Book recommendo! - Blood Music, by Greg Bear.

Today we bring you that most occasional of things to be found on P.A.G!, a book recommendation. Those looking for a few decent jokes are encouraged to read a different blog entirely, but we should have a few snotty one liners for you on Monday.

Good "hard sci-fi" draws the reader in with its realism. Often, the whole story hinges upon just one (hopefully minor) suspension of disbelief, and the excitement spins out from there, based on likely consequences. In simpler terms, it all starts with one "what if?", and then the reader watches the fun events arising from it.

Virgil Ulum, a biotechnologist working at a private research facility, works on his own pet projects after hours. The lab is trying to develop "biochips", but Virgil sees their research as going down the wrong path. His own ideas lead him to use "junk DNA" in lymphocytes extracted from his own blood to rapidly and easily code for data storage. This makes them, essentially, microscopic logic circuits, with each cell having the rough intelligence of a dog, and the ability to alter their own genetic code to store and process data. The lymphocytes display cooperative behavior, working together in clusters, and before long, their intelligence is hovering somewhere around the level of chimpanzees.

Once the bosses find out about his extracurricular experiments, Virgil is fired, and ordered to destroy his samples. But, like any good marginalized genius, Virgil views the cells as his "children", and, determined to continue his work at a later date, smuggles the lymphocytes out of the lab by.... wait for it.... injecting them into his own body. Wheeeeeee!!!!! That there is your "what if".

Naturally, we can assume that once intelligent microbes are colonizing Virgil's body, everything is hunky dory and nothing gets weird, right? Not right. Initially, he feels like a hundred bucks. He no longer needs glasses, and his chronic back pain goes away. It turns out, his spine has been not just repaired, but redesigned, with triangular sections of interlocking bone structures like a box girder bridge or a crane. Before long, the "noocytes" cross the blood-brain barrier and become self-aware. It takes the colony three days to figure out language, and after that, it's game on. They start talking to Virgil, and asking him adorable questions.

Going from being a tiny speck in an infinite universe to essentially becoming a universe unto yourself will tend to have an effect on one's mind. "Interospection" stops being just an occasional distraction and before long, Virgil becomes a little grandiose. One day after talking with a doctor friend of his, the noocytes ask Virgil who he was talking to. "Other. Body shape. Talk. Like self?" and he has to explain to them the concepts of empty space and "other people". Following this exchange, Virgil hears from the noocytes what the author describes as a "long, profound silence".

That's less than halfway through the book, so there's plenty of room for more freaky consequences. The weirdness is just picking up speed, and it doesn't end "right back where we started" like a sitcom.

Greg Bear, like always, gets the science underneath his science fiction right enough that my B.S. detector never makes a peep, which is increasingly rare in the post-Michael Bay era in which you are quickly shouted down for questioning why robots from space are shaped like Earth cars. Granted, my advanced degree in biology is not only rusty, but also slightly nonexistent, but it's fair to say the science dialogue in the book doesn't sound dumbed down. There's no substance in Blood Music with names like "unobtanium", for example. Making a story smart does not make it worse, nor any less of a roller coaster ride of eye-popping weirdness. So, your time spent reading Blood Music won't be wasted with unnecessary eye-rolling.

Blood Music's drama forms a very linear progression that starts quiet and moves in a straight line towards freaky-deaky stuff that makes it really hard to put down. I read the paper version in college and have listened to the audio version about three times since then. This is about as strong a recommendation as I can manage.

 Here's a link to Asthmazon, which has pretty much any version you could want. Papery-flexybook, papery-stiffbook, talky-book, and electro-book. Apparently, there's some other novel with the same title, by a Somebody Hunter. That's not this book. You want the Greg Bear one.


If anybody does read Blood Music, feel free to leave a note in the comments.


Anonymous said...

I just finished Blood Music thanks to your post. Greg Bear has been my favorite Sci Fi writers for all the reasons you so adeptly listed. Thanks, I had missed this one and it is all very believable even as it slides into the freaky wild places. It might even be better than Eon. It re-envisions scale and intelligence in a way that is mind altering.

PhilAreGo@gmail.com said...

Hey, thanks for the comment, Ken! It's gratifying that my review found for you an overlooked gem by one of your favorites. I would love to find another sci-fi book that sticks with me like Blood Music. I believe I've read Eon, but I'd better double check and maybe do a refresher read.

[ -Mgmt.]

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