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The Boat of a Million Years

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Others have written SF on the theme of immortality, but in The Boat of a Million Years, Poul Anderson made it his own. Early in human history, certain individuals were born who live on, unaging, undying, through the centuries and millenia. We follow them through over 2000 years, up to our time and beyond-to the promise of utopia, and to the challenge of the stars.

A milestone in modern science fiction, a New York Times Notable Book on its first publication in 1989, this is one of a great writer's finest works.

470 pages, Paperback

First published November 1, 1989

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About the author

Poul Anderson

1,414 books969 followers
Pseudonym A. A. Craig, Michael Karageorge, Winston P. Sanders, P. A. Kingsley.

Poul William Anderson was an American science fiction author who began his career during one of the Golden Ages of the genre and continued to write and remain popular into the 21st century. Anderson also authored several works of fantasy, historical novels, and a prodigious number of short stories. He received numerous awards for his writing, including seven Hugo Awards and three Nebula Awards.

Anderson received a degree in physics from the University of Minnesota in 1948. He married Karen Kruse in 1953. They had one daughter, Astrid, who is married to science fiction author Greg Bear. Anderson was the sixth President of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, taking office in 1972. He was a member of the Swordsmen and Sorcerers' Guild of America, a loose-knit group of Heroic Fantasy authors founded in the 1960s, some of whose works were anthologized in Lin Carter's Flashing Swords! anthologies. He was a founding member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. Robert A. Heinlein dedicated his 1985 novel The Cat Who Walks Through Walls to Anderson and eight of the other members of the Citizens' Advisory Council on National Space Policy.[2][3]

Poul Anderson died of cancer on July 31, 2001, after a month in the hospital. Several of his novels were published posthumously.

* Time Patrol
* Psychotechnic League
* Trygve Yamamura
* Harvest of Stars
* King of Ys
* Last Viking
* Hoka
* Future history of the Polesotechnic League
* Flandry

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 325 reviews
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,102 followers
November 7, 2015
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?
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,882 reviews16.6k followers
April 7, 2019
The Boat of a Million Years by Poul Anderson is a vehicle by which the author can explore anthropological, historical, sociological, theological and philosophical questions through the immortal eyes of a group of ageless but not impervious characters.

This is a brilliantly broad in scope adventure through time and culture, well researched and fascinating. I cannot help but compare this to Heinlein’s Methuselah's Children and especially Time Enough for Love, with its theme of immortality and ability to enter and exit various levels and stages of existence. Also, Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings.

And this makes me wonder further. The Boat of a Million Years was published in 1989 when Poul Anderson was 63 years old. Time Enough for Love was first published in 1973 when Heinlein was 66. Norman Mailer was 60 when he first released Ancient Evenings. As these great writers entered their seventh decade on Earth, did the tendrils of old age enter their thoughts and make them think of living on?

Like The High Crusade and The Corridors of Time, Anderson displays with a swaggering virtuosity his ability to describe themes of science fiction and fantasy in the same setting. Unfortunately, though, like Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love and Mailer’s Ancient Evenings, Anderson makes like his characters and goes on and on. The one criticism I would offer to all three would be some judicious and perhaps even ruthless editing, shaving a hundred pages off each would make them all better.

300 reviews
August 26, 2016
rewiew 01/22/14 The Boat of A Million Years
finally finished 1/21/14 2 stars - might be more accurate as a 0->1 star rating.


The author has an appreciation for the viewpoint of historical turning points where one culture is overtaking and replacing another as a result usually of war or overt control. In some cases this results from Environmental or economical factors such as drought, new trade routes, disruptive products that create new markets. etc.
The author set characters as ordinary people, or marginally upper class people, who live through these critical path events and must either adjust a lifestyle or relocate and possibly lose a lifetime accumulation of wealth or material and relationships. His perspective is fairly unique in historical writings. Hist historical turning points also occurred factually historically, and can be referenced in a number of actual historical writings.

