Hard SF. Space exploration. First colony. Earth is screwed, environmentally, economically, and politically. There is tension between militaristic loyalist colonists and idealistic start-freshers.
I don't care that there's nothing "new" about the story — I love this kind of story. I wrote
this kind of story.
But Tau Ceti
reads like what it is, a quickie by a small press, tossed off by a couple of authors on a deadline. There's practically no character development. Large chunks of plot are just narrated at us. I enjoyed the story but over and over wondered why the authors didn't bother to, you know, make any of the characters actually show the personality traits we're told they possess. And some major suspensions of disbelief were necessary for a hard-SF novel.
The "Stellar Guild" series, by Phoenix Press, is a series of collaborations by established authors with up-and-comers. I've read neither Kevin J. Anderson nor Steven Savile before. Anderson is apparently very prolific, though it looks like he mostly writes tie-in novels. Tau Ceti
consists of a novella, Tortoise and Hare
, by Anderson, telling the story of the Beacon
, a generation ship from Earth on a two-hundred year journey to Tau Ceti, followed by a novelette, Grasshopper and Ants
, by Savile, which is basically part two of the book, telling what happens after they arrive.
In Tortoise and Hare
, we are introduced to the final generation aboard the Beacon as it approaches Tau Ceti. Two centuries ago, they left an Earth on the verge of ecological collapse. Now the planet is recovering, but it's under the control of a one-world dictatorship, and President Jurudu is stirring up resentment against the Beacon crew, claiming that the Beacon project almost bankrupted Earth at its time of greatest need. One of his scientists has just invented an FTL drive, so he builds a ship meant to beat the Beacon to Tau Ceti.
There is a lot of plot action, going back and forth between the Beacon and Earth. There is an underground resistance against Jurudu, there is a scientist with compromised loyalties, and Jurudu is probably the most convincing character in the book as an egomaniacal dictator. Meanwhile, Jorie Taylor, fourteen years old at the beginning of the book, has just been chosen by the Beacon's current Captain to be her replacement.
Jorie is really everything about the book that was disappointing, in a nutshell. She's a fourteen-year-old girl who has spent her entire life, like ten generations before her, aboard a generation ship. She's never known Earth, or set foot on any planet, and she's destined to bring the ship to their final destination.
And we never get any sense of how this affects her. Or what the culture aboard the Beacon is like. Or even what the interior of the ship looks like. We just know it's a big ship and there are some trees on it in an agricultural section. Jorie is a spunky teenager who just jumps right into her role as apprentice Captain. Oh, and she meets her future husband when he tosses mud at her. A couple chapters later, they're married. Literally, that's about as much as we get about their relationship. Oh hey, now they have two kids.
Dialog reads like it was written for a YA novel. Actually, less sophisticated than in many YA books. Characters spell out everything they think and everything they are going to do in short subject-verb-object sentences.
Steven Savile's part is even more stocked with very simple, short sentences.
She looked up at the sky again.
This was the beginning of an era.
The weight of history was in front of her.
There are many, many, blocky passages like that.
In the "sequel" to part one, the colonists have arrived on Sarbras (which is also barely described), but are suffering from mental and physical deterioration due to a mysterious illness. The source of the illness and the cure was a bit incredible, but okay, I'll roll with it. Also, back on Earth, President Jurudu gets deposed, and pulls an Arnold Schwarzenegger and comes after the colonists. All by himself. Um, seriously?
I know I sound pretty negative here. I'd probably have loved this book and not noticed the flaws when I was a teen (though I would still have recognized that Kevin J. Anderson and Steven Savile are no Robert Heinlein or Alexei Panshin). And notwithstanding my complaints, it was a page-turner and a quick read. Tau Ceti
is entertaining and on the light end of "hard SF." I'd rate it at about 2.5 stars, but rounding up to 3. I'd like to see more books like
this, but I wish I'd been more impressed.