Blood Music

July 6th, 2005

I previously mentioned Vingean Singularities in my review of The Cassini Division, but being published over a decade previous to Macleod’s stories, Bear’s book is a significantly earlier entry in the fiction addressing the concept, and in some ways much more direct. This is a story told about the people who kick off the Singularity (quite by accident, as it happens), others who find themselves caught up in it, and the few who find themselves excluded from it. One of the interesting aspects of this story is that the nanomachines that are the vehicles of the Singularity are wholly biological in their inception…they are composed of the cells of our own bodies. Bear’s story opens with a brilliant but slightly sociopathic bio-engineer working in a lab developing biochips like those we have today that are used in sensors to detect diseases and bio-warfare agents, but in the 80s were pure SF. On his own time, using the equipment of the company he works for without their explicit knowledge and certainly without their approval, he begins to experiment directly on human cells, specifically his own body’s lymphocytes, attempting to form the basis of molecular computers by adding memory and computational abilities to the cells’ usual RNA and DNA functions. When he’s found out, and his project is judged too dangerous, he’s told to dispose of the material and fired. Instead, hoping to soon get somewhere they could be safely extracted, he injects the modified cells back into his bloodstream. As it happens, he doesn’t make it to get them extracted…but after a time, he notices changes in his body…and his mind. The cells survived, they evolved to even more sophisticated computing abilities, and they are improving their host…but what they might consider improvements compared to what their creator and the rest of humanity would can be astonishingly different. Bear tackles a lot of ground in this chilling, engrossing story, from the nature of intelligence and memory, to what purpose “legacy DNA” and “introns” might serve, to the effects that consciousness might have on space and time in a Quantum sense. It’s heavy stuff, but it’s told in a framework that is gripping and colorful, and only occasionally dated despite being 20 years old (Red Volvo Sports Car? What?). Highly recommended.

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