After an extended period where Greg Bear, once known for Hard "Big Idea" SF such as Eon and the Forge of God, took a detour into biological SF and near-future thrillers, Greg Bear has returned to his roots with Hull Zero Three.
Showing that he has learned from his sojourn in other realms, however, Hull Zero Three is both a return to Hard SF, and shows his evolution as a writer. Instead of a big canvas approach to his subject, as I expected, Hull Zero Three has a much tighter focus.
Hull Zero Three tells the story of the narrator, nameless through much of the narrative, as he awakens, mysteriously, on board a spacecraft. Memories of arriving at a planet, memories of a former life, and a slow recollection of past memory tug at him. Even through all of this, however, on the cold and deadly spacecraft, the narrator has a larger problem than remembering who and what he is: Simple Survival.
With its tight focus, protagonist unsure of the past or future, uncertain and unreliable allies, strange monsters(!) and the setting of a ship hurtling through space, I was reminded of another odd duck of a novel that was atypical of its author: A Short, Sharp Shock, by Kim Stanley Robinson. Like Hull Zero Three, it was both typical and utterly unique to Robinson's oeuvre, a striking story that, while not entirely successful, was still amazingly memorable years later.
Hull Zero Three fills that niche for Bear. No massive scale looks at the spacecraft, no wonder-busting grand canvas. This is a personal, dark story (very dark once the full details of the situation emerge). Lots of interesting speculation and a working out of the implications of the technology. And, given that much of the novel is a "chase scene", the book moves at a frentic, breakneck pace. Instead of just the usual infodumps, we learn the background in a drip and drab sort of fashion. It requires the reader to pay attention to get the whole picture of what is happening on the ship.
Oh, and the prose. Bear has polished and improved his prose and dialogue, giving a fuller reading experience than some of his earlier works, which often were stronger on ideas than on characters or story. Not here. This book works on all levels.
The ending is a bit muddled, and I wonder if its a case of editing, or a strange choice on the part of the writer to jump forward, and then back again in a bit of a whiplash fashion. Narratively and otherwise, that is my main complaint with the book.
It's also amazingly short. Clocking in at only just over 300 pages, its a brief, intense, dark work from a writer who has been away from his core output for far too long. Welcome back, Greg Bear. Let's see what else you can do with your new tools.
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