Bear, Greg

Tagged: Author

Working name of US writer Gregory Dale Bear (1951-    ), son-in-law of Poul Anderson. He began publishing sf with "Destroyers" for Famous Science Fiction in Winter 1967, and began to write full-time in 1975, his first stories and novels being auspicious but not remarkably so; his work did not hint at all strongly that he would become one of the dominant writers of the 1980s. Between 1985 and 1990, however, he published six novels whose importance to the realm of Hard SF – and to the world of sf in general – it would be hard to overrate. He also served as President of Science Fiction Writers of America 1988-1990. Other new writers in that period, like Lucius Shepard, had perhaps a greater grasp of the aesthetic trials and challenges of the art of fiction; still others, like Kim Stanley Robinson, might conceive a richer, more relevant world; some, like David Brin, might be handier with galaxies; and William Gibson, by giving Cyberpunk a habitation, gave Bruce Sterling (and a million wannabe residents of Cyberspace) a home. But only Orson Scott Card could legitimately and centrally stand with Bear and manifest the voice of US Genre SF.

This earned prominence would be a long trek from Hegira (1979; rev 1987), Bear's first novel, a Planetary-Romance quest tale whose venue, a huge artificial hollow world or World Ship comically called Hegira, turns out itself to be questing through space at the end of time, accompanied by a vast conglomeration of similar planets which constitute en masse a Singularity capable of surviving the end of the Universe, and whose task it is to carry the burden of life into the subsequent reality. Even in the extensively revised version of 1987, the narrative is top-heavy with explanations pumped up to gain a Sense of Wonder. Though the variegations of cast and scenery are typical of later Bear creations – and though the biological imperatives (> Biology), and the transcendental Cosmology at novel's close, would be reiterated time and again in his work – Hegira seemed to show ambition far beyond the reach of talent. It was an impression only slowly to be modified by the far-reaching (but frequently lame) books which followed, like Psychlone (1979; vt Lost Souls 1982), though Beyond Heaven's River (1980) – a tale which carries a Japanese fighter pilot from World War Two into a morally complex galactic venue 400 years hence – manages both to create a plausible protagonist and to match his understanding of the larger picture with ours. Set in a universe which shares some features with the one in that book are Strength of Stones (fixup 1981; rev 1988) and some of the stories assembled in The Wind from a Burning Woman (coll 1983; with two stories added, rev vt The Venging 1992) and Tangents (coll 1989) – "Tangents" (January 1986 Omni) itself won both Hugo and Nebula awards, and allows a thinly disguised Alan Turing (> Icons) to find refuge from this world through extra-dimensional portals evoking Edwin A Abbott's Flatland (1884). Another significant story from this period is "Hardfought" (February 1983 Asimov's), whose depiction of a far-future spacefaring human civilization has a cognitive and linguistic density rarely found in sf; it also won a Nebula. These tales depict with some confidence venues created by a human civilization faced with the need to balance ancient moral imperatives against a nearly infinite capacity to transform the universe. "The Wind from a Burning Woman" (October 1978 Analog), for instance, evokes a conflict between environmentalist Naderites and technophilic Geshels which would echo down the aisles of Eon (1985); and "Sisters" (original to the second collection) brilliantly affirms a broad-church definition of the human family. Early Harvest (coll 1988) consists chiefly of essays, with two stories from the 1970s.

It was not, however, until the publication of Blood Music (1985) – the original version, "Blood Music" (June 1983 Analog), won both the Hugo and the Nebula for best novelette – that Bear began to show his true strength, which might be defined as the capacity to incorporate the hardest and most cognitively demanding of Hard SF premises and plot-logics into tales whose protagonists display far greater complexity than anything unliving. It could be argued that the singular failure of almost all Hard SF writers to create noteworthy literature lies in their assumption that it is more difficult to understand – say – plasma physics than to understand human beings. The significance of Bear's later 1980s novels lies in the fact that his human beings are more difficult to describe than his physics. (It might be added that his political views – and like most hard-sf writers he constantly expresses them – are also graced by a lack of dreadful simplicity.) In Blood Music the hard science is Genetic Engineering, and the character who ignites the plot is a humanly ineffectual scientist who illicitly uses biochip technology to transform RNA molecules into living computers; these join together into Gestalts which themselves combine into a single transcendental higher consciousness (> Hive Minds) incorporating all of life upon the planet into one externally homogeneous biosphere. The close of the book, as this new Posthuman consciousness enters into rapport with the true Universe, has been appropriately likened to the climax of Arthur C Clarke's Childhood's End (April 1950 Famous Fantastic Mysteries as "Guardian Angel"; much exp 1953; rev 1990); it also prefigures the climaxes to most of Stephen Baxter's more ambitious novels.

