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Blood Music [short story] (1983)

Tekijä: Greg Bear

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioMaininnat
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Viimeisimmät tallentajatnwhyte, lorax_short, Valashain, MikeBriggs, ringman, clong
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http://nicholaswhyte.info/sf/bmu.htm

A friend of mine gave me a copy of the novel length expansion of “Blood Music” shortly after it was published. I did not really get it; the plot seemed to me to start from a very good idea and degenerate into silliness. The original short story, however, is excellent. Brian Aldiss once characterised good sf as not so much “What if...” as “My God! What if...” [actually it was Philip K. Dick] and “Blood Music” is firmly in that category.

The story begins with a classic first sentence, “There is a principle in nature I don't think anyone has pointed out before”. This leads to a couple of paragraphs of exposition of the prinicple that micro-organisms die all the time and it doesn't really matter, followed by the couplet: “That, at least, is the principle. I believe Vergil Ulam was the first to violate it.”

Our narrator, Edward Milligan, unexpectedly meets up with his old friend Vergil Ulam, who has succeeded in developing intelligence in bacteria by unlocking the information processing potential of RNA molecules. He transfers the intelligent RNA into his own white blood cells, and now finds his body being changed from within as the cells take over. Terrified by the potential dangers of Vergil's research, Edward kills his friend.

But it is too late. Vergil has managed to infect Edward with his geneticially modified microbiota, and Edward in turn infects his wife Gail. The story ends as the couple find their bodies completely under the control of the newly evolved intelligences, now expanding to take over the rest of the human world, and come to terms with a new mode of existence.

Basically Bear has taken two very ancient sf themes, the story of man's creation gone wrong (which dates back to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein) and the evolutionary transcendence theme which is surprisingly common among hard sf writers, most notably in Arthur C Clarke's Childhood's End; and he has united them with his own biological speculations (slightly foreshadowed, in typically gloomy style, by Brian Aldiss' short story “Gene Hive” aka “Journey to the Interior”) to create a cracking piece of narrative.

And the quality of the narrative is one reason I can't easily place “Blood Music” in the nanotechnology or cyberpunk traditions which it is said to have kicked off. Other novels I have read dealing with the theme of nanotechnology include Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, Ian McDonald's Necroville, Kathleen Anne Goonan's Crescent City Rhapsody. Not one of these books has a really satisfying ending, and since I know that McDonald and Stephenson at least can write real endings in their other books, it would seem that the gosh-wow factor of describing nanotechnology has a tendency to distract the author from conventional narrative guidelines - my fading memory of the novel version of Blood Music bears this out.

Orson Scott Card, in his introduction to the story in Future on Ice, argues that Bear cannot be a cyberpunk writer because he is an “all-around nice guy”, the implication being that real “cyberpunk” authors are not. Card's antipathy to cyberpunk is well known, so this is not a hugely convincing argument. However, given that no less than Bruce Sterling hailed “Blood Music” as one of the founding texts of cyberpunk, there is a case to answer. It seems to me though that true cyberpunk, when it deals with biological engineering, is exhilarated by the possibilities of a new technology under human control. The moral of “Blood Music” is ambiguous; in so far as Vergil Ulam's invention of molecular nanotechnology leads to new possibilities of human existence, this can only come about through an awful compromise with what used to be the components of our own bodies.

“Blood Music” gets it just right in terms of characterisation, pace and an ending which raises even further questions about the universe. Strongly recommended.

https://nwhyte.livejournal.com/3835938.html

Coming back to it twenty years later, I was again impressed with the pace and skill of the story-telling, and the convincing portrait of what is frankly a rather stereotypical character in Vergil Ulam. I am a bit less annoyed by cyberpunk and stories about nanotechnology now - I must have got out of bed on the wrong side that morning. ( )
  nwhyte | Jan 14, 2022 |
...The really hard science fiction stories tend to be hit-or-miss for me. While I usually appreciate the subjects, quite a few of them pay little attention to the actual craft of writing. I bounced right off the first Larry Niven story I read earlier this month. Interesting science in a poorly executed story doesn't do it for me. Blood Music does not provoke that response. It is a decently written story, with a great scientific concept and a rather formulaic plot. A Hugo and a Nebula seems like a bit more praise than the story merits, but it well worth reading....

Full Random Comments review. ( )
  Valashain | Jan 28, 2017 |
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