Tag Archive: greg bear


I’ve always found Greg Bear’s output a bit hit and miss but the hits really nail it. In the realm of post-Arthur Clarke hard SF, few authors can do it like Bear does. The Forge of God is a masterpiece of a first contact story, one of my favourite ever along with Clarke’s Rendezous with Rama, Will Eisner’s great Life on Another Planet and Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin. Novels like Blood Music, Eon and Eternity (and even Hegira) should go without saying.

As a result, I didn’t really have any specific expectations about Hull Zero Three. I knew I wanted to read it but didn’t feel a lot of pressure. Turns out I should have had. I was blown away. The novel starts off with familiar SF tropes, the generation ship and colonisation etc, and then develops into a taut SF thriller. For most authors that might be enough but not for Bear. The cheesy, hopeful tone of the opening gives way to distinctly vague and unreliable first person narration as the protagonist, Teacher, one of the colonists, finds himself awakened in the ship, bound for a new planet, and slowly realises that things are wrong. The novel, then, slowly transforms itself into a discourse on authorship, identity, consciousness and theology that, at the same time, manages to maintain its momentum as a thriller.

Bear employs all the advantages afforded him by the conventions of first person narration remarkably and subtly. There are minute and easily unnoticeable references that give clues to the plot, amidst an ongoing meditation on the ways we perceive language, identity and consciousness and the primeval religious impulse. The suspense is almost unbearable, as is the sense of unease and the palpable existential frustration of an advanced intellect faced with ignorance, enforced amnesia and lack of information. Hull Zero Three reads, in parts, like a meditation on Platonic thought, a combination of The Cloud of Unknowing and Augustine’s Confessions, Clarke’s Childhood’s End and films like Pandorum and Event Horizon with the timeless quality of a morality play. We are given an inkling of the wonderful mix of theological speculation and hard SF themes that will be Hull Zero Three in the division of the novel into three parts, entitled The World, The Flesh and The Devil. Long-time SF readers and enthusiasts might recognise those as the title of the amazing book by the scientist J.D. Bernal, in which he postulates a space habitat similar to the one Bear describes in the novel. Bear, however, while still alluding to Bernal, also harks back to the Christian background of the phrase, the distractions and temptations posed to the soul (to the rational soul, according to Bernal, who also knowingly reflects along those lines) by its three main enemies, the world, the flesh and the devil.

Bear dramatises the process of anamnesis in a very interesting way, having made it an integral part of the plot itself. Throughout the novel, Teacher struggles with seemingly randomly triggered recollections of both facts and language itself. He keeps remembering words that, to him, are without referent. In a very Platonic sense, he intuits that there is a sense of purpose to his creation, which becomes remembered gradually. Since those that have been awakened do not have any recollection and therefore knowledge of those responsible for planning and controlling the mission, the result is pure theological speculation. Teacher actually engages in a literal act of exegesis with the texts left by other characters that have been through the same experience, once he realises that he is one of a long line of Teachers who have attempted to find out what has gone wrong with the mission and the ship itself. The Platonic/Gnostic preoccupations of the novel (the seeming creation of the colonists by a fallible god, the process of return to perfection) are well thematised and pursued within the action-packed plot.

So, yes, I really enjoyed Hull Zero Three, and all the more so because it was so unexpected (and I don’t mean that we can’t expect novels of this calibre from Greg Bear). It was far more economical, solid and convincing than something like Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, which shares some of its themes, but which I found verbose and incontinent and ultimately anticlimactic…Oh, well. Definitely a candidate for one of my novels of the year, Hull Zero Three is a must-read for serious readers of speculative fiction.

Advertisements

I mentioned Neal Stephenson’s new project, the Mongoliad in my last post but a couple more details were made available since. According to their Facebook page and their Wiki, the Mongoliad is going to be “primarily” an app based multimedia story in serialised form. Here’s the blurb from their wiki:

The Mongoliad is an experimental fiction project of the Subutai Corporation, scheduled for release in 2010. The corporation is an application company based in San Francisco and Seattle, whose chairman is speculative fiction author Neal Stephenson. Stephenson is the guiding force of the project, in which he is joined by colleagues including Greg Bear.

The work is intended to be distributed primarily as a series of applications (“apps”) for smartphones, which the Corporation views as a new model for publishing storytelling. At the project’s core is a narrative of adventure fiction following the exploits of a small group of fighters and mystics in medieval Europe around the time of the Mongol conquests. As well as speculative fiction authors Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Nicole Galland, Mark Teppo and others, collaborators include filmmakers, computer programmers, graphic artists, martial artists and combat choreographers, video game designers, and a professional editor. In a departure from conventional fiction, much of the content of The Mongoliad will be in forms other than text, not bound to any single medium and not in the service of the central narrative. Once the project develops momentum, the Corporation envisages fans of the work to contribute, expanding and enriching the narrative and the fictional universe in which it takes place.

