Blood Music

Blood MusicBlood Music by Greg Bear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have now read two books by Greg Bear, and they both went the same way. They started out good and kept me interested, cranked it up to amazing in the middle and gave me eyestrain, and then became a big pile of facepalm at the end which made me drop my ranking.

The book starts out with what I felt was a very familiar sort of story: a scientist injects himself with modified cells and begins to experience beneficial effects like advanced healing, heightened senses, youthful energy, yadda yadda. I actually went on a short pilgrimage to try to figure out when this style of story was first used, but with this book coming out in 1985 it might actually have been one of the first. But that was kind of moot because a few chapters later the story had changed completely.

It moved from there into a pandemic story, and then into full blown post-apocalyptic descriptions. My favourite kinds of books are stuff involving science, medicine, pandemics, post-apocalyptic wastelands… this book had it all for me so maybe I was a bit biased, but my god it was so good.

Then I got to the end and… nngh. I don’t know. It just totally lost me. Everything I know about quantum physics comes from entertainment media and likely not accurate at all, but it was a little eyerolling for me even taking it from an entertainment perspective. There were long pages full of completely unnecessary reminiscing, which I guess was supposed to mean more to me but I just didn’t care about the characters enough to give a shit. Then there was a long section where the characters argued about the plausibility of what was happening, which almost came across as the author providing a laundry list of all the things that were wrong with it, as if to preempt the inevitable pedantic naysayers.

But the first 3/4 or so of the book was absolutely worth my time. I’m trying to decide if I should take on another Greg Bear book next. I’m pretty sure I did this exact same thing last time… I was halfway through the book and thinking “holy shit I’m going to read every single thing this guy has written”, then I got to the end and went “….” and moved on to something else. Hrm.

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Brain on Fire

Brain on Fire: My Month of MadnessBrain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The problem with good books is that you stay up all night reading them and then they’re done. I’m predisposed to enjoy psychology/neurology mysteries, especially TRUE ones, but I certainly couldn’t put it down.

This is the true story of a medical mystery and the subsequent mishandling of the diagnosis by numerous professionals, until someone finally steps in and does the right things to uncover what’s really going on. It is fascinating from a medical standpoint, and potentially disturbing from a social standpoint. I may have a degree that focused on a lot of neuroscience theory, but I certainly didn’t do any training in diagnostic methods, and I was pretty horrified when – 48% of the way through the book and roughly 3 or 4 neurologists into the disorder – someone finally thinks to give her the clock test. Her first symptom was left side numbness and it took that long to use a standard test. Which, naturally, blew the case open… I seriously felt like I had to keep checking to make sure this hadn’t happened in the ’70s. Hrm.

If you’re interested in medicine, brains, mental disorders, or the workings (and not-workings…) of the medical and social systems today, you will probably enjoy this book.

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