Blood Music (Novelette) by Bear, Greg, 1983

Blood Music (Novelette) by Bear, Greg

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Blood Music by Greg Bear is both a 1983 Hugo and Nebula Award winning novella and a 1985 Hugo and Nebula nominated novel. Both versions of this story are great and deserve attention, and even if the stories are a bit repetitious, I think something can be gained by reading this very capable author at the height of his career. This review is of the novella. A review of the novel can be found here. I assume that you will read the review of the longer piece, so here I will focus on the small differences between the two works.

Blood Music the novella is basically the first one-third of the novel, though it focuses much less on Virgil Ullam and more on his friend, Edward, an OB/GYN. Virgil wanted a doctor to evaluate his condition, but did not want any records to be made. Edward agreed because the two were old buddies. Virgil always had been a bit of a joke; measly and without confidence, he was the bright guy at the back of the line who nobody really respected. But when Edward got Virgil onto his examination table he could not believe what he saw. Virgil was at the peak of health, and looked it. But he also had some very odd structures under the skin. Virgil admitted to Edward that he was a genetic researcher, and had invented an "intelligent" form of microscopic life. His law was not licensed to work with biological specimens, so they fired Virgil. Before they could toss him out he injected himself with life form, and escaped the lab. Several weeks later the little guys had bonded together within Virgil and were exploring him like pioneers in a new galaxy. At the time that Virgil and Edward had met they were still working on his internal processes and structures. His spine was redesigned, his muscles were increased and his stamina multiplied. But they were starting to explore the barrier between Virgil's mind and body, and Virgil was afraid that once they discovered who he was, he would be completely subsumed into their world.

He walked around the apartment for two hours, fingering things, looking out windows, making himself lunch slowly and methodically. "You know, they can actually feel their own thoughts," he said about noon I mean, the cytoplasm seems to have a will of its own, a kind of subconscious life counter to the rationality they've only recently acquired. They hear the chemical 'noise' or whatever of the molecules fitting and unfitting inside."

The risk as Edward saw it was much greater than the loss of Virgil. Edward knew that for all of Virgil's brains, and now his physique too, he was an impulsive fool who never though of the ramifications of his actions. Edward went to visit Virgil with the results of his tests and found Virgil in a tub filled with reddish water. At first he thought Virgil had slit his own wrists, but he realized after talking to Virgil that the organisms were coming out of his body in the water to explore the tub, and they were discoloring the water. Frightened that Virgil would pull the plug and loose this plague into the world Edward threw a lamp into the tub, then dumped alcohol and lighter fluid in an attempt to sterilize the lot of them. Too bad for Edward that he had shaken Virgil's hand a few days before. When he got home Edward heard a peculiar music in his ears; the sound of the blood pumping through his body. He lay down with his wife as the organisms that were already in his system and his wife's took them over and brought them into their world.

Standing, we grew together. In hours, our legs expanded and spread out. The extensions grew to the windows to take in sunlight, and t the kitchen to take water from the sink. Filaments soon reached to all corners of the room, tripping paint and plaster from the walls, fabric and stuffing from the furniture...I no loner have any clear view of what we look like. I suspect we resemble cells - large filamentous cells, draped purposefully across most of the apartment. The great shall mimic the small.

I read the novel version of this story first and I have always been a great fan of it. Through it I was introduced me to the rest of Greg Bear's works, some of which are the most complex stories available in modern SF, such as Eon and its progeny, and some of which are just plain duds, such as Darwin's Radio and its even lamer sequel. This story is very tightly plotted, very well written, and builds up to one of the most fantastic depictions of transformation that I have ever read. True, that transformation occurs in the later novel and not this story, but the build up is there, and the conclusion is adequate enough to let you know what is coming.

Copyright 2009, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 4 star(s)

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