The Weaknesses:

There is no character development. There is practically no plot. This book is more a collection of short stories whose only ties from one to the next is that the characters happen to be immortal, provided they don't get killed. This is very much like a collection of individual runs from the TV series "Highlander", without the head-chopping.
None of the stories have a traditional introduction with a rising action, a climax, and a denouement. Instead they are more like walking into a ladies knitting society meeting late where the discussion started before you got there, nothing of significance happens or is is decided, and you leave before the meeting ends.

This loose-linked approach with no building story line had no ability to hold my attention, and was a dredge to read. I almost quit several times and simply began skimming just to see whether the author could pick up a continuous thread and build from there. He didn't. Instead, at about 75%, time has swept into the future, where each individual scene becomes based on future historical speculation rather than historical fact.

In the end the author is attempting to exercise science fiction projections based on the physical constraints of space-time where distances are great and the speed of light, energy required to accelerate, and mass distortions affect travel and communication. Alien life forms, communications, and life-styles have to be conjured.

While the Sci-fi writing may have been a great exercise for the author, and was not badly written, it was a complete waste of my time, and the end beating is that without a climax of plot or action, the author simply was left attempting to convey that the only expectation that humans can expect, is constant change.

The book copy I received did not have a book jacket. In reading the opening pages, and the title, I expected a historical fiction based on Pytheas. In the case of this book, it is far better to read the last 5 to 10 pages, where the author expresses his viewpoint of change and adaptation, then pass the book off without enduring the 450 pages of expectation of a breakout of enlightenment.
Profile Image for Juho Pohjalainen.
Author 5 books282 followers
February 12, 2022
There's two books here - and though neither of the books is any bad, in a vacuum, they're stitched together fairly poorly and have very little to do with one another, and ultimately both end up sadly incomplete. One without an ending, the other with too much beginning.

In the first half, we follow a small number of immortals making their way through human history, blending in, struggling, thriving, always hiding, only towards the end managing to find one another. In the second half, a small number of intrepid explorers set off into space, to go forth where few other men would even care to go. The fact that the immortals and the explorers are the same people is not particularly relevant or important at any point. The two narratives are very loosely connected.

Is the first half setting up the second? If so, there's a great deal too much preamble, too many things that never come up at all, establishing the characters and their motivations to far greater extent than would be necessary. A chapter or two of set-up would have sufficed.

Or is it the second half that's the epilogue for the first? Then it's a very long epilogue, one that brings forth its own plot threads and tension that no longer have anything to do with the main meat of the story. A perfectly fine bit of historical low-key science fiction suddenly drifting off into space. I think then it could have had the ship leave off into the great unknown, then call it a day.

The main characters' immortality, long lives and good health, it does serve the space journey some - it helps establish their mindset, gives a reason to them going out there in the first place, and aids them in making it through over the many isolated years without going insane. That's fine. The problem here is, by that time the rest of humanity have been rendered just as immortal! So it could simply have tossed some of these people into the ship, folks that had grown weary of the world without challenges and sought to break into new horizons and put themselves into a new crucible. In such a case, the even more advanced age - let alone all of the set-up of their ancient lives - did not really add much at all.

And then taken from the perspective of the first half, the space stuff all rather comes out of nowhere. I know I can see the book's name and cover, but within the story itself there's not much foreshadowing on its part, nor any suggestion that it might go that far, nor did the initial historical adventures seem to be chosen in any way to serve the second half. They all helped build the characters, sure, but not their final challenge.

So no matter which way I look at it, the two halves are very loosely connected, hurting the whole of it. But they are pretty good narratives in their own right, with these small windows into the lives of immortals, with insight into their mindset as compared to mortal minds, with a glimpse at how it all grows on them and how they manage - and at the second half, some good observations and ruminations on the note of aliens, first contact, the necessity of space exploration, and one not-entirely-unrealistic view of what our future as a species might look like. I can't give either of them any less than three stars, for what they gave me on their own. But given they do both end up rather incomplete, I don't think I can give any more either.
Profile Image for Denis.
Author 1 book21 followers
February 15, 2021
This later novel by Poul Anderson featuring freak immortals from many points on the globe and born at various periods, is a wonderful vehicle for the author to highlight various points in history as well as speculate well into the future. I have found his writing to be, at times, a little difficult to follow for various reasons, however, in this case, this was not so (even though it might have been a little long winded in some segments).
Profile Image for Mike.
511 reviews132 followers
September 3, 2012
Long time ago I turned these pages.

