Enthralling Books: Blood Music, by Greg Bear

This is one in a series of essays about enthralling books. I asked my friends and colleagues to recommend a book that took over their life. I told them the book didn't have to be a literary masterpiece. The only thing that mattered was that the book captivated them and carried them into the world within its pages, making them ignore the world around them. I asked: "Did you shirk responsibilities so you could read it? Did you call in sick? Did you read it until dawn? That's the book I want you to tell us about!" See all the essays in the Enthralling Book series here. -- Mark

NewImageBlood Music by Greg Bear is one of the most enthralling books I've ever read.

I've been absolutely riveted and enthralled by many of Greg's books, but this one has a unique quality that I found most appealing. It's the vast breadth of the progression of the story, the shear imaginative distance traveled from where it starts to where it ends. And it's not a long book!

Published in 1985, the story begins in a very plausible modern setting and deals with the world of microbiology and genetic engineering. It is credited with being the first account of nanotechnology in science fiction. It quickly develops very interesting, realistic characters and intrigue. It starts to play like a fascinating thriller about containing a science experiment gone wrong. It accelerates steadily with increasing suspense and just as you are excitedly anticipating where you think it might be going, it leaps way over your expectations. The scope of imagination is mind boggling. It pours on more and more extreme departures from the expectations established by the modest, reality-based beginning. It turns upside down every aspect of the ideas and the genre it explores.

The book escalates like nothing I've ever read. It goes so far, so quickly, yet builds very cleverly from such a realistic and familiar context, it seems like it's really happening. Over and over again I was not only surprised, but shocked by the incredible imaginative leaps. I was genuinely freaked out at times. I actually found myself exclaiming aloud!

I could not stop reading it. I was taken far beyond my wildest expectations. The utterly un-anticipatable and mind bending conclusion inspired a truly transcendent experience. Like the characters in the book, I was completely transformed. I'm different now. In a good way.

Now you should read it. Or listen to it. It's also one of the best audio books I've ever experienced.

Buy Blood Music on Amazon


  1. I agree with these sentiments; Blood Music was a very good novel. 

    But this little piece is almost the opposite of a review; I’d hardly call it an essay; in fact it has less to say than a typical cover blurb. These paragraphs hardly say anything about the book. The piece neither analyzes the work nor compares it to anything else. It does avoid the mistake of giving a synopsis, but it really doesn’t say anything else either. It’s just a meringue of excitement. Really the whole thing could be replaced by a single +1 or upvote.

    On the other hand, I did like the book: I would really be annoyed if I didn’t :)

    1. I think Kevin wanted to give us his reaction to the novel instead of  a comprehensive synopsis.  Cover blurbs are not all that great in the first place, as they cannot convey the beauty and impact of the prose contained in the covers, or lack of the same.  Someone’s gut reaction to it?  That could get people to read it more than a blurb ever could.

    2. Really the whole thing could be replaced by a single +1 or upvote.

      I disagree.

      Although perhaps ‘ZOMG this is AWESOME’ would do it ; )

  2. I agree with your assessment, Kevin.  I read this book in 1985 and it was my introduction to Greg Bear.  Reading it fundamentally changed the way I thought about many things, including morals vs. moral duty.  I haven’t re-read it since then, but it still remains stuck in my head as brilliant works tend to do.  Since then, I have read the short story that he developed into the novel and the novel was better by a long shot.

  3. Read it in 1987 and it didn’t really stick in my mind I must confess. Moving Mars and The Forge of God made more of an impression. Maybe I will have to go back and reread it.

  4. I read Blood Music in university (for a course, no less) and loved it.  I heard one episode of a radio dramatization on the CBC years ago, but never got to hear the end.  Radio drama is sadly extremely ephemeral, so I’ve never been able to track it down.  It was very well done, though, and I’d love to hear it again.

  5.  For those of you wanting to know what the Hell the book is about: a scientist creates intelligent microorganisms, which he then injects into himself to save from destruction.  Said organisms then figure out a way to communicate with their host, and before long evolve to the point where they begin changing his genetic structure.   From there, wackiness ensues.  It’s sort of _The Stand_ sans goofy Apocalyptic theology, mixed with Japanese body-horror, and has a truly transcendent conclusion on the level of _2001_. 

    I read the short story first, and loved how the novel goes to the ultimate logical extreme with the original premise. Why oh why hasn’t someone with good SF chops optioned this for a mini-series?

    This and _Queen of Angels_ are Bear’s most “visually” compelling works for me, with imagery that still sticks in my head like the best of nightmares.

