Another retro review, this time from October 2, 2000.
It’s certainly the most realistic depiction of nanotechnology I’ve seen in science fiction, but then, as McCarthy’s biography on the old Sci Fiction site used to say, “Yes, he is a rocket scientist.”
Review: Bloom, Wil McCarthy, 1998.
Sometime in the mid-twenty-first century, a nanotechnology accident of unknown origin devours Earth and then the moon. The end result, the Mycosystem, is a growing rot feeding on any organic and inorganic material it encounters. Like its fungal namesake, it spreads by spores.
Riding on the solar wind, these spores cause “blooms” when they enter the human habitats inside Ganymede, Callisto and assorted asteroids. For twenty years, man has survived by developing elaborate “immune systems” to fight the blooms. However, recent blooms show an alarming sophistication and ability to skirt these countermeasures. Armored against “technogenic life”, the spaceship Louis Pasteur departs for the depths of the Mycosystem, Earth and Mars. Its mission is to determine whether the Mycosystem has developed the ability to inhabit new niches in the Solar System.
Documenting the mission is John Strasheim, a former cobbler given the chance to practice his talents as an amateur journalist. But, shortly after the mission is underway, evidence comes forth that humans still exist in the Mycosystem — and that someone wants the mission to fail.
This book has a lot to like. McCarthy tells a taut, hard science story. His nanotechnology is not magic. Indeed, he shows various ways — ph balances, chemicals, too much and too little energy — the “gray goo” type of nanotechnology accident could be contained. He also delves into ideas of complex systems, their emergent properties, and the implications of using evolutionary design to combat the Mycosystem and understand it.
McCarthy also does a very good job with the characterization of narrator Strasheim as he learns new truths about the Mycosystem and confronts the possibility of a violent death. The captain of the Louis Pasteur is also a memorable character, a man so lacking in a sense of humor that he literally has one surgically implanted. My only complaint with the novel is that McCarthy doesn’t bring to life the other crew members of the Pasteur except for Renata Baucum, a Mycosystem specialist antagonistic to Strasheim.
McCarthy keeps his scientific and political mystery brief and fast moving. While the revelations of the Mycosystem’s nature are not totally unexpected, McCarthy brings in enough interesting detail and ambiguity to make it interesting.