In the telling of the Corporation’s president Jeremy Bornstein, the genesis of the project was in Stephenson’s dissatisfaction with the authenticity of the medieval sword fighting scenes he had written into his Baroque cycle of novels.Stephenson gathered a group of martial arts enthusiasts interested in studying historical European swordfighting, and this eventually resulted in some of the members of this group collaborating on a set of stories which would make use of accurate representations of these martial arts. The collaborators decided the project need not limit itself to traditional novel form, and began developing ideas on how to produce it in different media while retaining the caliber that would be expected of a new work by authors such as Stephenson or Bear.

An “alpha version” was demonstrated at the periodic application showcase SF App Show in San Francisco, California on May 25, 2010. The project is expected to go live sometime in 2010. Supported smartphones and platforms include the iPad, iPhone, Android, and Kindle.

I hope that they decide to expand the scope of application for the project because it could branch out in very interesting directions. Here’s a video of stephenson and Bear discussing the historical scope of the project.

I don’t know how many of you have read the ongoing comics series Unwritten (Vertigo), by Mike Carey and Peter Gross. The plot follows Tommy Taylor, whose father is the famous author of a series of fantasy books closely resembling the Harry Potter series. His father has based the eponymous young protagonist of his books on young Tommy himself, who now, after the sudden disappearance of his father, makes a living by attending conventions etc. After a few intriguing confrontations with some shadowy individuals, Toomy gets caught up in a conspiracy of sorts and realises that the world of fiction isn’t as fictional as it seems and/or that he might be a fictional character himself…The series interweaves myriad well known narratives from various genres, in a sense following the Borgesian idea that religion, philosophy etc are but branches of fantastic literature (or, rather post-modernistly, that stories are all we can have). It’s a story about stories, the intersection of reality and fiction, the role of narrative and the notion of identity, among other things.

Now, the interesting thing is this: When Tommy was a boy, his father, Wilson Taylor, taught him countless trivia concerning the actual geography of fictional events as they are described in works of fiction, from chivalric romances to the novels of Dickens and beyond. On which streets characters lived, in which cities the action took place etc, thereby giving them a semblance of reality by spatialising them. It seems that Wilson knew about the situation in which Tommy would find himself and taught him that as a means of protection.

I loved the idea when I started reading the comic, so imagine my surprise when I came across GoogleLitTrips. GoogleLitTrips is an educational resource that endeavours to teach students about literature by showing them the routes and travels undertaken by characters in famous road trip novels. It does this by taking advantage of certain features of Google Earth. At this stage, it offers a very limited number of such spatialised versions but it doesn’t take much to see how far this could go as an educational and creative tool. Yes, people have been going on literary tours and creating soundtracks for works of fiction for years, but this model could add various multimedia dimensions to the way we approach the act of writing and the act of reading literature itself. Obviously, I do not view this as a substitute for reading and writing but as a level of extension of the creative and experiential aspects of those processes.

For example, Neal Stephenson and Greg Bear have been collaborating on a project called Mongoliad that combines the freeform storytelling aspects of MMORPGs and the externalised, spatial aspects of GoogleLitTrips:

The Mongoliad is a rip-roaring adventure tale set 1241, a pivotal year in history, when Europe thought that the Mongol Horde was about to completely destroy their world. The Mongoliad is also the beginning of an experiment in storytelling, technology, and community-driven creativity.

Our story begins with a serial novel of sorts, which we will release over the course of about a year. Neal Stephenson created the world in which The Mongoliad is set, and presides benevolently over it. Our first set of stories is being written by Neal, Greg Bear, Nicole Galland, Mark Teppo, and a number of other authors; we’re also working closely with artists, fight choreographers & other martial artists, programmers, film-makers, game designers, and a bunch of other folks to produce an ongoing stream of nontextual, para-narrative, and extra-narrative stuff which we think brings the story to life in ways that are pleasingly unique, and which can’t be done in any single medium.

Very shortly, once The Mongoliad has developed some mass and momentum, we will be asking fans to join us in creating the rest of the world and telling new stories in it. That’s where the real experiment part comes in. We are building some pretty cool tech to make that easy and fun, and we hope lots of you will use it.

People will be able to get The Mongoliad over the web and via custom clients for mobile devices – we’re going to start out with iPad, iPhone, Android, and Kindle apps, and will probably do more in the not too distant future.

(via SFSignal)

This platform could develop as an updated form of Second Life and MMORPGs, much like the one envisaged by Greg Egan in Zendegi or the platform that Neal Stephenson envisaged in Snow Crash.

%d bloggers like this: