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Poul Anderson's book follows a handful of characters through millennia of their unnaturally long lives. We first encounter them in ancient times and hide with them in the dark corners of history from the jealousy and superstitious fear of others. The author's braided story structure resembles a Tom Clancy novel as the characters paths first twist near each other and finally come together. Once united in the "present," this small band of immortals shapes the future by helping medical researchers share their immortality with humankind. The original immortals then crew a spaceship in search of nonhuman civilizations.

The first half of this book, from the past through present time, is excellent. Readers feel the special concerns of long-lived individuals among normal humans. We feel the pain of losing loved ones to death, and the different pain of love grown cold. The lessons we learn ring true--lessons about keeping secrets, hiding up treasure, and always preparing to run from that heavy knock on the door. The suspicion and distrust of others makes the few good relationships precious, and is believable motivation for our heroes to find and join with other immortals.

I wish the book had ended shortly after the immortals found each other. The transition to the "normal" science fiction of space exploration is jarring. In my opinion, it was not particularly interesting space exploration, either. I continued on out of loyalty to the characters, having spent so many centuries with them. Perhaps it was part of the author's strategy to make readers feel trapped with the characters the same way some of them did with each other. I think a good editor should have removed the future scenes, leaving us with excellent historical fiction.

Readers who both enjoy the book's strengths and forgive its primary flaw will almost certainly enjoy Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt. In this book, the characters are continually reincarnated rather than immortal. They face analogous problems in learning time's lessons. Oddly, Robinson's book also loses steam when it moves into the future. Perhaps there is some lesson for us to learn about the different natures of alternate history and future-oriented science fiction?
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on 1 June 2006
Not so much a book, more an unforgettable experience. This fascinating theme of immortals living through our time zones had me hoping that we'd meet famous historical characters along the way, but it doesn't happen; yet strangely enough their relatively ordinary lives enhances the believability of the whole concept.

And of course you're dying to know what happens to them in the end when they hit modern times and beyond. My only reservation - I was hoping for a punchier ending.

Having said that I would heartily recommend this epic saga.
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on 4 July 2014
Once you embrace the neo-classical prose, you realize the author cleverly uses that delivery tactic to put the reader in the zone, the prose "evolves" with the story, I haven't checked but I suspect the word "yonder" must have an inclusion on every page. I fully accept that the author is describing a timeline story and needs to impact the reader with the longevity of immortals and he does that well.
And hats off to him for touching on the issues later in the story which would arise with greater information distribution in the media, which would only be 100 times worse now with social media but he could see that coming; Visionary stuff - which is why we read it.
Regretfully for me, it did fail to deliver in the final stages as I think so much more could have been done to round it off - I first read this on original publication on paper no less and revisiting it still held the same wonder of a good story.
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on 11 March 2013
I first read this novel by Poul Anderson when I was in my early twenties. That is a lot of years ago now. I was browsing Amazon for 'old' book titles when it came up, and I thought a re-read might be in order. Well I was not disappointed, the story I remembered had not changed (why should it) after all these years. I fine read, if a bit dated when it comes to the technology in the later chapters, but you can't have evrrything. Technology advanced beyond even a Sci Fi writers imagination.
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on 15 August 2014
First read this novel thirty something years ago and its lost none of its charm or engagement with the passing of all that time. Only difference was yours truly moving into the digital age with a kindle. Its inventive, filled with rounded characters and doesn't treat the prospect of long life as just a hook on which to hang a story. Well researched historicallky. Can recommend
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on 5 April 2010
I liked the book a lot, took a while to get into the swing of things but just kept getting better and better.
The end came very soon and I liked the way the ending was left.
Wish I had started this reading lark when I was younger! It's never too late to start!
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on 4 June 2007
Fabulous book. I haven't enjoyed a science fiction novel so much in years. If you never read another SF novel read this. The scope is truly breathtaking and the story line is simply marvelous.
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on 7 December 2012
What a brilliant concept for a book.

Involved, but quite readable and , plausible at the same time....

Really enjoyed reading this book.
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on 28 May 2015
A good read, but not as good as his earlier work. Not connected to earlier works, so can be read as a stand-alone.
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on 24 September 2014
Super book definitely a must read for SF lovers
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