8 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear

Title: Hull Zero Three

Author: Greg Bear

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Orbit
Publication Date: November 2010
Hardcover: 320 Pages

A starship hurtles through the emptiness of space. Its destination-unknown. Its purpose-a mystery.

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 Hull 03?

All will be answered, if he can survive the ship.

HULL ZERO THREE is an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride through the darkest reaches of space.

Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel

How did I get this book: ARC from the Publisher

Why did I read this book: Multiple Hugo and Nebula winner Greg Bear is one of the finest science fiction writers to write in the genre, and I have read and loved his older books (although I am shamefully behind on much of his backlist). When I learned that Greg Bear had a new science fiction novel out this year, I was ecstatic – I could not wait to tear into Hull Zero Three (although I did make myself wait until November 1 to read it…and here we are on November 3 with a review).


Cloud modest, the planet covers herself.

Ship has completed her centuries-long journey across the cold vacuum of space and has arrived at a new planet, suitable for human life. While the waking human passengers rejoice at their success, they share an overwhelming feeling of camaraderie and achievement, embodied in three words. We Are Here!

And yet the bliss of arrival and ecstatic sense of accomplishment is all a dream, for when our narrator is pulled from his cold cocoon of hibernation, he realizes that Ship has not yet reached her destination. Something has gone terribly wrong. Cold, disoriented and amnesiac, our narrator is told by a solemn little girl that he is “Teacher” and that he needs to move quickly and adapt or die. As fragments of Teacher’s memory surface and as he learns more about Ship, its icy, too-large power source, and its three separate hulls, he uncovers the truth of his own nature and the true goal and future for Ship and her inhabitants. (A Geek Aside: I realize this is something of a nebulous plot description and I am being purposefully vague below, but to elaborate further would be to spoil the mystery and allure of the novel – which would be a crime! A CRIME! You simply have to take my word for it and read it yourself. /geekaside)

A thought-provoking and challenging read, Hull Zero Three is the latest novel from multiple award-winning SF author Greg Bear. Although the novel employs many classic tropes – the deep space mission gone awry, consciousness spawned and run amok, humanity’s struggle with survival and destruction – conceptually, Hull Zero Three paints an ambitious picture of space exploration in the distant future. More of a suspenseful riddle than an actual hard, groundbreaking SF novel, Hull Zero Three is a wonderful puzzle of a book, and even if the themes and ideas are familiar, Bear’s storytelling skill makes the book an affecting and dramatic read. With an intoxicating blend of biology and hard SF, Bear plays with classic familiar questions in the science fiction realm, contrasting humanity and individuality/dream versus reality through the lens of genetic manipulation, and examines the future of a primitive and destructive humankind among the stars. As early reviews have pointed out, Hull Zero Three is somewhat cinematic, and there are elements that are popular in our current canon of SF film (the shocking discoveries of Sam Rockwell in the recent Moon, the marooned desolation of Pandorum, or even video game Dead Space come to mind), which should help win the book a broader, younger audience. But to boil Hull Zero Three down to these instances is to do the book a grave injustice, because Bear’s newest novel is incredibly subtle and trippy, as it is powerful and lingering. It is, in short, the kind of SF that provokes reflection. I loved Hull Zero Three, and though I struggled with the text (more on that below), once everything came together in the end, I finished the book with a feeling of meditative accomplishment.

The only faults I can find with Hull Zero Three lie in the book’s execution of its ambitious and grandiose concepts. From a writing perspective, Bear’s prose in and descriptive style in this novel will win some readers and alienate others, as Hull Zero Three is written with a great expanse of detail, but in very strange terminology. It is hard to get one’s bearings in this book, as the descriptions and style are often confusing and intangible; the characters and even Ship (note the capitalization and lack of a definite article) itself are hard to visualize. For example, monkey-like creatures are described as donuts, one character can rearrange her bulk and shape by somehow shifting sinew and muscle, etc. The writing style, from choice of adjectives to Teacher’s jumps in logical/cognitive reasoning, is similarly challenging but makes sense in context of the book. Teacher, our narrator, is prone to confused visualizations as he tries to reform his new lexicon from deep sleep. He discovers new words he didn’t know existed, unlocking memories for each item and creature he encounters the longer he is awake, and this initial use of language, the importance of books and the actual format of Hull Zero Three – itself as a written book by Teacher – is very clever and comes together nicely by the end of the book…but the overall effect is somewhat piecemeal. I struggled to keep my attention focused when reading Hull Zero Three, and I imagine other readers might grow similarly tired or impatient with the stylistic details of the novel. From a character angle, too, there is little in the way of actual, meaty character development – there are some scenes of self-reflection, but without any real depth or heft. Hull Zero Three is more about the mystery and solving the puzzle than it is about realization of character arcs – which isn’t to say that Teacher’s struggle isn’t a valid or engaging one! It certainly is. But Hull‘s strengths lie elsewhere – namely, in that of its overall concept and design.

