Greg Bear’s Blood Music is of a subgenre that I think of as ’80s Californian SF. I have a lot of informal subgenres in my head, apparently. The subgenre designation is pretty obvious here, because Blood Music is set in (and, I assume, written in) California in the ‘80s, and starts in the biotech industry, where Our Not-Exactly Hero is attempting to create computational devices using genetically-engineered bacteria. Despite being decades-old, the focus on biotech makes the book feel fairly modern and up-to-date, as biotech remains the hot new frontier of science.
Blood Music is a novelization of an award-winning short story; I don’t know which parts of the book were in the original short story, and which were added on to make it novel-length, but I bet there are people out there who say the book sucks, because it just pads out the short story. Well, they’re wrong, as this is a book without much in the way of padding. Take very much out of the book, and it’ll feel abridged and terse. As it is, there’s already an amazingly high idea density in this short book, and already the characterizations feel a bit abbreviated — this is definitely a book where the peoples are props to the cool science fictional things going on. Highly recommended to fans of idea-laden SF.
Greg Bear’s Eon falls into an entirely different subgenre: The BDO exploration novel. It’s particularly reminiscent of Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama, as both books feature humans exploring the uninhabited cylindrical interior of a giant alien spaceship, and trying to figure out what the heck is going on. But Bear’s book doesn’t stand up to that comparison. The most important thing in a book like this is sense of wonder — the book needs to make you feel like you’re exploring something beyond the ken of human minds, something stranger and more wonderful than you would have thought of. Clarke does that admirably. Bear hardly even tries.
That’s not the only flaw in Bear’s novel: The world-building is weirdly off, as well. The story takes place in 2005 as viewed from 1985: The U.S. is in the increasingly hot stages of the Cold War with a more-hostile U.S.S.R. But that’s not the part that sounds wrong; obviously, it didn’t happen, but I’m perfectly okay with giving Bear a pass on that. What gets me is this: In the book’s history, a nuclear exchange happened in the late 1990s, wiping out entirely Atlanta, Kiev, and a couple of other second-tier cities. Now, what would you call an event like that? Maybe “World War III”, or something with “Great” in the name, right? Well, the people of Bear’s world call it “The Little Death.” Little! This makes no sense at all... until you find out that in the future, there’ll be a larger nuclear attack, which will be simply called “The Death.” Of course, the people in Bear’s world don’t know this yet, so it’s awfully prescient of them to have called their nuclear attack The Little Death, the same way it was prescient of folks in the 1920s to refer to “World War I.”
All that said, Eon wasn’t a bad book. I did read through it quickly enough, and it got better as it went along. It’s just one of those basically mediocre books that’s okay, but nothing more; disappointing after having read the excellent Blood Music.