on 9 November 2011
I looked forward intensely to receiving and reading Hull Zero Three, and I was not disappointed. First and foremost, this is a cracking good story with all the elements of exciting, provocative hard SF. The nameless narrator is rudely awakened from pleasant dreams of arrival on a lovely hospitable new planet, surrounded by friends and with his also nameless partner by his side. Suddenly he finds himself bruised, terrified, and freezing, and literally has to run for his life. Instead of a calm, controlled return to consciousness as planned, he gradually discovers that the starship in which he has been travelling 500 light years to colonise a new planet has been ripped, blasted, burned, and thrown severely out of control. Gravity comes and goes as the hull starts and stops spinning; sometimes it is bright, others pitch black; some areas are freezing cold, others full of unimaginable volumes of water. Worst of all, the corridors are roamed by a nightmare menagerie of deadly monsters, differing in every imaginable way except for their single-minded devotion to destroying human life. Under these circumstances, our hero (or perhaps anti-hero) finds that survival from moment to moment is almost impossible; yet he must explore the ship, evaluate the damage, find out how it was caused and do something to restore order if possible. Before the unlikely denouement, Greg Bear peps up the elements of traditional SF with psychology, biology, and even religion of the most primitive - and perhaps fundamental - kind.
"Hull Zero Three" comprises 304 pages of text, split into three main sections: "The Flesh", "The Devil", and "The World" (a typically Biblical allusion for those with that sort of background). It is quite hard to put down once you get sucked in to wondering how the narrator is going to get off the page alive, and gets even more compulsive as you begin to grasp some of the ever more substantial hints and strands of meaning that appear quite early on. As one might expect from such a seasoned and cultured author, there are all sorts of echoes of other SF books (and other sources of many kinds). The generation ship context has, of course, been thoroughly explored by many writers from Heinlein and Herbert to Alastair Reynolds. However, "Hull Zero Three" is strongly evocative of Frank Herbert's wonderful (but inexplicably neglected) masterpiece "Destination: Void" - not least through the regular references to "Ship" as a kind of person, rather than a huge amalgamation of machinery. Then there is the typically dry remark, "He tosses out three corpses, dry as husks. I don't check to see if I'm one of them". Definitely a strong redolence of Algis Budrys' classic "Rogue Moon" there... And, not to give too much away, one of the most unexpected twists is reminiscent of a short story by A E Van Vogt.
I considered awarding four stars because somehow "Hull Zero Three" didn't strike me as a masterpiece so much as a really good piece of craftsmanship by an author who is used to turning them out. That's perhaps unfair, because there is something in the essence of the book that is remorselessly prosaic, factual, unexalted. Without having very much in common plot-wise, it most reminds me of the "Alien" movies. Unlike most of the heroes of "Golden Age" SF (half a century ago), none of the people in "Hull Zero Three" seem to be in control of anything, nor to have much idea what is going on or even where (or when) they are. It's a scary, chaotic, synaesthetic roller-coaster that finally dumps you out in a reflective mood, your mind buzzing with ethical questions and perhaps even doubts about the human nature you thought was so solid and certain.
on 19 August 2012
What I like about this book is that Greg Bear involves the reader in the narrative by putting you there with the main character. The challenge is to distinguish between what is important and what is not. If you enjoy books that make you work and that you do not second guess then this book is for you. If you are looking for a simple story to ride along with then you still could enjoy the action sequences but you might want to borrow a copy rather than buy it.
'Hull Zero Three' is Greg Bear's masterful working of one of the big questions of science fiction. What happens when new technology quite literally overtakes old technology? Old hat - yes but Greg Bear has some interesting twists.
His old technology is not the usual generation ship launched from Earth towards a specific target. This behemoth is an automated ship with three semi-autonomous hulls, linked through Destination Control, and wrapped around the mountain of ice that is its fuel and propellant supply. The plan is that as the ship nears the halfway point of its journey it will give birth to a group of human crew members. They will live in Destination Control and select the ships target system. As the ship approaches its target world it will give birth to other human crew members. The key twist is that these crew members will be genetically adapted to both survive on their new world and to perform specific duties. One such special task is the extermination of any intelligent, native life from their new world.
The story of 'Hull Zero Three' happens long after the time of the selection of the ship's destination. The main character is born believing that the ship has arrived. He expects to be disembarking to teach the new settlers about humanity's ideals and achievements. Instead he is pulled in to a very different ship where the first thing that he has to do is to run for his life. His guide to safety is a girl who knows him better than he knows himself and calls him 'Teacher'.
Superficially 'Hull Zero Three' is an adventure story with a single hero. It is confusing because it is a first person narrative and the narrator is confused. Teacher does not understand what is happening to him. He is having to pull the strands together as he runs. Initially to survive himself and then to ensure the survival of the humans a later version of him will teach sometime in the future. This gives Greg Bear the space that he needs to make this a very different story and one that is well worth the effort of reading.
