Review of 'Tau Zero'

Tau Zero by Poul Anderson

tau_zero.jpg In the near future the star ship Leonora Chrstine is sent with a small crew to explore and potentially settle a nearby star. Accelerating ever closer to the speed of light, half way into their five year voyage an accident cripples the deceleration engines leaving them hopelessly accelerating ever closer towards the unattainable “tau zero” - The speed of light.

The story is told by alternating between crew dynamics and “info dumps” of the scientific basis for what is happening to the hapless, though entertaining, crew. The voyage is lead by an increasingly reclusive Telander, bearing the weight of the disaster on his shoulders while the actual day to day operation of the ship is taken over by the serious Ingrid Lindgren, Ship's First Officer, with policing by Charles Reymont, Ship's Constable, who is determined to maintain order in the midst of chaos. The crew keep themselves entertained by (a lot of) sleeping around, taking up various hobbies, performing scientific experiments, drinking and celebrating the increasingly irrelevant holidays.

A so-called “hard SF” book, “Tau Zero” is very well told and easy to read with just the right amount of detail to keep the reader interested but not so much to bore them. The interesting aspect of the book I found was the sexual politics of the crew, perhaps seen as moderately progressive when the book was written, it seems rather odd the amount of focus this has throughout the book. This said the actual pressure on the crew is touched on lightly despite the events unfolding around them with this being largely what you might expect (increasing seclusion, fights, drinking, etc) but only to a certain point, avoiding the more difficult subjects of the likely suicides and sabotage that would undoubtedly arise.

I have to admit I can't say any of the characters really engaged me despite the efforts of Anderson to do so. They all seemed one-dimensional. The focus here is on the incredible situation that arises and how they might get out of it which leads to a somewhat satisfactory conclusion (though, I am told, not necessarily in keeping with modern scientific thinking). Not a lot of “action”, per se, just things that keep happening to them…at the end of the day the focus of the story is on a ship travelling through ship with a small crew on an impossible mission.

A “classic” of the genre? Perhaps or perhaps not. Regardless, “Tau Zero” certainly with some interesting ideas and will appeal to fans of the genre.

Rating: “It is OK but I have some issues”

Review Date: 2018-11-04

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Gollancz

Publication Date: 1970

ISBN: 9780575077324