With To Crush the Moon Wil McCarthy brings one of the most satisfying recent series of Hard SF novels to a close. This series, collectively called, perhaps, The History of the Queendom of Sol, began in 2001 with The Collapsium (itself an expansion of a 1999 novella). That novel told of brilliant scientist Bruno de Towaji, who saves the Solar System three times from the dangers of super high-tech combined with a jealous rival. The Collapsium introduced the key technologies of the series: various types of programmable matter, and matter transmission. The latter technology, combined with an editing process, allowed for practical immortality. This first book was cheeky and playful and rather Tom Swift-like in ways.
The subsequent three novels are more closely linked, and quite a bit darker in tone. By the end of The Collapsium, Bruno had married the Queen of Sol. In The Wellstone (2003) his son, Bascal, was the ringleader of a group of young people frustrated by their lack of opportunity in a world of immortals. The main character is Bascal's friend Conrad Mursk. The two of them and a large group of rebellious youngsters are exiled to Barnard's Star at the end of the book, and Lost in Transmission (2004) tells of the establishment and ultimate failure of the Barnard's Star colony. Conrad chooses to return to Sol, and To Crush the Moon is the story of what happens after his return.
The Wellstone and Lost in Transmission both had sections set thousands of years in the future, with Conrad (now called Radmer) retrieving Bruno de Towaji from self-imposed exile and returning with him to an altered Moon (now called Lune), where the last significant remnants of humanity are fighting a war with emancipated robots. Earth and the other major planets have been "Murdered". To Crush the Moon tells first of the crisis in Solar System politics that led both to the alteration and terraforming of Luna into Lune, and then to the tragic missteps resulting in the "Murder" of Earth. Conrad and Bruno are central to these events, and so are their wives, Queen Tamra and Xiomary Li Weng (Xmary). Much of this section is savvy portrayal of what seems like inevitable political problems - particularly problems dealing with fanatics who wish to restore death to society, and with the impatient returnees from various failed star colonies. Then the conclusion continues the story of the far future war on Lune, with Radmer leading Bruno de Towaji on a desperate mission to, quite literally, save humanity.
The story is satisfying on multiple levels. The scientific (and politico-economic) speculation remains scintillating. The pure adventure aspects are thrilling. The prose is clever, sardonic, successfully darkly funny even in the shadow of the deaths of billions. Conrad and Bruno are very well realized characters, though most of the remaining characters are a bit flatter. (In particular the leading women, Tamra and Xmary, never really come to life.) Lines like "Bruno was elbow-deep in wormholes. Not literally, of course - he'd lost more than one arm that way already -" are simply delights. The ultimate scope of the story is really impressive, in space, time, and theme. The ending is perhaps a mild disappointment - it's logical enough, and the reader is not cheated, but it seems just a touch off tonally.
I've truly enjoyed this series of novels, and I confess to slight puzzlement that it hasn't received more notice. For my taste, this is what 21st Century SF ought to be. (Of course there are other recent SF stories that are also "what 21st Century SF ought to be", such as Charles Stross's Accelerando stories.) The latter three novels have all been mass market originals - perhaps their failure to appear between hard covers has told against them. If so, that's a shame - I urge readers to seek out these first rate novels.