Finally, my only other complaint is that while things come together brilliantly by the end of the novel and the mysteries cleared up, the resolution felt a bit hasty and related in the manner of an old Twilight Zone episode or a Vincent Price special – which is to say, not bad (I love both Rod Serling and Vincent Price!), but I cannot help but wish for a bit more, especially from Mr. Bear. I wish I could have been shown the resolution, as opposed to having been told the answer (or at least, Teacher’s answer) in the last 20 pages of the book.

These criticisms aside, I loved Hull Zero Three – this book reminds me of why I fell in love with science fiction in the first place. Searing questions of humanity, a good old fashioned riddle of a plot, and excellent conceptualization make Hull Zero Three more than worth the effort.

Notable Quotes/Parts: You can read a full excerpt on the officiall Hachette Book Group site, or use the widget below:

Additional Thoughts: Greg Bear is one of the classic voices of American Science Fiction, and of his extensive work, I have only read The Forge of God and An Anvil of Stars.

I currently have Eon and Blood Music on my TBR. Any other suggestions? (You can read more about Greg Bear and his work HERE)

Rating: 8 – Excellent

Reading Next: Heroes Return by Moira J. Moore


  • redhead
    November 3, 2010 at 5:20 am

    Ooh, I love Greg Bear! And thanks to you, I’m really looking forward to this new novel of his.

    funky writing style aside, it sounds like a great read. I like all the little hints that you gave, or sort of, didn’t. 😉

    btw, Greg Bear’s Blood Music is a must read!!

  • mb
    November 3, 2010 at 11:10 am

    I read Darwin’s Radio and enjoyed it. It was quite suspense/thrillerish and so didn’t tax my minimalistic knowledge of science and sci-fi! I think there is a sequel as well.

  • Thea
    November 3, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    redhead – I hope you enjoy HULL ZERO THREE! If you’re a Bear fan, I’m sure you’ll be pleased 🙂

    The funky writing is good, just a little hard to get a handle on. Let me know how you like it when you get a chance to read it! I’ll definitely bump BLOOD MUSIC up on the list.

    mb – DARWIN’S RADIO, you say? Thanks for the rec! I’ll make sure to check it out.

  • Jeff
    November 3, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    I am looking forward to reading this. A quick break in my string of Angry Robot books.

    My favorite Greg Bear is probably not sci-fi – it’s the Songs of Earth and Power duology (The Infinity Concerto and The Serpent Mage). They are hugely formative books for me, and kind of precursor my affection for urban fantasy and kind of out-there Tim Powers occult conspiracy stuff.

  • The Book Smugglers » Blog Archive » Book Review: Living Hell by Catherine Jinks
    November 17, 2010 at 12:02 am

    […] Thoughts: I recently reviewed Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear, which is more of a grown up (and thematically deeper) version of Living Hell. If you’ve read […]

  • Smugglers’ Stash & News | The Book Smugglers
    April 1, 2012 at 12:03 am

    […] Greg Bear, Hull Zero Three (Gollancz) Drew Magary, The End Specialist (Harper Voyager) China Miéville, Embassytown (Macmillan) Jane Rogers, The Testament of Jessie Lamb (Sandstone Press) Charles Stross, Rule 34 (Orbit) Sheri S.Tepper, The Waters Rising (Gollancz) […]

  • Paul
    November 5, 2013 at 9:11 am

    I also vote for The Infinity Concerto.

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