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Cannot be praised highly enough!,
This review is from: The Many-coloured Land (The Saga of the Exiles) (Paperback)
Although having achieved some success with short fiction, Julian May seemed to leap from nowhere into SF major status with this initial sequence of four books (The Saga of The Exiles)
The Many-Coloured Land is one of those wonderful books in which the narrative refuses to provide explanation of its own internal history. In the first chapters, tantalising hints are given about `the Intervention' and `The Metapsychic Rebellion' and the reader gradually picks up the pieces of human history throughout the text although some references are not explained until much later in the novel sequence.
It is not clear whether the entire overall saga (which comprises of eight books) was initially designed as such, but as the full narrative is in the form of a time-loop, the final novel comes back to almost the point at which The Many-Coloured Land starts.
Deftly manipulating a multi-character storyline, May starts us off in a near future in which human colonists are being set up on hundreds of ethnically-streamed fresh planets; many humans are developing metapsychic operancy with talents such as psychokinesis, telepathy, the transformation of matter, illusion spinning and mental coercion.
Five alien races, members of a kind of superpsychic gestalt, have made themselves known and are helping Humanity along the road to Coalescence.
Meanwhile, Madame Guderian, a French hotelier, is custodian of an odd piece of Earth history. Her late husband had constructed a machine which interfaced with a unique geological and temporal anomaly within the Earth's crust. He had built, in effect, a time portal, but one which led only one way, back to Earth's Pliocene past.
After a traveller paid handsomely for the privilege of escaping the modern world into Exile, Madame Guderian began a trade in transporting `misfits', those discomfited by the strange complex place their society had become.
Once in the past, however, the travellers find themselves enslaved by the Tanu, an oddly humanoid race. The aliens had fled to earth from their own world where they were being forced to abandon certain traditions which their enlightened brethren deemed barbarous.
We follow the fortunes of several travellers, all of whom got to know each other in the orientation and survival training sessions before they left. May's characters are an eccentric bunch; a `blinded' Grandmaster Metapsychic lady, a disgraced space captain, a neurotic Viking, a psychotic lesbian sports player, a recidivist trickster, a lovesick sociologist, a bereaved palaeontologist and an `old school' nun.
It sparkles with wit and a depth of character and background research which is refreshing and breathtaking. It is by far one of the best series of books of the late Twentieth Century, and is compulsory reading for fans of SF.