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Bear, Greg

Entry updated 3 March 2023. Tagged: Author.

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Working name of US author Gregory Dale Bear (1951-2022), son-in-law of Poul Anderson. He began publishing work of genre interest with "Destroyers" in Famous Science Fiction for Winter 1967, and became a full-time writer in 1975. His first stories and novels were auspicious but not perhaps remarkably so; his early work did not hint at all strongly that he would become one of the dominant writers of the 1980s. Between 1985 and 1990, however, Bear 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 more argued, 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 in this decade and manifest the voice of US Genre SF.

It would be a long trek to that point. Hegira (1979; rev 1987), Bear's first novel, is an overcrowded 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 (see 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 that would gradually be modified through the far-reaching (but sometimes 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 that book are Strength of Stones (fixup 1981; rev 1988) – which memorably features AI-governed but ultimately dysfunctional mobile Cities that have exiled the sentients they were meant to serve – plus 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 (see 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 as best novella. 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) (see below); 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 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 in longer forms 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, spilling over the psychic trammels of the typical Thought Experiment. 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 expressed them – were 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 (see Hive Minds) incorporating all of the life in North America into one externally homogeneous biosphere (see Grey Goo), in what might be described as an ultimately benign Pandemic. 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 –beginning the Eon sequence, which includes a sequel Eternity (1988), and 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 (see Omega Point; Sense of Wonder). Eon is in a sense a Slingshot Ending that begins on the first page of the tale. Despite its obvious debt to Arthur C Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama (1971), it 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 sequence beginning with 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 (see Clichés; Social Darwinism): a sequel, however, Anvil of Stars (1992), somewhat softens the blow of the first volume by carrying a few young 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 seemed inevitable but did not materialize.

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 (see 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 may perhaps constitute a snapshot of one moment in an epic which will end in the total victory of information that Bear described in Blood Music (see Information Theory; Intelligence). A short novel, Heads (July-August 1990 Interzone; 1990), set in the same universe, concisely conflates a Moon-based search for Absolute Zero 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 (see Scientology).

Again connected to the world depicted in Queen of Angels is Moving Mars (1993), a broader and more traditional tale which won the 1995 Nebula Award. Its depiction of Mars may lack some of the resolute argumentation that accompanies 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, which depicts – 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 (see Sequels by Other Hands) – including Dinosaur Summer (1998), a Young Adult follow-up to Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (April-November 1912 Strand; 1912) in which captured Dinosaurs are returned to their proper habitat – and assembled his shorter fiction as Bear's Fantasies (coll 1992) and The Collected Stories of Greg Bear (coll 2002). But at the same time, 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" Evolution – 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. Darwin's Radio won a Nebula as best novel. 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 occasionally from Technothriller congestion, and the contaminated relationship between its two protagonists (who are twins) may signal an intent on Bear's part to write Horror rather than 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. City at the End of Time (2008) is an elaborate and intriguing homage to William Hope Hodgson's The Night Land (1912) (see End of the World; Eschatology; Keep). The shuttling between contemporary Seattle and the Far Future City of Kalpa at the End of Time is storyable and intense; the tale climaxes in scenes of some Metaphysical gravitas as it comes clear that the quasi-god of destruction attempting to shut down the world does so out of a terror of being told. But the story of the universe is that the universe is story: so the god (as gods do) falls victim to Entropy.

The protagonist of Hull Zero Three (2011) awakens from Cryonic Suspended Animation to find that the vast interstellar colony ship where he went to sleep has been transformed into an inimical Labyrinth. The War Dogs sequence beginning with War Dogs (2014) is a complex Military SF tale set initially on Mars, where enigmatic Aliens threaten humanity; the conflict broadens inevitably, to Titan (see Outer Planets) and beyond. In The Unfinished Land (2021), which is ostensibly a Young Adult Fantasy set in 1588 after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, a young lad finds himself adrift in a chthonic chain of Islands; his subsequent coming-of-age pilgrimage engages him with a large cast, some of them metaphorically enriched Red Shirts.

In his various guises, and over nearly fifty books, Bear remained an author whose thoughts as a writer of fiction about changing the world, in those tales of his where he felt freest to speculate, come challengingly close to the kind of thoughts that do change the world. At his most exuberant, he was a writer whose hefty clear mind could not be gainsaid. He was posthumously honoured with a 2023 Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award (see SFWA Grand Master Award). [JC]

see also: Arkham House; Antimatter; Asimov's Science Fiction; Astounding Science-Fiction; Automation; Children in SF; Cybernetics; Devolution; Disaster; Discovery; Galactic Empires; Gods and Demons; Identity; Loch Ness Monster; Machines; Mathematics; Medicine; Mutants; Omni; Optimism and Pessimism; Psychology; Quantum Computers; Robert A Heinlein Award; Seiun Award; Space Habitats; Weapons; Women in SF.

Gregory Dale Bear

born San Diego, California: 20 August 1951

died Seattle, Washington: 19 November 2022



Star Trek

Michael Perrin


The Forge of God

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 Mars (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]

Star Wars

Quantum Logic: Quantico

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


  • 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

War Dogs

  • War Dogs (New York: Orbit, 2014) [War Dogs: hb/Shutterstock]
  • Killing Titan (New York: Orbit, 2015) [War Dogs: hb/Arcangel Images/Shutterstock]
  • Take Back the Sky (New York: Orbit, 2015) [War Dogs: hb/Lauren Panepinto]

individual titles

The Complete Short Fiction of Greg Bear

collections and stories

works as editor


previous versions of this entry

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