An early novel by Greg Bear about a biologist whose ethics slip in favor of the project he's working on. After being fired from his job for unauthorized experimentation on human cells (his own), the scientist sneaks his work out of the lab by injecting it into himself, with the intention of rebuilding his experiment from cultured cells re-donated by drawing his own blood.

Things start to get odd when he notices changes in his skin and, soon, his entire body, as the little buggers start working on him to "improve" his body. Then they start talking to him.

This is a great novel and a science fiction classic. My personal favorite from Bear. It starts the tradition of ending the world that Bear follows in at least three other novels, but does so in a more interesting manner than The Forge of God.

One of Greg Bear's earlier books, Blood Music is about a biologist who creates intelligent cells, which exchange DNA and RNA so they can communicate and think. When he is forced to shut down the experiment, he injects himself with the latest results of his experiments: intelligent lymphocytes (white blood cells). The intelligent cells (called noocytes) evolve in his bloodstream, and start to alter him, improving his body, until they realise what he is, communicate with him (via the Blood Music in his head)and expand to the outside world. The book’s good, and the longer version (it was originally released as a short story), also introduces the cool idea of information mechanics. It won the Hugo and Nebula awards, and is one of Greg Bear’s best books.

I approached this novel with no small amount of trepidation.

I was given this novel by haze at the recent Albuquerque gathering. I had been drunkenly explaining the underlying concepts of the novel I’m attempting to write, and my descriptions reminded haze of Greg Bear’s Blood Music, which he gave to me.

So, my initial reading of it is quite colored by the fear that the novel I want to write had already been written. I also approached it with an extremely critical perspective, up from upon my high horse of speculative fiction. In my not so humble opinion Theodore Sturgeon and Philip K. Dick have ground the science fiction or speculative fiction genres under their formidable boot-heels. It is impossible for me to over-emphasize this. There is certainly room in my library for the likes of Greg Bear and Ian Banks, or Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Kurt Vonnegut, or even Neal Stephenson, Bruce Sterling, or William Gibson. There might be room for Robert Heinlein, and while I enjoy reading Heinlein, he also bugs the hell out of me. Alas, in my small ignorant-savage world of science fiction, Theodore Sturgeon and Philip K. Dick lord over everything, coloring everything I read.

Despite my overly critical approach, Greg Bear passes with Blood Music, regardless of how negatively and personally biased I was upon initially reading it. Not only by his deft storytelling, but also by the soundness and even plausibility of the real-life science he uses.

Blood Music starts slowly, almost too plainly for my tastes, and builds into a sticky crescendo of weirdness. Sticky, gooey weirdness succinctly explained and described, even for the layman. This book has been giving me some very odd dreams as I drifted off while reading it.

Blood Music isn’t really a novel about the end of the world, or even ethics, but rather the beginning of a new world beyond any human comprehension. We are biologically, physically, and mentally incapable of understanding the sort of new world that Bear sketches in Blood Music.

The key concept in the book, for me, is Greg Bear’s idea that the introns in the genetic code and DNA of all life aren’t ‘wasted space’ as many geneticists seem to believe, but rather that they are encoded genetic memory, information, and intelligence itself. That these seemingly useless introns are what makes life life, and perhaps even for life’s intelligence, self awareness and consciousness.

And his father went off to war, serving as a corpsman in Europe, moving with Patton’s U.S. Third Army through the Ardennes and crossing the Rhine near Coblenz – sixty-five miles in three days – and his son watched what he could not possibly have seen. And then he watched what his father could not possibly have seen:

A soldier in plus-fours stepping into the dark, dank hallway of a brothel in Paris; not his father, not anybody he knew –

Very dim, but clear in outline, a woman rocking a child in orange sunlight coming through an isinglass window –

A man fishing with cormorants in a gray early morning river –

A child staring out of a barn loft at a circle of men in the yard below, slaughtering a huge black and white wide-eyed bullock –

Men and women doffing their long white robes and swimming in a muddy river surrounded by red stone bluffs –

A man standing on a cliff, horn bow in hand, watching a herd of antelopes cross a hazy grass plain –

A woman giving birth in a dark underground place, lit by tallow lamps, watched by smeared, anxious faces –

Two men arguing about impressed balls of clay in a circle drawn in sand –

- I don’t remember these things, they aren’t me, I didn’t experience them –

He broke free of the flow of information. With both hands, he reached up to the red-glowing circles over his head, so warm and attractive. –Where did they come from? He touched the circles and felt the answer in his hundred-cell body.

Not all memory comes from an individual’s life.

- Where, then?

Memory is stored in neurons – interactive memory, carried in charge and potential, then downloaded to chemical storage in cells, then downloaded to molecular level. Stored in introns of individual cells.

The insight was almost agonizing in it’s completeness and intensity.

Symbiotic bacteria and transfer virus – naturally occurring in all animals and specific for each species – are implanted with molecular memory transcribed from the intron. They exit the individual and pass on to another individual, ‘infect’, transfer the memory to somatic cells. Some of the memories are then returned to chemical storage status, and a few return to active memory.

