Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Many-Colored Land

Julian May
Completed 6/16/2020, Reviewed 6/16/2020
4 stars

This was a surprisingly good book with one-way time travel, psychic abilities, aliens, and a dash of fantasy.  It uses the common trope of a motley crew of humans who try to overthrow the alien overlords.  I found it started slowly, introducing the large cast of characters, then built up to a better pace as the plot settled.  The cast is very diverse, including different nationalities, a nun, and an unstable lesbian.  This book was written in the early 80’s, so most of the characterizations are a bit stereotypical, but not too bad.  There were a few deep cringes, such as the use of the slang term for the Romani people.  But I felt that the author tried really hard to be inclusive and if she were writing today, she would have done a better job of it.  The book was nominated for a slew of awards and won the Locus Award for Science Fiction. 

In the twenty-second century, humans have settled around the galaxy.  One man on Earth discovered a time machine which successfully transports back six million years to the Pliocene Era, but destroys any living thing trying to come return.  It becomes popular with the misfits of the galaxy as a form of self-imposed exile, looking to start fresh somewhere else, outside the mores imposed by the galactic social structure called the Milieu.  The book begins with (I think it was) eight people, giving their backgrounds and motivation for going back in time.  When they finally do, they find that the Earth has been settled by an alien race that has basically enslaved all the time travelers over the years.  Most of the women are kept as sexual slaves because something about the sun has rendered the female aliens barren, and the aliens are genetically so close to us that sex produces viable offspring.  The aliens use a torc, a sturdy necklace of sorts, to control the humans so that many of them don’t have qualms with life under the alien rule.  But this rag-tag group will have none of that and try to find a way to fight back.

The character development isn’t bad.  Since we get the motivation of the travelers at the beginning of the book, we get a good sense of who they are.  A couple of the characters actually grow in the course of the book.  My favorites were the nun, Amerie, and the lesbian, Felice.  Amerie is burned out from her work as a caregiver for the dying.  She wants to follow her original dream of being a hermit.  She was never accepted into any of the cloistered orders so she feels her one chance to follow that dream is to take the Exile.  Because of her medical background, she becomes the medic for the exiled. 

Felice is an anti-social, hot-headed, former hockey star.  She wants to go because having been fired from the hockey team for violence, she thinks it would be best to live life alone and self-sustaining.  Once in the past, she takes none of the guff of the aliens and is the first to try to plot against them.  Her mission becomes to free all of humanity.  In an interesting development, Amerie becomes one of the few people who can really get through to Felice to temper her violent tendencies.

I found the plot to be both inventive and juvenile.  It’s as if the author kept on throwing things into the mix to come up with something new, but ended up creating something that appeals to the high school sci fi nerd in the reader.  But on the other hand, that’s what I liked about it.  There isn’t much humor in the story, there is a fair amount of violence, and like many stories with a large number of characters, it can be a tad melodramatic.  But it appealed to the less mature, nerdy side of my tastes. 

I give the book four stars out of five because I thought it was very entertaining.  The writing is pretty decent, with good prose.  There’s some exposition, but it was reasonable.  I give it props for having a major lesbian character written by a straight woman forty years ago that’s not man-hating nor falls into a butch/fem role, but she’s definitely aggressive.  What I liked best was that she makes positive contributions to the group despite her temper.  There are three more books in the series.  I don’t know if I’ll get to them or not, but this book ends with only minor resolution, though it’s not a cliffhanger.  You just have to read the next book to find out what happens to half the characters.  I guess that sounds like a cliffhanger, but really, I felt this book ended at a good spot.  And it doesn’t manipulate you to get you to read the next book.  It’s simply that the story continues in the next book.

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