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  1. #1
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    Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear

    I'm interested in opinions about Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear (published last year in the US, it was just published in the UK and Australia). The search function turns up a few hits, but I was wondering if anybody who has read it could elaborate. I'm finding it hard to get a sense of the book from the reviews (some of which I've extracted below). Is this a difficult novel? Is it a short, spare novel? Is it a puzzle novel? How hard is the hard science in the novel? What books might it be similar to?

    Thanks, in anticipation.

    PW's review:

    Starred Review. Multiple Hugo and Nebula winner Bear (City at the End of Time) sets this difficult but rewarding short novel on an interstellar colony ship gone astray. Teacher was supposed to be awakened just before landfall. What he finds when he gains some semblance of consciousness, however, is a dangerous and chaotic environment, with monsters roaming the ship's corridors and no one in charge. As he and a small band of equally ignorant crew members attempt to reach the gigantic ship's control center, they travel through a series of labyrinthine spaces, uncovering a variety of clues to the disaster that has destroyed large parts of the starship and damaged the controlling AIs. Not for those who prefer their space opera simpleminded, this beautifully written tale where nothing is as it seems will please readers with a well-developed sense of wonder. (Dec.)
    Booklist's review:

    Never one to play it safe in his consistently inventive fiction, Bear takes the reader for a harrowing ride on a labyrinthine starship in his latest hard-SF-oriented novel. Bearís protagonist is an amnesiac starship crew member just released from a deep hibernation state called Dreamtime. Naked, disoriented, and forced by extreme temperature and gravity fluctuations to find safety somewhere among a confusing network of passageways, the man eventually receives help from an odd assortment of fellow Dreamtime refugees. Taking stock of their surroundings, while avoiding onboard killing machines, the gang quickly realizes the starship has given them each a unique role to play, including discovering collectively why the ship has been seriously damaged and cast aside from its mission to seek out habitable worlds. Bearís pithy, occasionally cryptic writing style perfectly captures the chaotic experiences and unsettling revelations the team endures, while putting an intriguing spin on the timeworn SF theme of interstellar planet hunting. One of Bearís most thought-provoking and well-crafted novels to date. --Carl Hays
    From SFX:

    Thereís a scene in, of all things, a documentary about folk musician Martin Carthy that springs to mind when reading Greg Bearís new novel. First, weíre shown footage of Carthy performing ďScarborough FairĒ in the Ď60s, a song he introduced to one Paul Simon. His picking style is rich and detailed; itís a virtuoso performance. But then we see the latter-day Carthyís reaction. His younger self, weíre left in no doubt, is a clever arse, a man over-elaborating because he can.

    If you were being particularly unkind, you might say something similar about the work that made Greg Bearís name. His ďThe WayĒ sequence novels, for example, are vast in scope, involving the creation of a pocket universe no less. Think Bear and you think big. Bigger than big. Vast. Humongous.

    The shadow cast across Bearís career by such novels as Eon has arguably been just as huge. And in many respects misleading, because the American has never just written big SF. Look down through his bibliography and youíll see countless moments when heís worked with just, ahem, the Bear necessities (sorry). For evidence, consider the unsettling, near-future hi-tech thrillers the author began to produce around the turn of the millennium.

    Even though itís set aboard a starship travelling light years away from Earth, you can make a similar observation about Hull Zero Three. The key here lies in the set-up. Rather than show us a teeming generation ship, or even portraying events from the perspective of a small crew of experts trusted to bring cryogenically preserved humans through the void, the novel is set on a craft where something has clearly gone very wrong.

    Our guide to the ship is Teacher, who wakes from a hibernation state he calls Dreamtime to find himself naked and vulnerable. Teacherís consciousness is as notable for its gaps as for what he knows. At moments, heís akin to a Samuel Beckett character, trying to make sense of his world while operating with at best incomplete, possibly even downright misleading, information.

    Despite this, he somehow has to negotiate a shipboard environment thatís somewhere between hostile and downright lethal Ė and grotesque and eerie. This isnít a novel to pick up at 4.00am when you canít sleep.

    Embarking on a ship-traversing odyssey, Teacher eventually becomes part of an oddball gang of cohorts who, between them, might just be able to figure out whatís gone wrong. More importantly, they might even be able to correct the situation while heading off a threat to the shipís continuing viability.

    Itís a simple story told simply Ė perhaps even too simply, in that one of an often cryptic bookís seemingly more concrete plot developments may be just a little too convenient as (without giving too much away, Bear plays with the idea of benevolent beings influencing human development.) Itís also a book written in a pared-down style. Bear rarely sees the need to have his protagonists stop and show us the wonder. Instead, Teacher and co move through a world largely made up of claustrophobic spaces where, more often than not, danger lurks.

    The overall effect is of hard space fiction reduced to just a few of its essential constituent parts. But the key word here is essential. Rather as a folk song played simply can carry an almighty emotional wallop, Bearís book is all the more powerful because heís removed various bits of hard SF twiddly ornamentation that, it turns out, really donít much matter all that much.

    Jonathan Wright

  2. #2
    Registered User livens's Avatar
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    I was hooked from page one. The best book I read in 2010.

    Ive only read 2 other books by GB, EON and Blood Music. Blood Music was really good and EON was OK... but they both had this odd feel to them, like I was reading a TV show. That's not bad in itself, maybe it was just the times, but it did distract me somewhat while I was reading.

    But he has certainty changed his style since then for the better. I found none of that TV feel in H03. I found it easy to read. Maybe others felt it was hard because GB keeps you in the dark much longer than most authors would have. I loved that part of it, not really having any idea what was going on or what happened. You find out piece by piece and by the end your mind is reeling back putting everything together, then everything makes sense.

