Vergil's work is integral to his identity. To destroy the cultures would spell the death of Vergil's dream to belong to society's mainstream, create "billions of capable cellular computers," then found his own laboratory and company. Tests show the cells to be very intelligent — each as intelligent as a mouse, with potential for becoming as intelligent as a rhesis monkey. The novel's themes of personal identity and alienation involve all of humankind as well, since Vergil's "selfish" genes overwhelm him and spread beyond his body.
A related theme of social structure arises as other characters observe and speculate. What happens to individuality in an all-consuming group? Bear extrapolates here on the basis of information theory, largely through another "infected" character, Dr. Michael Bernard. "Was the noosphere a rigid hierarchy, lacking in dissent or even comment?" Michael asks. The engulfing cells prompt his comment on the theme of rebirth: "I have no past. I am cut loose and there is really nowhere to go but where they wish to take me."
Questions of human identity and the nature of reality are resolved as the situation evolves toward a single consciousness, a single vast, bizarre life form taking over a continent: "Textures and forms hitherto unknown to biologists, to geologists, cover the cities and suburbs, even the wildernesses of North America." The novel rejects the possibility of humankind's spiritual transcendence and provides a...
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