Friday, 8 June 2012

The Immortals

Nornagest: born in Norway maybe 2000 BC.
Hanno: born in Tyre when Hiram was king, about 980 BC.
Tu Shan: born in China about 100 BC.
Patulcius: born in Rome in 27 BC.
Rufus: born in Gaul maybe 259 AD.
Aliyat: born in Palmyra about 550 AD.
Starkadh: born in Norway maybe in the ninth century.
Asagoa: born in Japan in the early twelfth century.
Svoboda: born near Kiev maybe in the tenth century.
Wanderer: born in North America before Columbus.
Flora: born a slave in the Southern States maybe about 1730.

In Chapter I, Hanno navigates for geographer Pytheas' northern voyage.
II, Tu Shan declines an invitation to advise the Emperor.
III, Hanno finds Rufus.
IV, Aliyat flees from Palmyra.
V, Nornagest and Starkadh meet and later die.
VI, Hanno and Rufus meet Svoboda in Kiev.
VII, They meet Aliyat in Constantinople.
VIII, Asagoa becomes a Buddhist nun.
IX, Svoboda ceases to be a Christian nun.
X, Asagoa meets Tu Shan.
XI, Hanno meets Cardinal Richelieu.
XII, Wanderer leaves his tribe.
XIII, Flora escapes from slavery.
XIV, Hanno and Rufus find Wanderer; Rufus dies.
XV, Flora finds Aliyat.
XVI, Hanno finds Patulcius.
XVII, Svoboda fights in World War II.
XVIII, The Eight meet.
XIX, They leave Earth.

That might provide a framework for comprehending a long, episodic novel that could instead have been presented as a series of short stories. Although Anderson realises each period well, the climaxes of the episodes become predictable. Either one of the characters has lived longer than is usual or two of the characters are immortals meeting for the first time. Chapter XVII is an exception. The immortals act as a team only in the last chapter.

One reader enjoyed the historical chapters but disliked the concluding futuristic chapter. I disagree with him here but another way to present the narrative would have been to publish Chapter XIX as a separate 145-page volume, a sequel. Thus, Volume I would comprise historical and contemporary fiction whereas Volume II would be speculative fiction but with eight characters in common. That might have been a more interesting way to do it?

Addendum, 9/6/12: If Boat had not culminated in the futuristic "Thule," then it would have had to reach some other sort of conclusion in the present. Chapter XVIII as it stands is merely a preparation for Chapter XIX.

Chapter XIV implies that Hanno and Wanderer manage to prevent white-Native American relations from being even worse than they were. Thus, here, as in Chapter I, there is an unseen influence of immortals on history.

Anderson, Poul, The Boat Of A Million Years, Orbit, 1991.

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