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Monday, November 29, 2010

"Hull Zero Three" by Greg Bear (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Greg Bear Website
Order Hull Zero Three Here
Trailer and more about Hull Zero Three on FBC HERE

INTRODUCTION: "A starship hurtles through the emptiness of space. Its destination-unknown. Its purpose-a mystery. Its history-lost. Now, one man wakes up. Ripped from a dream of a new home-a new planet and the woman he was meant to love in his arms-he finds himself, wet, naked, and freezing to death. The dark halls are full of monsters but trusting other survivors he meets might be the greater danger. All he has are questions-- Who is he? Where are they going? What happened to the dream of a new life? What happened to the woman he loved? What happened to Hull 03? All will be answered, if he can survive. Uncover the mystery. Fix the ship. Find a way home."

Greg Bear is a famous name in sf and his novels of years ago (Eon is the most notable) were highlights for me at the time; while most are dated today, I still have a fondness for Moving Mars which has remained strongly in my memory and it is the only one of the author's older work I would recommend for today's readers; a novel of politics, love and revolution in a sfnal context, Moving Mars is less dependent on any particular sf trope, so it is one that has "time legs" imho.

Slant which takes place in Moving Mars' milieu may still be of interest too, though it never connected that well with me even at the time and it's very "cyberpunky" with the now dead subgenre's combination of prescience (social computing, Internet's pervasive reach and transformative power) and hilarious naivete (human nature, politics, history), cyberpunk being the Jetsons of the 90's and a perfect showcase for why and how sf dates so quickly.

FORMAT/INFO: Hull Zero Three stands at about 330 pages divided into three parts and quite a few short chapters, all with descriptive names. For most part the narration is first person stream-of-consciousness with the - "recently born" though as a a full grown man - narrator slowly discovering or "recalling" pertinent facts about the situation at hand while he essentially tries to survive moment to moment. The blurb above describes well enough the general set-up and part of the novel's enjoyment is discovering what's what, so I will not add more. Hull Zero Three is literary hard sf with a good dose of social commentary.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "I don’t know which is more unsettling—meeting myself dead or meeting myself alive"

Hull Zero Three stands on its style first and foremost; if the stream of consciousness narrative that you can get a taste HERE entrances you as it has happened to me, than you will love it since if you keep reading, you will slowly understand what's what as well as you will get to know a fascinating set of characters.

It is true that the book is confusing for a good while and I found myself retracing the narrative several times when some new detail appeared that seemed implied earlier and I could not recall it, but that is natural since the narrator is confused himself and the book conveys this perfectly.

The hard sf stuff (ship capabilities, layout, conditions, artifacts) is also done superbly and we slowly fit the puzzle together with the narrator. From time to time, new words and later concepts and ideas pop-up - one of the novel's main conceits is that the narrator is imprinted before "birth" but recalls stuff if/when situations warrant - and the author handles this aspect very well, never slipping by using words that the narrator could not have known and were not mentioned before.

For its first two parts which cover most of the book, Hull Zero Three was a superb read that showed how you can combine a literary style with hard-sf and keep the reader turning the pages, but I was mixed about the last part that explains things. On its own it is well done and quite emotional, but I thought that it broke the novel's unity and its narrative balance, moving from immediacy and continual discovery, to a view from above and omniscience. This change stamped Hull Zero Three as a genre novel that conforms to the requirement of explaining (almost) all. And that did not work well for me since I would rather have had an ambiguous ending with the characters still facing the unknown, ending which if handled well would have been more in the spirit of what came before.

All in all, Hull Zero Three (A+) is very good and I highly recommend it, but I still have this little regret that with an open ending it could have been one of the year's top novels for me; the explanatory last part brought it firmly into the genre camp and its expectations, rather than holding to the "convictions" of the first two parts that transcend sf.


Jamie Gibbs said...

I'm not a hard sf fan, and I've not read it in a long while, so I'm not sure if Hull Zero Three is for me. Still, if I decide to branch into this genre, then this will be the one to start on. Thanks :)

Jessica ( frellathon ) said...

I like the sound of this one a lot

Liviu said...

Thank you for the comments; i was surprised by how much i liked this book and i think it can appeal to a lot of people

Booker said...

In general terms of "like-a-bility", how does this compare to Eon? I loved Eon, but found almost everything else of Bear's to be unbearable [pun intended ;-)]. So I've stayed away from most of his new stuff. Should I give this a try?

Liviu said...

It's a very interesting question and one I can only answer by directing you to try the sample linked or here:

The book is "very personal" and I liked the narration, while the story itself is nothing particularly new in sf, but a good one

A more Christoper Priest like ending though would have been more in tune with the rest

Aspoiu said...

I've been a little bit baffled by the resemblance with "Pandorum", especially in the beginning.
Still reading on it... and liking it.

Liviu said...

Googled Pandorum since I had no idea what is and i see what you mean; I am curious to know if the book continues on the lines of that or not

gothic fantasy art said...

Its nice......

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