23

I’m looking for the name of a science-fiction novel I read perhaps a decade ago. I’ve extensively searched several common search engines and come up with nothing, so I’m turning to this community to help. Here are the key details I remember about the story:

  • Space travel.
  • The main characters (and pretty much all humans) are functionally immortal. They can be killed by trauma but they don’t age or die. I think they’re also highly resistant to poison and disease. This immortality is due to a drug administered once (or very infrequently).
  • The drug, I thought, was called “the phalactic” but this search term yields nothing.
  • Stuff happens, and the crew of the spaceship is stranded on a distant, inhospitable planet. They survive solely thanks to their functional immortality though, I think, they are heavily damaged from the atmosphere and/or food. Eventually they manage to construct a new spaceship and escape.
  • One of the characters is Nordic, described as tall, strong jawline, blonde hair, blue eyes. He is one of the oldest living humans, alive when the drug was invented. (Possibly before space travel, or near the beginning of space travel.) The narrator was not alive at that time. The Nordic character is described as being of very rare stock, as (apparently) most of human space is now populated by mixed races.
  • Voluntary selective memory wipes are common. Thanks to extreme longevity, the human mind can no longer remember everything, so people choose what they want to remember and what they want to forget. The procedure is described as a hygienic practice akin to going to the barber shop or something of that nature.
  • (Spoilers) The Nordic man feels tremendous loss which haunts him visibly throughout the story. He won’t talk about his past and it isn’t revealed until the end of the story. At the end of the story, once everyone has returned to Earth, the narrator spies him visiting a grave and when he (the narrator) sees him (the Nordic man), the latter doesn’t remember the former. He has wiped his later memories as opposed to (as is common) his earlier memories, because he wants to remember the life of his beloved.
  • (Spoilers) The Nordic man and his beloved were alive at the time that the drug was invented, several hundreds or thousands of years ago. The time surrounding the invention of the drug is described. There was a period of 2 weeks (2 months?) between announcement and general availability. It’s said that everyone stopped everything and just... waited. No one drove, flew, etc. except the Nordic man and his beloved, who went hiking in the mountains, where she died.

That’s all I remember. If you know the book I’m talking about, please don’t hesitate to say so. Thanks in advance.

New contributor
Booker Looker is a new contributor to this site. Take care in asking for clarification, commenting, and answering. Check out our Code of Conduct.
2
  • 2
    Phalactic = Phylactic?
    – Valorum
    Oct 13 at 6:22
  • 1
    I tried that variation. Not sure. It doesn’t work any better as a search term. Oct 13 at 6:23
28

I'm pretty sure this is World Without Stars (1966) by Poul Anderson.

It's set in a future where an "antithanatic" drug has made people effectively immortal, though people can still be killed by massive trauma, as we see with a minor character when the ship crashes.

The ship, captained by the narrator Argens, is exploring out beyond the rim of the galaxy when it crashes, and the task of surviving the crash, the telepathic aliens, and rebuilding the ship to get home forms most of the story.

The hero, Valland, is the one who edits recent memories; he loves Mary O'Meara on Earth, but she has been dead for thousands of years. Every time Valland returns home, he finds her grave and mourns, but then edits that memory out when he leaves, so that for the duration of his next trip he can remember her alive and look forward to seeing her again.

4
  • 1
    I was thinking Farthest Star but I might have confused it with this one.
    – Spencer
    Oct 13 at 13:33
  • DavidW, I think you’re right. Thanks so much. (Mods please mark the answer as accepted. I can’t for reasons inexplicable.) 2 days ago
  • Not sure he edits out her death, but otherwise spot on
    – jmoreno
    2 days ago
  • 1
    @BookerLooker nobody but the user who asked the question can mark an answer as accepted. This includes mods.
    – terdon
    2 days ago

Your Answer

Booker Looker is a new contributor. Be nice, and check out our Code of Conduct.

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.