(1951- ) US author whose contributions to Science Fiction, especially hard sf, are extensive and important (> SFE). Occasionally his large-scale sf devices can be decoded as Rationalized Fantasy – thus Blood Music (1985) suggests that a sufficient density of microscopic consciousnesses could adjust quantum Reality to block nuclear chain reactions by, effectively, a communal Wish.
Psychlone (1979) is a somewhat stumbling Horror novel whose premise is that nuclear explosions smash victims' Spirits into electromagnetic fragments which, unable to depart the Earth, combine into potent Elemental-like forces. The eponymous psychic horror results from the World War II bombings of Japan, and takes revenge on US towns via murderous Possession. It is ultimately nullified by particle-beam weapons, leaving a stench of hubris and untranscendable Wrongness since the US Army now owns (and cannot resist testing) the means to destroy Souls.
GB's prime work of fantasy is the Michael Perrin or Songs of Earth and Power diptych, comprising The Infinity Concerto (1984) and The Serpent Mage (1986) and assembled as Songs of Earth and Power (omni 1992 UK; rev 1994 US – the first UK edn claims revisions not in fact incorporated until the US edn). The story involves Portal crossings between Earth and a beautiful but harsh Secondary World, the "Realm", whose stylized Fantasyland qualities are deliberate: it is the imperfect creation of a self-elevated God, a place of exile for the haughty Sidhe (> Elves), stray humans, and half-breeds ("Breeds"), following millennia-past wars. Children born there lack Souls and become abominations; there are no Dreams; unpleasant Metamorphoses abound.
The hero Michael crosses over (evading a vampiric Liminal Being) and receives magical training from Three ancient Breeds. This includes the notion of "casting a Shadow" – sacrificing unwanted portions of one's own personality to make a tangible decoy or Weapon. Magic also operates through "songs of power" in words, Music, dance or even flavour (portals may be opened by one special wine): Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" (1816) is inevitably an unfinished Spell, and a dangerous human magician is discomfited by Michael's completion of the poem in words that bring its pleasure dome to destruction. Now the Balance is awry, and the flawed realm's fatal Thinning accelerates; its inhabitants return disruptively to Earth. After consulting the Serpent Mage – a shape-cursed casualty of that prehistoric war, now confined to Loch Ness – Michael vies with the Sidhe adept who would at best be able to create another marred realm, and himself achieves a new creation which merges healingly with Earth. There is renewal, for this is an Instauration Fantasy.
Songs of Earth and Power has many striking concepts, sometimes confusingly presented. It suffers from inner cross-purposes, with aspirations towards mysticism and myth undermined by the explanatory reasonableness of sf. GB is a welcome visitor to fantasy, rather than a denizen. [DRL]
other works: Sleepside Story (1988 chap); Bear's Fantasies: Six Stories in Old Paradigms (coll 1992).
Gregory Dale Bear