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Tau Zero    by Poul Anderson order for
Tau Zero
by Poul Anderson
Order:  USA  Can
Orion, 2000 (1970)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Those who travel aboard the Leonora Christine are seeking adventure, with the possibility of colonizing a new world at the end of the journey. They leave a future world interesting in itself, in which Sweden is the dominant power after taking on the role of Control Authority of a world police force. The story opens with Charles Reymont and Ingrid Lindgren saying farewell to the Millesgarden in Stockholm, and beginning a relationship that will continue on the star ship.

Reymont - a tough, pragmatic product of the slums of Antarctica, with combat experience in the troubles on Mars - will be the ship's Constable. Ingrid, from a privileged aristocratic background is its first officer. Anderson sketches in the travellers' backgrounds and burgeoning relationships as he launches the colony ship out of orbit and into the Big Deep. The many details of life in low gravity are fascinating.

Then the unexpected strikes and the voyagers must deal with the fact that they are on board a vehicle that will accelerate forever. They don't know how to stop it and can't get off; an early SF version of Speed. Anderson gives depth to the tale with credible, detailed science and by depicting the psychological problems that all on board must deal with as they desperately search for solutions and face repeated failure. Of course the outsider Reymont takes on the hero's role and, though disliked and distrusted, gets the job done.

When I first read Tau Zero in 1970 it made a big impression as one of the best 'hard science fiction' stories that I had read to that point, because of its combination of science and humanity. It is still an excellent read, but has lost some of its gloss, as have so many other firsts in fantasy & SF. However, the scope of this tale has still to be repeated. In Reymont's words, the Leonora Christine travels 'Millions of years in the future. Millions of light-years hence. The human race most likely extinct ... in this corner of the universe.'

Buzz Lightyear's byword was 'To infinity and beyond!' Poul Anderson was well before his time when he took his shipload of crew and scientists to the end of our universe and beyond. Tau Zero has just been re-issued. If you missed it in the 70's, read it now.

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