Posts Tagged ‘children’s hospital’

Tau Zero by Poul Anderson – review

October 25, 2012

I enjoyed Tau Zero, an old hard scifi book about people journeying past everything and back, but it’s also not the most entertaining read in the world. This is going to sound a bit harsh, but what I found most interesting was the book itself. From the library, it is a first edition hard cover from 1970 with wonderful cover work done by Anita Siegel. I hauled the image to the right from the novel’s wikipage and, if everything went right, you should be able to go there for a plot synopsis and other things by clicking the image. I’ll try to stay away from talking much about the actual happenings and goings because there really isn’t much to say that wouldn’t kill what plot the book has.

When saying it is a hard scifi novel, it means it focuses a good deal on the science and less on the people. I’m sure there are hard scifi books out there that do a great job hitting on both, but I don’t know what they are. The effect with Tau Zero is that I found the science a  bit hard to plough through while the characters were a bit hard to care about beyond their rather thin construction.

Which sounds like a devastatingly negative review, I know, but it’s not. It’s still an enjoyable read, perhaps made more enjoyable (at least for me) by getting through it quicker. While the characters really don’t matter a whole helluva lot, it makes up for it at least a bit by where they are going. What it really suffers from is just a general lack of vision. I think Anderson has a clear, strong grasp of the scientific aspects of his novel, and he goes into loving detail about tau – a detail that I just found dense and cumbersome compared to the lack of details he goes into with his characters, settings, and work.

In fact, he seems to go out of his way to not give details about the lead character, Reymont. The captain of the ship is shunted off. The other characters are either nearly as cold as Reymont, aren’t really delved into, or are even shown  as weakened a bit by their emotions.  It really seems as if Anderson just didn’t want to fill his novel out with anything but a framework so that he could talk about the science behind the idea of his story.

Which is a shame. While I wasn’t a big fan of Adrian’s The Children’s Hospital, it shows what can be done by cramming a bunch of people into a small area and just observing them and reporting back on what you see. Stephen King makes use of such a theme in story after story after story, trapping people in everything from vampire infested small towns to psychotic monorail trains to under a big invisible dome. However, this is also old scifi, which never really seemed to put an emphasis on the story. That was left to their fantasy tale spinning cousins, I guess.

If you like old scifi, or hard scifi, I think Tau Zero could be up your alley.  If you just sort of go walleyed and feel a tight clenching in your bowels by the idea of having to slog through some mathematical formulas about time dilation or having to keep track of a host of vaguely similar and thin characters, this is probably less for you. As I said, the most interesting part for me was the book itself. An artifact from 1970, its coverwork is distinctly scifi in its oddness and openly interpretive meanings in relation to the work. On the last page there is still a library card in the little paper slot, a single date stamped onto it (May 7 1970), though there are a host of Date Due stickers on the back cover, the most recent being 11-26-01.  Perhaps the best part is the brief synopsis on a little sticker on the cover page:

A space adventure which takes fifty people to the end of the universe, infinity, and the beginning of a new eternity.

Yeah, that sums it up pretty well.

Tau Zero at Barnes and Noble

Poul Anderson at Wikipedia and GoodReads

Anita Siegel’s archived NYT obituary at Legacy and a google image search. There is startlingly little I could really find on her.

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The Children’s Hospital by Chris Adrian – a review

May 22, 2011

Angel – sent from heaven to watch Jemma, to document her existence. Literally connected to her with some sort of metaphysical force that are like chains that bind him to her and hurt pulling him back if he tries to wander too far. He’s not perfect. He doesn’t pay her all of his attention all of the time. He welcomes his human form and being removed from angelic perfection.

Jemma – medical student. Everyone she has loved has died and everyone she will love will die. Some weird karmic black widow. She doesn’t hurry. She won’t run. She has sex with Rob, though she worries she will kill him.

Natalie – smart, no bullshit, 3rd year med student. Doesn’t seem evil, but definitely doesn’t go out of her way to be nice. Very competant.