There's been very little written by Poul Anderson that i did not like. I'm going on memory here, but this story was more about the people involved rather than classic, hard Science Fiction. As an omnibookworm, I don't particularly mind if an author draws on non-genre-specific influences to make a tale work better. Anderson was always all over the map: his books spanned SF, fantasy, history, and non-fiction. I can't recall ever been disappointed by him.

"The Boat of A Million Years" is mostly concerned with the lives of the "natural" immortals. So, we have interludes in various chronological and geopolitical situations that introduce the characters and how they must live amongst normals. Later, the author applies "modern" science to the question of how immortals exist. Eventually, we enter the future, where the problem is solved, our merry band of "founding immortals" leave our Big Blue Marble and the adventure continues.

Although that basic outline doesn't do the book justice, it is as benign (from a spoiler POV) as I can make it and still offer a crumb or two to pique your interest. In an ideal world it's a good "3.5" and, if I ever get a chance to re-read it, possibly a "4". There have been far worse books that have been popular. This one was short-listed for a couple of major awards and that wasn't from the milk of human kindness. Poul Anserson was a really good writer and editor. You should give him a try.
Profile Image for Kirsten .
1,612 reviews258 followers
April 11, 2015
An interesting book on what it would be like if you were immortal. Would it be a boon or a curse? I like how the author approached the subject and the characters were interesting.

However, like another reviewer pointed out, once it got into the late 20th Century it got a little preachy. And, it was obvious that Mr Anderson has drastically different politics from myself.

Still, the historical chapters were wonderful and very evocative of their different times.
Profile Image for Oleksandr Zholud.
1,118 reviews112 followers
April 24, 2021
This is a SF novel from one of the Golden Age authors, Poul Anderson, but published in 1989. It was nominated for quite a list of awards, including Hugo Award for Best Novel (1990), Nebula Award for Best Novel (1989), Prometheus Hall of Fame Award for Best SF Novel (1990), Locus Award for Best SF Novel (1990), SF Chronicle Award for Best SF Novel (1990). It won none of the abovementioned, losing Hugo to Hyperion and Nebula to The Healer's War, Locus to Hyperion. I read is as a part of monthly reading for April 2021 at Hugo & Nebula Awards: Best Novels group.

The first part of the book is a collection of stories, linked in chronological order and with several returning characters. It starts with a Greek ship during the period of Carthaginian power, organized by merchants to circumvent British isles. Later there are stories about China, Japan, Kyiv Rus, France, pre-Columbian America, Levant, etc. Readers soon establish that there is a group of immortals with small regenerative powers. However, if they meet and understand the nature of each other, this is usually not a ‘beginning of beautiful friendship’ but the opposite, not the least because upon finding them out, too many people try to ‘burn the witches’. Immortality doesn’t lead to great intellect – they are the same spectrum as ordinary people, only with a greater experience and sorrows – for if they start families their loved ones and offspring get old and die as easily as everyone else.

Roughly 4/5 of the book is the story from the past to the present. The last 1/5 is much more SF, in tech singularity future, with space travels and meeting other beings.

The novel shows that the author read his history even if in some specific cases I see that the narratives he read are different from ones I did (it concerns Kyiv Rus, Mongol invasion and some XX century), like he assumes that a person in mid-XX century will talk about Little Russians (as a self-designation) not Ukrainians: “The war threw me together with people from the whole Soviet Ukraine, not Cossacks, ordinary Little Russians, little people driven to such despair that they fight side by side with the Communists.”

This book lacks the plot drive, a collection of stories are more ‘drawings of a moment’ than some kind of interesting tales. I liked both SF and fantasy by the author, but this one left me cold. I highly suspect that the nominations were more driven by his name and earlier popularity than by the novel’s contents.
Profile Image for Olethros.
2,631 reviews434 followers
July 29, 2014
-Multitud de temas tratados con Sci-Fi al fondo.-

Género. Ciencia-Ficción.

