In 1980, my father was an assistant to an editor at Houghton Mifflin. He was given the beginning of the first novel of what came to be known as the Saga of the Pliocene Exile by Julian May, to read, and to pass along his opinions. The piece’s high quality immediately stood out to him. The writing was disciplined and colorful with strong characters.
Excited by the writing, my father asked permission to follow up with the author. Upon requesting the manuscript, he received a one-and-a-half-foot high box. “I wondered what I’d gotten myself into,” he recalled. He took it home and put the box next to his favorite reading chair. When he dove in, he found he could hardly stop. There was no point at which the story dropped off or became less interesting. It would barely require editing.
To look into May’s background as an author (standard procedure when considering publication), my father headed to the library. In those pre-Internet days, one consulted Books In Print. More of a murder weapon than a book (if one was strong enough to wield it, that is), this enormous tome had columns of miniscule type with the bare bones information of published books, and thirty or forty books listed per column. At least four columns were devoted to Julian May. Most of these were juvenile books on an incredible range of subjects, from science to history to sports stars.
May’s breadth of knowledge is only one of the things that stand out in her novels. The worlds she builds are complex and fascinating, as are the characters that populate them (and there are a multitude of characters you come to know by name). While I had my favorites, there was something in everyone to love or hate (and often both) and all of them were well-rounded and real, holding my interest even if they appeared for only a chapter or two.
The Saga of the Pliocene Exile begins about a hundred years in the future, with a humanity that was contacted by a federation of aliens called the Galactic Milieu and – after a trial period – allowed to join that Milieu, a prospect practically guaranteeing the health and happiness of the human race. It was especially good for those with psychic powers, and more and more of humanity’s population was being born with powers they can use.
But there were others, who for one reason or another don’t fit into the Milieu. Some had the option of passing through the Guderian device, a time-gate that allows one to go back in time six million years. It only works one way, and it is known as Exile. The saga starts by following the adventures of one group of exiles, who discover – when they arrive in the Pliocene – that an alien race crash-landed on prehistoric Earth and is now enslaving the humans who come through the time-gate.
The Galactic Milieu books are prequels to this series, telling the story of how humanity came to plead for help and be answered by the races of the Milieu, and how a faction eventually rebelled and was defeated. It follows the story of the Remillards, a Kennedy-esque family with considerable psychic and political power who are deeply involved with humanity’s admittance into the Milieu.
Summarizing books has never been my strong point, and for me to give you a small taste of the plots tells you nothing about the rich and deeply alive feel of the novels. They are books that can be read over and over, always with new details to find. It’s a crying shame that Julian May’s books aren’t a part of every science fiction fan’s repertoire. And I don’t say this only because my father has a box full of stuff that would be incredibly valuable if only May were popular.* I’d feel the same way about these books if I had stumbled across them by accident in some dusty corner of a library.
So, do yourself a favor. Troll your local library, used bookstore, or Amazon seller for a copy of The Many-Colored Land, the first in the Pliocene series. I defy you to read it and not be immediately compelled to get your hands on the rest of the tale, and anything else by Julian May you can find.
*Such as, oh, I don’t know, a golden torc cast from a lost-wax design by the author herself. One of only 22, pictured above.