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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Full-speed SF
A space-ship designed to travel at speed, carrying explorers intending to colonise a distant star, gets into a bit of trouble and has its deceleration mechanism knocked out. Result - ship goes faster and faster and cannot stop. But this is no precursor of Speed for the space adventure generation. Despite the somewhat two-dimensional aspect of most of the characters,...
Published on September 13, 2000 by J. L. Probert

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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Classic But Clumsy
Poul Anderson's Tau Zero is one of the most revered Science Fiction classics - and with good reason. However, that doesn't mean it isn't sometimes tediously boring, the characters aren't one-dimensional, and the writing isn't down right clumsy. What saves the book from being chucked on to the ash heap of oblivion is the saving grace of most classic sci-fi - namely, one...
Published on September 21, 2006 by S. Singer


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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Full-speed SF, September 13, 2000
This review is from: Tau Zero (Paperback)
A space-ship designed to travel at speed, carrying explorers intending to colonise a distant star, gets into a bit of trouble and has its deceleration mechanism knocked out. Result - ship goes faster and faster and cannot stop. But this is no precursor of Speed for the space adventure generation. Despite the somewhat two-dimensional aspect of most of the characters, Anderson's novel develops into a meditation on life, the universe and everything. As the ship reaches almost unimaginable speeds, the universe outside the ship begins to observably age, leading to an inevitable conclusion with perhaps unexpected consequences. A well-handled science fiction meditation on the meaning of existence.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Classic But Clumsy, September 21, 2006
By 
S. Singer (Pittsburgh, PA, USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Poul Anderson's Tau Zero is one of the most revered Science Fiction classics - and with good reason. However, that doesn't mean it isn't sometimes tediously boring, the characters aren't one-dimensional, and the writing isn't down right clumsy. What saves the book from being chucked on to the ash heap of oblivion is the saving grace of most classic sci-fi - namely, one heck of a good idea. In Zero, Anderson acknowledges our collective desire to visit the stars and our yearning for a light speed drive to get there. However, asks Anderson, what would happen if such a device malfunctioned and we couldn't slow down? As we traveled fast and faster through space-time (yes, Anderson adds the temporal component) not only would we get farther away from Earth, we'd also move far into the future and the universe, itself, might appear to age right before our eyes! Now that's a scary concept! Such creativity makes up for a lot. That's why anyone who really likes the above situation would probably enjoy the book. However, be prepared to put up with some coal among that diamond of a concept.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Leonara Christine's near-luminal peril through space and time, June 13, 2007
By 
M-I-K-E 2theD "2theD" (The Big Mango, Thailand) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Tau Zero (Paperback)
Emerging from the Golden Age of science fiction rose Poul Anderson, whose first novel, Vault of the Ages, was published in 1952. Through the next two decades, Anderson more than dabbled with historical elements in The High Crusade (1960) and The Corridors of Time (1965), future history in Three Worlds To Conquer (1964), and also with conventional spaceships in The Makeshift Rocket (1962) and The Star Fox (1965). He hadn't written a "hard science fiction" until Tau Zero, but he stuck to his romantic roots even after the popularity of Tau Zero. Largely hitting the mark more often than not, Anderson's novels tend to be loquacious--even poetic at times--and nostalgic; in Tau Zero, this romanticism is infused with science savvy and sexual swashbuckling. No doubt it had won the Hugo award for best novel in 1971!

I had read this in 2007 and held romantic notions of the ship's near-luminal voyage through space and time. I wanted to reread this to dispel any fantastic notion I held... or to simply enjoy a great novel during my 5-day island holiday. Like the first time, I wasn't disappointed.

Rear cover synopsis:
"During her epic voyage to a planet thirty light-years away, the deceleration system of the Leonara Christine is irreparable damaged. Unable to slow down, she attains light speed, tau zero itself, and the disparity between time for those on board and external time becomes impossibly great. Eons and galaxies hurtle by in the blink of an eye as the crew speeds helpless and alone in the unknown..."

