Skip to main content

Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear

Teacher wakes up after a beautiful dream of arriving at a new world, the destination of an immense generation ship finally reached, a beautiful blue world hanging below, ready for colonization. The dream ends abruptly, leaving him to confront a very different reality. As a small girl insistently tugs him away from his hibernation (?) pod, they begin to run, chasing receding light, the air already lethally cold.



That is the promising beginning of Greg Bear's 2010 novel Hull Zero Three, a thrilling, if somewhat opaque hard SF thriller. The protagonist of the story, Teacher, has no memory of his identity or knowledge of his purpose, only slowly learning that he has been reborn on an immense ship, a ship that appears to be doing its level best to kill him and all other humans.

"It's a ship," one of the characters he meets pronounces, "A sick ship."

Bear's best work combines a naturalistic touch for characters with speculation on truly epic scales. His early novels Blood Music, Eon, and Eternity, slip easily from straight-forward human drama to contemplations of phenomena stretching to the ends of time and the transcendence of human civilization. He wrote some of the earliest stories addressing the nanotechnology and a coming singularity (although he's never called it this, as far as I know). 

Here, Hull Zero Three pulls the reader in two directions: outwards with a consideration of the staggering scale of the generation ship Teacher journeys through and inwards with a rumination on the nature of identity. Nothing in the book is terribly original; many, many authors have explored generation ships and the slippery nature of identity and duplication detailed in this story reminds me of the movie Moon. Bear has a talent for details: bewildering, bizarre, and strangely specific descriptions of water tanks the size of asteroids, monsters like crabs with lawnmowers for mouths, and the starship itself, which is on a scale difficult to fathom, let alone sketch out without having the plot bog down in an avalanche of explication. 



Bear's careful husbanding of details and facts can become maddening. I'm currently rewatching LOST with my wife and its bread-crumb approach to revealing mysteries reminds me a lot of this book. People speak enigmatically about dark truths they assume the listener already knows or couldn't possibly handle learning about. Clues are left behind in tattered books and drawn on walls. One gets a sense very early on that no one can be fully trusted, not even the narrator. Framed narratives abound, as well as tricky flash-backs. Unfortunately, just like LOST, this is doubly true given the sense that the mystery, once solved, isn't going to be anywhere near awesome enough to justify the time spent investigating it.

While I think the book overall was a quick fun read for fans of hard sci fi, I wouldn't recommend to anyone except genre-fans. The story is well-told and engaging, but the ideas here have been better explored elsewhere, including in previous work by Bear.
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Review of I Wish I Was Like You by S.P. Miskowski

Even 23 years later, I remember 1994 and Kurt Cobain's death. I experienced that moment as a kind of inside out personal crisis. I felt ashamed by his death. As though his exit in someway indicted my own teenage miseries. "I wish I was like you," goes the verse in 'All Apologies,' "Easily amused." I felt as though a check I hadn't remembered writing had just been cashed. 


SP Miskowski's book, named after the first half of that line, is in the words of another reviewer, a novel that shouldn't work. The narrator is unlikeable, unreliable, and dead. The plot is almost entirely told as a flashback and long sections of the novel concern the inner processes of the writer. The daily grind to summon up enough self-esteem to carry a sentence to its logical conclusion is a real struggle, people, but it ain't exactly riveting.

But the thing is, this novel works. It is one of the best things I've read all year and a real achievement in weird ficti…

What I Read in 2017

The third in my series of year-end lists is literature. As in past years, I've divided this post into two categories: Novels and short stories. Each of these stories made 2017 just a bit brighter for me and I hope this list includes at least a writer or two new to you.


Novels:
I Wish I was You by SP Miskowski: This was the subject of a review earlier this year. The way I feel about this novel, the tragedy of a talented person crippled by anger and regret, transformed into a monstrous avatar of wrath, has not really left me. Beyond the perfection of its prose and its preternatural subject matter, I feel like this is one of the best evocations of the mid-nineties I've seen published. There's something about this book that lingers with me long past the concerns of its plot and characters. I guess what I'm trying to say is this work moved me. 2017 would have been a lot dimmer if I hadn't read this work.New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson: Robinson writes next-level sp…

Review of "Pretty Marys All in a Row" by Gwendolyn Kiste

Part of the reason American Gods works is that it offers a kind of reward to folk lore mavens and religious study majors. Do you have a working familiarity with obscure Northern European mythologies? Are you able to describe what Neil Gaiman got right and what he fudged a bit in terms of the Egyptian religion? Then the guessing games of that novel - just which Middle Eastern Goddess is this? - magnify its other charms. 
"Pretty Marys All in a Row" by Gwendolyn Kiste (released by Broken Eye Books), is a novella for people, like me, who are waiting impatiently for the next season of Bryan Fuller's show. It's not set in that universe, certainly, but approaches the question of folklore from a similar perspective. Namely, that myths have a definite, physical explanation and your knowledge of such things will expand your enjoyment of the work. In the case of Pretty Marys, the stories are urban legends and nursery rhymes about young women. The main character, Rhee, is named…