  6. I’ve been recommended to this book to anyone who will listen for years now;  it s good to see I wasn t the only one who noticed it s tremendous scope (not that I would be in any case…).  There are certain (sci fi) books that  seem to suddenly step outside of what the genre had been doing – one I would also recommend as a life changer would be Richard Garfinkle’s All of An Instant,  which is almost impossible to describe.

  7. Nice to see this surface again. I remember reading this in ’86 while skipping out on classes. At that point I was reading Theodore Sturgeon, Arthur C. Clarke, John Brunner, and other authors of that ilk.  It opened my mind to how a sci fi story could transcend the genre. That same year I read ‘The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch’ and was blown away. This made way for Ballard, Burroughs, Pynchon…well you get the point. It was a gateway book for me, and for that reason, I’ll always be fond of it.  

  8. It’s such a long time since I read this book (hmm, it might have been my first Greg Bear book, too)… I really need to re-read it, because it was seriously good! Thanks for reminding me!

  9. What impacted me most when I first read it around 1987 was that I had just read Engines of Creation, and was struck by how thoroughly Bear had extrapolated nanotech medicine.

    It was only just now that I realize Bear had written it several years prior to Drexler’s speculative non-fiction work. He’s often nicely just ahead of the curve in using cutting edge real-world research.

    Tangentially, our first interstellar generation ship should steal the name Thistledown from him.

  10. This book had me (And every friend who read it) at the phrase, “The North American biomass,” which could have as well been titled, BEWARE! THE BLOB!

  11. I dunno, Bear has some pretty cool ideas, but I find him a flat and boring writer.  Science fiction often has this problem: the science is the most interesting character.

    1. I agree with your opinion that science is the most interesting character (though sometimes it is the situation rather than the science) in science fiction. But I don’t think it is a problem. There are many other genres of writing that are more focused on character, but there are various points of balance that are enjoyable. Mystery, for instance, or horror have different sweet spots that often rely less on character. Some science fiction writers even focus more on their language and achieve an almost poetic beauty.

      1. There’s also the epiphany revelation, the moment of awe… that’s what I read science fiction for.

        One of my favorites in Bear’s work (with Benford) is in Heart of the Comet, when they find a fossilized sea creature deep in a cave on the comet. Just the existence of such a thing implies a cascade of truths that set the right mind entirely alight. 

        edit – not Bear, Brin, as corrected by Stefan below.

  12. The Outer Limits episode ‘The New Breed’ was supposedly based on the novella. It’s on youtube:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xNjWysFxzA

  13. Although there are a lot of implausible things in this novel, I have to admit that reading this in high school was a large part of the reason why I became a microbiologist — well, that and the discussion of molecular biology in Gödel, Escher, Bach (which was supposed to have made me want to be an AI researcher instead, I guess).

  14. Maybe it’s because I read Blood Music after reading a lot of more recent — and more realistic — nanotech/biotech fiction, but it really didn’t work very well for me. Ambitious attempt to extend a concept to its extreme, but it felt more like creature-feature than like science fiction. Science fantasy at most.  Since it *was* an early attempt I’ll cut it a bit of slack… but it’s badly dated, and it hasn’t aged well.

    Either that, or it really was intended to lean toward being a monster movie, despite the nod to biotech. In which case I’m simply not the target audience. 

  15. I love this series on enthralling books!!!!! I have found out about so many great books I haven’t heard of before since I started reading Boing Boing and just wanted to say thank you!

  16. Yep, this book was SO GOOD. Blew my mind, made me long for it to be real, damn the consequences!

  17. My first introduction to nanotech was probably Gammn (Battle Angel Alita) during the early 90s. Later on I read Snow Crash and the Diamond Age.

    I only read Blood Music (the short story) in 2007, and by then, I thought the story was neat, but it didn’t give me any sense of awe or anything. Read the longer novel, and still nothing.

    Maybe if I had read Blood Music first, I might have thought differently, but I don’t think I like Greg Bear that much anyway.

  18. I couldn’t imagine reading a review that sells me a book any better; all this sounds like pretty much what I look for in a story : D

    Except when something’s this good (allegedly), I want it to be 1000 pages.

    I love it when an author than can pull off that gob-smacking transcendence trick… it’s a kind of magic.

  19. For those who loved Blood Music…try ‘Darwin’s Radio’ by Bear. Could not sleep for two days after reading it. Hard SF can’t get harder than that.

  20. I decided to read Blood Music based on this post, and while I’m not done, it’s already blowing my mind. Some of the lines of thinking, about the fundamentally informational nature of reality, is tying into stuff I’ve been mulling over heavily as of late. Perfect timing. I’ll probably finish it tonight. Off to read! Oh, and Queen of Angels is downright amazing.

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