- Across generations?

Across millennia.

From Greg Bear’s ’Blood Music’, Metaphase, Chapter 39


The other themes that make this book worthwhile for me is his application of information mechanics as it pertains to quantum mechanics and reality or even cosmology itself, and several references to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s noosphere concepts. Bear even calls the intelligent, conscious micro-scale organisms in Blood Music Noocytes. The concept that there is a third world, entirely composed of thought, and that thought and observation directly effect the universe around us in many forms, and that the universe itself may be entirely composed of thought.

“Don’t count on it. They relish complexity, and I don’t”

Gogarty paused and sat absolutely still for several seconds. Paulsen-Fuchs glanced at him with fleeting anxiety.

“Michael, I have amassed a great deal of theoretical structure which supports the following assertion.” Deep breath. “Information processing – more strictly, observation – has an effect on events occurring within space-time. Conscious beings play an integral role in the universe; we fix its boundaries, to a great extent determine it’s nature, just as it determines our nature. I have reason to believe – just an hypothesis so far – that we don’t so much as discover physical laws as collaborate on them. Our theories are tested against past observations by both ourselves – and by the universe. If the universe agrees that past events are not contradicted by a theory, the theory becomes a template. The better the theory fits the facts, the longer it lasts – if it lasts at all. We then break the universe down into territories – our particular territory as human beings, being thus far quite distinct. No extraterrestrial contact, you know. If there are other intelligent beings beyond the Earth, they would occupy yet other territories of theory. We wouldn’t expect major differences between the theories of different territories – the universe does, after all, play a major role – but minor differences might be expected.

“The theories can’t be effective forever. The universe is always changing; we can imagine regions of reality evolving until new theories are necessary. Thus far, the human race hasn’t generated nearly the density or amount of information processing – computing, thinking, what have you – to manifest any truly obvious effects on space-time. We haven’t created theories so complete that they pin down reality’s evolution. But that has all changed, and quite recently.”

Listen closely to the GOGARTY.

Bernard perked up and began to pay more attention.

“If I only had time to present my mathematics, my correlations with formal information mechanics and quantum electrodynamics

…and if only you could understand!”

“I’m listening. We’re listening, Sean”

Gogarty’s eyes widened. “The… noocytes? Have they responded?”

“You haven’t given them much to respond to. Do go on, Proffessor.”

“Until now, the densest single unit of information processing on this planet was the human brain … slight nod to cetaceans, perhaps, but nearly as much stimulis and processing going on, much more insular I’d say. Four, five billion of us, thinking every day. Small effects. Time stresses, little tremors as it were, not even measurable. Our powers of observation – our power to formulate effective theories – is not sufficiently intense to bring about the effects to I’ve discovered in my work. Nothing in the solar system, perhaps not even the galaxy!”

“You are rambling Professor Gogarty,” Paulsen-Fuchs said, Gogarty gave him an irritated nod and fastened his eyes on Bernard’s, pleading with him.

He speaks of interest.

“He’s getting to the point, Paul, don’t rush him.”

“Thank you. Thank you very much, Michael. What I am saying is that we now have conditions sufficient to cause the effects I’ve described in my papers. Not just four, five billion individual cogitators, Michael, but trillions … perhaps billions of trillions. Most of North America. Tiny, very dense, focusing their attention on all aspects of their surroundings, from the very very small to the very large. Observing everything in their environment, and theorizing about the things they do not observe. Observers and theorizers can fix the shape of events, of reality, in quite significant ways. There is nothing, Michael, but information. All particles, all energy, even space and time itself, are ultimately nothing but information. The very nature, the timbre of the universe can be altered, Michael, right now. By the noocytes.”

“Yes,” Bernard said, “Still listening.”

Something not stated … evidence …

“Two days ago,” Gogarty said, becoming more animated, his face reddening with excitement, “the USSR apparently launched a full-scale nuclear strike on North America. Unlike the Panama strike, not one of the warheads went off.”

From Greg Bear’s ’Blood Music’, Metaphase, Chapter 34


If you find these concepts of metaphysics unfathomable or ludicrous, the concept that thought and observation do effect the world around us, you should check out some of the honest, real nut-and-bolt research going on in even respectable universities and places of learning such as Princeton. See: http://noosphere.princeton.edu/ and http://www.princeton.edu/~pear/ for starters, and http://deoxy.org for even further, if more unscientific, weirdness.

All in all, Blood Music is a highly commendable read. Entertaining, informative, enlightening, thought provoking, and all else that makes for good science fiction.

Thanks to Greg Bear for the prompt reply and permission for the use of the quotes, and haze for the gift of the book.

* Update: 4:20 PM PST *

Dear [loquacious]--

Thanks for the intro to everything2.com Does indeed suck you in! And thanks as well for the very kind words on BLOOD MUSIC. Keep up the critiques!
You're pretty good at it.

Best wishes!

Greg

(Great, I was worried that this was going to happen. I sucked Greg Bear into E2! /me prepares defenses against hordes of torch-and-pitchfork bearing sci-fi fanatics.)

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