The novel starts with the narrator seemingly arriving at a new world which he and his fellow travellers are about to colonise and turn into a utopia. However he is quickly ripped out of this dream of eden and instead dumped into the nightmare world of the colonising starship still on its journey but where things have gone badly wrong.
He is untimely ripped from an artificial womb and forced to confront a world where gravity comes and goes, where different variations on humanity form shifting alliances, where ghosts lurk in the machine, and where all are hunted by monstrous creatures fashioned from the ship's gene pool.
This is a thriller of discovery as our narrator, at first confused, and with large gaps in his knowledge, slowly learns about himself, about the nature of the ship on which he is travelling, about what has gone wrong and about the true nature of its mission. All the time, he and his companions must decide who to trust and with whom to ally themselves between three powerful forces, Ship Control, Destination Guidance and the apparently benevolent Mother.
To get a feel of the novel I would say it has elements of Greg Bear's own Anvil of Stars in its themes of the destruction of civilsiations and of children growing beyond their parents, the nature of the mission owes much to Allen Steele's Coyote novels and the environment within the starship is reminiscent of Larry Niven's Integral Trees.
This is definitely at the thought provoking end of SF, exploring themes of identity, of what is acceptable in the name of survival and of colonialism. The writing is often dreamlike, sometimes borders on the lyrical, but is also gripping and fast paced when necessary. There are some definite ambiguities and seeming contradictions within the narrative, but rather than being a problem, these reflect the confused state of the central character
As one would expect from Bear this is highly imaginative and works on a very big scale.
on 22 January 2012
What an absolutely cracking read! A fast paced action/mystery set on a deep space seed ship with a theme slightly reminiscent of Christopher Nolan's excellent film `Memento' insofar as the main protagonist has had various degrees of success in achieving a less than obvious goal through countless lifetimes, each time recording his actions for his next incarnation. This is probably the fastest paced sci-fi book I have ever read; I really did not want to put it down and the far from obvious mystery very slowly unfolds so that the reader, through the experiences of the main characters, has no clue as to the eventual outcome. Even the confusingly disjointed beginning makes perfect sense, cleverly portraying the utter disorientation of the main character following his `birth'. The atmosphere and tension are maintained consistently, visualisation of the setting is superb and Bear's original twist on the old seed ship concept is brilliant.
All-in-all, an absolutely brilliant book and it is great to see Greg Bear, one of my favourite authors, return to his earlier work's level of excellence.
on 20 February 2013
Teacher is roused in a strange environment. His only companion a young girl who seems to now more than he does. fragments of memory tantalise him as they avoid the strange dangers of The Ship. What a great start. It becomes clear that the vessel and its autonomous maintenance creatures are malfunctioning. The dangerous journey to find a control, or at least a safe place to stop, grips from the first page.
But about a third of the way in the book begins to drag. There are only so many occasions that information can be withheld from the protagonist or that other characters can play coy with what they know. Explanations seem to become deliberately obtuse just to keep the plot going. But there is a lot to find out, and it might have been a better book if the characters were allowed to do so.
on 19 February 2015
Basic concept: guy gets revived in big spaceship. Bad things happen. We follow him as he learns about the ship and himself. Which should, it being by Bear, be the basis for a pretty good tale, but - for once, his descriptive power is not up to what he sees in his head. The Ship and its collapse is too complex, the Factors too varied, the little gang of survivors too stereotypical. And the scifi is close to magical - corridors close off, food and drink appear, the biological underpinning happens too easily. At one stage a laser fires with no explanation, conveniently saving our hero.
Some things work. The seedship idea is a good one, the main character appealing, especially as he tried to find his place in the universe, but it doesn't compensate. Disappointing.
on 2 January 2012
This is an excellent story but does it utmost best to put you off in the first 50 pages or so. The first 50 pages are incredibly difficult to read and are highly fragmented and are not very rewarding. While this reflects the mental state of the main character, it doesn't work particularly well. However, if you managed to push beyond this the story open up and is a really good read. I personally would have preferred a somewhat more drawn out and detailed ending, it just felt just a little rushed. Well worth 4 stars.
Still highly recommended.
on 11 October 2011
It appears that Hull Zero Three hasn't been very well received on Amazon and that's pretty sad. I greatly anticipated its release and was mystified by the Vine program's negative feedback. To truly appreciate Hull Zero Three, I think the reader needs to meet two criteria, like myself:
1) The reader needs to understand most of Greg Bear's work, including his 1980s and 1990s grand space spectacles of The Way series and Forge of God series). Also, the reader must be disenfranchised with Bear's work since the millennium (Quantico, Vitals and especially City at the End of Time). This will give you a proper lead-up to what Bear has accomplished and why Hull Zero Three is a return to his grand tradition of space spectacles.
