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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on May 17, 1999
I read this novel yesterday - literally read it in one sitting - maybe not so good for my productivity at work today (I was up until 4 in the morning reading it) but this was one I couldn't put down. Good writing and a gripping idea.
This is NOT a conventional "horrific plague" novel, although it appears to be so at the beginning.
I do agree that there are problems with characterization. The logic of his idea leads Bear to introduce and kill off (sort of) a series of main characters, so they don't have much chance to develop. Despite this problem, characterization is one of the stronger points in Blood Music's first half, although it gives way in the second half to development of a visionary idea. I DID feel sufficient sympathy with the characters to feel them as real and to care about what happened to them.
The power of Blood Music is that it starts off as a "plague" novel and by novel's end has brilliantly turned this premise on its head.
Over the past decades, I haven't read much science fiction, including several sci fi novels with good reputations that I started but didn't see any reason to finish. Blood Musicis my first intro to Greg Bear, and based on its quality and the grudging respect that even some of its carping critics have for Bear's other novels, I plan to read more of his stuff.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2002
The difficulty with evaluating this unusual novel lies in a structural peculiarity - Bear has really written two different novels here, featuring different main characters who are responding to what are very much radically different situations. The first half of this book is the story of Vergil
Ulam, a secretive research scientist developing microscopic biological computers who stumbles onto something much more than he bargained for. The focus is clearly on Vergil, his personal struggles with his employers, his mother, and his own social ineptitude. Readers will watch with fascination and horror as Vergil opens a biological Pandora's box, and wonder just how he's going to get out of the mess he's created. But it seems Bear wanted to go beyond Vergil's problems to the story of the nanotech beings themselves, so he wrote another (virtually) separate story describing the nanites spread, and after the auspicious beginning, this second half is a considerable disappointment. The point of view shifts away from Vergil to a number of different characters, some of whom were bit players in the first part, but many of whom are introduced for the first time in the second half. Plus, there's a lot of jumping around between these characters, each having something to show us (although it's often very little), but none of them ever becoming a strong enough central character to hold this part of the book together, leaving this second half painfully unfocused, and almost entirely disconnected from the characters and events of the first half.
Recapping, the first half of this book is tightly written and powerful, with a strong central protagonist whose motivations and character are carefully delineated. Bear includes enough scientific background to make his plot plausible, and given recent technological breakthroughs in nanotechnology, his story doesn't seem half as wild as it must have been 15 years ago.
Gripping and suspenseful, this first 'sub-novel' easily deserves a 5 star rating, but the latter section is hardly worthy of a masterpiece. Rambling, unfocused, and extrapolating way over his head, Bear leaves us with a hopelessly ambiguous ending that seriously undercuts the story - like reading a mystery that never reveals the solution. Overall, this is one very intense novel with a slow second act and no third act to speak of. The 3 star rating is an attempt to reflect the duality of this volume, which is really anything but average.
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34 of 40 people found the following review helpful
With an apocalyptic vision at its heart, Blood Music is escapist reading with high drama, though its excitement has been somewhat muted by time and the magnitude of the real events which have transpired since its publication in 1985. Here a genetic experiment goes awry, and the whole world is endangered. When Vergil Ulam, a cross between Dennis-the-Menace and a stereotyped nerd, is fired from his job, he takes his private research with him--by injecting himself with intellectual lymphocytes, cellular computers, which he has developed. Not unexpectedly with Vergil, things go wrong, and these cells take over his body and eventually spread wildly, endangering the whole world.

Though only seventeen years have passed since its publication, the book feels old-eerily so. Gene therapy is now a reality. The Soviet Union, which here rattles its nuclear sabers in an effort to dominate the world, seems like a very old enemy. Strangely, a number of particularly vivid scenes here take place in a ravaged World Trade Center, images so similar to the present reality that I found them painful to stumble upon in a piece of light fiction. Suzy McKenzie, a lonely survivor in New York, sets up home in the World Trade Center lobby, and Bear's descriptions of her explorations through the desolate upper floors and of the collapse of one of the towers conjured up nightmarish images for me which Bear could never have foretold and which some readers may wish to avoid.

