Some aspects of the book seem
to suggest space opera to me - a more-or-less one to one confrontation of good
guy and bad guy, a sense of monumental conflict, gee-whiz hi-tech with doubtful
aspects, far-fetched romantic element, and the obligatory existence of a
monarchy. But it's certainly not space opera in a sense I tend to picture it.
The good guy and bad guy are extraordinary physicists (not too many physicists
as central characters in Star Wars). The bad guy strikes me as being more like
one of the brainy super-criminals James Bond fought in the 1960s than a
"dark lord", an interstellar warlord or the like. (The fiendish defenses
at the bad guy’s headquarters remind me of comic book super-crooks.) And the
monarchy is not the feudalistic formula one finds in many stories.
I'm not sure how much of this
was intended as satire. The monarchy is described as something that was put
together when society came to realize that citizens really did not want to be
responsible and wanted a figure head at the top of their government that they
could blame all their problems on, even though that figure head didn't actually
decide most of those matters. If it was simply left at that, I might have
taken this to be something Douglas Adams might have cooked up. But there is
enough talk in the book that humans are genetically predisposed to like
monarchy that it didn't leave me with the feeling of a spoof.
The two physicists seem more
like they are doing "applied physics" (on a very advanced level),
less than exploring "theoretical physics" - although it would, at
best, be theoretical today. As futuristic as their physics is, the scientists
are involved more in implementing fantastic engineering feats. Central to the
story is "collapsium" and related materials. The idea is to use microscopic
black holes in the place of subatomic particles or atoms to build new
materials. In particular, "collapsium" is supposed to produce areas
within its structure that are more extreme forms of vacuum than one would find
in, for instance, intergalactic space. This sort of vacuum is said to have a
considerably higher speed of light, allowing faster communications and such.
Although I didn't find all of this extrapolation from known physics entirely
convincing, by itself it could have left a mostly serious scientific feeling.
However, on a number of occasions when a crisis comes up, we find our single
physicist developing a new form of collapsium or such from raw concept to
personally building a new type of device from it himself in a day or so. To
me, this softened the science feel in a way that may have contributed to seeing
aspects of space opera in the book.
The story takes place in our
solar system some centuries from now. It's a time of technological wonders.
"Faxing" - teleporting people and things from place to place, or
producing requested items from a supply of various atoms - is common place.
The process has been designed to filter out the effects of disease and old age,
so people are more or less immortal. They have wellstone - a substance based
around silicon fibers which is capable of filling areas in its structure with
any appropriate elements. This allows the substance to transform into just
about anything you ask it to. And there's collapsium.
Our good physicist is
spending most of his time at an artificial mini-planet on the outskirts of the
solar system. He's carrying out experiments involving collapsium that would be
dangerous to do closer to the heavily populated parts of the system. The other
physicist has this massive project to build a ring around the Sun using
collapsium. Because of the high speed of light inside the collapsium, this
ring is supposed to make communications around the solar system faster.
However, there are multiple
events that threaten to have the collapsium from the ring fall into the Sun.
This would lead to the tiny black holes swallowing up matter from the Sun until
they became large black holes collapsing the entire Sun. Quick super-physics
fixes are needed to stop the crisis. But then efforts to stop the disaster are
attacked with super-physics weapons...
Just to get a vague analogy
of what to expect, imagine this variant on the Star Wars series: "Darth
Vader is walking towards Luke Skywalker, intending to battle it out. Luke,
being a super-scientist, suddenly has a brilliant idea. He quickly has a
computer verify his mental calculations. Luke then grabs a variety of
electronic components and quickly configures them together. Just as Vader's
light saber is swinging down at Luke, Luke flips the switch on his new device.
Instantly, Vader is surrounded by a time stasis field - frozen for all eternity
so he can no longer do any harm." This certainly isn't space opera in the
usual way. But it's not your usual scientist-protagonist SF either...
The romantic connection
between the beautiful, fashion-conscious queen and the reclusive physicist who
has limited social and fashion skills doesn't seem the most likely.
There are points in the book
that explore the physicist's personality in terms of his social weaknesses,
self-uncertainties and psychological scars.