    I also loved the types of tech he used. But if I describe it here it would ruin the story for you Just go read it.

  3. #3
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    I haven't read that one yet, but usually I like his stuff and he's really good with the computer and computer intelligence material. He's also good with the things transforming into other things ideas.

    The first time I heard about this novel was actually when the film Pandorum came out with a similar sort of plot, because people wondered if the film was an adaptation of Bear's novel. Of course, the general plot is something that has been done before. And Bear's experience with horror is somewhat less. But the buzz on it has been tremendous.

  4. #4
    I very much enjoyed it. Yes there are comparrisons with Pandorum, but this is much more inventive.

  5. #5
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    Thanks for the suggestion, I just ordered this book now. I have been looking for some good SF.

  6. #6
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ash View Post
    I very much enjoyed it. Yes there are comparrisons with Pandorum, but this is much more inventive.
    Oh I'd much rather read Bear's exploration of the territory than the film, which was very flawed. (Though I do love Dennis Quaid and have been watching Ben Foster since he was a lad on t.v. He had more hair then.)

    The haunted spaceship thriller is a great theme for SF. Bear will do lots of things that would never have occurred to me. (Right now, I'm reading Watts' Blindsight, which is in the neighborhood.)

  7. #7
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    I found an excerpt online. I see what livens means about Bear keeping the reader in the dark. The writing seems deliberately obtuse and confusing, I suppose to mirror the state of mind of the protagonist. I'm pretty sure I'll give this a go once a finish the next couple of books on my TBR pile.

    An aside -- I saw some pretty dire reviews for Pandorum. Is this just the mainstream media picking on a science fiction movie, or is it really that bad?

  8. #8
    Registered User Colonel Worf's Avatar
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    Pandorum was terrible.

  9. #9
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luke_B View Post
    An aside -- I saw some pretty dire reviews for Pandorum. Is this just the mainstream media picking on a science fiction movie, or is it really that bad?
    Parts of it are interesting, but the working of the story is flawed, IMO. The creatures are scary. The actors are overall good -- they do panic well -- but they're rather constrained by the film. It's a film that could have been a lot better as SF concepts, but as a horror movie, it's okay. It actually got mixed reviews because some reviewers did like some of the stuff they were doing and the actors. But it didn't do well at the box office.

    What the SF authors can do, of course, is take you into all the nooks and crannies of the thing and go much deeper psychologically. Bear is very good at that, but he's not usually obscure, so I'm kind of more interested now to see what he did. Maybe I'll go check out the excerpt.

  10. #10
    http://tinyurl.com/363ogv DurzoBlint's Avatar
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    I thought it was a decent read. Had some very interesting technology and ideas. It also was paced nicely. But it never really captured my imagination which is what I was hoping for. It had a slight feel to Dead Space but, since it was my first book by the author, I would be willing to read him again if something caught my interest. Definitely worth a look.

  11. #11
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DurzoBlint View Post
    I thought it was a decent read. Had some very interesting technology and ideas. It also was paced nicely. But it never really captured my imagination which is what I was hoping for. It had a slight feel to Dead Space but, since it was my first book by the author, I would be willing to read him again if something caught my interest. Definitely worth a look.
    I liked Darwin's Radio of his.

  12. #12
    http://tinyurl.com/363ogv DurzoBlint's Avatar
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    Never heard of it, will have to look that one up and perhaps give it a shot. Thanks for the recommendation.

  13. #13
    Darwin's Radio is very good. I've heard Blood Music is excellent as well but I haven't read it yet.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Luke_B View Post
    The search function turns up a few hits, but I was wondering if anybody who has read it could elaborate. I'm finding it hard to get a sense of the book from the reviews (some of which I've extracted below). Is this a difficult novel? Is it a short, spare novel? Is it a puzzle novel? How hard is the hard science in the novel? What books might it be similar to?
    I really dug H03. I posted some thoughts in one of the "reading this month" threads a while back, I'll repost here in case you missed them in your search.

    Quote Originally Posted by livens View Post
    Maybe others felt it was hard because GB keeps you in the dark much longer than most authors would have. I loved that part of it, not really having any idea what was going on or what happened. You find out piece by piece and by the end your mind is reeling back putting everything together, then everything makes sense.

    I also loved the types of tech he used. But if I describe it here it would ruin the story for you Just go read it.
    I think livens and I agreed on Bear's intent here. I very much enjoyed that "being swept right into the plot" aspect of the story. The reader gets sucked right into the Hull, just like the main character's awakening on board, bleary-eyed and confused, puzzled and on the run.

    As I said in that other thread I really appreciated the creativity displayed by Bear in the way he weaves in current scientific ideas and then projects a possible outcome in the future.
    Spoiler:
    Especially with his "mix and match" DNA manipulation. I found the idea a bit chilling in its implications and also a plausible result should a society with no real respect for human dignity/rights (like the ChiComms perhaps?) attempted a similar endeavor.

    I really enjoyed the mystery of figuring out along with the protagonist exactly what the hell was going on aboard the "Ship.

    This was the angle I felt to be most interesting and might generate some interesting thoughts and discussions for those who have read the book:

    Spoiler:
    ...all the moral implications of deciding to actually implement the DNA manipulations and how the characters felt about the situations and strange new bodies the characters found themselves inhabitating once they awakened onboard "Ship". The "Tracker" and "Mother" were two extremely intriguing characters to contemplate IMV.

  15. #15
    Educated Beast Violent Emesis's Avatar
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    I can not make it through a Greg Bear book. i tried Darwins Radio, and Hull Zero Three, and I could not stay interested.

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