Lo que nos cuenta. Relato de las vidas y sucesos de varios personajes inmortales, y de las complejas relaciones entre ellos, que nos llevará desde la prehistoria al futuro, pasando por escenarios orientales, griegos, romanos, de distintas partes de Europa, norteamericanos, etc, etc, etc… en diferentes momentos de nuestra Historia.

¿Quiere saber más de este libro, sin spoilers? Visite:

128 reviews40 followers
March 3, 2017
This is the first time I read a work of Poul Anderson and I'm amazed. After I watched the movie "The Man from Earth" I wanted to read what kind of adventures an immortal might have lived throughout the centuries he lived. And The Boat of a Millon Years was exactly the book I was searching for. I feel like the book has not ended and it will continue as long as I live coz the characters will outlive me, too.
Profile Image for prcardi.
538 reviews76 followers
April 28, 2018
Storyline: 1/5
Characters: 2/5
Writing Style: 3/5
World: 3/5

I suppose such crossovers are inevitable with the massive numbers of novels published and the increasingly specific genre tastes among readers. At least it wasn't vampire-romance. Historical fiction-science fiction, however, probably wasn't much better.

For three-fourths of this unnecessarily long and episodic novel, I wondered if there was a guiding point or goal. I don't think Anderson had one for the bulk of the writing. There was a brief flash later in the book where I saw something deep and poetic, Anderson's impulse to do something great with the book, but he didn't stay with it and instead returned to the sort of science fiction tropes and ideas he was more familiar with.

Part of this would have been looked back on and proclaimed a visionary book had it been written in 1960. It was nearly 1990, though, when this was published, and most of the neat ideas were being handled by authors without any Golden-Age affectation. The failure to follow up on promising ideas and the slight, if not hurried, touching on technology made this read like a work from a much earlier period of science fiction history. I've only read Anderson's more famous works, but this was without a doubt the messiest of them all.
79 reviews1 follower
October 2, 2010
Poul Anderson wrote this story so well that I felt that the individual characters were real. They seemed to be true individuals who's thoughts were recorded in the book. The poetic style of Anderson struck a chord with me, and also reminded me strongly of Virginia Woolf's "Orlando." The promise of alien (in the truest sense of the word) peoples and cultures was made quite alluring in this book. The section toward the very end where the wonders of space are talked about and not by any character specifically (really the only section that seems to come directly from the author) is masterfully done, and flat out beautiful. Read it; I'm sure you'll love it if you have ever wondered about what a life totally unlike your own would be.
Profile Image for Allen.
134 reviews16 followers
July 6, 2008
I bought this in some little store in the Upper Peninsula while biking through and looking for mindless entertainment. As such, it's a little demanding at first, since he keeps introducing new central characters in widely different cultures and time periods (they're immortal, not to give anything away). Still, once I got the general idea, it was okay... until he got up to the 1980s, when it turns out that the wisdom of millenia of experience leads your typical immortal to become... a Paultard! It was late, bad Heinlein libertarianism revisited. I wound up tossing the book rather than finishing it, as the tirades against gun control and political correctness were boring at best.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Olethros.
2,631 reviews434 followers
August 25, 2013
-Multitud de temas tratados con Sci-Fi al fondo.-

Género. Ciencia-Ficción.

Lo que nos cuenta. Relato de las vidas y sucesos de varios personajes inmortales, y de las complejas relaciones entre ellos, que nos llevará desde la prehistoria al futuro, pasando por escenarios orientales, griegos, romanos, de distintas partes de Europa, norteamericanos, etc, etc, etc… en diferentes momentos de nuestra Historia.

¿Quiere saber más de este libro, sin spoilers? Visite:

Profile Image for Ron.
Author 1 book141 followers
December 5, 2008
Anderson sketches, and maintains, a plausible plot line encompassing the entirety of human history--and not as James Mitchener would. If I told you more, I'd spoil it.
Read, enjoy.
Profile Image for Pablo Bueno.
Author 15 books191 followers
April 2, 2021
Resulta tremenda la empresa en la que se embarcó Poul Anderson con este libro. No tengo claro que la culminara del todo, pero es para quedarse impresionado.
Profile Image for Kateblue.
591 reviews
April 15, 2021
Boring. Very boring. Anderson can write beautiful descriptions, but I don't really feel with/for his characters. And I am all about characters.

