The Biopunk Reader

28Feb/110

The Blood Music of Biopunk

A review of Blood Music by Lorenzo Davia

Greg Bear is probably one of the most versatile science fiction authors. In his novels he dealt with every possible subject, from space opera to technological apocalypses.

One of his most influential and interesting novels is Blood Music which was first published in 1983 as a short story and was then expanded to novel size in 1985. The novel was nominated for many SF awards, while the short story won the Hugo and Nebula awards.

The story starts when Vergil Ulam, a genius scientist working for a major biotechnological company, the Genetron, creates bio-computers by modifying lymphocytes: Their RNA molecules now are used to execute computations. His boss doesn't show any interest in such a discovery as he can't see any possible economical business, and orders Vergil to eliminate the noocites. Vergil instead decides to inject them into his blood in order to take them out of the controlled laboratory where he works, with the idea of developing this project on his own.

In short time the noocites evolve into self-conscious creatures and try to contact directly with Vergil's mind, who hears them as a music inside his own blood. He asks a friend of his for some help to stop the noocites. His friend, aware of the potential dangers, kills Vergil, but it is too late: The noocites exit from Vergil's body and begin to colonize other persons. In short time all North America is literally covered with these microscopic biological supercomputers...

The novel is amazingly modern, imagining revolutionary consequences derived from biotechnology misuse in a year (1983) in which only few used the term biotechnology. At the same time, Bear well represents the possible benefits derived from this invention: Vergil's body is modified by the noocites, making it healthier and stronger.

The novel had also a strong influence on the cyberpunk and trans-humanist movements, as it was the first to depict a "virtual" reality created by living beings more advanced than men. As noocites are at the same time biological creatures and microcomputers, this seminal novel makes no difference between biotechnology and nanotechnology, between cyberpunk, nanopunk and biopunk, but gives inspiration and solid basis for all.

In conclusion it is a must read for all biopunk fans.

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