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3.5 out of 5 stars
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3.5 out of 5 stars
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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.
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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.
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on 24 September 2012
Love sci-fi books, was expecting great things of this one but it never really kicks off in an interesting way. Dull things happen to uninteresting, expendable characters. Disappointed.
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VINE VOICEon 23 December 2010
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.

Highly recommended.
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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.
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on 11 June 2015
I read this on my e-reader and was dismayed that Greg Bear, whom I previously considered a talented Sci-Fi writer, should have consented to having such a lame and unimaginative story published. I can only conclude that he was strapped both for cash and inspiration. I'm not sure which seemed longer; the ship's interstellar journey or the book (320 pages).
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on 28 June 2017
The survival of the race, evidently, depends on the survival and success of the Ship. But the creatures that we care about have been infected by conscience. That may be a problem for the Ship. An intriguing adventure that discusses how we learn, what are memories, and that basic right or wrong. Good enough to spend time with.
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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.
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VINE VOICEon 25 January 2012
Strongly tempted not to finish this; I'm 120 pages in out of 320, and very, very little has happened - the main character has woken up and spent all those 120 pages saying how confused and amnesiac he is, and there seems to be a mention of "cold" and "shifting gravity" on every one of those 120 pages. Right. I get it. Now get on with the plot, please.

Given there's 200 pages left, there's no way this can possibly have a satisfying conclusion. The story is incredibly derivative so far, and I regret buying it, really. If you're a seasoned sci-fi reader, there's nothing much here for you; the premise is far better than the realisation.
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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.
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