Tau Zero by Poul Anderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Fifty colonists embark on a ten year subjective voyage at relativistic speed to a new world, but tragedy strikes unexpectedly, and the crew must deal with the consequences. What follows is an amazing story of emotion, suspense, and scientific action. Poul Anderson does a superb job both with developing the character relations and pushing the crew through a remarkable (yet plausible*) plot. This cook is a bellweather of the hard science fiction genre, and should be on the to-read list of any true hard scifi fan.
Now that I've given my five star recommendation, if you haven't read the book yet, stop reading this review here. Spoilers are ahead.
While this book is definitely some of the hardest of the hard science fiction that there is, it follows through scientific theories that have since been disproved. As most science enthusiasts today know, the universe is not an oscillation type; due to dark energy, the universe will instead expand forever, making the premise of the final chapters of the book an implausible solution. Interestingly, Bussard drives (or something similar to it) in our distant future might potentially be used to try and extend how long we can last before heat death eventually takes over. In such end times, using technology to amass mass (if you'll excuse the lame pun) will be necessary if we ever plan on creating new stars out of the void.
Second, I feel conflicted on how Anderson dealt with the relationships among the crew. I'm not saying it wasn't somewhat realistic, but with only 50 members, a polyamorous lifestyle should have really been assumed from the start. Granted, Anderson arrived there eventually once it was realized that they could expect no further colonists to come along, but it bothered me early on in the story that they did not arrive to such a conclusion earlier. I suppose in Anderson's future world, polyamory is as looked down upon as it was in the time this book was first written.
Third, the final moments of this novel seemed a bit rushed for me. Refusal of kingship, mandate to make this part of the universe human-centric, and a switch to polyamory were all introduced in a matter of paragraphs, followed only by an abrupt ending. While I realize that there's not much story left that can be told while remaining truly hard scifi, I nevertheless felt sad at realizing the story would not continue. But perhaps I am too enamored with long-running series.
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