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In early 21st-century America, the law-and-order Gray Party rules through fear of crime and the Vandergroot Molecular Sniffer, which can detect molecules associated with almost any form of illegal activity. A nanotechnological chemist in Philadelphia, David Sanger, develops nanoware that can block the Sniffer. He promptly finds himself assaulted, arrested, framed for three murders and on the run. David's flight takes him through the Philadelphia ghetto and a virtual-reality role-playing game, and into a climactic assault on the Gray headquarters. The pacing is brisk, even too much so at times, with Sanger's ethical transformation and some plot turns likely to race past readers. McCarthy (Flies in the Amber) offers memorable characters, however, and manages to tell an enjoyable and imaginative tale of social and technological speculation without loading on the hardware. Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
In this hard-science 21st-century suspense novel, Dr. David Sanger discovers nanotechnology that renders ineffective the Vandergroot Molecular Sniffer?the ultimate detector of everything illegal. When Otto Vandergroot is murdered at a scientific conference, Sanger battles to save his life, his career, and his technology while his mentor and his best friend/lawyer die trying to protect him. This fast-paced adventure will appeal to techno-freaks and anti-totalitarians. Highly recommended. Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Originally I picked up on Mr. McCarthy for two reasons; He is a local author, and I truly enjoy his style.
"Murder in the Solid State" is indeed a tough read for one not already initiated to the authors style. The structure seems abrupt and over edited at times, but the science always flows freely. Through his other works (namely the "Wellstone" series) you begin to see the author emerge as a fiction writer alongside his scientific mind. "Murder","The Collapsium","Aggressor Six" and "Bloom" all contain an unnatural flow that reads more as "Comp Book" and less as flowing fiction. His characters seem harsher than intended, and all seem modeled after grant writers and university chair persons (in attitude at least).
With a few titles under his belt McCarthy truly flowers in his later works. It is in "The Wellstone" that I personally saw the first hints of truly epic potential. His current "To Crush The Moon" has been labeled as on par with Niven. I do not disagree with that statement.
Long story short is this: Read the later works FIRST, and if you can take the technical with a little less character development, go back and read the earlier books. They're truly worth the wait.
Although he doesn't prove completely immune in his other works (Fall of Sirius, and especially BLOOM), in this work Wil McCarthy proves himself one of the only writers in modern science fiction with the restraint and realism to tackle nanotechnology and not resort to deus ex machine. I've read most of the nanotech related stuff out there, and, as one of those people actually involved in the developing physics behind it, I've been horrified at the depth of ignorance and panic strewn fantasy rampant in the literature. I'm not sure if Linda Nagata or Kathleen Goonan is the worst offender, but I do know that all of the writers out there portray worlds that are not only unrealistic, but generally incoherent, once nanotechnology is involved. The only merciful exceptions I've found are Dave Wolverton, who is a good enough writer, but likes his overly dramatic flourishes, and, in this novel, Wil McCarthy. The story blends elements of conspiracy and intrigue with a believable technological and political world. The scientific community felt more real than any I've encountered in fiction before this. I could see people I knew in that crowd. But most importantly, I could see the mind and motives behind the protaganist, and believe in them. Sanger was a very real scientist. His world was equally real. The action was a little slower than is typical of the genre, and of the author. I did not find this a fault, but I hadn't expected a light romp to pass the time. The book was not overly preachy, but it did have a lot to make a reader think about. Most importantly, unlike the majority of books in the genre, it was science fiction, not thinly disguised surrealistic fantasy.
I went on a trip down south this march and desired to get a couple of books that would not require a great deal of thinking and would keep me entertained. This book was one of them, and in that sense it did indeed fulfill the need I required. On the other hand, this does not say much for it as a book. There is an interesting view of the future with the paranoid "Gray Party" seeking to control everything, the uncovering of a conspiracy and the cool gadgets that McCarthy comes up with. At the same time, I felt like the world he created made the mistake that many SF writers do...there is too much "Ooooh!Ahhh!" expected by the way it is written. It seems that it was to make us think it is all so neat. Now, if only I hadn't seen that in dozens of other books out there, not to say bad science fiction movies. While I found the plot interesting, especially when our hero must hide from the authorities who wield their weapons of technology (hmmm...didn't I see that in Blade Runner?) it was too contrived and to unbelievable. In terms of his writing style, McCarthy does seem to know some technical terms, but he throws them around and mixes it with "golly gee whiz" dialogue that makes for abrupt reading. His characters (especially Bowser) have some strange element about them that almost seems sinister - but I don't think he means them to have that. It gets a three star because it did do the job *I* intended, but I doubt the job McCarthy intended.
I have never read anything by Wil McCarthy previously, and he seems to be a decent writer. This novel is a combination murder mystery and science fiction tale. David Sanger is a nanotechnology researcher (the science of manipulating the ultra small, in case you don't know) and during a trade convention becomes entangled with a murder he did not commit, and it gets intense and complicated from that point on..........no more here, no spoilers! Although it was not a page turner for me (it almost was) still it is one of only a handful of science fiction novels that portray the coming era of nanotechnology, in this novel it is in only the nascent beginnings. This is hard science fiction without any fantasy whatsoever, completely to my tastes. Character and plot development were acceptable, although the ending seemed to be a trifle rushed. Also, the novel could have been a bit longer to flesh out the nanotechnology ideas more thoroughly.
I loved this one-- it was, to me, the perfect combination of a thriller and a thought-provoking science fiction novel. The novel takes place in the research laboratories of the beginning days of nanotechnology (prefiguring the awesome nanotech of McCarthy's later novel BLOOM). There is some interesting speculation about the effects of longevity on society, and the effects of nanotechnology, but the science speculation is not overshadowed by the thriller plot and the realistic characterization. A definite rec if you like both thrillers and sf, as I do.