The Many-Colored Land by Julian May
Published: Houghton Mifflen, 1981
Series: Book 1 of the Saga of the Pliocene Exile
Awards Won: Locus SF
Awards Nominated: Nebula Award, Hugo Award, Mythopoeic Award, Prometheus Award
“In the year 2034, Theo Guderian, a French physicist, made an amusing but impractical discovery: the means to use a one-way, fixed-focus time warp that opened into a place in the Rhone River valley during the idyllic Pliocene Epoch, six million years ago. But, as time went on, a certain usefulness developed. The misfits and mavericks of the future—many of them brilliant people—began to seek this exit door to a mysterious past. In 2110, a particularly strange and interesting group was preparing to make the journey—a starship captain, a girl athlete, a paleontologist, a woman priest, and others who had reason to flee the technological perfection of twenty-second-century life.
The group that passes through the time-portal finds an unforeseen strangeness on the other side. Far from being uninhabited, Pliocene Europe is the home of two warring races from another planet...” ~barnesandnoble.com
From the beginning, I thought this was a really fun idea. The story of colonization is a familiar one, where misfits take off on a risky one-way journey to found a society that is hopefully more to their liking. The twist in this case is that they are colonizing the Earth’s past. I enjoyed the ideas of how a future civilization would prepare its pioneers, and seeing what sorts of people would want to leave a spacefaring future for a distant past. I especially liked the training camp, and the way people were organized to learn various useful trades. Of course, once they got to the Pliocene, things changed dramatically from a tale of survival and building a society to fighting against their new alien masters. I think it would have been a pretty fun premise without the aliens, but switching the course to a power struggle against powerful aliens also made for a lot of excitement and drama.
The novel is split between the viewpoints of a large number of main characters that travel together through the time portal. The group is divided in two, and the handling of the two groups makes it very clear that this novel is a small part of a larger series. One of the groups has a pretty dramatic arc, while the other seems relegated a to background, as if it will come into more prominence in later books. Since there are so many characters, and since the story is plot-driven and full of Pliocene scenery descriptions, there isn’t very much time to develop each character individually. They each have characteristics that make them distinct, but they are not yet particularly complex. They seem to fit various archetypes, or perhaps mythological types, since the story also echoes a number of myths. A few characters do achieve some personal growth, but they are primarily just the players through which the reader experiences the adventures of the Pliocene.
Out of the large case, I enjoyed reading about some of them, though I found others a little exasperating. Some of my favorites would have to be the priest, Amerie, and her friend, an elderly widowed archeologist named Claude. They both seemed to have the healthiest attitude about their goals in their destination, and I think they have the strength of character to make something worthwhile out of their circumstances. On the other end of the spectrum are people like Bryan, an anthropologist who took a one-way ticket to the Pliocene based on an unrequited crush. Finally, the novel has a character that everyone seems to instinctively dislike and distrust for no discernable reason, an aggressive and powerful young woman named Felice. I’ve seen how these things usually go, so I’m pretty sure the rest of the saga will not go well for Felice. I had a lot of fun reading this first novel of the series, but I’m not sure I’m interested to see what happens next.
My Rating: 3.5/5
If the idea of a bunch of future misfits taking a one-way ticket into the Earth’s distant past to fight aliens sounds like fun to you, then The Many-Colored Land is probably a book to check out. The story features a large cast of differing viewpoint characters, each with their own background, personality, and clash with future-modern life. The descriptions of the Earth’s Pliocene Epoch are vivid and interesting, and the struggle against the alien interlopers makes for an exciting story. I’m not sure if I was engaged enough to read the rest of the series, but The Many-Colored land was a pretty fun adventure.