The novel “Hull Zero Three” by Greg Bear was published for the first time in 2010.
A man awakens from Dreamtime naked, wet and cold in a place that is not familiar to him. A young girl explains to him that he’s Teacher and must adapt quickly or die. Fragments of memory emerge but too little and too slowly to end its confusion. The presence of strange creatures in the corridors certainly doesn’t help.
Teacher tries to understand his situation but doesn’t know how reliable the information provided by other people he meets can be. Putting together the various pieces of information, he realizes that he’s traveling on Ship but doesn’t know its destination. He understands that something serious happened and reconstructing those events could be the key to the survival of all humans on board.
The generation starship theme is one of the classics of science fiction and started before this genre. The novel “Universe” by Robert A. Heinlein is considered to be the one that marked this theme but in the following decades a number of variations were told by various authors. “Hull Zero Three” tells a story set at an indefinite time after something serious happened on the starship.
The novel is told in the first person from the point of view of Teacher, a man who awakens from hibernation completely disoriented because he was torn from Dreamtime to be thrown into an incomprehensible situation with no memory. In the first part, the readers participate in Teacher’s confusion while he tries to understand what’s happening to him, also with the help of other inhabitants of Ship who don’t know much more than him.
If you have already read any stories on the theme of the generation starship or even just seen the movie “Pandorum” certain elements of the first part of “Hull Zero Three” may be less confusing. However, it’s told in a style that emphasizes Teacher’s difficulties in his search for some answers about himself and his situation while he’s trying to survive with the other people.
Teacher slowly recovers fragments of memory with the consequence that his story becomes more precise with descriptions based on a vocabulary that expands over the course of the novel. This also represents an aid to the readers, who can more easily get an idea of what’s happening. Even more, it allows Greg Bear to develop the theme of the relationship between memory and identity.
After this initial part, the actions of Teacher and those who decided to follow him aim to understand the causes of their situation. The information they put together are enough to establish that in the past, during a long journey, Ship suffered some kind of catastrophe but was it an accident? Or a failure? Or an external attack? Or a sabotage?
The mystery of that disaster, together with the search for a way to access Ship’s systems to ensure everyone survival and perhaps to know their final destination is the crucial element of the rest of “Hull Zero Three”. Teacher feels he has the responsibility to help not only himself but also the other inhabitants of Ship and this is also one of the themes developed.
If it’s important for you that all the questions are answered at the end of the novel, this one is not for you. Eventually, Teacher finds various answers and in my opinion that’s good because “Hull Zero Three” is based on the protagonist’s research, without an omniscient narrator who can fill the remaining gaps, but I understand that for someone that’s not enough.
In the case of “Hull Zero Three” stating that it’s the journey that matters and not the destination is not just a figure of speech. The whole novel is focused on what concerns the Ship’s voyage with its related mysteries. Even the characters are functional to it with a limited – if not absent – development. There’s some action but the pace is generally not fast, with many dialogues.
The result of all this is a novel that in my opinion is not bad but not extraordinary either. If for you the poor characterization is not a problem maybe you will not find big flaws but I haven’t found great merits either. In my opinion, “Hull Zero Three” is a novel that fans of Greg Bear and generation starship stories can like.