Book Review: The Many-Coloured Land

Book Name:The Many-Coloured Land
Author: Julian May
First Published: 1981

Julian Clare May was born on July 10, 1931 to Matthew M. May and Julia Feilen May. She grew up in Elmwood Park in Illinois and was known as Judy May when she was young. She was the oldest child and had three younger siblings.

When she was in her late teens, she became interested in science fiction fandom and published the fanzine Interim Newsletter. In 1950, she sold her first professional short story Dune Roller to John W. Campbell’s Astounding Science Fiction. It was published along with her illustrations in 1951 and credited to “J. C. May”. Later that year, she met Ted Dikty at a science fiction convention in Ohio. They fell in love and got married in January 1953. May stopped writing science fiction after selling another short story, Star of Wonder, to Thrilling Wonder Stories in 1953.

May and her husband had three children, with the youngest one born in 1958. Beginning in 1954, she wrote thousands of science encyclopedia entries for Consolidated Book Publishers and two other encyclopedia publishers. In 1957, May and Dikty started Publication Associates, a production and editorial company catering to small publishers. From 1956 to 1981, May wrote at least 250 books for children and young adults, mostly non-fiction books about science, history, and short biographies of popular celebrities at the time. Her pen names for non-fiction work are Ian Thorne and Lee N. Falconer.

In 1972, May’s short story Dune Roller was adapted into film as The Cremators. Here, she was credited as “Judy Dikty”. She became interested again in fandom and in 1976 attended the science fiction convention, Westercon. She created a diamond-encrusted space suit costume for the event and got into thinking about the kind of character that would use that kind of suit. Soon, she began compiling ideas that would eventually be used for her Galactic Milieu Series. The Many-Coloured Land, the first book in the Saga of Pliocene Exile, was published in 1981.

“You have always been alone, always self-centered and fearful of opening yourself to other persons, for to do so is to risk rejection and pain. But it is a risk we are born to take, we humans.” -Julian May

Humans have been discovered by benevolent aliens and are now part of a seemingly utopian society called the Galactic Milieu. The different beings of the federation have different kinds of psychic powers and can do interstellar travel. The price to pay for being part of the Galactic Milieu is that humans have to follow strict rules and think within the thresholds. Humans who have not developed their powers yet are not happy and want a way out.

In France, a researcher has found a one-way portal to the Pliocene Era. Because it has no other use, the portal has become a way for misfits to escape the current society. So far there have been more than a hundred thousand people who have made the journey to the past.

Eight non-psychic humans prepare to go through the portal and they spend time getting to know each other before being sent through the gate. They are given survival training and a kit that will last for several years. Each one of them has his own reason for wanting to go: Aiken is a convicted felon who chooses exile over execution, Felice is a temperamental athlete who has been banned from the games, Bryan is an anthropologist looking for his lost love, the Roman Catholic nun Amerie has lost her faith, Elizabeth once had metapsychic abilities but lost them after a traumatic accident, Richard the xenophobe is being sued by an alien space crew for all his properties, Claude is a paleontologist, and Stein dreams of being a Viking.

Once in the Pliocene Era, however, the group discovers that Earth at that time is not the wilderness they expect but is already inhabited by two warring alien groups: the Tanu and the Firvulag. The Tanu have strong psychic powers and have turned almost all humans into slaves. The male humans are separated from the female and the women are used for breeding. The humans are then ranked according to their metapsychic abilities. The Tanu use collars called torcs in order to control the humans. The gold torcs that the Tanu wear control the silver and gray torcs worn by the slaves. Humans with strong latent powers are made to wear the silver torcs while those without latent powers but have other skills are given the gray ones. The first group, made up of Richard, Claude, Felice, and Amerie, devise a plan to escape.

When I first picked up this book at the bookstore, Julian May was unknown to me as an author. The book had been recommended to me by friends that loved science fiction and so I thought that I would give it a chance. It turned out to the be right choice. The Many-Coloured Land was the first novel by this author and it was the start to the Saga of Pliocene Exile series and of a fruitful writing career. A month or two after I picked up the book, I noticed that most of my friends were reading it as well. There was a buzz about it. Here we are 30 years later and the books still read well and is recognized by serious science fiction readers. Ms. May has gone to write several interesting series and is still publishing today. I feel that The Many-Coloured Land is a good introduction to her body of work, but it should not be the last novel of hers that you enjoy. I still own the first edition paperbacks to this series, a bit yellow with age, and continue give them a place in my library.

Many-Coloured-Land-book coverThe Saga of Pliocene Exile

The Many-Coloured Land (1981)
The Golden Torc (1982)
The Nonborn King (1983)
The Adversary (1984)

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