Greg Bear’s book Hull Zero Three opens much the same way as any number of science fiction thrillers: someone awakes, enclosed in a stasis booth, and finds themselves in a strange situation. Pandorum, Avatar, Pitch Black, Supernova and others all have this as a bit of a start to the film, to varying degrees, a cold open to the story. This book is no different, and our main character is ripped from his dream-state and out into a cold and hostile environment. The resulting book is straightforward, fast and overall, a decent read.
Hull Zero Three was a book that I’ve been interested in reading, if anything because I’ve never read a Greg Bear book, and it represented a bit of a change of pace compared to what I’ve been reading recently. This book falls between the space opera, hard science fiction and horror as the protagonist, simply known as Teacher. He meets up with a strange assortment of fellow characters as they escape through the ship to find out not only what the ship’s purpose is, but what theirs is as well.
The easiest comparison can be made between this book and the film Pandorum, where the book gets all of the things that the film missed. Where the film missed huge plot points that could have made it a great film, Hull Zero Three gets them, in a way. The ship (known only as Ship) is a generational ship, one designed to seed a far-away star with life. The reasons are never really disclosed, but they don’t matter here – the ship is moving forward, and along the way, problems crop up.
This is where the book is at its best, with some of the exposition and background to the story. The ship was created, sent out to the Oort Cloud to capture a moonlet, and then off to a far off world in which to continue earth-based life. Somewhere along the way, it’s discovered that the planet is inhabited, and this is where the fun begins: do you colonize the planet at the risk of overcoming the life that’s already there? In this case, the civilization on the planet attacked the ship, damaging it and setting much fo the story into action.
At points, I was confused as to what was happening throughout the story. Bear pulls the reader through as one fumbles through a tunnel. There’s no frame of reference for the main characters or the reader, and that adds a certain thrill to trying to find out what’s happening with the story as a whole. Many of the interesting parts of the book happen before the story actually takes place, and we’re left with a glorified hunt and search on the part of our characters to learn what their purpose in life is.
The interesting part of the story doesn’t come until the end, after Teacher and the other mutated and purposed people discover the dangers of the ship, and come across a power-struggle that seems to have caused additional damage to the ship between Mother and the Destination Guidance team, who saw conflicting interpretations of their orders: preserve human life. One saw their best option as the selected planet, while the other wanted to go on and try somewhere else. The result is a civil war on the ship, and the book comes down to one of its fundamental points: how do you program ethics?
Teacher, and all of his companions were produced and copied from Mother. In the case of some of the people, they were designed with very specific purposes – teaching, cleanup, killing, protection, etc. While they are designed specifically for a purpose, there are gaps where they question their own existence and purpose. It’s an interesting element to the story, and while it was a bit of unexpected depth, it wasn’t enough to really dazzle me as a brilliant story. At the end of the day, Hull Zero Three was a fun, light read, one that is a better version of similar stories, but one that I found myself wishing that other parts of the story had gotten more attention.