Queen of Angels
By Greg Bear

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Rating: Terrific!
3.5 Stars

First Published: 1990
US Hardback Jacket Illustration by:  Bob Eggleton
Pages: 417

Review © 2009 by Stephen Roof
Genre:  Science Fiction, Thriller



Queen of Angels by Greg Bear is an ambitious “hard” science fiction novel that dives deep into exploration of the human psyche and the very nature of self awareness.   Bear throws everything but the kitchen sink into this novel including a genetically enhanced police woman, a horrific multiple murder, race issues, voodoo, vigilantes, poetry, writers block, psychology, artificial intelligence, and exploration by a space probe of the first planets outside our solar system.

In Queen of Angels, the world in the mid 21st century has been greatly changed through the introduction of nano therapy which can eliminate almost all psychological problems.  Of course, there are those who prefer to be “natural”, choosing to live with their psychological defects rather than risk losing some part of their “self”.  In particular, those with creative talents like artists and writers account for a large portion of the naturals as they worry that therapy could diminish their creativity.  But now, a famous “natural” poet has seemingly murdered some of his admirers and even his own godchild.  No one can fathom a motive and the prime suspect has disappeared. 

This novel is made up of four separate narratives which slows the pace initially as the novel bounces back and forth among all the storylines.  Gradually, however, the narratives become more tightly connected and the pace of the novel increases dramatically.  

One of the narratives follows Mary Choy, the genetically modified police woman, on her search for the murder suspect as she races against a vigilante force which would like to enforce its own severe punishment on the murderer before the state has a chance to cure him with therapy.

Perhaps the most exciting narrative includes an expedition into the subconscious of the suspected killer.  The explorers encounter completely unexpected situations in a dream-like environment which they find is much more dangerous than they imagined.

Bear uses some innovative methods to keep his four storylines separate in the readers mind.  He uses a font like a teletype for the human to computer communications in a narrative involving the development of artificial intelligence which is being used to pilot a probe in the first attempt to explore a planet outside our solar system.  For a narrative about a friend of the suspected killer, he mixes first person narrative technique with first person stream of consciousness.  Bear employs the + symbol before each stream of consciousness outburst.  Within the stream of consciousness, punctuation is all but eliminated which makes these sections a bit more difficult to read.

With all these narratives in action, Bear explores the ideas of self, self awareness, the differences and similarities between human and computer “thinking”, ideas of social awareness, punishment, and retribution. 

I highly recommend Queen of Angels to anyone interested in psychology or artificial intelligence.  This novel provides a tremendous amount of food for thought which seems particularly relevant as we inch towards the realization of “self-aware” computers.