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In orbit around the Earth sits the Leonara Christine waiting for her crew of fifty souls. On Earth, those souls are spending their remaining days on Earth sightseeing and pairing off for the voyage to Beta Virginis, 32 light-years distant. The craft utilizes a tried-and-tested Bussard ramjet, which uses invisible magnetohydrodynamic fields to funnel hydrogen into the engine in order to create propulsion. The mission of the crew is to study the pre-selected planet for a matter of years and return to Earth... or colonize the planet, acting as a stepping-stone for humanity's reach across the galaxy. The five-year subjective voyage by the crew will be witnessed by the universe as taking an objective thirty-three years.

Once aboard the Leonara Christine, the bonds of pairing off become loosened as the members are sensitive to the emotional needs of others. This empathetic attention causes first officer Charles Reymont to dissolve his own partnership with the bountiful beauty of Ingrid Lindgren. Some are reclusive by nature, involved in their own scientific observation while other are reveling in the atmosphere of free love; all, however, keep a regiment of assisting in experiments so as to ward off boredom and ennui for the five-year voyage.

A probe had earlier traversed their path towards Beta Virginis, but when the Leonara Christine crosses the near-vacuum of the voyage, it encounters an unusually dense concentration of nebular gas. This alarms the crew who consider two outcomes: (a) they pass through with ease, only gaining speed or (b) they meet a spectacular, cataclysmic end. Little regard to paid to the third option, a combination of the other two options: they will survive the collision, but their control severely limited. After passing through the cloud, their gratitude of immediate survival offers no relief to their hopes for long-term survival.

The passage through the nebular cloud disabled their decelerating field and repair on the equipment is impossible without being bombarded by radiation from either the ship's exhaust or the colliding particles between the stars. Their only course of action is the primary mammalian motivation: survive. A circumnavigable course if plotted around the Milky Way so that they will forever remain in motion and consuming fuel before the ship either ceases to function or the universe ceases to exist.

Prior to their eventual death by cosmic radiation or by the collapse of the universe, the fifty-strong crew deal with the self-exiled captain and the growing authoritarianism of First Officer Charles Reymont. Thankful that their wait for death is cut short, they are also witness to the passing of millions and billions of years in the universe. As matter becomes rarer, stars burn out--they become witness to yet another spectacular sight, a sight which makes them cringe in the face of the unknown.

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Though written in 1970 during the New Wave of science fiction, Anderson still exhibits some "classic" habits of the science fiction from yesteryears. Anderson has a tendency to ham-fistedly insert background material into the chapter, like Charles Reymond's personal and professional information on page 10 which were put into brackets to section it off from the rest of the narrative (because this is the only example in the book, it's awkward and unnecessary). Anderson is guilty of similar block data insertion in People of the Wind (1973) where numerous blocks of data are framed and separated from the narrative.

However, Anderson also shows that he is up to the challenge of writing for the New Wave movement. More so than any other Anderson novel that I can recall, Tau Zero has a fair amount of sex, though much of it is directly indicated rather than explicitly written--Anderson ever so modest. Even the sexual relationships between the crew are a new facet to Anderson's New Wave writing, where partners are shared and marriage shunned, perhaps for the mental welfare of the close-knit crew or because the possible need for DNA variation for colonization.

The crew on the Leonara Christine is diverse in namesake but their actions are stereotypical to their respective race. The Chinese Chi-Yuen is poetic and in naturalistic, the Swede Telander is strong and silent, the Indian cosmologist Chidambaran in nerdy and pragmatic, and the Russian Lenkei is heated and controversial. But there is one character that breaks the mold of conformity, one entity that stands out among the rest and makes a name for herself: the one and only Leonara Christine.

The colloquial use of she in regards to the Leonara Christine eventually defines the ship itself as a character in the book, worthy of sympathy. The humans within her hull are confined in their microcosm, subject to whims of personal glory or self-destruction, interpersonal agitation or intrapersonal angst; yet, the Leonara Christine maintain her plot amid the stars and between nebulae while protecting the precious fleshy cargo within. When dense gas clouds and even denser stars blockade the advancement of the crew's passage, the Leonara Christine must persevere and succeed. When her successive mechanical failures demoralize her crew, she must endure the passing time and coddle her embryo-like humans.

