And Then There Was Nothing: Existentialism and Horror in Science Fiction
“There is no traced-out path to lead man to his salvation; he must constantly invent his own path (Vasey).” With this freedom comes immense fear— fear of choices, of the consequences of those choices. Perhaps worse than this, is the thought of no consequence at all. Not because of proper decision-making or behavior, but simply because the consequence would be irrelevant. In the end, it mattered not what anyone did—it all just ends. Existentialist philosophy begs these kinds of questions; many of which play directly into the newly bled together works or horror and science fiction. “Blood Music” by Greg Bear is a terrifying work of art that incorporates existentialist theory into its story to contemplate human existence, or the potential lack thereof, and the implications of a genre composed of both science or speculative fiction and horror.
One of the current arguments in existentialist philosophy is that the universe only exists because subjects are present to observe it. This is the same idea as the old adage, ‘If a tree falls in a forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?’. "The expectation that the corporeal embodiment that has always functioned to define the limits of the human will ... become optional (Gutierrez-Jones)” in blood music, as the main catalyst of trouble in the story are MAB’s, or Medically Applicable Biochips. When the MAB’s begin to overtake Vergil, he is described by himself and Edward as “turning into a galaxy (Bear, p. 756) “ and being “their universe (Bear, p. 753)”. Going back to the aforementioned argument, observation constitutes existence. Here, we have a human becoming a universe; but according to existentialist philosophy, universes only exist because they are observed, namely by humans. Following this chain of logic, if humans become universes, nothing is present to observe them. If nothing is present to observe the universes, they cease to exist, and by default, human life ceases to exist. By the close of “Blood Music”, the MAB’s have expanded their reach immeasurably, turning even more people into their hosts by way of Edward and his wife Gail. Person by person, there are fewer humans and more galaxies, more universe—and all shall collapse and cease to be once all of the humans are converted.
Philip K. Dick perhaps all too wisely “feared that [his] own TV set or iron or toaster would, in the privacy of [his] apartment, when no one else was around to help [him], announce to [him] that they had taken over, and here was a list of rules [he] was to obey.” In “Blood Music”, this takeover is quiet, and patient, waiting until the opportune moment. While the MAB’s are still fairly new to his body, Vergil expresses worry that the MAB’s “haven’t even begun to get their act together (Bear, p. 751)”; that he “doesn’t want them to take over (Bear, p. 751)” and “steal [his] soul (Bear, p. 751)”. Based on the context in which these concerns are presented, it is difficult to say how seriously Vergil takes his own words, as he offers them almost in jest. However, as he continues to be upgraded, so to speak, he does not realize his fears, but Edward does. The MAB’s do indeed take over. After their trial run with Vergil, the MAB’s spread to Edward, who remarks that “the effort of ages on their timescale paid off and they communicated smoothly and directly with this greatly, clumsy intelligence who had once controlled their universe (Bear, p. 761)”; ‘once’ being the key word here. “They were not cruel (Bear, p. 761)”, but they removed all freedom and individuality from their hosts, only administering commands, which Edward and eventually Gail follow without resistance. It was said by the ancient Greeks that humans originally possessed two heads, four arms, and four legs; in fear of their power, Zeus separated them into halves, forever in search of their separated companion. In utter violation of this narrative, and perhaps a final jab at the death of all things human including their gods, the MAB’s command Gail and Edward to “hold each other (Bear, p. 761)”, where “standing, [they] grew together (Bear, p. 761)”, and then spread out to assimilate the rest of humanity.
With everything going, fading, one would think that there would be some sort of heroic revolt; some kind of daring deed pulled off by the protagonist to save himself and the rest of humanity from utter extinction, but no such thing occurs. There is only a quiet acceptance of the loss of control, and finally, submission. As he comes closer and closer to the close of his individual consciousness, Edward remarks that, “all [his] fear and hatred is gone (Bear, 762)”. Right in line with existentialist philosophy, one must accept their life as pointless, and assign themselves meaning to continue living, or stop at acceptance and end their life. There is no heroism in Edward now. He accepts his own life’s futility, and does not further resist the MAB’s influence. To offer another interpretation, earlier on in the story, the longer Vergil had the MAB’s within him, the more his narration became unreliable. It was often difficult to tell if it was truly Vergil speaking, or if the MAB’s were influencing what they wanted him to say. It would not be far fetched to speculate that here; the MAB’s do not want Edward to resist, so they take away his hate and his fear. They leave him hollow and indifferent for their own purposes—after all, it is easier to conquer a surrendered host rather than a resilient one.