Anderson has penned many stories about the ancient world and time travel, but few are as sumptuously realized as this one. Although I thought The Corridors of Time might have worked a little better as a story, in The Dancer from Atlantis, Anderson's skill at evoking the wonder and majesty of ages past, and making it all seem so alive, is truly dazzling. With only occasional narrative choppiness and some dated prose stylings to mar it slightly for today's readers' tastes, this novel is really breathtaking romantic adventure storytelling. (Okay, so it might not seem very romantic when Anderson describes a woman's head as "dolichocephalic," but you get the general idea.)
The story begins when Duncan Reid, an American architect vacationing with his wife on a ship in the Pacific, finds himself inexplicably plucked from his time and deposited in another one alongside three other people (from different times) who have clearly experienced the same shock. Nearby is a strange vessel of some kind, and when its human inhabitant emerges very near death, he explains in his final breaths what happened: how his vessel, a time machine from the distant future, experienced some sort of fantastic energy anomaly during its voyage, with the resulting rift in space-time accidentally yanking four hapless humans from their respective times and depositing them all here together in this undetermined time and place.
Armed with this scanty knowledge, plus a fascinating helmet-like device that enables everyone to understand each other's language, Reid pieces together where and when they all might be: the Mediterranean coast of Egypt, possibly around 4000 BCE. But what truly amazes him is the revelation of one of his companions, a priestess named Erissa, nearing middle age, who thinks Duncan is some sort of god and claims to come from a place called Atlantis! She also seems to be the one of the group least displaced from her original time, only by a handful of years, and she claims to remember the tragedy that befell this legendary city.
The story then settles into an exciting adventure as our displaced heroes find themselves among the Acheans, the forerunners of modern Greece, and swept up in a power struggle between Achean prince Theseus, the Minos in Knossos who rules the Mediterranean, and the Keftiu high priestess in Altantis — which, as Reid suspects, corresponds to the island Thera, which was destroyed by a volcanic cataclysm bigger even than Krakatoa.
As I said, some aspects of Anderson's writing style might seem inaccessible to readers today (this is a fairly consistent problem in his fiction of this period). And I personally would have loved to have seen the story fleshed out a bit more, really getting me immersed head-and-shoulders into this world in the way, say, Guy Gavriel Kay does so well. But that is not to disparage Anderson's talent in this area — far from it. When he describes the sea breezes blowing through a character's hair, he does it with such magic you practically feel the breeze yourself. In fact, Anderson's descriptive prowess is so strong virtually every scene in the novel plays before your eyes as richly as any hundred-million-dollar movie. And though I still feel there was much, much room to give his story more layers than it has (it's scarcely 200 pages), Anderson still tosses in unique touches, such as introducing the younger Erissa into the story about halfway through, then having her do scenes with her older self! Nice.
Simply put, The Dancer from Atlantis is a memorable odyssey through time to an ancient world that never was, by probably the one man in all of fantasy and SF most qualified to take us there.