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Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Boat of a Million Years (audiobook) by Poul Anderson

Ambitious idea but it tends to drag.

Read by Tom Weiner.
Duration: 20 hours, 16 minutes.
Published by Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Multiple award winner and science fiction legend Poul Anderson’s The Boat of a Million Years did something that science fiction all-too-rarely does when it was published in 1989 – it got the attention of the mainstream literature critics. The New York Times named it a “New York Times Notable Book.” Besides mainstream recognition, it was also nominated for multiple science fiction awards as well.

The Boat of Million Years follows a group of immortal people through their lives. These are regular people in every respect except that they never age. They were not all born at the same time – some were born earlier (as early as 5,000 years ago), some later but there seems to be no pattern that explains their immortality. Their ancestors are not necessarily long-lived, their descendents do not inherit their immortality. They recover quickly from injury (their teeth grow back, for example) but they can be killed by accidents, disease and battle.

Poul Anderson (1926-2001)
The book is not a traditional novel. Rather, it is a series of vignettes – snapshots of these characters at some moment in time, usually a time of great change or opportunity. We follow characters as they explore new trade routes with the Ancient Greeks, or narrowly escape being lynched for being a witch or have a meeting with Cardinal Richelieu (a rarity – the book mostly avoids the temptation of having these characters meet celebrities throughout time).

There are themes and patterns that Anderson develops throughout the book. The immortals are lonely. This is understandable since there are not many of them (and they rarely encounter another one – and if they do, how can you be sure? There is inherent danger in revealing oneself) and the people they grow up with and live with all age and die while they look like they are still 25 years old. Their children and their grandchildren grow old while they remain young. Anderson reminds us of this loneliness over and over again with every character. Anderson does not have these characters come up with much in the way of Great Truths. Yes, they have lots of experience, but are not necessarily wise.

While ambitious, nearly every vignette drags. Perhaps it was the audio format that made certain qualities of Anderson’s writing style leap to the forefront but I quickly grew tired of his frequent descriptions of landscapes by way of lists. I kept imagining bullet points on a PowerPoint presentation rather than the landscapes themselves. The writing is often clunky, almost like everyone is participating in a low budget drive in movie gladiator movie from the 1950s. Tom Weiner’s narration is solid – he does a lot with multiple accents, for example - but he can do little to breathe life into this audiobook. 

I rate this audiobook 1 star out of 5.

This audiobook can be purchased on Amazon.com here: The Boat of a Million Years.

Note: I was sent a free copy of this audiobook by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Reviewed on September 18, 2011.

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