Akin to the cordoned off block of personal data on page 10, Anderson begins each chapter with a snapshot of Leonara Christine's passage through space at her terrific near-luminal velocity. This would normally detract from the characters' narrative elements, but the result of the updates is a characterization of Leonara Christine. The voyage gains peril and the ship earns respect while the crew twiddle away their miniscule lives in a universe devoid of all humans other than the fifty within the Leonara Christine's hull.

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I can appreciate Anderson's experimental work--trying to infuse his Golden Age charm with New Wave elements, but the result is a blocky mosaic of the two. His characterization may have been stereotypical and weak, aside from the pleasantly plump and accommodating Ingrid Lindgren, but his characterization of Leonara Christine won me over. This is a foray into coping with the end of lives, the end of humanity, and the end of the universe through the eyes of the Earthy carbon life forms and the metallic hull who transports them through space and time. One of my favorite Anderson novels!
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hard SF, July 24, 2002
By 
Michael Dea (Calgary, Alberta Canada) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
If you like your SF hard and technical, Tau Zero is worth taking a look at. The main premise of the plot is based around relativity. The faster the ship goes, the 'slower' time becomes for the ship and its crew. With the result that the crew can travel immense distances in, what is for them, a few years time; and literally watch the universe age.
This is an intriguing premise, but the book, short as is, reads slow. Characterization is not well done. The crew seems to come apart psychologically too fast. After all they knew when they started they wouldn't see Earth again, and would be journeying for at least five years. I just don't believe a handpicked crew, would panic and despair in a few years, even if the universe around them had aged hundreds of millions of years.
And Sweden ruling the world?
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five stars because it sticks with you, March 8, 2006
This review is from: Tau Zero (Paperback)
I was telling a friend about this book recently, but I couldn't remember the title or author. No problem-type "bussard ramjet big bang novel" into Google and the first listing is for "Tau Zero. My point is, I couldn't remember the title, but the details of the book have stuck with me since I first read it darn near 20 years ago.

The other reviewers who have mentioned the less-than-perfect characterization of crew personalities and conflicts are right. But that's not what you remember. You remember the plot, and the crew's reaction to the plot. There is one part, quite near the end, which will stick with me forever. I won't spoil the book for you, but the ship is travelling through space, and shuddering every few seconds. When a crew member explains what causes those shudders, you may very well shudder yourself.

Read this one. You'll remember it for a long time.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I wish I'd read the short story instead, August 22, 2008
By 
taogoat (the mothership) - See all my reviews
This book is based on Poul Anderson's short story "To Outlive Eternity," and I wish I had skipped the book and read the short story instead.

The plot is based on a great idea, which justifies it as a classic of hard science fiction, but I don't think it's enough to sustain an entire novel. Too much of the book is like a boring soap opera -- people are fighting, having affairs, etc. You don't get to the brilliant idea till the very end, and by then I was just ready for the book to end.

