Without a doubt, Blood Music by Greg Bear is an ingenious work of science fiction. His ability as an author to cover such wide-ranging subjects with such aplomb is just genius. Having previously read Eon and been immensely impressed by his imaginative exploration of Quantum Mechanics/Cosmology, Blood Music similarly impressed with his imaginative landscape of genetic engineering and nanotechnology.
Of course you don’t have to take my word for it, Blood Music has won both Hugo and Nebula awards, as well as additional nominations.
All of this ensures that this is a must read book. It is an absolute mind bender and exemplary of a contemporary (1980s) work of hard science fiction.
Lately it seems that my reading of science fiction has fallen into one of two categories: the first category is purely entertaining (consider something like The Martian), whereas the second category has a big idea that it explores. Blood Music explores several big ideas, and it does so rather plausibly via an internally consistent story. In other words, I think Greg thought a lot about this material and he wove together a story that makes sense while still giving you an entirely different view of what could happen to this world.
Grey Goo Singularity?
For instance, the first big idea is the Singularity…which I’ll loosely define as a moment in time when humanity transcends its limitations (disease, death, intellectual limitations) through overwhelming technical achievement. For instance you could imagine the creation of an artificial intelligence so advanced that it is able to improve itself with such speed (recursively if you will), that it could learn overnight how-to fix the human condition.
Rather than explore a computational scenario as he did in Eon, Blood Music explores a biological one. What would happen if biological computers could innovate themselves at the same rate as cellular division…reprogramming each generation like a genetic algorithm operates in a silicon computer? Without giving away anything, clearly it would change the world.
But here’s the mark of good science fiction: would it change for the better or for worse?
I have also been reading Childhood’s End by Arthur C Clarke, which has a singular event from an older era that disrupts the chain of natural events of humanity and puts it on a different course. Once I finish reading it I will likely write about it, but to this point it clearly explores the restlessness of utopia…that is, what is still wrong when everything is right?
Well, Blood Music’s singular event has more in common with Frankenstein than it does with the benevolent overseers from Clarke’s work, so prepare for a thriller in that vein.
The Role of the Observer
Another theme which Blood Music explores is that of the role of the observer in influencing reality. This should not come as a surprise as Greg clearly has an interest in this subject from previous works, but in Blood Music he takes it to a whole new level. In fact, I was so surprised by the inclusion of what he calls Information Mechanics/Theory that I had to set the book down to do some quick research.
Of course I don’t want to ruin a surprise…
Beyond here be spoiler dragons!
If you’re propagating at a cellular level, and imbuing intelligence and the power to observe at
a similar Lilliputian scale, then does that impose some additional constraints on reality? The
theory advanced is that the universe adapts to be consistent with past observations.
So by degree, if something is being so exactly observed by trillions of observers, let’s say, then the universe has to fit that observation. And if that observation is a concerted delusion…well, then magic happens…with the requisite tears to space-time of course. Pretty awesome!
Heaven (as such)
I also find interesting that the theme of everlasting life is explored again. It surfaced in Eon as City Memory, a particular way memory, personality, and the spark of a person could be downloaded into a computer and re-embodied at the will of the City.
Here in Blood Music the concept is similar, but imagined more as decoding the complete DNA of a person, with the ability for them to be cloned as often and as simultaneously as desired…while also being present with a chorus of other personages.
These are cool science-driven conceptions of “heaven” which could make for some good discussion around a table or by a campfire.
Anyway, I strongly encourage you to read Blood Music…truly amazing book!