THE MANY-COLORED LAND
Julian May

 


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Book One of The Saga Of Pliocene Exile
Del Rey, 1981
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Thousands of human time-travelers, expecting an ancient Eden in Earth’s Pliocene Age, find themselves captured by aliens of god-like beauty, who unexpectedly dominate the Earth of that era. Instead of building new lives according to each traveler’s personal ideals, they are subjected to a kind of psychic talent test. This test determines what their new roles will be in the alien society. The mechanically enhanced mind powers of their new lords enforce their compliance. There is no escape because the time portal can only deposit them in that one place

The latest group of travelers, Group Green, is made up of eight people: Elizabeth, an experienced psychic healer; Bryan, an anthropologist following his lost love; Richard, a disgraced starship captain; Amerie, a burned-out nun; Claude, a widowed paleontologist; Stein, a driller with uncontrollable rages; and two almost-adult delinquents with huge psychic talents. Aiken is a charming, irrepressible prankster, and Felice a fragile-seeming sadist.

Until the arrival of Group Green, humans have cooperated with their captors, the Tanu, because the rewards the Tanu offer are so great. But Felice, thwarted of her liberty, determines to take on the Tanu and bring down their entire slave system. This might seem a laughable ambition, but Felice is frighteningly powerful, and she has managed to avoid being banded with the "torc," the neck band by which the Tanu control their slaves. Other enemies of the Tanu share Felice’s goal: the Lowlives, humans who have escaped Tanu domination and live in hiding, and the gnomelike Firvulag, opponents of the giant Tanu since time immemorial.

The arrival of Group Green, with Felice’s psychic powers, Richard’s navigational skills, and Claude’s knowledge of ancient European geography, tips the balance toward revolution. While the other half of Group Green are being gently welcomed into Tanu society in the South, the Lowlife rebellion in the Northern forests is aimed at destroying the Tanu’s ability to manufacture the controlling torcs.

Certain characters stand out immediately in THE MANY-COLORED LAND. Felice Landry is introduced in a chill-inducing chapter where her career as a sports star is seen to be the perfect self-expression for a sado-masochistic personality. Elizabeth Orme, her psychic abilities seemingly destroyed in an accident, runs away from her unbearable losses into the past, to find herself in the even more unbearably lonely position of being the only naturally operant psychic in her entire universe. Madame Guderian, widow of the man who invented the time-portal, gets rich from eager time-travelers, then finds herself feeling unexpectedly responsible for them.

THE MANY-COLORED LAND is the first volume of one of the most impressive science fiction series I have read. Characters with a deep, vivid individuality enact an exciting story, which takes into account the sociological factors of two time periods, shows a detailed knowledge of Pliocene paleontology, geology, and myths from the dawn of human history, and creates a highly believable and inviting galactic civilization. This is only the beginning: the entire book is rich with social quandaries, human idiosyncrasies, and images we will recognize from our own subconscious.

Author Julian May’s conception of the types of psychic skills, and her descriptions of their use, make them seem not only seductive but inevitable. It is easy to believe such a future awaits evolving humankind. Not only our future – I also caught myself thinking, "Oh, so that’s where the gods of Olympus came from!" For as long as we are reading, or even for as long as we remain under the book’s spell, this could be our own past and future laid out for us – not just the devices of a writer who knows how to blend source and imagination to an astonishing degree.

The allure of Julian May’s fantasy and science fiction inventions are so powerful I find it impossible to "read just one." Her recent release, CONQUEROR’S MOON, led me irresistibly back to the beginning of this Pliocene Exile series. Judging by past experience, I will probably be pulled from it to THE GOLDEN TORC, through the series to Intervention, and from there to the Galactic Milieu trilogy, with as few pauses as I can manage.

June 2004 Review

 

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