Bear, Greg. Blood Music.

NY: Arbor House, 1985.

Bear is a generally a pretty good hard-SF author whom many people assume is a working scientist, like Larry Niven. Nope. Just an English major who’s really, really good at research and at deploying jargon and presenting semi-scientific explanations that simply sound right. This striking novel was expanded from a Hugo- and Nebula-winning novelette, and was nominated for both of those prizes in its longer form as well.

Vergil Ulam is a very talented biotech researcher in southern California, though he’s much more concerned with inventing things than in worrying about the consequences. Using lymphocytes from his own bloodstream, and against all the protocols, he develops molecular biological machines — which, when he gets sacked from the lab where he works (and for good reason), he re-injects into himself in order to smuggle them out. Little does he know that as the “noocytes” evolve inside him, they learn to alter their own genes and become self-aware. Imagine being inhabited by billions, and then trillions, of individual, cooperative intelligences. Vergil’s body becomes their universe and as they begin altering his anatomy to suit themselves, they also go looking for other hosts. You know where this rapidly spreading “infection of intelligence” is headed, right? Almost overnight, North America is no longer under human control — or what we ordinarily mean by “human,” anyway, because these aren’t aliens. They’re part of us. But they have their own ideas of what ought to happen next. And not everyone is taken over — not quite — and the handful of people not “infected” provide our view of what’s happening.

Blood Music is widely regarding as the first detailed fictional account of the effects of unharnessed nanotechnology, which has become a recurring theme in Bear’s later books. The general scientific horror-story plotline might remind you of Michael Crichton — though, in my opinion, Bear is a far better writer than Crichton was. This is still arguably Bear’s best novel and I highly recommend it.

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