Written by Poul Anderson
Release date Out now
In the 23rd Century, the crew of the spacecraft Leonora Christine set out to reach a habitable planet 30 light years away. But after the ship is damaged in a cloud of space dust, the ship hurtles uncontrollably across galaxies and centuries…
Tau Zero doesn’t begin in a particularly auspicious manner. Opening with two of the future astronauts pondering the journey that awaits them, Anderson’s descriptions of the pair are bland and prosaic (“she was tall and well formed, regular of features, blue eyes set wide”), and there is every sign that this will be little beyond a standard pulp adventure novel.
Yet by the time the story reaches its optimistic conclusion you can see why the 1970 novel is so highly regarded. Over the course of the book Anderson crafts a gripping but highly realistic adventure in which his protagonists travel through time and space – eventually taking them to the death and rebirth of the universe itself. It’s fascinating stuff, as Anderson contemplates the wonders of the cosmos while celebrating mankind’s pioneering spirit.
For this is a story that is as much about the humans onboard the craft as the universe outside it. Anderson examines the crew’s fluctuating hope and despair as they hurtle onwards in the knowledge that everyone they loved back on Earth is dead and that they have little chance of making it through their experience alive.
The individual crew members aren’t always three-dimensional, though Reymont and Lindgren, the couple at the start of the novel, do become increasingly absorbing as they sacrifice their personal feelings for the greater mission. But Anderson convincingly depicts a collective of ambitious, highly stressed pioneers fighting intergalactic danger and inner turmoil, adding a compelling human dimension to the universe-spanning story.
For those readers without a physics degree, much of the detailed descriptions of the ship’s technology, the theories of relativity and the science of the universe are likely to be pretty difficult to follow. Don’t let that put you off. This is a inspiring study of a voyage into the unknown that is epic in its concepts, yet, at 187 pages, refreshingly concise at the same time. Matt McAllister
An awe-inspiring story from a master of hard SF.