Customer Review

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A paradigmatic SF book, for all the wrong reasons, 15 Jun 2012
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This review is from: Tau Zero (S.F. MASTERWORKS) (Paperback)
Tau Zero exemplifies much that came out of the pulp SF tradition. On the credit side, the idea is brilliant, and it's eloquently described in the Amazon "Product Description". The novel is probably SF's most thorough attempt, at least at time of publication, to explore the implications of relativity for travellers on a starship that's approaching light speed.

The trouble is, those implications are so far-reaching they don't really leave any room for a plot - they ARE the plot. Anderson correctly realised he needed some strong human interest to make this into a novel. Unfortunately, he wasn't up to the task of providing it. The weak characterisation, which comes as standard with a lot of SF, is more of a problem than usual because Anderson is trying so hard to avoid it, but failing so badly. The attempts at characterisation mainly come from dialogue rather than action, and said dialogue is among the most excruciatingly implausible you'll ever encounter (I kept hearing Tony Curtis, in Some Like It Hot, imploring "No-one talks like that!" as I read it). The cast speak in psychobabble paragraphs rather than demotic conversational language. And they all sound the same, so it's really hard to tell who's who. The only character who stands out at all is the hero, the ship's security chief Charles Reymont. Unfortunately, he's a Randian superman, or, in plain English, a complete eejit, and he causes irritation after irritation as he goes through his obligatory duties of demolishing straw man arguments and giving some sweet space lovin' to the women on board, all of whom, as nothing more than wish-fulfilment figures, can't resist whatever it is he's packing in his spacesuit.

Tau Zero is highly regarded by a lot of SF fans, possibly because it reasserted "traditional" SF virtues at the height of the New Wave era, possibly because it at least tries to have some characterisation and human interest, and possibly because Anderson was so widely liked in the SF world. To be fair, while he was never a great writer, he was far from negligible, and he wrote much that is better than this.

I read to the end with increasing annoyance but stuck with it because I was genuinely interested in what happened to the ship. I didn't care about the people on it though. Which is odd, because I'm not normally a huge fan of hard SF. So: five stars for the idea, one star for the characterisation, three stars as the halfway point between the two.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 10 Sep 2013 13:18:58 BDT
Last edited by the author on 10 Sep 2013 13:20:17 BDT
I have been reading the book and along with the majority of reviewers, I like it a lot and don't share the views of this reviewer. For instance, I hardly think of Reymont as a "Randian superman". There is nothing particularly super about him at all; he is, certainly, irritating, but the author does spell out the own doubts and torments of this person. Away from his job, he does open up to others, admit his flaws, and show his more vulnerable side. I admit most of the other characters are not very well drawn - that is far more significant criticism. We don't really get to know them very well.

The "plot", if there is one, is the idea of how people react or behave under conditions such as those described: that is a pretty good device to hold a reader's interest, and it works. I certainly wasn't annoyed by this book at all.

I don't have a view on whether the book's contrast with "New Wave" is a reason for people liking it. It is certainly true that Anderson is one of the top writers in the "hard" SF tradition, although such labels don't always illuminate.

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Jan 2014 12:31:18 GMT
Thanks - it's a refreshing change to have a civilised difference of opinion on Amazon review comments.

Posted on 22 Jul 2014 13:55:53 BDT
Theo says:
"a Randian superman"

LOL

I'd thought of him as more of a two-fisted hero in the grand pulp tradition... But I can see what you mean.
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