Analysis, Reading, Reviews

Book Review: Hull Zero Three

I got a recommendation for that cold, hard scifi you crave! Or, you know, skip to the end of the video to see the dog. I know what the people really want.

I look back. The faintest breath of cold air washes over me. Soon the corridor will be unlivable. Likely the observation blister and the corpse of Blue-Black are already frozen. No going back without dying, and, apparently no going forward.

Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear

Part 1: who’s going to love this book

If you like science fiction that leans toward realism, includes a small dose of horror, and asks big questions, then you probably already know and love the author, Greg Bear.

If you like your mystery layered on thick, if you like stories told in first person, if you like monsters lurking in starship corridors, if you’re a fan of stories asking questions like what does it means to be human? What constitutes a person’s identity? The sorts of themes explored by Phillip K Dick, then you’re going to love Hull Zero Three.

Part 2: who’s going to hate it

If you want a clear sense of who the protagonist is, where he came from, who these other people are, what the goal is, what the hell is going on? …then you’re probably not going to like Hull Zero Three.

If you can’t tolerate descriptions of zero gravity navigation and endless starship corridors, if you don’t like characters that are relentlessly subjected to pain and hunger, if you don’t like reading first person, if you’re not into basic scifi tropes, then you’re probably not going to like Hull Zero Three.

Part 3: my opinion

I try not to learn too much about books before I read them. I prefer to go in without preconceived notions, so I didn’t realize this is a horror novel until describing it to my wife:
It’s got monsters lurking the halls of a starship, creepy twin girls, and amnesia. It’s pretty much horror bingo.

The horror aspect was no problem for me, I did not find it particularly scary, but one irritation I did have was with the tedious descriptions of shapes and dimensions of rooms. I could picture the settings, but I didn’t care to. The writing got bogged down in stuff like:

A wall with two hemispheric bumps forms the terminus of the twin grooves and at the conclusion of the walkway is a circular indentation about two meters wide, carved or molded into the wall’s grayish surface.

Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear

Please, science fiction authors, I beg of you, find a better way of describing your environments. Fantasy doesn’t have this problem

All a reader really needs to know is the significance of a room and what’s relevant to the characters’ problems, what’s meaningful from the characters’ perspective based on their backstory. Not:

The chamber is about thirty meters long, twenty wide, and five high-larger. Rectangular cubbies line the aft wall. The floor has many soft, square pads, arranged in parallel rows.

Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear

The story of Hull Zero Three is also drenched in mystery and while this kept me turning pages, it also frustrated me. I worried that the ending wouldn’t offer a proper resolution.

But it did. I loved the ending, and in fact the ending clinched this book for me as a strong recommend. I’ve got a lot of nitpicks with Hull Zero Three, but it was well worth my time and I think it’s worth yours.

Part 4: what writers can learn from it

First I want to talk about setting.

When describing the setting, you should not make a laundry list of everything in it: its shape, its dimensions, etcetera, unless that’s relevant. Instead answer one or more of the following questions:

  • What’s in the setting that is relevant to the characters in their struggle?
  • What aspects of the setting stand out to the perspective character based on their unique backstory?
  • What about the setting reveals insights into the characters that live, work, or play there?
    If your answer to these questions is that the setting doesn’t matter and it’s not particularly interesting to the perspective character, then you need to rethink your setting.

The other thing that I think writers can learn from Hull Zero Three is about plot.

I’ve been trying to study plot structure a lot lately. I watch Abby Emmons and Ellen Brock and Jenna Moreci. Their plot videos all boil down to hero’s journey/save the cat and frankly I find that much structure in my writing to be suffocating. I need room to let my characters talk to each other freely and make their own decisions.

So I’m always curious how other authors do it. I tried to find out Greg Bear’s approach and the best I could determine was from a interview Based on what I found in that interview, it’s clear that he does a lot of research, and he doesn’t always know how his plots are going to proceed

“Interviewer: Have you ever suffered writer’s block? How do you overcome it?”

“Greg Bear: Fortunately, I’ve never suffered from writer’s block. Just delays as I figure out how my plot is going to advance!”

So it sounds like he is doing at least a little exploratory writing rather than laying out the railroad tracks of a strict plot ahead of time.

Which I find encouraging.

However, I see the sorts of flaws in Hull Zero Three that exploratory, un-plotted writing produces. I should know, I see them in my own work as well. Problems such as:

  1. Hull Zero Three begins as survival horror and meanders for a long time without an obvious theme or objective. Other than survival I suppose.
  2. The ending comes on very suddenly and inelegantly resolves a bunch of mysteries in rapid succession.

Now again, I really enjoyed the ending and it brought the book together for me, but it was still a little bit rushed. The ending theme is not smoothly integrated into the rest of the story. I think the ending DOES work. I thought it rocked and it left me with some profound questions that lingered in my brain and left me looking up at the night sky, the mass of history and the buoyancy of the future rendering me weightless for a moment in time, staring in awe at the raw possibility that is the singular gift bestowed by the greatest of science fiction!

But the lesson is, you gotta revise the crap out of your work. If you’re a discovery writer, a pantser exploring without a map, then you need to work even harder at revision and not just nitpicky word choice revisions, but substantial restructuring revisions.

It’s not easy. It’s not quick, but for me at least, this approach produces the most profound and interesting stories both to write and to read.

In conclusion, Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear is gold standard science fiction that will elevate your mind, but it’s not without imperfections, which aspiring writers can learn from.

So until next time, Good luck and good writing.


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