Poul Anderson's book Tau Zero stands out in the genre in large part because it does precisely the thing that one so rarely sees in science fiction: it takes a keen interest in the emotional lives of the characters in the novel, which the novel combines this with a general fascination for all things scientific. In Tau Zero, these two often competing themes in the genre work together with a synergy that makes the novel much more than just another deep space adventure story.
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.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Acclaimed science fiction writer Poul Anderson (1926-2001) was born in Bristol, Pennsylvania. After earning a degree in physics from the University of Minnesota, he moved to San Francisco where he lived with his wife and writing partner, Karen.
Anderson was a prolific writer with more than one hundred titles to his name. He wrote from a unique position and point of view having a deep understanding of science as well as a keen interest in Norse mythology. While Anderson had written some fantasy novels, including The Broken Sword (1954), Three Hearts and Three Lions (1961), and A Midsummer Tempest (1974), his reputation rests primarily on the strength of his science fiction.
Anderson's first science fiction novel was the 1954 Brain Wave, and it is considered by most to be a classic in the genre. Anderson liked to write series of novels, including his popular Time Patrol works beginning with 1981's Guardians of Time. He also wrote novellas and many short stories.
To his credit, Anderson has numerous science fiction awards including three Nebula awards, seven Hugo awards and the SFWA Grand Master Award (1997). But it is perhaps for the 1970 novel Tau Zero that Anderson will be best remembered. Anderson's last novel, Genesis (2000), won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (2001) for best science fiction novel of the year.
About Poul Anderson
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Published June 29, 2010
Science Fiction & Fantasy, Literature & Fiction, Action & Adventure.