To Crush the Moon
by Wil McCarthy
Review by Ernest Lilley
Spectra Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 055358717x
Date: 31 May, 2005 List Price $6.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
The previous book in this series left off with an epilog set several millennia after the main action of the book, jumping from the post modernity technology of the main story to a very Vernian episode about reaching the moon in a brass sphere launched by a catapult, more or less. Evidently, the future?s future isn?t what it used to be either.
In the zeroth chapter of To Crush The Moon that epilogue continues in prologue as the occupants of the moon-bound sphere hurry across the surface of the terraformed moon just one step ahead of an army of robots intent on stripping the world of its metal, and humans of their lives.
The terraformed moon? That?s silly. Why, it doesn?t have the gravity to keep an atmosphere for very long, for one thing. Unless, of course, you were to crush it to become a smaller body of the same mass?
When the first chapter opens, and the book begins in earnest we find the starship that Conrad Mursk, magnet for trouble, had stolen, along with his three crewmates and 25 thousand frozen corpses he'd hoped could be brought back to life, noodling its way into the solar system. Tumbling out of control towards the sun, which, considering the energies stored in its structure, would be an unpleasant meeting for its crew (should any be alive) and the inhabitants of the solar system alike.
Fortunately, for the inhabitants of the solar system, Bruno, the inventor/king of the Solar System knows how to deal with such things, having invented the shielding that protects the occupants inside against the inertial forces of starflight, and he takes off to save the world, and possibly the survivors of the shipwreck, for the gaping hole in its side leaves no other conclusion, against the wishes of advisors and sycophants alike. It?s good to be King, at least until the Queen catches up with you. And perhaps even then.
Onboard the ship, frozen dead but not beyond the scope of Queendom medicine, is Conrad Mursk, architect of worlds, and agent for change on a titanic scale. In the several thousand years of post modernity that mark the Queendom of Sol he has happened along at junctures of great stresses in society and tried his best to help. But the gathered forced he faces again and again do not share his desire to make a better world, and his plans wind up falling victim to unintended consequences. He has faced down his share of irony in a life that stretches for millennia, and fate is far from done with him.
Having returned from Barnard?s star where the colony he had gone to help found was failing under the rule of the insane son of Sol?s own king, he finds, once thawed out, that the civilization he had left behind isn?t doing so well either.
The solar system is running out of livable space, and with the star colonies failing, one after another, hordes of refugees are on the way back home. Already frozen colonists lie in parking orbits waiting for space and more will soon be hoving into view. King Bruno sees in Conrad Mursk just the man to execute a bold bit of planetary engineering; to crush the moon to a radius that would give it the gravity it needs to retain an atmosphere.
This would be a fine story all by itself, but it too turns out to be prologue?and after the lunatic reformation is complete events take place that bring this first part of the book, and more, to a close.
The story picks up again in the future foreshown at the end of the last book and the beginning of this as the two adventurers hurrying across the face of the moon, a very ancient Mursk and Bruno, retuned to the surface of Lune (the crushed moon) to stop the unknown who has created an army of household robots out to scavenge all the metal on the moon, and incidentally leveling what civilization had managed to take hold.
This section has a comfortable. Lord of the Rings flavor, as Bruno and Mursk travel across the face of the terraformed moon to reach the region known as stormlands where they hope to find enough remnants of civilization's technology to stop the robots and their master, the Glimmer King. Now, we don't know who this Glimmer King, master of the renegade robots and scourge of the remnants of humanity is, but we know his type, and Conrad and King are bound to stop him, if its the last thing in their immorbid lives, and it may very well be.
There are physical travails, a fellowship of travelers, technology indistinguishable from magic, and old sins come home to roost. It?s terrific stuff and McCarthy should be proud of the whole thing, though it should probably have been given a book of its own. Indeed, the author has created a story worthy of Tolkien and Niven, and could well have been told in a trilogy. I?m of two minds, but perhaps it's just as well McCarthy didn't do it that way. Like many of the folks who had been around for the millennia this saga encompasses, I was happy to have some closure, to find that even for the immorbid, stories have an end.
If you haven't read this entire series, I?d start back with the first novel, Collapsium, which is every bit as good. Another recommendation would be John C. Wright's excellent Golden Age trilogy, which deals with many of the same themes, specifically the age after modernity and what the ability to engineer dark matter directly might enable.
Both series retain speed of light as a limiting factor in space travel, though this opens up the possibility of the next technology, wormhole transport.