Greg Bear’s Hull Zero Three is a science fiction thriller with a touch of horror thrown in for good measure.
The novel starts quickly with a spaceship arriving at a distant planet. A man wakes suddenly, naked, and tries to figure out where he is. He can remember sleeping and dreaming, and the memories of those dreams remain. He otherwise knows very little about himself, aside from the names of his organs, and how he has come to be where he is. He doesn’t even know how to avoid being eaten by space monsters. Curiously, he has memories from Earth. Though the majority of the novel is told from the hero’s point of view as he tries to unravel the nature of his existence, his thoughts are often interrupted by monsters that try to kill him. It is only thanks to a little girl, Nell, that he survives, and he will run into Nell at multiple times during the story.
There are many elements of horror that Bear relies on to drive the plot, but Hull Zero Three might be described as “hard science fiction” by some readers. Bear’s hero is forced to grapple with zero gravity environments, for example. Though Bear enjoys thinking about ways that genes can be used and manipulated, he writes about these things in a way that does not require too much suspension of disbelief.
Perhaps Bear’s largest indulgence is the personalities he has created for his characters, who generally struck me as flat. The protagonist’s most interesting quirk might be the way he sometimes remembers words like “Spartan” and then wonders what they mean since he cannot remember ever having learned them. In all fairness, I’m not sure how much personality Bear could really give to a protagonist without any memory, but it’s worth noting that his protagonist’s personality is conveniently suited for calmly and logically considering existentialism in a first-person narrative. Regardless, I doubt that I will remember these characters for long now that I have finished reading the novel.
I might remember the monsters, however. Bear has a knack for describing monsters, and readers that enjoy reading about slurping, skittering biology running amok aboard spaceships should rush to read Hull Zero Three. It is not uncommon for Bear’s hero to encounter glistening teeth and rubbery membranes. At one point, Bear even manages to use ‘sphincter’ as a verb when describing a monster that is chasing the protagonist.
While reading Hull Zero Three, I often found myself wondering whether it was derivative, which is not to say that I found the plot predictable. The hero’s quest to figure out who he is, why he is on a ship, and what is the ship’s purpose, were all interesting enough to keep me reading. However, I found it very easy to imagine how the novel would look as a film, or rather, I found myself imagining the plot of Hull Zero Three as performed on the sets of other films, particularly Alien, Cube, and Pandorum.
Ultimately, I found Hull Zero Three to be a fast read whose plot kept my attention. Though the characters did not particularly stand out to me, readers looking for a space adventure with an unusual premise should check out Hull Zero Three.
I listened to Brilliance Audio’s production of Hull Zero Three, which was read with much expression by Dan John Miller. Miller’s voice was a natural fit for the protagonist, but I was surprised that he was able to read Nell’s lines without taking me out of the story.