The Enemy Stars by Poul Anderson (1959)

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4 men are signed up for a mission aboard a ship destined for Alpha Crucis. The ship, called the Southern Cross, is already in deep space but there is a device to transport them instantly to wherever the ship is, kind of like Star Trek's Teleporters. Then there is an error in the ship's computer sending it to a dead star, long since gone nova, and so it becomes a tale of survival.

In some ways this book, previously serialised in Astoundning magazine as 'We Have Fed Our Seas' (a line from a Kipling poem) is similar to his later Tau Zero, which I enjoyed.
Once again Anderson delivers a gripping, if short, piece of Hard SF!
 

Vertigo

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My take:


I love hard science fiction but it does undoubtedly suffer one major flaw; it is more vulnerable to being dated than most other SF. By its very nature what might be leading edge science at the time of writing may, sometimes quite rapidly, become superseded or simply revealed as invalid speculation. The Enemy Stars was written in 1959 (just two years after I was born) and at the time would have been serious leading edge hard SF with relativity and quantum physics taking centre stage, but sadly one critical belief that information can be transmitted instantaneously using gravitational effects has since been proved wrong. However The Enemy Stars predates the first Apollo mission and allowance must be made for the state of knowledge at that time and besides it’s no worse than all the modern SF centred on various modes of faster than light travel.

Instantaneous transmission of matter (not dissimilar to Star Trek’s transporter) is now available and promises to open up the stars to humanity but transceivers must first be transported to the destinations and this must be done with sub light speed technology taking hundreds of years. Anderson’s solution to this is really quite ingenious; space ships are sent out to the stars with a transceiver on board and, using this transceiver, crews can be transmitted onto the space ships to serve a tour of several months before being relieved by a new crew and this process is repeated for the entire duration of the sometimes centuries long voyage. One of these ships has been diverted to and interesting dead sun and, when the ships drive and transceiver are both damaged, the crew face starvation if they cannot repair the transceiver in time.

This is a great story with the emphasis placed on science (some now a bit flaky as mentioned earlier) and how the crew of four handle and manage the crisis. Some of the characterisation is a little flat but considering the story’s short length by modern standards (just 135 pages in my edition) it’s frankly surprising how much depth Anderson manages to squeeze in. Not my favourite Anderson hard SF, both Tau Zero and The Boat of a Million Years are better in my opinion, but still an excellent quick read.


4/5 stars.
 
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