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Blood Music

Blood Music - Greg Bear Karen asked me why I gave her this book to read, when I only rated it three stars. That seems like a very reasonable question.Well, for one thing, I am very inconsiderate of other peoples' time. Seriously though, asking somebody to read a three star book is not a major offense to me, if it means they might have some fun, and I might get to read an entertaining review of it later. For another thing, I think Karen is a way-fast reader, and the truth is she probably blew through this whole book in like fifteen minutes on the subway, while she was also listening to music, carrying on a conversation with somebody, planning the evening meal in her head, and doing sudoku from the New York Times. She's very multi-functional, that one. The truth is, I read this book almost thirty years ago, and I found the main idea of Blood Music very intriguing. It's about intellegent nano-robots injected into a scientist Vergil Ulam's blood, and then interfacing with his brain. That's where the title comes from... he hears music nobody else can, when the little nanobots, callled "noocytes" are composing music in his mind. I guess he didn't think the music was that great though, because he never wrote it down, and nothing really came of it. The music angle is abandoned pretty early on in the book. The machine/mind interface was fun to read about. It raises some interesting questions about the nature of intellegence- are the noocytes individually intellegent, or only as a collective? And when their intellegence interfaces with Ulam's brain, are they seperate intellegences, or a single schizophrenic brain? I wish Greg Bear would have explored those questions, and I wish Blood Music had shared more of how Ulam began to experience the world, walking around with a foreign intellegence in his head. That's a plenty solid premise for a decent sci-fi book; this could easily have been a five star novel. At points, the book was funny as hell too: Virgil Ulam gets fired from his job at a biotech firm, where he's been developing the noocytes, so out of spite, and to be able to keep working at them at home, he injects them into his blood. See? I love stuff like that. Making impossible leeps of plausibility are one of the things which makes mediocre sci-fi so endearing. I love a scientist character who would inject himself with a syringe full of intellegent robots- consequences be damned- just to spite his employer. It's nice to believe that in this modern world of ours, the pioneering, self-experimenting, Mother Nature-disrespecting spirit of Drs. Frankenstein and Jekyll is not dead. The humor of Ulam's plans to work on the noocytes at home is also not lost on me. Normally, he needs a lab full of multimillion dollar high-tech equipment, a mainframe computer, and staff of round-the-clock lab assistants to refine the design of his microscopic automotons.... but in a pinch, he can apparently also work on them at home... maybe rig up some equipment with household items, and use his 1980's home computer (VIC-20, I'm hoping!) to continue his envelope-pushing research. That is an awesome plan for a highly accomplished PhD in robotics engineering. Five stars so far... what happened? Greg Bear ruined things because he wasn't satisfied with just one cool premise per novel. He had to create a second important plot element, which is unfortunately more magical and less scientific than the noocytes: the idea that the universe bends to the will of sentient intellegence. Yeah; in the Blood Music universe, if you just want something badly enough, the universe somehow senses it, and accomodates. Kind of like that Oprah book club blockbuster The Secret. So once the noocytes start taking over, and there are billions, maybe trillions of them, suddenly they win the cosmic "vote" of what the universe should do. They completely change Ulam's body, so it becomes an expanding protoplasmic blob, which takes over other life forms, and kind of engulfs just about every living thing in North America. When the Soviet Union (this was written in like 1984, remember) tries to nuke the continent-spanning superintellegent amoeba, the noocytes change the laws of physics, preventing the ICBMs from detonating. Meh. At that point, it was all just a little too "out there" for me. I liked the idea of noocytes, and I wish Greg Bear had just kept the focus on them. In the end, it was only a three star read. ...but... you know? if they can make a Broadway musical based on Spiderman, I'd bet they could make a good one based on this. I'd probably pay to go see it.