I am in the process of reading the Night's Dawn trilogy by Hamilton. I think we can consider it hard sci-fi, since the explanations provided are quite plausible for all the technical and scientific machinery used in the books.

However, the so-called zero-tau pods do puzzle me. Can anyone provide a plausible in-universe explanation for that technology?

  • Are you asking for an in-universe explanation of these pods or a out-of-universe question about how they work with regards to our scientific knowledge and principles. If it's the former you should edit to make it clearer. If it's the latter, that's off-topic here and your question will likely be marked as such. – Edlothiad Apr 12 '18 at 9:31
  • I don't think that this is hard sf. If you google what others define as hard sf, I think this is a hard stretch. :-) I admit it is not pure magic sf and tries to explain a little bit. – Hothie Apr 12 '18 at 12:19
  • Thanks, edited. Regardless, I think this zero-tau thingy is a big weakness for otherwise carefully written novels. Considering how important it turns out to be (in relation to the Alchemist or the possessed, for example), it should not have been dropped into the books like this, without any attempt of explanation. – MadHatter Apr 13 '18 at 12:24
  • @MadHatter: Compared to, y'know, the whole possession thing (or, for that matter, the explanations offered for affinity) I'd say the FTL/statis technology is one of the harder aspects of the series. – Henning Makholm Apr 13 '18 at 18:19
  • FTL in Hamilton's works is more or less in line with the usual "wormhole stuff" widely spread amongst modern sci-fi narrative. Possession is the supernatural element, and it should not surprise you if you know the author. Hamilton is kind of an odd duck in modern sci-fi, and I am personally inclined to think he is a religious guy. And yes, affinity sucks as well, but some descriptions given about orbital mechanics, weaponry, and general tech are quite convincing, making NDT "hardish" at least up to some vague extent. – MadHatter Apr 14 '18 at 15:21

In short, no. There's no science to support the idea of the "zero tau" pods described in these novels. They're described as a device that stops the flow of time for objects (including humans) placed inside them and that's not possible according to our current understanding of the universe.

Out-of-universe, the name "zero-tau" is probably a nod to the 1970 sci fi novel by Poul Anderson "Tau Zero". The name of that novel is itself derived from a fictional variation of the mathematical concept of tau. In the novel tau is described as the "time contraction factor" which is related to the speed of light and the relative velocity of an object. The story in the novel revolves around a spaceship that travels ever closer to the speed of light, and hence closer to "tau zero" - time passes normally for the crew on board but the relative passage of time externally keeps increasing.

In Hamilton's universe "zero-tau" is used as an expression of "zero time", i.e. zero time passes for a person placed inside a "zero tau" unit, relative to an observer outside the unit. For this to be true in our known universe the person inside the unit would have to travelling at the speed of light relative to a person outside the unit.

  • Yes, I read Tau Zero, beatiful novel. – MadHatter Apr 13 '18 at 12:17
  • A nitpick to the last sentence: According to General Relativity there are other situations where one observer experiences less time than another than the ones involving fast relative motion. In particular, observers near a heavy object experience less time than observers far from it; this is gravitational time dilation. – Henning Makholm Apr 13 '18 at 18:08
  • While this doesn't magically make the tech plausible, it does fit into a wider pattern of the FTL/ZTT technobabble in Night's Dawn having a strong vulgar-GR slant. Starships work by "energy pattering nodes" that create "wormholes". And, in particular, the Alchemist worked by using repurposed zero-tau technology to generate an extreme gravity field (just what the GR framework demands would happen if one somehow managed to create a stable area of slow passage of time). – Henning Makholm Apr 13 '18 at 18:15
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    Exactly. In particular, an unifying POV is that objects having nonzero mass experience time dilation when traveling at relativistic speed just because their mass increases up to a great extent. Now, it would have been kind if the author would have at least attempted to justify zero-tau tech by saying for example that the pods work by inducing some singularity tailored for the pod's occupant by the means of the same patterning nodes that make FTL possible in-universe. Obviously, that woud make FTL, zero-tau, and the Alchemist basically the same thing.. Old GR reworked :) – MadHatter Apr 14 '18 at 15:32

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