Wil McCarthy
Bloom (1998)
Reviewed: 2005-01-22

Mycora. Technogenic life. Replicators on the nanoscale, mutating all the time, firmly out of control. Nobody knows where they came from. Escaped from a lab, vandalism or military device, panspermia or spontaneous mutation, alien weapon. None of the proposals is convincing. When the first blooms started, they quickly converted all surrounding biomass. Eventually they took over. Earth. The inner solar system. Wherever there was enough light and energy the Mycosystem spread. Twenty years after the evacuation of Earth, the remaining human survivors eke out a living in the outer solar system. Some have settled in the asteroid belt, others are dug in under the ice of the Jovian moons.

John Strasheim is a cobbler, a simple worker in a shoe factory on Ganymede, in the dour society of the Immunity, where everybody is always busy in a permanent struggle for the necessities of life and against invading blooms. In his spare time, Strasheim is a hobby journalist, a historian, roles too frivolous for the Immunity to spend resources on.

Louis Pasteur is a spaceship with a revolutionary coating to protect it from the mycora. Its mission: to travel to the inner planets, Mars, Earth and Luna, and perform crucial research on the Mycosystem. It is a revolutionary endeavor and when the powers that be decide that the mission justifies sending a reporter along, Strasheim is chosen among few alternatives. And so a simple citizen joins with a team of highly skilled, although not all that enthusiastic experts. Their voyage leads them to the foreign culture of the Gladholder asteroids and near the unfathomably strange worlds of the Mycosystem. Beset with problems from the beginning and hunted by a mysterious enemy, Pasteur's mission will prove even more revolutionary than anticipated.

McCarthy's style feels amazingly fresh. The literary device of taking a journalist, a scientific layman, on a journey to mediate for the reader is far from new, but Strasheim is as much endearing as he is an unlikely character and a charming narrator. Along the way, McCarthy toys with some minor ideas such as cultural change, augmented reality, and Conway's Game of Life. The description of the Mycosystem soon takes on mystical qualities and, having read some of the author's previous novels, I was less surprised about the ending.

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