Bear's narrative is fast-paced and suspenseful. With an acute sensibility and eye for detail, Bear creates stark images. His characterizations of Vergil and Suzy are often touching, however, and the dialogue between Vergil and his mother will bring smiles to the faces of many parents. Structurally, the novel is very loose, with characters who come and go, and ultimately the novel feels almost as chaotic as Bear's vision of devastation. Bear's immense potential, obvious here, finds its true fulfillment in his later, more carefully controlled, novels. Mary Whipple
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2010
This review and rating is only about this printing, by a company called "E-Reads". I have lots of great things to say about the novel but a lot of it has already been said by the other reviewers.

This printing is unacceptably terrible, and I can't imagine anyone proofread it. There is at least one mistake on every page, and that is not an exaggeration. Punctuation is the least of its problems. Words are actually replaced with words that you can guess look like the intended word, but are far from it. Often the word "nun" shows up instead of "him", as one of many, many examples, and many sentences are so disjointed that you have to read them two or three times to figure out what Greg Bear actually wrote in the first place.

The printing reminds me of some e-books I have read, ones that have obviously been scanned from actual printed pages and word-recognition software used to generate the e-book, as there are always such mistakes in those renditions. It's my belief that this is a print from such a scan, which I know makes no sense (printing from a scan instead of printing from the source material) but I can see no other way these mistakes were made. The publisher's name, E-Reads, certainly suggests this is what happened, and research will show you they are an e-book publisher.

It isn't only annoying, it makes it hard to keep reading. Do not, I repeat do not buy this printing. Find another one. I'll write to E-Reads to find out what is going on here, and will be returning my copy to Amazon, as I would not disgrace my bookshelf with such an awfully published novel.

EDIT: I've found out that this is a Print On Demand book, and so was likely not proofread by the publisher. Beware of books like this.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Beware, there are some things in this review to spoil some surprises if you haven't read it yet. It's worth reading, OK (and did pick up both a Hugo and a Nebula, so it's not just my opinion).
The first third to half of this felt like you were sitting in a taut, well made thriller film. Virgil is a classic tool to set up an action/slight SF plot - a gifted geneticist, socially inept, is caught out doing shonky private research on the company time, and in a classy scene told he has two hours to destroy all his stuff. He manages to hide the most crucial enhanced 'learning' cells he's been working on, but eventually can only smuggle them out by injecting them in his own body - a crazy act, but he can't bear the thought of losing years of successful research. The stuff will probably die anyway, although of course it shouldn't have been let out of carefully quarantined conditions. All this presented skilfully, with the pseudo-scientific dialogue (how would I know) not abusing your suspension of disbelief.
Of course weird things start happening, and he calls on his friend (and seeming ideal hero vehicle), Edward, a Doctor and Harrison Ford style intelligent and resourceful (but still sort of everyman) figure. Has Virgil potentially unleashed a deadly virus? And who are these suspicious CIA types in the background - there was actually defence research secretly happening at Virgil's lab: are we squaring off for a standard little man against the establishment, using his wits to unravel the mystery while on the run, finally using whatever the discovery is to cleverly resolve the book? There's even a powerful potential mini-resolution relatively early on that Bear could have built up to as a satisfactory conclusion.
I would have enjoyed that, and I'm pretty sure he could have pulled it off nicely.
But the novel veers. First into, 'Oh, ok, he's sliding into Spiderman territory: the microbes in Virgil's body are reconstructing him, making him invulnerable to disease, attractive to women, and giving him superhuman powers.' Again, not what I was expecting, but, sure, lets run with it.
But then the novel careers. We've got a plague on our hands - that casually wipes out North America in a couple of days. We're now in a holocaust novel following around a few anomalous survivors. Meanwhile, over in Europe, a researcher has bravely taken his infection to an isolation tank so he can be studied as he dies. He starts communicating with the cells within him - they are intelligent and myriad.
The scope just keeps growing - now the cells are challenging our view of humanity: they're more like an alien species with Godlike powers. It's an odyssey, with basic questions about reality and life and identity.
Quite a ride - a writer who could put out a very decent thriller who is an SF thinker at heart - he keeps on throwing in new, 'Yeah, but what if's' along the way, any one or two of which would probably sustain a whole other book for someone else. We do lose out a bit on character, perhaps, because of this, but the people are not gallingly one dimensional, and are enjoyable as the sort of larger than life people you'd expect to meet in a decently cast slick film. Somehow, while not being as tight as it could have been, the book manages to cohere while wildly changing direction.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 20, 1997
This is the book that opened up the career of Greg Bear, who later wrote such classics as Queen of Angels, Songs of Earth and Power, and Eon.