2) The reader must be disappointed in the state of the art of American science fiction. I don't read any of the stuff since the millennium as there's been a preferred chasm of difference with British SF. US SF tends to have very short paragraphs with lots of dialogue and it nearly always reads like a Hollywood scrip for people with short attention spans.
NOW, open up the deliciously ambiguous book entitled Hull Zero Three. Granted, from the onset, the initial "man wakes up on ship with amnesia" isn't exactly unique but banish that from your feeble mind as the subject is at the masterful (er, with the exception of End of Time) hands of Greg Bear. Like the main character, Teacher, we, too are borne unto this novel with little knowledge of what is happening but we grow to understand the environment, the dangers, the expectations and direction: where the Teacher learns so the reader, where the Teacher panics so the reader panics. Identify with this: "I'm just a pair of eyes on the end of a stalk of neck with a brain and some hands and legs attached."
I won't to expose too much detail about the greater scene of the book because it's important that the reader, like to protagonist, learns as he/she goes. So, to just glance over the plot, here it is: Three separate hulls are on a 500-hundred-year journey to inhabit the stars. Something has gone wrong, albeit a malicious deviation of course or a natural phenomenon. People are being awoken, these people are being killed by the Ships machines. On board is the entire Gene Pool of earth and the landing crew will make use of this gene pool to adapt to the environment of the one planet they will fall upon. They have only the one shot to establish their civilization.
I must mention the Gene Pool part of the plot because it's by far the most titillating potential in the entire book. Stop and think about the variation of life on earth and how, in the future, it may be possible to alter man in any way, always abiding by the gene pool, to suit Man for life on other planets. Hull Zero Three visits some minor shifts in the human DNA but always tiptoes around some of the more exotic spectrum of what humans could become. The details revolving around this 500-year trip and the gene pool are hugely enticing and very rewarding.
Like mentioned in criterion #2, Hull Zero Three is unlike anything the US SF has recently produced (this includes Vinge and the peripheral Star Wars, Star Trek and Halo series). No author has gotten it right except for our friends across the pond, many of whom I'm a great fan of: Banks, Hamilton, Reynolds, Stross. Greg Bear writes in a style similar to the British friends, where there is more of a focus on describing environment, emotion, experience and detail with longer paragraphs, more internal monologue and less frivolous chit-chat.
"Exploring," in his purest essence, isn't about banally chatting about what you're seeing... it's about internalizing the experience and relating yourself to your surroundings. Much like Hull Zero Three - you'll explore the Ship (Hulls One AND Three!) through the internalized experience of Teacher. However, you'll also be grappling with the fear of death, dismemberment, starvation and suffocation. Great contrast.
on 31 March 2012
A man wakes up aboard a massive spaceship in chaos. He meets strange humanoids and learns to avoid 'Cleaners', semi-robotic creatures that will kill. He discovers how to maneuver in weightless environments. When food is found it prompts an orgy of eating. A little girl gives him a small book containing a diary seeming left by another version of himself. And so on, as things, mostly bad, happen. The reader endures, much like the central character, a forced search for meaning. But there is no massive revelation, only strange encounters which supply hints of this or that. Clearly, something has gone wrong but this is obvious from page 1.
This tale might make have made an interesting short story, but as a novel it drags. While the idea has promise, it would have been useful, say, to have had a counterpoint thread which revealed the history of the mission and the spaceship before the disaster that causes the trials and tribulations that make up the main narrative. What we have is a few hundred pages of encounters and the slog of reading the narrative.
on 23 December 2012
This is the story of a man who wakes up in a starship, naked and freezing, and is forced out into the corridors of the ship to survive; to find out what the hell is going on.
Split into three sections - The Flesh, The Devil, and The World - it starts like an offshoot of the Alien franchise movies, with a dash of Event Horizon, as our narrator encounters deadly beasts, and struggles just to survive.
Some parts of the ship are cold and getting colder. Some have lower gravity and some have higher gravity. It's a puzzle, and therefore the story progresses, with the struggle for survival combined with the hunt for answers and redemption. Where is the ship going to, and why? Are his memories dreams, reality, or implanted? Should he be trusting the voices he hears, and the creatures he meets? Any? All? Which? And, ultimately, is there an escape?
The horror aspect is truly horrible; there are some pretty awful things he encounters. I wasn't a hundred percent convinced by the rationale, but accept it as at least a possibility in that world. The unravelling of the riddle about the ship was, to me, a bit patchy. As the bits and pieces were revealed, there was no sense of wonder or surprise, or satisfaction. (Maybe I missed some detail in the reading.) However, this did not detract as much as I thought it might, perhaps because the survival story keeps racing along and is engrossing.
I hope somebody decent has bought the movie rights, as with good direction this could be a super piece of cinema.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. Bear's observations, and his whole take on the position of the book's central figure, is both entertaining and thoughtful. It is well written, largely cliche free, contains a good blend of action, puzzle, and conjecture, and is a fine piece of fiction.