Phoenix Pick, 2012, 202 pages
Jorie Taylor has lived her whole life on the generation ship Beacon. Fleeing an Earth tearing itself apart from its exhaustive demand for resources, the Beacon is finally approaching Sarbras, the planet circling Tau Ceti they hope to make humanity’s new home.
But Earth has recovered from its near-death experience and is now under the control of a ruthless dictator whose sights are set on Tau Ceti as well. President Jurudu knows how to get what he wants—and he wants Sarbras.
Tau Ceti is the first in the "Stellar Guild" series by Phoenix Pick (which, incidentally, will send you a free ebook every month if you sign up for their mailing list). They are kind of like the old Ace doubles, two stories in one, but they pair a "big name" author with some new talent.
The generation ship Beacon left Earth two hundred years ago. Earth was on the verge of environmental collapse and the colony ship was seen as possibly humanity's last hope.
Two hundred years later, the Beacon is approaching its destination, Tau Ceti. Meanwhile, back on Earth, President Jurudu has managed to bring all of Earth under his rule, and under brutal austerity measures, the planet has more or less survived. When a physicist invents a faster-than-light drive, Jurudu decides that ruling Earth isn't enough. He orders the construction of a new colony ship, which will beat the Beacon to Tau Ceti and claim the planet there for Earth.
Much of the first half of the book is political intrigue back on Earth; the protege of the scientist who invented the FTL drive has a girlfriend who opposes Jurudu's rule and thinks they shouldn't "steal" the planet Sarbras from from the Beacon. Of course this leads to unhappy consequences, as in any dictatorship. But the race to Sarbras, with the Beacon and the Conquistador arriving at about the same time, is tense and the confrontation between them is exciting.
That was the novella written by Kevin J. Anderson. The sequel novelette, written by Steven Savile, tells what happens after the colonists land on Sarbras, as well as what happens to President Jurudu back on Earth.
I like these kind of stories and was prepared to really like Tau Ceti. Unfortunately, I found the writing to be mediocre, sub-mediocre in places. It turns out that Kevin J. Anderson wrote his part in a month, and it shows.
The prose is elementary, the dialog is stilted. We are told what every character feels and what their personality traits are; they never actually show these traits. The worldbuilding and major plot developments are narrated. Some definite corners were cut in developing the plot.
Jorie Taylor, the protagonist, a fourteen-year-old girl chosen by the current Captain of the Beacon to be her replacement, the Captain who will lead the Beacon to its destination after eleven generations, is indistinguishable from an ordinary 21st century teenager. Except perhaps for being too boring, since she never gets in trouble, never does anything hasty, foolish, or selfish, and the extent of her romantic feelings are expressed when her future husband throws mud at her and LOL they fall in love and get married. I mean, literally, that's about how it's described.
Really, none of the characters have any personality or development. Even the tragic characters are tragic because we're told they're tragic and they feel much tragedy.
A thousand colonists who've been living aboard a generation ship all their lives, two hundred years out from Earth, and finally facing the prospect of setting foot on a planet for the first time, could reasonably be expected to be... a little different from Earthlings. But we get no sense of their culture, what it's like on their ship, or how anyone feels about leaving the ship that has been their world for eleven generations. "Hey, we've arrived! Cool, let's start building a colony."
Tau Ceti read like an extended short story. I liked it, but it wasn't that good. The writing annoyed me because I was really expecting better.
If you like this kind of story, Coyote, by Allen Steele, is much better. As is Rite of Passage or anything by Heinlein. Well, maybe not anything by Heinlein.
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