Discussion Board

Topic: Science, Reason and Emotion

From: Stephan Ziegler
Location: Bremen, Germany
Date: 01/18/2008

Dear Mr. Bear,

I am a student of English at Bremen University. Right now I am taking a module dealing with Science Reason and Emotion. Having read several classics including Mary Wollstonecraft Shelleys Frankenstein and Robert L. Stevensons Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde I stumbled across Blood Music. Although I am usually the least of a Science Fiction fan, your book thrilled me and urged me to finish it within several days.
Really enjoying the read I decided to actually try to involve your novel in a term paper which I will have to write soon. Considering this, I wanted to ask whether you might be able to answer me two questions concerning the novel itself but also concerning the extraordinary character of Vergil Ulam.
My first question is rather plain. While reading Blood Music I often had to think about the character of Victor Frankenstein. As you mention Frankenstein and Mary Shelley herself in the novel, I was curious in what degree this story influenced you writing Blood Music, if it did at all.
My second question deals with the character of Vergil Ulam. In my term paper I plan on comparing the three characters of Dr. Jekyll, Victor Frankenstein and most likely Vergil Ulam. I want to compare their attitude and desire in striving for knowledge and fame and in what degree scientific research might blend out reason, emotion and consciousness. Thus I wanted to ask you whether you could give me any useful information about your character, characteristics concerning science in contrast to reason and social responsibilities.
I hope I did not ask too much with this or wasted your time. It would be really great receiving an answer from you.


Stephan Ziegler (Bremen, Germany)

Re: Science, Reason and Emotion

From: Greg Bear
Date: 01/18/2008

Thanks for your fine questions, Stephan. BLOOD MUSIC is about what we now call synthetic biology, and I believe Mary Shelley was the seminal pioneer in this area. I like to drop a paper trail into my novels when possible, so that people can trace the story back to its sources. All three of the researchers you mention share a desire for knowledge, but Vergil and Victor have immense blind spots that allow learning, but prevent wisdom. Victor is a bad parent; Vergil is simply blind to potential consequences. Dr. Jekyll is perhaps the most humane. All three share a lot of characteristics with Faust, but in BLOOD MUSIC, the religious and even the moral implications are muted, since it turns out that Vergil... but that would be spoiling the story!

Re: Science, Reason and Emotion

From: Patrick Berry
Location: Vancouver, WA
Date: 01/21/2008

Mr. Bear,

Your comment about Victor being a bad parent highlights what I have always felt to be the key theme in Frankenstein. The Creature isnt inherently wrong or evil, he just is. He has no desire to cause malice and initially has no hatred of humanity. Quite the contrary, he has a keen desire to live, love and be loved.

When I finally read Frankenstein in my early 20s, it shook me just how different in theme Mary Shellys original work was all film works Id seen, including the Kenneth Branagh version in the early 90s which approached to work more closely than any other. Most adaptations or variations of the story focus on the inherent evil of science that begins to enter some exclusive realm of God. They generally focus on the irredeemable character of the monster and how mans hubris is to blame.

What destroys this emerging humanity in him stems not that he is simply a monster, but his loneliness and sense of abandonment that his creator would abandon him in disgust. He is every child abandoned by a neglected parent. In a broader sense, he is every child of the age of enlightenment who suffered an apostasy from the idea that their creator would seemingly abandon them in disgust to a world of pain and misery. Shelly was, more than anything in my opinion, chastising all those who would create and then abandon all responsibility for their creations.

This theme applies most strongly to scientists and engineers since it is they who are some of the greatest creators in our society. The act of creation, even playing God, is not in itself wrong. Refusing to take responsibility for the outcomes of ones creations is.

Id like to add another character to the list that you and Stephan have already compiled is H.G. Wells character, Dr. Moreau. Like Victor Frankenstein, Moreau is a selfish creator uses his incredible skill and knowledge to create amazing new creatures, only to abandon them to their own devices. He then uses a religion to keep some level of control so that he doesnt need to bother with them individually. Hes also like Virgil in that the consequences of his pursuit of greater knowledge are never considered.

On a personal note, Id like to add that something I truly appreciate about both yours and David Brins work is that youre not afraid to admit that while developments in science can and will cause great changes in society or with the planet itself, these changes dont have to be evil. This is unlike so much popular science fiction (like anything by Michael Crichton) that takes the low road that scientific development is too dangerous and will invariably lead to our downfall. You and a few other brave souls take the high road, weigh the difficult choices, and offer honest critiques of how technology will really affect us. Thank you.

Re: Science, Reason and Emotion

From: Greg Bear
Date: 01/22/2008

I remember Karloff's portrayal of the monster, and Whale's direction, where he is more of a misunderstood innocent with incredible and out-of-control strength. A monster, yes, but still remarkably sympathetic. Branagh's film version explicitly explores the "bad parent" idea. Isherwood's version, where the monster is handsome, is interesting. And the later "The Bride" has its moments, as well. A classic is reincarnated in many different ways!

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