Thursday, 18 February 2016


World Without Stars
The Boat Of A Million Years
For Love And Glory
Time Patrol and The Shield of Time

These three novels and one series are all very good hard sf by Poul Anderson. In each, human life-spans are extended indefinitely. The three novels address the problem that indefinitely accumulating memories would overwhelm a finite brain. In The Boat..., each of the immortals must somehow solve this problem for him- or herself whereas, in World... and FLAG, there is a technology that can selectively erase memories.

In FLAG, Torsten Hebo is about nine hundred Terran years old. Thus, he joins the ranks of:

Robert Heinlein's Lazarus Long;
Poul Anderson's Hugh Valland and Hanno;
James Blish's John Amalfi;
Larry Niven's Louis Wu.

Failures of memory put Hebo in a socially embarrassing situation and then nearly get him killed. He will return to Earth for memory editing and thus we, the readers, will see what has become of our home planet in that remote future.

FLAG's fifty four chapters fill only 290 pages so the chapters are short. Chapters I-VII, pp. 11-41, are set on a single planetary surface. In Chapter VIII, the spaceship Dagmar has returned Karl to his home planet, Gargantua, and will return three other beings to their home planet, Xanadu, before returning the human beings to their home planet, Asborg. Conversation on the ship informs us about the politics and economics of Asborg. The chapter ends by telling us that something important awaits Lissa on Asborg but we forget about this as soon as we turn to Chapter IX which begins with Hebo approaching Earth.

And I will now leave blog readers in suspense while I go about other business for a while...


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

As I'm sure you remember, I'm skeptical we will ever see the kind of rather limited "immortality" seen in these stories. But I do concede it might be possible someday to extend human lifespans.

I think Poul Anderson is the only SF author I've read who has pointed out that an extremely extended lifespan runs the risk of a man or woman going insane from the brain/mind running out of the "space" needed for processing memories. In fact, the problem is pointed out in such early non series stories as "Pact" (1951). As the astronomer Hobart Clipp pointed out in that story: " is immortality possible? Why, simply recording your experiences would saturate every molecule of every neuron in a mere millennium, I should think-let alone handling such a mass of data" (quoted from page 216 of FANTASY). The demon Ashmodai responded that spiritual beings like him were not bound by physical laws. But we humans certainly are in this life!

I think Poul Anderson would share my skepticism about the practicality of even merely indefinitely extending human life as we know it--while still willing to experiment with the ideas. Esp. in the books you listed here.

Am I right thinking James Blish had some kind of "immortality" treatment being given to some people in his Flying Cities books? Was any mention made of the problem of memory overload and how it was treated?


Paul Shackley said...

Blish's Okie civilization has three pillars: The antigravity device nicknamed the "spindizzy," which moves cities between stars and later a planet between galaxies; antiagathic drugs, which prevent death by illness or old age; the germanium-based Oc dollar for interstellar trade. There is some very slight discussion of the psychological effects of the antiagathics but nothing about memory.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I vaguely recall all three of these "pillars." I have decided to finally reread the Flying Cities books after I finish COLD VICTORY. I think it's a weakness of Blish not to have discussed the problem of memory overload. Which makes me admire PA even more, that he was aware of that issue as early as 1951 in "Pact."

And I also want to get back to reading later volumes of Dave Wingrove's CHUN KUO series. Geeeeeeeeee (Smiles)