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Literature / Blood Music

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Blood Music is a Science Fiction novel by Greg Bear published in 1985 based on his 1983 novelette of the same name. The novel has won a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award.

Biotechnologist Vergil Ulam creates simple biological computers based on his own lymphocytes ('noocytes'). After his employer orders him to destroy them, Vergil injects them into his own body with the intention of smuggling them out to work on them elsewhere. They attain self-awareness, and Hilarity Ensues.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Originally published as a 1983 novelette, Greg Bear expanded it into a 1985 novel.
  • Anthropic Principle: Of the Very Very Strong kind. Reality itself, in fact, all of the Multiverse, and its non-sapient mind, the Strong Anthropic Principle, is built upon increasing the complexity of its structure to fight the final entropy and heat death. One needs to read the book at least twice to get this: Vergil tells, before he dissolves into sentient nano-goop, to his old fiend, that the Noocytes were inevitable and fated to happen. Every government agency, corporation, and the military research complex TRIED to make something even with a fraction of the abilities of the original Noocytes, Vergil says. Only to fail all the time. Why? Because their actions were fueled by the desire to use it as a technology and NOT to boost Reality itself to another level of complexity by creating another higher step in its existence. It seems, in hindsight, that this was Vergil's subconscious desire and motive all along. Later on, a young female survivor of the early stages of the apocalypse in North America, who wasn't turned immediately into nano-goop because she had a one in a billion genetic defect, and later on when the Noocytes figured how to bypass the issue, they already gained gained full sapience and so she was instead offered, if she is willing, a free Ascension train ticket by them, was told by Noocytes that time is very short and that their own scientists caused a yet another Singularity event, like Vergil Ulam, by trying to manipulate sub-atomic scales, the same way Vergil manipulated the molecular make up in his research. At that moment, Reality must have went: MWUHAHAHA! Just as Planned!
  • Apocalypse How: Class 1, with the assimilation of North America, plus all the interesting aftereffects of the nano-civilization slightly breaking reality.... Actually, all the Class-es, Severit-ies and Scope-s by the end of the book (in chronological succession, from smallest to biggest), if you count Humanity becoming a race of Reality Warpers with perhaps even Multiverse level editing powers as a sub-type of The End of the World as We Know It trope that is.
  • Apocalypse Wow: The Earth dissolves into a sphere of noocytes, which combined proceed to break reality to such an extent they then Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence, taking the Earth and humanity with them.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: The noocytes have to do this, since their presence is breaking reality. Everybody else too.
  • Assimilation Plot: At the end of the story, everyone on Earth and indeed the universe itself has been assimilated by the noocytes. Nobody seems to mind much, however.
  • Bio-Augmentation: Vergil injecting the biological computers into himself. Augmentation indeed...
  • Bio Punk: To this what Neuromancer is to Cyberpunk.
  • Bittersweet Ending: More sweet than bitter, depending on your viewpoint. The world has ended and everyone has been forcibly assimilated, but nobody will ever die again and it seems like the noocytes are at least benevolent to their progenitors.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The noocytes show this. While humans believe that they are a plague that kills people, in reality they don't really parse what we consider to be "harm" as "harm", and in reality they're just doing what their genes impel them to do. In this sense, it's hard to really position them as the "antagonists" of the story so much as they are simply a source of conflict.
  • Body Horror: The early assimilations of humans by the noocytes are not very pretty. They at least don't appear to be in any pain and few are shown to even be conscious during the process. The noocytes quickly improve their methods.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Vergil Ulam dies less than 100 pages into the book, and thereafter is only mentioned or only makes a single cameo appearance towards the end.
  • Deus ex Machina: The Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence is a case of this.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Dr. Bernard, in his backstory. At least, until he gets a second shot at it in the thought universe!
  • Empty Piles of Clothing: In most cases, the spreading infection assimilates humans almost instantly, leaving only their clothes.
  • Fictional Counterpart: Vergil drives into Livermore, California, and passes a Guinevere's Pizza. From the local description, this fictional pizza place is exactly where a Round Table Pizza existed at the time.
  • From a Single Cell: The noocytes are able to encode the squishy chemical versions of people into molecular memories based on DNA/RNA. The noocytes can rebuild and upload the original person — or an amalgam of all who want to participate — back into a squishy flesh body should they so wish.
  • Gainax Ending: Hoo boy! The noocytes become smart enough that their mere existence alters reality, which leads to the weird fleshy biomass that covers North America to teleport into another plane of existence, as well as Dr. Bernard. After this, technology stops working and the weather goes wonky. The story ends with the survivors of the initial plague, such as Suzy McKenzie, being assimilated (willingly, it seems) by the noocytes, and Dr. Bernard finally gets to be with the girl of his dreams in a Thought Universe. Everyone kind of lives Happily Ever After? Yeeeeahhh.
  • Gray Goo: Pretty much the first story to explore such a catastrophe just a year before K. Eric Drexler's book Engines of Creation came out.
  • Just as Planned: Reality itself conspired against Humanity since its birth to turn us into agents of its evolution. We were doomed to make the Noocytes in the end.
  • LEGO Genetics
  • Nanomachines: Technically biological in origin, but on the nano-scale the line between organism and machine is blurry anyway.
  • Patient Zero: Ulam. He's killed by his friend in a failed attempt to stop the noocyte outbreak.
  • Reality Warper: Bear frequently explores the idea that the observer in fact shapes the observed reality. Towards the end of the story the entirety of North America is covered by a biological mass where each cell acts as an individual observer. The sheer concentration of this threatens to cause reality to break apart.
  • The Singularity: After assimilating most of North America, the new civilization is forced to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence to avoid breaking reality with their sheer awesomeness. They actually 'do' break it..and the Multiverse too.
  • Synthetic Plague: Oops.
  • Unbuilt Trope: Anyone reading the story today is bound to find a lot of similarities to how nanomachines have been used in science fiction since, even though the story was written before the term was commonly known.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We never find out what happened to John, Jerry and April Ulam in Los Angeles, and they're last seen walking into a "tornado" and disappearing. There's a passing reference at the end of the novel to an experiment the noocytes were conducting in Los Angeles, so it's likely they were simply assimilated instantly. YMMV as to whether or not this is a good thing.