Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Hull Zero Three - Greg Bear

I was in a bookstore over the weekend, and saw several books on various (non-World War 2) historical topics. None of which I could buy with the money I had on hand, so I went with the cheaper sci-fi novel I spotted instead.

Hull Zero Three is the first thing I've read by Greg Bear since Eon, which has been a few years now. Hull Zero Three is more of a horror story. A man is brought out of a cryo-tube, and can't remember who he is, though he's sure that he's a Teacher, and that he isn't supposed to be awake. Not yet. Not until they'd reached their new home. But the little girl keeps urging him on, and there are things moving around in Ship, things that might kill him whether they mean to or not. The further along he goes, the more learns that tells him things are not as he thinks they should be, and neither is he, really. There are forces at war within Ship, but he can't be sure which side he's dealing with at any given moment, or how truthful they're being. And his memories, his knowledge, is only coming to him in fits and spurts, which doesn't help.

One the scariest things is probably to be in a situation where you don't understand what's going on. Because then you don't know where to step, who to talk or to avoid, even what you should be doing. Anything you try to do could be the right thing, or it could be the wrong thing. You won't know until you try, but you might not survive if you do. So Bear plays on that, putting Teacher in a situation where neither he nor we know what's happening. Who is the little girl, and what's with the book? Why does everyone adamantly insist there is no silvery thing? It's almost a compulsion? Why does no one other than the girl look particularly human, and does that impact whether you can trust them, when you can't understand them?

To that, Bear adds the layer that Teacher doesn't even understand himself. He doesn't understand what he's supposed to do, or how his knowing all these different words (which mean nothing to him) is supposed to help. If he knew what his skills were, he might have some idea how to proceed. It's effective at creating tension, because the reader has a real sense this guy is basically helpless. He gradually learns enough to realize how dangerous his surroundings are, and how fragile, how expendable he is, but that doesn't give him a better sense of where to go, or what he should be looking for. It's so easy for him to go somewhere he shouldn't, I figured there was a decent chance he wouldn't make it, especially with some of the things we learned later.

One thing Bear explores here I remember from Eon is the matter of identity and mind. In this case, it seems like a matter of how malleable those things are, and how related they are to experience. If your past informs your present self, but you're past is fake, how genuine is your present self? Can who you are be altered along with your form, can your desires and goals be twisted as easily as your genetics?

All in all, Hull Zero Three was an entertaining, if periodically confusing, book, that went by very quickly. If you're looking for something a bit sci-fi/horror or thriller, it's not a bad choice. It has abrupt scares alongside a sort of creeping dread that hangs over much of it.

'I think about asking if she's the one who rescued me after my chilly birth, but if it doens't matter to her, then it doesn't matter to me. Sentiment and memory are severely mismatched in our unbalanced and wretched world.'

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