Completed 5/19/2019, Reviewed 5/19/2019
This book was very hard science fiction. I understood a lot of it, but I studied some physics and astronomy in college and enjoyed relativity. I think Anderson did a really good job of explaining the physics in lay terms, but it still might be tough for some people. And that’s the bright spot of this book, the physics. The human interaction, on the other hand, is not Anderson’s forte, at least not in this book. It’s soapy and melodramatic. The basic plot is good, but the subplots with the characters are lacking. It made it a bit of a slog to get through because I never found myself caring for any of the characters.
The Lenora Christine is a spaceship carrying fifty people, half men half women, to a possible planet thirty-some-odd light years away for colonization. If it turns out to be not habitable, they’ll turn around and come back. The ship has a fusion engine and will approach the speed of light, so much more time will pass on Earth than does on the ship. Then things go to hell in a handbasket when they pass through a nebula which knocks out their ability to decelerate. They can’t repair the spaceship without going outside the ship, and doing so is immensely dangerous at the speeds they are travelling. So, they must continue to accelerate until they reach deep intergalactic space where there is almost no matter with which they can accidently interact. But because of time dilation, the universe around them is aging. Besides the technical aspect, the question becomes whether the passengers aboard can cope with the thousands of years passing by them on the outside while only a few pass within.
My biggest problem with the book is the people. They are very cardboard. The characters do not feel very real and are not memorable. Most of the problems that happen to them are interpersonal, which Anderson did not write very well. There’s a little bit about people not coping well with the trials that afflict them on their journey, but I think these scenes could have been fleshed out more. And the relationships just reminded me of a soap opera, melodrama without substance.
I also had to do some willing suspension of disbelief regarding the science. As they approach the speed of light, they go faster and faster, of course. But by definition, the speed of light is the limit they can attain if they have no mass. They can’t go faster. That means they should be taking more than thirty years to get to their initial destination, not five, which is described in the book. And later, they continue to accelerate and zip in and out of galaxies. This is not possible unless they attain some sort of faster than light travel, like the use of wormholes for space dilation. I had to put all this cognitive dissonance aside and allow for the book’s conceit that approaching the speed of light gets them around superfast.
But besides this, the plot was well-conceived, that is, being stuck in space accelerating toward the speed of light and the problems that unfold. The problems kept coming and the people had to cope and figure out ways around it. I give the book three stars out of five for the plot, but fail to give it anymore because, well, it’s a soap opera aboard a lost ship.