In (roughly) 2008 I read "Blood Music" — my first Greg Bear novel — and devoured it in a weekend, in only two or three reading sessions. That happens very rarely, and when it does I often wonder whether it's the quality of the writing or some combination of that and your personal moods and tastes at the time that is responsible. My next Bear was "Darwin's Radio" in mid-2010 which, whilst good, did not provoke the same feverish read. I might write short reviews for both at some point in the future, but right now I can't remember either well enough to do so.
In the last few weeks I read "Hull Zero Three" which was quite a different beast. The novel first captured my attention due to the unusual way it was promoted: via a video, which was created using a modified Quake 2 engine. It wasn't a great video but the novelty made it interesting.
The story begins with a first-person narrator waking up from a sort-of hyper sleep on a generation starship that has clearly had some serious problems. He has to run to escape danger before he has an opportunity to figure out exactly what has happened and what he is running from, or to.
Something has gone horribly wrong on the ship: it's nowhere near where it should be going and nobody should be awake. The narrator's memory is fractured, fabricated and unreliable; the ship is hostile, and whilst it's mechanical, it cyclically changes and re-arranges it's hulls in an almost organic way. He is joined by a rotating cast of similarly confused refugees of varying shapes and sizes. Language and cultural barriers serve to further magnify the sense of alienation that you experience on behalf of the story teller. The troupe are persued through the corridors by a collection of lethally efficient killer "things", contrasting with the background by being organic in nature but mechanical in behaviour and appearance.
The scale of the ship is necessarily massive, and Bear does an impressive job of capturing the awe you might feel when considering it. Three huge, cigar-shaped hulls, joined by "spars" to an enormous chunk of ice captured from the Oort cloud on exodus from the solar system. The ice serves as a mixture of "fuel" for the biological ship systems and as part of a shield system for the hulls from cosmic rays. However, in part due to the narrator's confusion, it was hard to follow the very abstract descriptions of the environment in the earlier stages of the story. I found myself re-reading passages to try and understand the comparisons being offered and scales presented.
In common with the two earlier Bears I've read, 'body horror' features prominently in this story. It feels like a "Dead Space" or "Resident Evil" in space — in a hard SF novel which seriously attempt to capture real speculative science.
Like "Blood Music", I found myself compelled to read "Hull Zero Three" at every available opportunity. I finished it off in a very enjoyable reading session outdoors in the spring sunshine. It was an enjoyable read, well written but not beyond criticism, with some interesting takes on well-worn themes. Very reminiscent of the movie "Pandorum" (which was a surprisingly good movie).