by Wil McCarthy

Del Rey


310pp/$23.95/September 1998


Reviewed by Steven H Silver

The entire inner solar system has been taken over by a self-replicating organism called mycora in Wil McCarthy's latest novel, Bloom. The mycora eventually bloom and become lethal to humans. This men-made horror, originally named due to its similarity to fungi, has continued to evolve and grow until it reaches the point that humans have been driven from the Earth-Moon system and a few survivors have found refuge in the asteroid belt and on Ganymede. John Strasheim, a shoemaker-cum-reporter has been assigned a mission to dive back into the inner solar system, the Mycosystem, the gauge the current status of Earth's inheritors.

McCarthy tells his story through a series of excerpts from Strasheim's published works and realtime views of what Strasheim sees and does. Unfortunately, because Strasheim is a reporter, much of the first hundred pages seems to be Strasheim interviewing his colleagues aboard the starship Louis Pasteur or giving data dumps via his published writing. An extremist attack on the Louis Pasteur is really the only action that breaks up this massive transmission of data until the ship docks at Saint Helier, one of the colonized asteroids, and the crew discovers that the Mycosystem may not be everything they've thought it was.

McCarthy's novel is filled with a lot of detailed information which sometimes comes across as fact-based scientific extrapolation and at other times just seems to be science fictional trickery. Unfortunately, whichever the case, it slows the books action to a crawl as McCarthy sets up his solar system's situations and begins to outline his characters.

Because Strasheim is added to the crew of the Louis Pasteur only shortly before the ship is scheduled to launch, he provides a foil for McCarthy to explain the workings of the ship as well as introduce the other characters. However, in the scene in which Strasheim is introduced to his colleagues, he mutters how pleased he is to meet each of them (with an aside of how truly pleased he really is) to each of the six people. While this may be realistic, in a novel it comes across as somewhat repetitive.

The post-bloom system is fragmented. The humans living on Ganymede have no contact with those living in the belt, and when the Louis Pasteur lands on Saint Helier, the crew undergoes a limited culture shock to discover how much they take for granted is cultural relativism. The novel begins to take off once the Louis Pasteur lands on Saint Helier. In addition to presenting the Immunity in contrast to another civilization, McCarthy can now begin to divulge more detailed information on the Mycosystem, which shares a frontier with the asteroid dwellers.

Once Strasheim and his companions enter the Mycosystem, McCarthy begins to take a more philosophical look at his characters and the world in which they live. Strasheim begins to wonder whether the Temple, an extremist organization in the Immunity masquerading behind a religious facade, may have a point concerning the mycora's right to life as opposed to the more Darwinian concept that if humanity can wipe out the mycora then it has no right to life. However, the general belief that the Temple was behind the attack on the Louis Pasteur tends to weaken any confidence Strasheim has in their suppositions.

While McCarthy presents varied and interesting ideas in Bloom, he ultimately fails to follow up on many of them. He presents too much detail about his world, frequently as simple exposition, and fails to adequately follow up on the implications of his conjectures.

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