The Wellstone - Wil McCarthy

Reviewed for Usenet (or see Google archive).

The Wellstone
Wil McCarthy
Bantam Books
ISBN: 0553584464 (Amazon link)

First, let me start by saying that The Collapsium was one of the most fun things I've ever read. I adored it, and in part, the negative comments in this review may reflect the fact that I wanted another roller-coaster of fun but didn't get what I expected. This sequel to The Collapsium shares a world, and the hero of the previous novel is now a minor character. You could just about read it as a standalone, but it'd be better served read a sequel.

The book concerns the role of children in a immortal society - these are the first generation of immortal parents, and their being all angsty and grumpy. As teenagers do. Except that as they may never come into their inheritance, perhaps they have a right to feel disenfranchised.

Anyway, the novel starts with the Prince of Sol, child of the hero and heroine of the The Collapsium in summer camp with some chums. As I believe is traditional in the states, and everything I know on the subject I have learnt from The Simpsons, Camp Is Not Fun. In particular, it is felt to be prison.

So, what happens? The kids break out to have a night on the town, things get out of hand, damage is done, people are hurt. Everyone is rounded up and shipped back to camp where now the robotic Royal Guard run the show. Chastened, the prince, Bascal, turns his thoughts to making a grand gesture and Revolting!

What we have next is a sort of Lord of the Flies meets Huck Finn escape from the camp - in a wooden shed wrapped in a layer of Wellstone. This improbable spaceship, filled with a crowd of teenage boys and one girl, heads off into the outer reaches of the solar system, hiding from the authorities (their parents) as a grand defiant gesture.

I didn't like it much. Well, that's not true. It's a B book, it's good, but it's a pale imitation of the preceeding volume. Why? Well, the tone. The Wodehouse-meets-Egan tone of the first volume made it hilarious reading. This has no such whimsical charm. Next, the science. There's little new in here, the wonder of Wellstone and Collapsium are familiar, and not really expanded upon. What we have instead is a solar sail. And that's it on
the gee-whiz front. Lastly, the frame. Without spoiling: the book opens with a character feeling a war to find Bruno, now very old and living on his own. From here, we drop into the main story. At the very end, we join up with Bruno and his new pal. Now we know who his pal is, but it turns out
that the frame is the setup for the third book. Agh! The only mention of trilogy is on the last inner page. I wanted closure, didn't get it, and the most annoying thing is that without the frame the novel would have stood alone, the frame would have led into the third...

Anyway, what we do have is a plot driven Lord of the Rings / Huck Finn adventure story (as I said). On that basis it's not bad. Our Prince turns out, gradually, to be a complete and utter &^&%. Of course, we have a good guy, Conrad, who moves from being the Prince's adoring fan to his foe, more or less. Along the way we have some fun, but really, it's one long chase scene while Conrad and Bascal (the prince) manoeuvre for power within the log cabin. A few deaths, a lot of mucky free-fall toilets, and a romance with the single girl.

It's thin. Good for what it is, but thin all the same. There are a few other structural problems with the novel too I felt - in particular the Revolt! on Earth seemed, well, very convenient, and the multiple instantiation trick seemed like a plot gimmick here, and was much more interestingly handled in the The Collapsium. Still, there was enough here for a paperback purchase of the third one.


I really disliked then ending; Bascal gets away with it all?! Worse, the teaser for the new book has Conrad still working/talking to Bascal, and Bascal is still going to be a Prince in the new world? AGH! I wanted Conrad's realisation of how Bascal 'works' to bar Bascal from power.

Posted: Sun - May 4, 2003 at 07:04 PM