Tuesday, 5 May 2015

A Disguised Future History

Poul Anderson, The Boat Of A Million Years (London, 1991).

Like James Blish's Earthman, Come Home, Poul Anderson's The Boat Of A Million Years, Chapter XIX, is what I call a disguised future history. First, it is a future history because its action covers several future centuries. Secondly, however, the future historical status of the narrative is usually concealed from the reader by the indefinite longevity or physical immortality of a small cast of characters. Although centuries elapse, the main protagonist remains Hanno, not a descendant or successor - like David and Tabitha Falkayn or the Aenean rebels and the Kirkasanters.

Further, when Hanno and the other seven Survivors have left the Solar System, they can only speculate about subsequent Terrestrial history, although they suspect that it follows the course set by the few other high tech civilizations, turning inward, ceasing to seek or communicate across interstellar distances. Hanno and Yukiko spend years in the Allosan ship while children grow up on Xenogaia. At the end of section 33, several years must elapse before another ship arrives at Xenogaia, then several more years will elapse before the Survivors with the Alloi depart to colonize Phaeacia. Yet, in the brief concluding section 34, that departure is occurring. More time has passed without us noticing.

The Survivors are beginning to build a new kind of interstellar civilization, based not on robotic exploration and communication but on human exploration and colonization. Hanno hopes that, in a million years, organic intelligences will meet the postbiotics as their superiors. Since his speculations range from fish leaving the sea to that ultimate man-machine meeting, maybe we can call Boat an evolutionary history?

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