The Boat of a Million Years by Poul Anderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Oh my great googamunga, what the hell have I been reading all these years, slogging through shit only to finally come upon THIS MAGNUM OPUS OF SF? I'm frankly about as embarrassed as I can possibly be.
I am STUNNED by how smoothly this enormous work slid down my gullet, amazing me with so much delightfully interesting history told so damn well that I had to check a few times to be sure I was reading an actual SF novel, and not a brilliant historical told through an old motif of immortals making their way through time. I kept picking up nuances that were thrilling and I absolutely loved the tension when it came to the possibilities of having these radically different people finally get together, or when they did, things went to hell, like ships running with false colors in the night.
But understand this: neither the interesting characters nor the locations and situations make this book the bit of brilliance that it is. It's the undercurrents of mythology, the retellings of old, old, old tales, and the underlying questioning of life that turns this huge novel into an unforgettable tale.
Sure, MANY authors have gone and turned their hands at immortality, and I've even been convinced on occasion that the best long-term space-farers limited by light-speed would inevitably be vampires and wandering jews, but let's face it: A lot of what's out there is dreck.
This novel isn't.
In fact, it's one of the most scrupulously researched and deftly imagined SF titles ever written. I'm absolutely certain that I'm going to have to read this a second and perhaps a third time. I picked up enough references to old gods and messages from other greats of literature to choke a horse, and yet Poul Anderson is so damn experienced and crafty that he never let any of it get in the way of good writing and storytelling. They were practically all below the surface, giving so much damn depth to this novel that I feel like a Phonician in a flimsy boat tempting Thetis or even Ran to capture me in her grand oceanic net.
"Stunning" doesn't really do this novel justice.
I feel like I just read great literature. This is the kind of writing I'd always wished and hoped to see in SF: deep, intelligent, crafty, exploratory, and a damn good yarn to boot. I'm not going to be forgetting any of these immortals any time soon. Heaven willing, I'll be able to meet up with them in a million years, myself, and drink wine with them with all the other biologicals filling all the niches of the universe.
One thing I will say, though, if anyone is considering between the audio version or the text, aim for the text. I tried both and reading it traditionally made a hell of a lot better sense and maintained if not excelled at keeping every ounce of my attention. And this is coming from someone who actually prefers to read by audiobook for convenience.
I'm pretty damn sure I'm going to have to do some serious rearranging of my top 100 list soon to make room for this puppy.
Another thing: there's quite a lot of Heinlein-dropping in the modern section of the tale. I know this is very intentional, from politics to borrowed story ideas. Far from being derivative, though, I think Poul pulled off a Heinlein better than Heinlein. And another thing: this novel was published in 1989, one year after Heinlein died.
As a send-off, it brought real tears to my eyes.
As a side note: I've only read one other work of Poul Anderson's, Tau Zero , and while I enjoyed the hard SF aspects a ton, ignoring what we now know about physics, I had some serious issues with the characters and sexual dynamics, feeling like the novel was a throwback of misogyny. I'm now sure that it was either Poul trying to speak to his intended audience of the early 70's, or he had gone through a HELL of a big life change between the years, because I had NO PROBLEMS AT ALL with the characters in The Boat of a Million Years. They were complicated and three-dimensional, frail and strong and constantly growing. I loved them. They went down like sweet wine. I'm of the opinion that Poul was following someone else's misguided attempts to try for the apparent spirit of the times in Tau Zero, and for Boat, he was given free reign to make whatever kind of masterpiece he wanted.
THANK googamunga for that!
I've only read two, but he's now up there as one of my favorite authors of all time. That's a big WOW for me. Obviously I've got to get onto the rest of his library, huh?
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