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(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Poul Anderson’s detailed explanations and equations of the relativistic effects of near-light speed travel make this novel a fine example of traditional hard science fiction. Character interactions are explored, particularly Reymont’s with Ingrid and then with a woman named Chi-Yuen Ai-Ling. It almost seems, however, that these relationships serve mainly to demonstrate that Reymont’s difficulty in forming close relationships becomes an asset when survival, including its psychological implications, is at stake. The novel also includes a relatively minor amount of social speculation, with a future Earth governed primarily by Sweden, a neutral party that stepped in while other nations fought territorial wars. This development, as well as the prevalence of Swedish crew members aboard the Leonora Christine’s crew, perhaps reflects Anderson’s Scandinavian descent.

As a novel, Tau Zero represents the type of hard science fiction contained in the early pulp magazines that began the science-fiction movement in the United States. The book emphasizes technology and science, in particular the laws of the physical universe, rather than social commentary, although the psychological hardships associated with long space voyages and crisis situations constitute a major theme of the book. The story almost suffers from an imbalance, in that the excellence of the plot and scope of the story are not matched by characterization , which in the end is not entirely believable. Psychological problems begin to show so early in the voyage, well before the accident that damages the braking system, that one wonders why some of the crew were selected for the expedition, although perhaps it can be argued that the...

(The entire section is 549 words.)