Blood Music

by Greg Bear
Reviewed date: 2005 Mar 03
Rating: 3
344 pages
cover art

Vergil Ulam is a biologics scientist at Genetron, a leading phamaceutical research firm. Vergil's triumph is his genetically engineered intelligent cells: microoganisms capable of nearly human-level intelligence. But Vergil intends to withhold his research from Genetron in the hopes of becoming wealthy by selling out to a competitor. Genetron gets wind of his plans and shuts down his illicit research; Vergil, mad to save the fruits of his experiments, quits Genetron, injects the intelligent cells into his body, and walks out of Genetron with the contraband cells.

Inside Vergil, the intelligent cells form groups and grow in intelligence and knowledge. Soon they begin improving Vergil's body, and eventually begin charting his brain and communicating with him. Not content to limit their universe to Vergil's body, the cells begin infecting other people. In no time, all of North America is infected.

The cells begin to reshape--literally and figuratively--the world to suit their fancy. Soon the world will be unrecognizable to unassimilated humans. The rest of the world guards it's borders and watches in horror at what happens in North America.

Greg Bear shows off some interesting ideas in Blood Music, but the lack of strong characters leaves the book feeling empty. Vergil Ulam begins as the main character, but after about 100 pages the focus shifts to a group of other characters, each of whom is only sparingly developed. The advantage of using this glut of characters is that Bear can show from multiple perspectives the changes that are wrought by the intelligent cells.

This trend to show multiple perspectives through multiple characters is a new phenomenon in science fiction. I have noticed it become increasingly prevalent starting in the 1980s and through to the present. Back in the good old days of science fiction, we didn't need a glut of characters to show multiple perspectives: we had something called the infodump. The infodump occurs when one characters explains to his friend something that both of them should know already, but which is enlightening to the reader of the book.

An infodump is easy to spot when you're looking for it, although the better writers have ways to disguise them. Still, I believe the infodump is less disruptive to the flow of a story than the constant flipping from character to character. Reading a multi-character point-of-view book is like watching television with a compulsive channel-surfer. Blood Music is not the worst offender, but it is guilty enough to be distracting to me.

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