Bear's other 1985 novel Eon – along with its sequel Eternity (1988), both assembled as Eon & Eternity (omni 1999), plus a prequel, Legacy (1995) – is both more conventional and more enthralling. The conventionality lies in a partial return to the large-scale enterprises of cosmological Space Opera, accompanied by a marked retreat from the nearly religious transcendentalism evoked in Bear by any application of Information Theory. The grip of the sequence lies in the remarkable fertility of the concepts presented: the hollowed-out Asteroid, from an alternate timeline, whose final chamber is literally endless; the extraordinary architectonics of Bear's demonstration of the nature of this phenomenon; the enormously complex Computer-run and Upload- and Avatar-riddled culture partway up the infinite corridor of this Macrostructure; the relentless expansion of perspective, in a series of Conceptual Breakthroughs, as the ordering and end of the entire Universe come into question in the second volume (> Omega Point). In the final analysis, this relentlessness works perhaps best in the earlier portions of the tale. Despite its obvious debt to Arthur C Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama (1971), Eon itself is perhaps the best-constructed epic of Cosmology yet written in the field, set in one of the best Space Opera arenas yet conceived – but the three volumes together amply demonstrate Bear's control over scale and cognition.

In something like the same spirit, The Forge of God (1987) tackles the End of the World by confronting Near-Future humanity with a sequence of Alien intrusions, one of which proves utterly and implacably fatal to the existence of the planet. The bulldog inexorability with which Bear presents this scenario is darkly exhilarating, and seemed at the time a welcome prophylactic to the assumption embedded in most Hard SF novels that catastrophes, no matter how grave, will be survived by the fittest: a sequel, however, Anvil of Stars (1992), somewhat softens the blow of the first volume by carrying a few human survivors in an alien ship on an interstellar revenge mission directed against the apparent makers of the autonomous Berserker weapons which destroyed Earth. A third volume in this sequence is awaited.

Ultimately more interesting, though told with a complexity that some readers have found congested, was Queen of Angels (1990), first volume in the Queen of Angels segment of the overarching Quantum Logic sequence, a loose Future History which embodies a wide range of speculations about the effects of recent theories about Nanotechnology. Set mainly in a Los Angeles (> California) transformed into a kind of beehive of human and para-human activity, Queen of Angels tells several kinds of story, in several venues: a formal tale of detection (told from the complex viewpoint of a biotransformed female cop); a prose-poem leading into voodoo; a tale of Virtual Reality entrapments and Dream Hacking, and a narrative of the coming to consciousness of an AI. Throughout, sustaining these strands of story, is a boding sense of transcendental transformation, a sense that Queen of Angels is perhaps a snapshot of one moment in an epic which will end in the total victory of information that Bear described in Blood Music. A short novel, Heads (July-August 1990 Interzone; 1990), set in the same universe, concisely conflates a Moon-based search for the Absolute Zero of temperature and the threat that a cryogenically preserved head might turn out to be that of a twentieth-century guru whose manipulative sect generations earlier proved particularly attractive in some sf circles. Moving Mars (1993), again connected to the world depicted in Queen of Angels, and which won the 1995 Nebula Award, is a broader and more traditional tale. Its depiction of Mars may lack some of the resolute arguments that accompany every speculative suggestion in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars sequence, but Bear's novel gains a commensurate freedom of sweep in its story – which intermixes politics and an array of scientific discoveries – of the emancipation of Mars from the hegemony of a Paranoia-driven Earth. The title, it may be fair to add, is meant literally. This first segment of Quantum Logic is concluded by / <Slant> (1997), a direct sequel to Queen of Angels, depicting here – with a nod again to Blood Music – a world citizenry under constant invasive/therapeutic manipulation, no individual an island, but many driven insane by commensal living at the molecular level. The two Quantico novels, Quantico (2005) and Mariposa (2009), make up the second part of the Quantum Logic sequence; they are set in a relatively intimate Near Future and provide a Technothriller backstory to the more radical explorations of the first segment, which is set further into the future; neurological manipulations of government agents go awry, but open the door to the full quantum-logic world to come.