The short story is in his collection "To Outlive Eternity and Other Stories," which can be found on Amazon.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating premise, but spoilt in its development, June 5, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Tau Zero (Hardcover)
Bussard Ramjets were hot stuff in '60s SF. Authors who were tired of the conventions of faster-than-light (FTL) travel, which is really little more than a handy way of getting the story to planet X, loved the idea of a scientifically plausible stardrive. Putting it simply, a Bussard Ramjet works by collecting interstellar hydrogen in magnetic fields at the front of the ship, squeezing them in a fusion reactor, and squirting the result out of the back at near the speed of light. It overcomes the problem all spacecraft face, where any practical starship is all fuel and reaction mass and no payload, by collecting its fuel on the way. The original free lunch, as it were. A Bussard Ramjet can theoretically reach any speed short of the speed of light. A side-effect of relativity theory is that, for the occupants of the ship, time passes more slowly the closer the ship approaches the speed of light. The factor by which time slows down is known as tau. So if tau is .5 the journey will seem to the travellers to take only half as long as it does to observers at rest. The faster you go, the more tau reduces.
Hence the title. In this hard-SF novel - expanded from a short story - the ship Leonora Christine sustains damage to her externally-mounted braking system while travelling very close to the speed of light. Unfortunately, it is impossible to go outside the ship to fix it as the density of interstellar matter in the vicinity is so high that it will kill anyone who goes outside the hull. The only way to deal with this is to travel to an intergalactic region where matter density is lower. To only way to get there within the crew's lifetime is to accelerate until tau is close enough to zero...
So far, this is a great SF story premise. The reader is involved in the crew's dilemma - to slow down they have to go faster - and can have fun second-guessing the author's very credible plot developments. But in the expansion to short-novel length, Poul Anderson has to give us more than just a puzzle -! we have to start getting involved with the crew as well. And this is where things go wrong. The people-interest part feels all too tacked on. Had Poul Anderson spent more time and space fully developing his characters the balance of the novel would have shifted away from the original hard-SF premise. Done well, this would have been just fine. But the characters are not well developed; they act and speak as if they were in a TV mini-series.
In the end, Tau Zero falls between two stools - it's too long to be problem-centred hard SF, too short to be people-centred story SF.
For more on Bussard Ramjets, see almost anything published by Larry Niven in the late '60s and early '70s, but especially A World out of Time (aka Children of the State) which is another short-story to novel expansion which I think is far more successful.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating adventure!, July 26, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Tau Zero (Hardcover)
A great story, heavy on science yet still readable by any sci-fi fan. The crew of a star ship are fated to a mind boggling adventure forced upon them.A group of potential human colonizers from Earth become stranded in space when they experience a very bad case of car trouble, causing them to miss their target star system and continue into the unknown. Due to their speed, time outside the ship moves much faster than within, and eventually they are the last of our kind known to exist as Earth's solar system dies out. Some of the characters are shallow, yet the Captain is solid and memorable. The characters' attempts to deal with the absence of Earth and, therefore, the absence of any familiar frame of reference in their new existence, are effective. Ultimately a triumphant story of human survival and will, and the human struggle to find a place in such a vast, unfamiliar universe. Earth truly seems small in this story, yet looms large in the minds of the nomadic crew, facing an uncertain future. An excellent and memorable book!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A soap opera on a spaceship, March 22, 2006
The cover blurb of the edition I read said "The ultimate hard science fiction novel". I disagree with the "ultimate" part, but it is hard SF, and hard SF doesn't always age very well. Relativistic time dilation may have been amazing and mindblowing in 1970, but today it's an obvious component in hard science fiction (maybe thanks to this novel, but still). There are also some annoying scientific "facts" mentioned, such as the idea that neutrinos travel at the speed of light because they are massless. This isn't Anderson's fault, of course, since that is what almost everybody thought when this book was written. The cosmological idea used at the end of the book is also mostly abandoned today.

The parts of the book that don't deal with the effects of relativistic velocity are, quite frankly, really bad. The characters are annoying to the point that I hoped that they would all die in some horrible way due to radiation leakage or starvation. It feels like Anderson first wrote only the "hard SF" part of the book, then discovered that it was much too short and pasted in random parts of manuscripts from the worst TV soap operas he could find.

However, the book does push the idea of time dilation to the limit, which makes it interesting and worth reading if you manage to ignore the characters and their relations.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A grand view of the cosmos in need of a better writer., January 9, 2006
This book was very enjoyable, but my inner grammarian was rebeling against the poor punctuation and choppy writing style. Even though the writing was lacking, the grand ideas expressed in this book were able to compensate.

This book examines the members of society by looking at how the crew faces their existential problems. Some become Machavellian, others turn to religion, while some simply allow themselves to waste away. They all find ways to cope with hopeless odds and a future that is almost certainly destitute.

Intermingled with the crew narration, is a second grand perspective of the universe told by an unknown narrator. These sections are well done and truly convey the immensity of the universe.

I understand why this book has become a classic of sci-fi, and I recommend it to any sci-fi fan as well as any student who is currently taking physics. To deal with the equations and theorys of light and relativity is one thing, but to play with the consequences and to see where they may lead is, in some ways, more insightful and enjoyable than simply studying a textbook. Overall, I would put this on any sci-fi reader's booklist.
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Tau Zero
Tau Zero by Poul Anderson (Hardcover - June 1970)
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