The Many-Colored Land – Book Review

January 18, 2005

Back in the dawn of time, I used to haunt the Waldenbooks at Fashion Place Mall. If I didnt’ have any spending money (I was a teenager in high school then) I went to the library. However, if I had some money I was in the book store looking for something new to read.

At the time I didn’t draw a line between science fiction or fantasy – they were both great escapes for a somewhat shy kid that loved to read. I would look at the covers and then read the back teaser paragraphs and find the one or five that I wanted to read. It was during this time that I discovered some of my favorite authors: Larry Niven, Barbara Hambly, Roger Zelazny, Harry Harrison, Frank Herbert, Spider Robinson, Ann McCaffrey, Katherine Kurtz, Steven Brust and Julian May.

Julian May was definitely an impulse buy – great cover, enigmatic teaser and it promised more to come as it was labeled Volume I of The Saga of Pliocene Exile. I thought it was a fantasy – the cover looked it and the teaser spoke of a ‘one way tunnel’ to a different world. I thought it was going to be something like Witch World (Andre Norton, another early favorite). I took it home and … was confused. It was a futuristic science fiction novel! On top of that, it was building these characters that were, well, very flawed. Now, most of the protagonists of the stuff I like to read are flawed to some extent; that is part of what we like about them. These people, at least some of them, were downright sociopaths. Fun though.

So, they go down the magic tunnel and I’m expecting now it will become the fantasy novel I expected. Nope. Fantastic elements, yes, but still rooted in the ‘real world’ of the novel. This isn’t a criticism, by the way. At 38 and re-reading it for probably the 10th time I am still intrigued by the detail and texture Julian May pulled out of this first book. References to events that don’t happen until the eighth book (which I don’t think was planned at the time of this first book’s writing) and detailed backgrounds on the social structure these people were leaving helps you to understand some of the forces that shaped these very flawed people.

Ms. May points out (which you will realize as you read it) that many of the characters and personae are drawn from the myths and legends of Europe and Western Asia. There are exotic, beautiful aliens as well as some rather nasty aliens as well; history and biology lessons woven into the tale; and a great story.

There are a couple of plot holes, but I didn’t notice them when I was sixteen and I barely notice them now. For me, this saga is very comfortable now but I remember it as making me think about people and the way they affect their environments on previous readings. It is a great start to a wonderful series. On top of that, I’m reading it more than twenty years after its first publication and it still holds up to the thousands of books I’ve read since. That is quite an accomplishment to me.

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