Blood Music is the story of of a brilliant but troubled and careless scientist named Vergil Ulam, who accidentally creates cells capable of high-speed learning and intelligent growth. The cells teach themselves to evolve and remember, and adapt their environment. They are an intelligent species, and Vergil loves them, calling them noocytes.

Until his work is uncovered and shut down. Knowing the immeasurable value of, and acting on personal love for, his cells, he injects them into his own bloodstream, with the hope of being re-hired elsewhere, where they can be removed and studied.

Before he can, hovever, Vergil starts to slowly change. His eyesight, health, and even sex life improves. Then his body starts to change. The noocytes have studied and begun adapting their host's body. And they have learned of the outside world.

In a matter of weeks, an intelligent plague sweeps across North America, entering and assimilating humanity, changing the very landscape, terraforming the body and all living things around it into something profoundly alien and new. How do you stop an intelligent plague? But the noocytes have a plan of their own, and the Universe at its most fundamental will be affected by it.

I won't tell how the story ends, although it is one the most exalting, dazzling endings to any science fiction novel I have ever read. The story itself is immensely powerful, and a chance for Bear to point out the ridiculousness of our current opinion of the body's cells, and the quality of elan(explained in the book: the body is worth, and has power equal to, ten trillion of its component parts: its cells) that supposedly rules them. As said in the introduction, "Which of our generations will come to disagree?" The point of the book: _This_ one, bucko.

The short story that was the novel's basis won, quite deservedly, the Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Short Story of the Year.

As always, Greg Bear's characterizations, especially of Vergil Ulam, are moving and haunting, showing the human side of the next step of Man. The premise of the story is a stimulating, fascinating one, the writing is elegant, the character's shine, and the science is indefagitable.

But the premise of the story is one that immediately wounds character continuity; the story leaps from well-writeen character to well-written character, but there is no feeling of the interconnectedess of their individual situations, although the epic weight of what is occurring is continuously palpable.

The story is told from the character's-eye-view except at the very beginning and end, and so, can seem to jump and start occasionally, but the beauty of Blood Music, and the essential triumph of the spirit that ends it, is no less poignant and exalting because of that.

MY OVERALL SUMMARY:This is the best hard-SF novel of the last 10 years. The premise is fascinating and legitimate, the writing polished, the characters moving. Some scenes lend themselves to special effects that would be absolutely thrilling on the big screen, the story carries all the poignancy of a plague-type story such as Outbreak. It asks very fundamental questions of what we see as reality. If Kubrick makes one more SF film, it had better be this one. READ BLOOD MUSIC
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
...Not with a Bang, or even with a whimper, but with a nasty, fleshy "thlooorp".

Greg Bear's masterpiece "Blood Music" is astonishing. Compelling. Breathtaking. Horrifying. It is a remarkably deft, cogent, pithy little sorcerous book from the Master of "Big Idea" science fiction, so gripping and lucidly written that it will take about three hours to read through it, and three years to think through its implications.

Bear's anti-hero is the socially inept but staggeringly brilliant Vergil Ulam, a cellular biologist who makes a startling discovery with genetically modified human leukocytes (white blood cells Ulam has been tampering with), attempts to contact a rival genetic researcher, gets caught, and promptly finds himself out of a job and---more importantly---out of a laboratory.

With a discovery in hand that could catapult him to the forefront of the field of nanotechnology (the science of creating molecular-level machines that are capable of self-replication), what's a Mad Scientist to do?

He injects himself with the little nanites, of course, and then goes out for a night on the town.

Greg Bear is a consummately gifted science fiction thinker who typically sacrifices character development, plot, and pacing to the more visceral and esoteric ramifications of the science at the core of his stories. "Blood Music", then, is even more of a rare gem, a book in which Bear's scientific acumen and literary craftsmanship come together.

