A man dreams he is colonizing a new world — a new Earth — with a team of like-minded individuals. It’s one of those golden dreams of warmth and clarity, the type where everything is rich and fully detailed. It’s the type of dream that a person wants to last forever because the alternative is to wake up and return to a life of uncertainty.
Unfortunately, the man is ripped from his dream into a stark reality of hunger, coldness, nakedness and the inability to remember who he is. He quickly determines two things: He’s on a starship and, for some reason, the ship seems to want to kill him … or at least make his life very, very uncomfortable. And so begins HULL ZERO THREE by Greg Bear.
The sci-fi writer ranks up there with Orson Scott Card and Larry Niven, with one major difference: Although I could easily name my favorite Card or Niven story, I’ll be damned if I could tell you my favorite Bear story. That’s not to say that I haven’t read his stuff, because I have, but the memory of them is as fleeting to me as the wiped-away noggin of HULL’s protagonist.
I’ve picked up Bear’s work from time to time because generally, he has interesting plots, but invariably, the stories never stick with me. They quickly fade away and I’m left with a vague impression of something. It’s like trying to remember what I had for dinner three weeks ago.
HULL also has an interesting plot, albeit not a terribly original one. The main character is on a quest to discover who he is, where he is, and why he is. Along the way, he meets other humans — and humanoids — and struggles to survive the various obstacles the apparently sentient starship throws his way, all while searching for clothes, food and water. There is, of course, the discovery of clues that help him put together pieces of his lost identity. It’s like if the guy from MEMENTO had to fight HAL from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.
In fact, there are many correlations between HULL and other books, movies and TV shows. Quite often, I found myself saying, “This is just like the last season of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA.” Or, “This revelation reminds me of THE MATRIX RELOADED.” And so forth.
But really, the sense of having read or seen versions of this story before is the least of the problems. There is also the author’s irritating habit of not describing things well, or leaving it purposefully vague, which caused me to have to backtrack on more than one occasion, until finally I shrugged my shoulders and decided to plod on, rather than waste any more time trying to picture the setting and characters.
Yes, yes, yes, I understand that Bear may have kept the descriptions sparse because we are seeing the story through the eyes of the main character, and since the main character is an amnesiac, he has nothing to base his descriptions on. I get that. But there are better ways to handle such plot devices, and Bear’s inability to give more vivid details left me with blurred images and half-formed characters in my head.
It’s hard to describe what happens in the novel without giving away major revelations, and I wouldn’t want to spoil anyone’s fun should they decide to give it a try. Needless to say, it all ends anti-climactically, which is a shame, because I had expected a taut thriller in a science-fiction setting. Instead, it devolves into a warmed-over mess.
Not that it matters; I won’t remember the damned thing a couple of weeks from now. —Slade Grayson