan S. Bassior

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Sep 26, 2000, 3:00:00 AM9/26/00
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James Nicoll said:

>On a timescale long than it would take the sun to burn out.

I had that thought too. It seems to me that over such an expanse of time, it
would make more sense for us to try to augment and improve ourselves until we
grew to capabilities equal or greater than that of the Xeelee (by which point
we might understand what they were doing) than for us to "scream and leap" at
them. :)

Justin Fang

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Sep 26, 2000, 3:00:00 AM9/26/00
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In article <8qqdeh$ac7$1...@dipsy.missouri.edu>,
<dbt...@sp2n23-t.missouri.edu> wrote:

>James Nicoll (jam...@nyquist.uwaterloo.ca) wrote:
>: On a timescale long than it would take the sun to burn out.
>: The Xeelee sequence humans are just daft.

>iirc, it was more like five million years. Some group of
>mysterious beings were causing the universe to age much
>quicker than current astrophysical theories allowed for,
>and the Xeelee most emphatically did *not* want to tangle
>with them.

Spoilers for Baxter's Xeelee sequence.

"Photino birds", entities made of supersymmetric particles[1] which lived
in stars. Unfortunately for normal-matter beings, this involved rapidly
aging the stars. No malice on their part; they probably didn't even notice
the Xeelee, much less the humans (with one exception, sort of).

The Xeelee couldn't deal with them, so to escape to another universe they
built the Ring (huge artifact made of cosmic string; it massed enough to
draw all nearby galaxies towards it and was the "Great Attractor" observed
by modern-day human astronomers) to escape to another universe. Humanity,
instead of following suit, decided to attack the construction of the Ring.
Admittedly, they might not have figured out what it was for, but, like
James says, this is still daft.

All IIRC, that is.

[1] Supersymmetry: an attempt to construct a Theory of Everything which
postulated, for technical reasons beyond my comprehension, that each of the
fundamental particles we currently know about has a counterpart with higher
spin. Now superseded by string/brane theory, if I understand correctly.


James Nicoll

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Sep 26, 2000, 3:00:00 AM9/26/00
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In article <20000926123132...@ng-cr1.aol.com>,

Jordan S. Bassior <jsba...@aol.com> wrote:
>James Nicoll said:
>
>>On a timescale long than it would take the sun to burn out.
>
>I had that thought too. It seems to me that over such an expanse of time, it
>would make more sense for us to try to augment and improve ourselves until we
>grew to capabilities equal or greater than that of the Xeelee (by which point
>we might understand what they were doing) than for us to "scream and leap" at
>them. :)

These are people who -knew- that powerful aliens would invade
and conquer us some centuries in advance and did nothing effective
to avoid or prevent it.

James Nicoll

Danny Sichel

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Sep 26, 2000, 8:13:26 PM9/26/00
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Courtenay Footman wrote:

> In article <j8rvssc6tovum9nsp...@4ax.com>, Steve Parker wrote:
> >We've even got a good, old-fashioned SCIENCE-HERO, in the style of Doc
> >Smith. I can't remember the last good Science-Hero (the type who's
> >always first to save the day with a gadget, his quick wits or
> >occasionally a good right-hook). Ralph-124C41+ and Richard Seaton from
> >_The Skylark of Space_ would be happy to know Bruno de Towaji.
> >
> The last Science-Hero I remember was Sheffield's McAndrews. I may have
> read others subsequent to him, but he was the last one that really worked.
> (How do I know that any such hypothetical heros after him didn't work?
> Well, I don't remember them, so they can't have worked!)

Tom Strong, by Alan Moore.

The Bene Tleilax

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Sep 26, 2000, 11:18:12 PM9/26/00
to
Courtenay Footman wrote:
>
> In article <j8rvssc6tovum9nsp...@4ax.com>, Steve Parker wrote:
> >We've even got a good, old-fashioned SCIENCE-HERO, in the style of Doc
> >Smith. I can't remember the last good Science-Hero (the type who's
> >always first to save the day with a gadget, his quick wits or
> >occasionally a good right-hook). Ralph-124C41+ and Richard Seaton from
> >_The Skylark of Space_ would be happy to know Bruno de Towaji.
> >
> The last Science-Hero I remember was Sheffield's McAndrews. I may have
> read others subsequent to him, but he was the last one that really worked.
> (How do I know that any such hypothetical heros after him didn't work?
> Well, I don't remember them, so they can't have worked!)
>
> --
> Courtenay Footman I have again gotten back on the net, and
> c...@lightlink.com again I will never get anything done.
> (All mail from non-valid addresses is automatically deleted by my system.)

Shall we pull the thread back on topic, and discuss The Collapsium?
What are the possibilities of this "wellstone" stuff? God, I'd love to
have some of that.

Peter Bruells

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Sep 26, 2000, 8:00:00 PM9/26/00
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Danny Sichel <eds...@umoncton.ca> writes:

> Courtenay Footman wrote:

>> The last Science-Hero I remember was Sheffield's McAndrews. I may have
>> read others subsequent to him, but he was the last one that really worked.
>> (How do I know that any such hypothetical heros after him didn't work?
>> Well, I don't remember them, so they can't have worked!)

> Tom Strong, by Alan Moore.


Well, he's called a scince hero, but I can't remember when he ever
used science to solve a problem.

Courtenay Footman

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Sep 27, 2000, 3:00:00 AM9/27/00
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In article <8qqkvl$6...@gap.cco.caltech.edu>, Justin Fang wrote:
>[1] Supersymmetry: an attempt to construct a Theory of Everything which
>postulated, for technical reasons beyond my comprehension, that each of the
>fundamental particles we currently know about has a counterpart with higher
>spin. Now superseded by string/brane theory, if I understand correctly.
>
Supersymetric particles still appear in those theories.
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