Dr. Chandra – clumsy, not competant.

Rob Dickens – Jemma’s sex partner. Is called to his duties by Jemma touching her head with her finger and flaunting a thigh – she calls it a retarded ballerina.

Calvin – Jemma’s brother, died at 17, burned and partially dismembered (apparently done to himself), left a book that Jemma knew was “for her especially” but which she threw into the Serne River.

Father – Jemma’s father, surgeon, first signs of cancer in trembling of his hands.  Spirals into death quickly with METS eating away his brain.  Serious, not around the house much. Drank.

Mother – in fights with Father, she often bloodied him with a larger pepper shaker. She doted over him tirelessly as he died, but then declared herself free at last when he finally succumbed. Planned a trip around the world, promised Jemma to bring back her new daddy. Then, day she was supposed to be leaving, having packed and made arrangements, she set fire to the house, sat in the kitchen, and allowed the fire to consume her.

The Hospital – two wings. not yet floating? Regular and children’s. Children’s is prestigous, gets the children of royalty/celebrity and the freak cases that are either singular or so rare as to be singular. Seems fairly prestigious.

Vivian – best friend of Jemma, likable, maneater, common-sense strong. Curious about everything.

Pickie Beecher – only child who can’t be healed by Jemma. Refers to Jemma’s unborn kid as brother. Is perfectly content to not be  “healed.”

John Grampus – architect who designed the hospital with the help of one of the Angels.

Father Jane – de facto preacher of the hospital, has long, somewhat clueless sermons that seem to attract people.

Ishmael – HUGE, Norse-like man, find out he’s an Angel imprisoned in flesh for some reason, huge sex freak, dates Vivian briefly but cheats on her with nearly anything that walks.Also, freakishly gentle and very well liked because he just wanders around and talks with everyone.

Maggie -sorta Jemma’s nemesis, better clogger, doesn’t trust Jemma’s power that healed everyone. First one to turn to black ash.

Dr. Snood – quintessential management. Very smart, but not people savvy. Conventional.

-so far, not much has happened. Her death ability and her sexing it up with Robert have been established, as well as her not so much love but tolerance for her career path. For some reason, a seagull being blown into the window, where she meets its eye for a moment before it is whisked off by the storm, seems important.

-Alright, I’ve finished the story. I meant to update this thing as I went but, well, we saw how well that worked out. Now that this thing is done and over, I am left a bit unsatisfied. Feeling that I missed something (I did), I read some online reviews that finally made sense of the little symbols at the front of every chapter. But, other than that, it was praised as a necessary second novel for a great writer (I’m paraphrasing, and not entirely sure where I read this, so my apologies to anyone and everyone who may think I’m lifting this from them but I’m also most certainly not claiming it as my own). Which seems like a really nice way of calling it mediocre and unfinished, though ambitious.

The problem for me is that after 600-odd pages, I expected something more. I expected a bit more to chew over, a bit more to read into…and I didn’t find it. And in reading other reviews, they didn’t find it, either. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good read, it’s a good story, but when the lead character’s mother dies in a fire and then her power manifests itself as green fire, I expect something from that. But it never pays off. I expect something more from the relationship between the main character and her love/husband. It doesn’t really materialize. I expect something more from Pinkie Beecher (who is, apparently, a holdover from Adrian’s first novel -which I haven’t read – and who makes a helluva lot more sense if we have read said first novel) than to mysteriously disappear, only to reappear later and be “fine” in a way he couldn’t be fine before.

On top of that, the shifting viewpoints denoted by the altering of emblems at the beginning of each chapter is clunky and something I, admittedly, never fully picked up on. Again, it just didn’t seem to serve much of a purpose. While I certainly don’t begrudge an author going off on tangents, this seems like a pretty basic part of a story. If you’re going to alter how you tell your story, I can’t get past the feeling that there should be a greater purpose behind it.

So, is it a good read? Yes. Is it 600 pages good, though? I’m not sold.