Book Reviews 2004 (24-26)

A trio of Book reviews this time around…
The Collapsium by Wil McCarthy
Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett
Spherical Harmonic by Catherine Asaro

The Collapsium by Wil McCarthy

Set centuries hence in a solar system filled with awesome technology. The almost magical properties of “wellstone”, a quantum mechanical based “programmable matter” pale in comparison to the even more fantastic black-hole based Collapsium.
Therein hangs a tale. A tale of immortality, hubris, and daring to dream, the Collapsium tells the story of Bruno de Towaji, inventor of Collapsium, rich beyond the dreams of avarice, and his adventures and dreams.
The early part of the book and the last part of the book are completely different animals and I don’t think they mesh very well. The first is almost a comedy of manners, lighthearted as we see Bruno, a recluse, return to the “Queendom of Sol” and reassociate with society. As the novel progresses, however, it abruptly turns dark, characters die, and the tone of the book goes from semi whimsical to much more fey and dark. I am not entirely convinced this juxtaposition works that well. The speculative science is amazing, but the tonal shift in the story is jarring and moves this down to merely Recommended.

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

The third of the Discworld novels, the series takes a tonal shift here, as Pratchett shifts from doing a pastiche and a satire on fantasy to the richer, and more sustainable vein of humorous fantasy.
The plot is light enough, a dying wizard gives his power to what he thinks is an eighth son of an eighth son…but is really a daughter, instead.
Despite all efforts, including that of the witch Granny Weatherwax, she becomes a wizard anyway, in a world where women simply aren’t supposed to be wizards.
Magic brooms that don’t get far off the ground, the Librarian, Granny herself, and other delights made this a very quick read. Its definitely a transitional book, and opinions have told me that Pratchett is more assured in this vein in later books.
But Equal Rites suits.

Spherical Harmonic by Catherine Asaro
The sixth novel in the Skolian Empire series, Spherical Harmonic picks up not long after the events of Ascendant Sun and Quantum Rose, but from the point of view of the Ruby Pharaoh, the nearly 200 year old Dehya Selei.
Dehya has had a bad time of things. A desperate gamble to escape the Eubian Traders by disappearing into an alternate universe results in her re-emerging in our own on a distant planet, and the fact that she is not entirely stable is just one of her problems.
The book starts off on a small scale and slowly builds momentum and size as Dehya begins asserting herself more and more as the “Spherical Harmonic” that she is coalesces. And indeed, the Ruby Dynasty, shattered, begins to coalesce again as well.
Newbies to the series and the author should most definitely not start here, you will only get lost, and you will not appreciate why and what Dehya does, the trials she and her family undergo. For all of her deft touch with the mathematics of physics, Asaro shines with believeable characters who grow and develop on the page.
Recommended, but do come to this book by starting withPrimary Inversion first and continuing through the series (although Catch the Lightning is about the closest one can get to a “non essential” book, since it is set decades after all of the others)