Monday, September 16, 2019

Birthday Review: Stories of Wil McCarthy

Locus, December 2002

In the December Analog Wil McCarthy offers a long novelette, a sequel to his novel The Collapsium, and apparently the opening section to his next novel, The Wellstone. "Garbage Day" tells of the exploits of a group of unruly teens, including the Crown Prince of the Queendom of Sol, when they escape their minders. What do bored young people do in a world of immortals? Especially if they have access to the power of programmable matter? It's decent work, but it reads more like a novel's opening section than a fully resolved story.

The DAW mass market anthologies are a mixed lot – some are quite awful, and some are quite good. Once Upon a Galaxy, edited by Wil McCarthy with anthology veterans John Helfers and Martin H. Greenberg, is one of the better ones. ... McCarthy's own "He Died that Day, in Thirty Years", is a clever and sardonic extrapolation of the unexpected effects of a slightly malfunctioning memory tailoring drug. Most of the rest of the book is decent entertainment as well.

Locus, June 2005

This is shaping up to be a banner year for Analog. The June issue is very strong, led by its two longest stories. Wil McCarthy's "The Policeman's Daughter" is set in his "Queendom of Sol" future. So far he has published three novels set in this milieu, but "The Policeman's Daughter" is the first shorter work I've seen. (Though excerpts from the first two novels were published as independent stories.) The key technologies of this universe are programmable matter and the "fax". This latter technology is at the center of this story. Copies of people can be made, and stored, and combined. This means practical "immorbidity" – if you die, you can reinstantiate a recent copy, and fix problems caused by aging and disease. You can also merge the memories of separate copies. In this story, a lawyer takes a case from an old friend. The friend claims that someone is trying to murder him: himself – or, that is, a younger instance of himself. Things get much more complicated when the lawyer is forced to create his own younger version to defend the friend's younger self. The story turns on questions of identity and independence, and the rights of different instances of the same person to maintain a separate existence. It's not so much a murder (or attempted murder) mystery as an examination of these questions – made more acute when a woman with whom the lawyer had had a love affair is introduced.

Locus, March 2006

Three short stories in the March-April Asimov's are very effectively weird. Wil McCarthy’s “Heisenberg Elementary” is a delightful brief romp about a classroom repeatedly disrupted by time-travelers apparently trying to fix the future by altering some child’s outlook.

Locus, April 2006

The April issue of Analog is highly characteristic of the magazine, and also quite good. The lead story is intriguing and original – alas, I don’t think it worked, though in this case I have to admit the fault may lie with me. I didn’t get it! I’m writing of Wil McCarthy’s “Boundary Conditions”, in with a trendy American Pope visits a strange orbital weather station, where “Saints” try to forecast – and perhaps forestall – quantum decoherence “storms” that result in excessive free will. The story addresses fascinating issues, including free will and whether or not there is a God, and does so from an unusual angle, but as I implied either it doesn’t quite work – or I didn’t read it right.

Locus, February 2007

Baen’s Universe opens 2007 with another steady issue – but nothing here is really outstanding. Still, I quite enjoyed Wil McCarthy’s “Marklord Pete”, in which a young Intellectual Property attorney and his lovely paralegal fight a trademark infringement battle in a future dominated by IP laws gone wild.

Locus, April 2008

Transhuman is a set of stories about, roughly, the Singularity, usually represented these days, it seems, as VR-mediated life. As a set these are thoughtful and interesting work. I liked Wil McCarthy’s “Soul Printer”, a rather cynical story about a rich college student who finds a way to create art tailored to a particular person by tweaking pictures according to their brain’s response – and of course the art they “choose” shows a good deal about their inner selves.

Locus, February 2016

Analog's year-opening double issue features a novella from Wil McCarthy, from whom we haven't seen nearly enough lately. “Wyatt Earp 2.0” is set in his Queendom of Sol future, in which one of the most critical features is “fax” technology that can restore people to life (and improve their health!) after any sort of accident. In this case a version of Wyatt Earp has been reconstituted on Mars, and given the job of bringing order to a mining town. Much is made of Earp's 19th Century notions of how to keep rough men under control, and much too of Earp 2.0's identity crisis. It's nice work, not great, in some ways reading perhaps as more of a scene-setting piece for additional stories than as an independent work.

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