Also, I thought the end (future part) would be better, but, if anything, it was worse. Longwinded philosophizing. I wanted

I skimmed lots of this.

Waste of my time. I have GOT to stop reading books just because a book club I am in has chosen to read them.
Profile Image for C.
182 reviews5 followers
September 10, 2014
This title caught my eye when my husband was reading it, so I ventured to try it for myself. So glad I did!

I would hesitate to pigeonhole the novel into a genre. Much of it is historical, though Anderson seems to trust the reader's knowledge to provide the broad framework of history. Much of it is futuristic, but it's "soft" sci-fi, easily accessible to the casual reader. Really, it's a character-driven story, and a very effective one. Through the prism of the Immortals, the reader sees the myriad mysteries of the human condition: love, fear, death, faith, the longing for home and a place to belong, the desire for exploration and discovery...all these things and more are touched on.

Profile Image for Shari.
255 reviews26 followers
December 5, 2020
What a beautifully, lyrically written prose. It's rare one comes across a science fiction written so. It misleads the reader to think there will be no hard science, no aliens, no mind boggling concept of the future in such a narrative. And actually, in the first two thirds of the novel there aren't any at all, just history. Then when you reach the last third... my goodness....what an ending.

Anderson's tale is engrossing, imaginative, and believable. What captivated me is how he places the reader in different periods in human history through the characters' dialogues, use of words, and different mindsets. Witnessed by characters who are immortals, the setting comes out from unique and different perspectives. Without doubt, Poulson undertook a tremendous amount of research to create a plausible setting for each of the chapter set in the past.

Nevertheless, it's not the setting that resonates in the novel. It is the characters. Characters who struggle with their uniqueness: the possession of a gift of regeneration and immortality. Anderson presents in many ways how these can be more a curse than a gift. Just imagine being an immortal in the age of slavery and you possess a dark skin. Imagine being a slave for the whole duration of it in the New World. Or being a woman for an entire millennia beginning from the rise of the Roman empire. How could one possibly remain sane through that bloody period and survive?

Anderson is a master storyteller, and yet he cannot present the full suffering and pain of the characters, only the possibilities, especially of loneliness and of always being the ones left behind.

Still, it's not all hardship and strife. The last third of the novel shows that to survive for thousands of years, there are wonders, privileges. The immortals are nature's own time machines. They witness their world progress beyond imagining. In turn, they achieve some semblance of hope for peace and belonging. And the privilege is that ultimately they do so in other worlds, among the stars and other beings.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Steve King.
31 reviews
February 27, 2020
I've read a few Paul Anderson books, so I feel like I know some of his work - he's not a flash-bang space opera sci-fi writer...I get that. His work is often very intellectual and sometimes the language is challenging and even boarders on archaic here in 2020, and I get that too. That said, for me, The Boat of a Million years was a killer slog that - especially in the first half of the book - was also quite repetitive.

The premise is great (spoiler alerts going forward). There are a tiny number of humans born with a genetic mutation that essentially makes them ageless. They also don't get sick, and heal from regular injuries rapidly. They can still be killed, but it's hard to accomplish. The book slowly introduces about eight of these near-immortals, and follows their exploits over thousands of years, starting in about 300 BC and progressing into the far future.

It was interesting watching the passage of time through these characters but for about the first two-thirds of the book, little actually happens. To add to an already somewhat confusing timeline, there's also the fact that this group of characters often changes names. so each little 10-20 page chapter, covering one or more characters in a certain age, requires some reading before you even realize which set of immortals you're dealing with this time around. These small adventures are also somewhat repetitive, generally consisting of one immortal looking for or accidentally discovering other immortals, a conversation that usually takes the form of a drawn out series of questions as the immortals beat around the bush trying to lure the other into saying what they really are, and then both moving on. It kinda reminded me of watching the old TV/Movie series "The Highlander" but without any actual action or tension. After this happens several times, it just becomes eye rolling.

