Book Review: Tau Zero by Poul Anderson (Four Stars)


Book Review: Tau Zero by Poul Anderson

(Four Stars)

“Nature is turning too alien for that. In honesty, I agree that our chances look poor. But I don’t think they are zero, either.”

Excellent hard Science Fiction based on a 1967 short story. Lots of science (some overcome by later science), well told. On the other hand, it is HARD SF: Anderson felt compelled to insert a formula for Tau at one point because he couldn’t explain a concept. (Many readers won’t understand the formula, let alone what it signifies.)

Leonora Christine spent most of a year getting within one percent of light velocity. The time aboard was about the same, because the value of tau only began to drop sharply when she was quite near c. During that initial period, she covered half a light-year of space, approximately five trillion kilometers.”

Modern science fiction writers could take lessons from Anderson. Melded into the gripping, but dry tale of exploration gone wrong are a variety of humans with a variety of reactions. The 1960s culture will seem like fantasy to current readers. (Spoiler: sex (very discrete, off stage) solves almost everything.)

“Your trouble is, you think a combination of acrophobia, sensory deprivation, and nervous strain is a metaphysical crisis. Myself, I don’t despise our lobsterish instinct to survive. I’m glad we have one.”

Anderson ignored black holes and radiation. Either would have killed his crew, if not his story. His “hydromagnetic forces” approximate gravity but allow him to bend it to his will. “Otherwise the Doppler effect might present us with more gamma radiation than our material shielding can handle.” He doesn’t identify that shielding but, where they go, even several meters of lead would not suffice.  And, “We might pass through a star at our current velocity and not be harmed. We can scarcely pass through the primordial nucleon. My personal suggestion is that we cultivate serenity.”

“Did you ever read Moby Dick?” she whispered. “That’s us. We’ve pursued the White Whale. To the end of time. And now … that question.  What is man, that he should outlive his God?”