Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Book Review: Tau Ceti by Kevin J. Anderson and Steven Savile

Tau Ceti is part of a series of books where a senior author and a junior one are paired together to write a story. In Tau Ceti, we have Kevin J. Anderson and Steven Savile teaming up to tell a "hard" sci-fi story of a generation ship and its journey to the planet around the star Tau Ceti. I don't remember why I bought this, it may even have been free or bundled with something else. It was pretty low on my to-read list since I wasn't particularly interested in it, but my recent analysis of Goodreads reviews indicated I might enjoy it so I decided to give it a try.

See below for my full review.

Overall Impression
This was a fast read, but pretty disappointing. It lacks credible characters and the setting is unimpressive. Overall, a mediocre book at best. There were a few more short stories after the end of the main story, but I did not feel like reading these.

Plot
The plot is probably the better part of this book. It is fast paced, if a bit predictable. It makes for a very quick read. The story is split in two parts of the first novelette (Anderson's): we follow the crew of the generation ship as they continue their journey to Tau Ceti and at the same time we follow a group of scientists developing a faster-than-light drive on Earth under President (more like Dictator) Jurudu's orders. This sets up the main tension of the story: who will reach Tau Ceti first and will the interactions of the two groups be peaceful. The second novelette (Savile's) describes events after they arrive at Tau Ceti and try to work together.

Characters
This is the weakest part of this pair of novelettes and it significantly drags the book down. The characters are barely one-dimensional. You know immediately who the good guys are, who the bad guys are, and practically how their whole lives will play out. The good guys are naive to a fault and the bad guys are completely unredeemable. It's incredibly unbelievable and jarring to have such weak, static characters. I've read other books by Anderson with clear-cut good/evil characters, but even then they have believable complexity so I was sorely disappointed by this book as I expected far more.

Setting / World Building
For a supposed hard sci-fi book, the setting is somewhat lacking. Usually, this is where hard science fiction thrives but in this case we are left with a barebones setting. The Earth has suffered a cataclysm due to irregular solar activity and a generation ship is built and launched. We get a few tidbits on how some things work, but not much. In fact, it's surprising that the generation ship lasts so long (~200 years) and is in better shape than anything the Earth makes in that time. One could imagine one problem after the next slowly degrading the systems and the skills of its crew diminishing over time. The premise of the story is fine, if a bit unoriginal, but its execution is flawed.

Final Thoughts
I'm disappointed at how much the characters dragged down this story. It had some promise, even if the setting was a bit generic. One of the only redeeming features is that it's a short book that can be quickly read to get it over with. I'm sad that my model predicted I would give this a high rating, when in actuality I'm not sure it deserves even 3 stars. My predictive model clearly needs some extra tweaks and more data to do a better job at recommending books for me.

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