Immortal one: "I look at your, really look at you, and I think you may be older than you look."
Immortal two: "I might be older than I look."
Immortal one: "That's very interesting."
Immortal two: "it might be interesting and I think you are also older than you are letting on."
Immortal one: "Perhaps I am."
Immortal two: "I have also seen much."
Immortal one: "I see - so how old are you?"
Immortal two: "Oh, quite old, I assure you. You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
Immortal one: "You might be surprised at what someone as old as I might believe..."

...and so on.

As we reach the modern era, the 8-ish immortals come together for protection and finally reveal themselves, as they are under suspicious of a American congressman who's had a law-enforcement tail put on them because he's suspicious for some reason we're never given. Finally, the book draws to a slow, halting, unenergetic conclusion as the group of immortals head off to explore space, meet aliens, discover new planets and do it all without little more tension than occasional bickering about which planet to explore next or some type of Prime Directive type thing in dealing with aliens.

In the end, there was a lot of stuff that I wanted to be excited about. Exploring Earth in 200-ish year increments via the eyes of people who have 100s or 1000s of years of experience could have been great, but instead just ground on and on. I skimmed the last 20 pages and think I will take a long break from Poul Anderson.
Profile Image for Megan.
301 reviews5 followers
June 6, 2014
An impressive work. This novel follows the lives of several immortals throughout human history and beyond into a speculated future. It's kind of a combination of historical fiction in the beginning all the way into full on technologically-advanced space-faring in the end. I liked the thoroughly researched portrayal of daily life in numerous places around the globe throughout history. It was also interesting to look through an immortal's eyes at "significant" historical events. This power will rise, it will fall, things will change. Everything that seems so significant to the people experiencing it is just history repeating itself over and over. There is an overarching theme of the need to find meaning in life and the difficulty in doing so when all of the usual things that people think are important (families, careers, etc.) are so ephemeral over the time span of millennia. Anderson also carefully thought out the difficulties of surviving in a society when it becomes apparent that you never age (suspicion, fear, the need to move on to a new life); how those difficulties differ for men and women (i.e. the men can more easily move between different commercial or administrative enterprises, while the women are more often restrained to repeated marriages, prostitution, etc.) and how those difficulties change over millennia (i.e. in becomes increasingly difficult to start over in a new life as we enter the modern age where all of our details are tracked so closely).

Again - all of this is well thought out and impressive. Unfortunately all that detail makes this book a dreadfully slow mover at times. It's kind of the exact opposite of a lot of YA sci-fi/fantasy I have reviewed - 4 stars for craftsmanship and 2 stars for entertainment. At times I just couldn't bear to go on and had to switch to something else for a while. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone who reads primarily for plot and action. At the same time, I do appreciate quality writing and now that I'm done I am glad that I read it. If you think you would appreciate the thought that went into crafting this book, then give it a shot (not you Rob McCann - it will take you 8 years to finish and you have a lot of other stuff on your to-read list!). It's told mostly as a series of vignettes, so I recommend breaking it up and reading bits of it intermixed with other things.
Profile Image for Thom.
1,592 reviews47 followers
October 6, 2017
The first half (or past) reminded me much of the Highlander mythos. Born to ordinary folk, these immortals leave or escape their pasts and survive. Mostly a collection of short tales. Then in the 20th century they start to seek each other out. After the meetup - no beheading or quickening here - they work together to give all of humanity immortality. Things get pretty weird after that, and they are exiled again - this time to the stars.

In this book, Poul Anderson has a chance to explore history and immortality, science and first contact - all with the same cast of characters. They are not the deepest characters, because the focus here is on the story. Much of their history was based on true events, and therefore enjoyable to me. The latter half of the book has similarities to Tau Zero, written nearly 20 years earlier by the same author.

I read this as part of an 80s science fiction challenge. In an era of cyberpunks and fantasies, this book recalls an earlier era, with science instead of space opera. This resulted in a satisfying end to that decade.
Profile Image for Clare.
141 reviews
January 13, 2008
I recently re-read this book. It had been so long since I had read it, and I was pretty young then, so the main thing I remembered about it was that I really liked it. It was practically like reading it for the first time! Basic synopsis: There are some people being born here and there that are essentially immortal. What happens?

