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meganbaxter

meganbaxter

I'm a grad student, an avid reader, a huge nerd, fervent roleplayer, wife, cat lover, tea snob, and obsessive keeper of lists.
Tau Zero - Poul Anderson I'm reading this book as moderator of a discussion on Sci Fi Aficionadoes this month. No one has chimed in yet on the discussion. It's a little lonely. The reason I'm bringing that up is because Tau Zero was the winner of our "Time Travel" theme, which has me a little bit...befuddled. I mean, yes, they travel through time, but in the same direction as the rest of us. At near light speed, so, you know, faster, or slower, or whatever. But in one direction. I guess that's time travel, but by that logic, every book that is in any way linear is about time travel.

It's a quibble, I suppose.

So, on the ship the Leonora Christine, on her way to colonize a new world, something goes very, very wrong with the decelerators. The accelerators are fine, but they can't stop. They are pretty much doomed to drift onwards while millennia and then billennia (is that a word?) pass them by. And if they keep drifting, or, even, increase their velocity, how long can they outlast the human race as a whole? Will they ever be able to stop? And what would they find then?

I think I might have had less of a quibble about it being time travel if the ship ever came back into sync with the rest of the universe before heat death and birth of a new universe. If they'd managed to slow down and encounter a post-human race, to have time travelled in the sense that they have been utterly left behind and have to deal with the future future future shock, I would have argued that that sense of being displaced would have made it more time travel in my books.

So that's the science fiction premise. But the characters are not really strong enough to keep this one afloat. It's fine, but if you're going to look at people in this kind of pressure cooker, it seems to demand more character-driven drama, less science. I look at Spider Robinson's Variable Star, which includes some of the same emotional elements, and I remember those elements for their impact on specific people, people I can pick out of my memory and cherish, or love, or pity, or hate. That seemed like a better exploration of individual reactions to what happened, and Tau Zero is more focused on how you keep a tight ship running.

I like Poul Anderson generally, but I can't say this is one of my favourites. It needed stronger characters to stand up against a very interesting concept, and I don't think any of the characters will stick out in my mind.