From practically the very first page, Tau Zero sets the scientific realities in dramatic tension with the very real emotional and psychological states of the travelers: you have the time factor and their emotional response to the consequence of traveling at this high rate of speed and the time that has passed. This tension is a dynamic that Anderson explores with great success over the course of the novel as fifty crew-members settle in for the long journey together. While they are a highly-trained team of scientists and researchers and therefore professionals, they are also a community of individuals, each of them trying to create for him or herself a life in a whole new space (or literally, in space).
It isn’t too long, however, before the voyage takes a turn for the worse. The ship passes through a small, uncharted cloud-like nebula that makes it impossible to decelerate the ship. The only hope rather, is to do the opposite and speed up. But acceleration towards and within the speed of light means that time outside the spaceship passes even more rapidly, sending the crew deeper into space and also, further into an unknown future. – Goodreads Synopsis
Tau Zero Review
“It’s going to be lonely in space, Carl, so far from our dead.” This quote struck me harder than I thought it would. I read it a few times, actually, examining its impact on me. Looking at what it really means. It’s hard to imagine what it must be like. Humans have the phrase “Leave everything, and everyone you know behind” but for people on an interstellar space ship? They take that saying as far as it can possibly go.
Tau Zero has it’s faults, but they’re not many. One of the things I didn’t like was the obvious use of the Marshall as a do-everything. He motivates, he stands in to dumb things down for the reader, he’s secretly brilliant… In short, he’s an annoying toe-rag and I wasn’t entirely sure he’s necessary in all the roles that he plays. It’s a bit annoying that this alpha male character rules the roost, gets the ladies, and fixes everything. Setting aside the man’s personality issues, he’s basically a Mary Sue, and I hate those characters. However, by the end of the book? You need that “We can overcome” attitude.
One question I had that I never could understand was: Why only 50 people? Why no cryogenic storage of embryos and other matter to provide a wide range of diversity? If you can build a spaceship, surely you can grow some test tube/false womb babies.
“Don’t you see? It’s our way of fighting back at the universe. Vogue la galree. Go for broke. Full steam ahead and damn the torpedos. I think, if I can put the matter to our people in those terms, they’ll rally. For a while anyways.” When the crew really starts to lose hope, I felt myself starting to lose hope too. How could Poul Anderson fit this much feeling into 190 pages? Gahh!
“What was illusion? What was reality? Was reality?” Read that aloud. Give it the inflection it deserves. Was…reality? Isn’t it amazing how two words can bring to mind veritable books of thought?
Can you unleash your mind enough to imagine the desperateness and loneliness that this group must be feeling? Honestly, reading it sent me into a mini-depression. I’m normally not a fan of happy-ever-afters because it’s more interesting to go in the opposite direction, but this book needed it’s happy ever after. Otherwise it’d give readers some kind of crisis!
In short, I loved this book. I loved it enough that I’ll be buying my own copy and re-reading this book countless times. Poul Anderson’s Tau Zero is hard facts against raw emotion with everything tempered by the inability of one man to ever give up. Its depressing, breathtaking, relentless and absolutely gorgeous. The tension leading up to the end will make you hold your breath. That final bit of the journey is at once easy to imagine and completely impossible to think about. It’s bigger than your mind can grasp, so you hold on to the bare mechanics of it, and wait to see what emerges.
If you’re a sci-fi fan at all, you need to add Tau Zero to your collection. Don’t be intimidated by the pages of technobabble and mathematics. I’m not science minded, and was able to grasp the basic concepts enough to figure out what the big deal was. If I can do it, you can. So, buy Tau Zero now on Amazon, please. You won’t regret it.