Around the turn of the century, it seemed that Bear, after decades of significant work, had begun to mark time. He published two or three tales and sequels set in other's worlds (> Sequels by Other Hands), and assembled his shorter fiction as Bear's Fantasies (coll 1992) and The Collected Stories of Greg Bear (coll 2002); but the Darwin sequence – comprising Darwin's Radio (1999) and Darwin's Children (2003) – showed renewed vigour in its application of a supercharged version of "punctuated equilibrium" – as proposed by Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) and others – to a Near Future world, where a long-dormant but now seemingly deadly virus turns out to have been the spur that created Homo sapiens out of Neanderthal loins. Now – just past the millennium – the virus is needed again, to transform Homo sapiens into a Posthuman species capable of dealing with the mess we have made of the world. Although the second volume in particular bogs down at points in Technothriller-style politickings, the sequence is sharply and comprehensively argued; and openly conveys a melancholy that befits its subject matter. Vitals (2002) also suffers at points from Technothriller congestion, and the contaminated relationship between its two protagonists (who are twins) signals an intent on Bear's part to write horror not sf; but its speculations on human ageing are, as usual, powerful renderings in fictional terms of genuine speculative thought. The Forerunner Saga = comprising Halo: Cryptum: First Book of the Forerunner Saga (2011) and Halo: Primordium: Second Book of the Forerunner Saga (2012) – is a Tie to the Halo: Combat Evolved universe; the Forerunner civilization here featured is not a Forerunner civilization as described in this encyclopedia, though the long-disappeared Precursor civilization, which represents an intriguing Time Abyss for the protagonists of the current books, may be so described. In his various guises, and over nearly fifty books,Bear has remained a writer whose thoughts as a writer of fiction about changing the world, in those tales of his where he feels free to speculate, come challengingly close to the kind of thoughts that change the world. [JC]

see also: Arkham House; Antimatter; Asimov's Science Fiction; Astounding Science-Fiction; Automation; Children in SF; Cities; Cybernetics; Devolution; Dinosaurs; Disaster; Discovery; End of Time; Evolution; Fantasy; Galactic Empires; Gods and Demons; Identity; Intelligence; Loch Ness Monster; Machines; Mathematics; Medicine; Metaphysics; Mutants; Omni; Optimism and Pessimism; Psychology; Quantum Computers; Seiun Award; Space Habitats; Thought Experiment; Weapons; Women in SF.

Gregory Dale Bear

born San Diego, California: 20 August 1951

died

works

series

Eon

Michael Perrin

Quantum Logic: Queen of Angels

  • Queen of Angels (New York: Warner Books, 1990) [Quantum Logic: Queen of Angels: hb/Bob Eggleton]
  • Heads (London: Headline, 1990) [first appeared July-August 1990 Interzone: Quantum Logic: Queen of Angels: hb/Fred Gambino]
  • Moving Marssfgateway.com (New York: Tor, 1993) [Quantum Logic: Queen of Angels: hb/Wayne Barlowe]
  • / <Slant> (New York: Tor, 1997) [Quantum Logic: Queen of Angels: hb/Jim Burns]

Quantum Logic: Quantico

  • Quanticosfgateway.com (London: HarperCollins, 2005) [Quantum Logic: Quantico: hb/uncredited]
  • Mariposasfgateway.com (New York: Perseus Books/Vanguard Press, 2009) [Quantum Logic: Quantico: hb/uncredited]

Darwin

  • Darwin's Radio (London: HarperCollins, 1999) [Darwin: hb/Tony Stone Images]
  • Darwin's Children (New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 2003) [Darwin: hb/Ben Perini]

Forerunner Saga

individual titles

collections and stories

works as editor

links

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