"The Boat of a Million Years" was the first book by Poul Anderson I ever read, and to be honest, the only one I liked very much. Though I wouldn't recommend his other books too much, this one is well worth a read. He does a great job of subtley discussing what really makes us human, without banging you on the head with contrived situations.

I think I should probably get more sleep before I try to write book reviews. Might change this later.

Profile Image for Anny.
312 reviews26 followers
December 14, 2020
I was expecting million years of human civilizations from primitive societies to inter-galactic civilizations told from the eyes of an immortal bystander. But what I got was more of a hodge-podge of immortals' woes. 80% of the book was pre-space age, telling the stories of various immortals coping with their immortality. Quite dry and boring with casts of forgettable characters. Only the last chapter deal with the space age, but much was left untold, the transition was very abrupt and jarring with little explanation. The exploration and discovery was unexciting and the alien left much to be desired.
Profile Image for Miguel.
16 reviews
April 13, 2022
El libro más largo que he leído y he disfrutado. Ame cada uno de los personajes y sus personalidades. Sin duda el escritor me iba a fascinar si con onda cerebral ya lo había hecho.
April 24, 2014
Poul Anderson's novel is difficult to review. The novel contains a myriad of problems which makes it not only difficult to read, but confusingly so. Despite this, it manages to convey an epic story that is, by the end, satisfying.

"The Boat of a Million Years" is, perhaps by necessity, confusing. Characters pop in and out of the world's timeline like rodents in Whack-a-Mole. Although the book has a timeline included, it would greatly benefit from chapters being headed with both location and time. Worse yet, immortals take on many different names throughout their existence and in many cases I read for many pages before realizing who this character was. This tactic is possibly meant to mirror the lives of the immortals--surrendering one lifetime for the next, abandoning who they once were to become another--but it just left me disoriented for the majority of the novel. Who is this? Where are they? WHEN are they?

One of the best, and worst, features of this novel is Anderson's writing style. The first half of the book is incredibly difficult to finish. Pages are positively littered with out-dated and archaic words--so much so that I laughed at my own incomprehension of some segments. Fortunately, my eBook edition allowed instant look up.

Any historians would probably love this novel, as Anderson obviously did research into the language. As an amateur historian with interest in Greco-Romano Europe, I felt rewarded whenever I recognized antiquated place names or objects. It was mostly the antiquated English being used which threw me off.

His style definitely lends credence to the time period, but at an extremely high cost of comprehensibility. Don't expect the beginning to be an easy read. Around the time the story moves to America, the language is updated to readability. Thank God.

Characterization is fairly flat. Men are stiff, women are stereotypical. I never feel emotionally connected with the immortals. I've read of Hanno's life, victories, sufferings, but never could I imagine him as real. He, like many characters in the novel, seem paper thin. Had I gotten inside his head just a little more, maybe I could have accepted him as more than such. Never do you hear of his loneliness, his anger, or his sadness--only curt words and obvious story telling.

Despite the horrific confusion I suffered and the flat characters, the book... told a great story. I can tell each section was largely written as a short story unto itself, because certain chapters stand out vividly in my memory. It's for this moments, and these alone, that I (hesitantly) recommend this book.
Profile Image for John Strange.
35 reviews3 followers
August 30, 2018
It’s more like The Boat of a Few Thousand Years.

The story begins with Hanno the Phoenician in 310 B.C. sailing to Thule, north of the island of Britain. Hanno was a boy when King Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem, so he’s already several hundred years old. Yet, as far as Hanno knows, he’s the only immortal alive.

There are others though not many. They’re scattered and isolated, ranging from the Mediterranean to China. Some of them have yet to be born. Their stories, vivid scenes from various time periods, rarely intersect. Indeed, the survivors (they can still be killed) only start meeting up in the U.S. centuries later. The immortals’ separate lives are inextricably bound from then on.

I enjoyed TBOAMY even though much of it was historical fiction than science fiction. The author was interested in an ambitious narrative of the dilemmas facing a cast of immortals than in telling an intimate story of one person’s life. More recent novels prefer the single character pining away for a lost love, vanished country, or concealing their identity and immortality from outsiders. This older book felt refreshing.
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