In the first few chapters, "Blood Music" takes on the pace and grue of a horror novel. At first the nanites in Ulam's body do nothing, and the scientist suspects they've been consumed and destroyed; then it becomes apparent that the modified leukocytes are reinventing Ulam, improving him, making benign little modifications: restoring his eyesight overnight, improving his stamina, and tucking his spine under a sheath of flesh (the better to protect it, of course).

What's the harm? The little uber-leukocytes are doing a little Buckminster Fuller number on good old Virgil.

But as with the rest of Bear's best work, "Blood Music" wants to push further into the dark territory of the possible: the nanites get out of control, escape by the billions into society, and start reinventing humanity according to their own internal "blood music."

The novel begins as a whimsical romp at the periphery of scientific knowledge, picks up momentum as an apocalyptic horror tale, and then---oddly enough---ends almost optimistically, playing with Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. The best part of "Blood Music" are the constant, unexpected shifts and changes: just when you think you know where the novel is heading, Bear masterfully, and nastily, alters course.

The field of nanotechnology has come a long way since Bear wrote "Blood Music", and much of what was theoretical then is very possible---if not already in application---now. There's a little deft sentence about Virgil's picking up used biogenetic equipment (freezers, centrifuges, lab equipment) for pennies on the dollar from dead bio-technology startups that have gone out of business.

That little nugget is just so real---so everyday, so the world we're living in---that it gives me goosebumps just writing about it.

With that in mind, "Blood Music" is a delicious and unforgettable journey into the horror and hope of a mysterious and powerful science, and one of the classics of modern science fiction.

JSG
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 26, 1999
Despite the fact that the beginning is mostly a bunch of biological mumbo-jumbo that very few would actually comprehend, the book was truly stunning. Written beautifully, and with such imagination, it is enough to captify any reader. Eerie, and realm-breaking, the "noocytes" rule Earth, only to improve the human being - all from a cell-basis. The dialogue between the cell and the host is probably the most stunning. I loved it.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 8, 2007
Thanks to the ability in Amazon to read the first few pages of many books, I bought "Blood Music" since I had to find out "the rest of the story". It read like a 5-star early on, in much the same genre as Michael Crichton (scary biotech/nanotech), and somewhat like Stephen King (think "The Stand") (spooky things that go bump inside you).

In my 344 page version, it took a downturn around page 150, when it started to get...well,...less like good Crichton, and more like bad King.

I downgraded it to a 4-star, with a feeling of foreboding that maybe a 3-star was coming on.

By the time page 250 rolled around, I had it figured out that the book was turning out to be a biotech/biohazard version of "We are the world", and that maybe at the end, the earth and any humans left would hold hands and sing "Kum Ba Ya" and "I'd like to teach the world to sing"

And that is how it ended. Or nearly so. So if you like that sort of thing, you'll enjoy this book. (But don't say I didn't warn you)

The beginning had shown so much promise...
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2000
For those few among you who don't know that my little title blurb means, Arthur C Clarke once wrote a nifty little book where the human race basically combined into this singular "Overmind" sort of thing and eventually left the planet to explore the Universe and join it. Sound familiar. Blood Music reminds me of Greg Bear reading it and actually trying to explain the science behind something like that (in Clarke's book it was said that it was part of evolution and natural mutation) and he does a fairly good job. The science in the beginning is mostly microbiology and for a science major like me it's a bit offputting because frankly I read this books to take a break from all the stuff they cram down my throat every day, being reminded of it isn't the first thing on my list when I pick a book. However the science is handled pretty well, and consider that the book is almost thirteen years old (if not older) I imagine if Bear went into detail about his science, it would make the book look out of date today, sort of like those books from the thirties that predicted by now we'd all have flying cars and hyperspeed. But the actual plot of the book ain't too bad, the suspense moves along well, most of the initial characters don't make it to the end of the book for a variety of reasons and that can be annoying if you're just getting used to them but it's all part of the plot. I think the scenario (barring Clarke) is one of the more interesting ones that have come across in SF and his marriage of hard science and what amounts to philosophical theories along the lines of nirvana comes across well even years later. Some of the scenes are a bit odd (I only wish I could pick up a girl that fast) but all in all it's a classic book that deserves to be read and discussed. It's thought provoking and entertaining and you can't ask for much more than that from a book.
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