22nd Century Earth is a pretty nice place. Earth is becoming more and more integrated into the Galactic Milieu, with alien trade and technology rapidly fixing the problems of Earth and making life better for everyone. Mental powers, for so long disbelieved, distrusted and unreliable, have proven to be a Thing, and it is in fact Man’s discovery of these metapsychic powers that caused First Contact to happen in the first place back in 2013.
Yet, even in a Earth heading toward utopia, there are going to be people who are dissatisfied. There are people not so happy with the idea of alien cultures influencing and affecting Earth. There are those who seek a “final frontier”, one even more exotic than colonizing nearby star systems. There are those who seek to disrupt this happy society.
Fortunately, for all of them, there is a handy solution. Theo Guderian has discovered and developed a one way time portal to the same spot in France’s Rhone river valley, 6 million years ago. A time so far in the past that sending anyone back there could have no effect on the future. And so a group of these misfits, seeking a new life, step through that portal.
What they find at the far end of that time portal is far more than a colony of exiles similar to themselves. Far more…
The Saga of the Pliocene Exile [The Many Colored Land, The Golden Torc, The Nonborn King and The Adversary] by Julian May explores what happens when you send misfits from utopia into the far past, ostensibly to have a coventry to themselves, and instead get caught up in a long standing conflict between two factions of an alien race who have been living in an exile of their own on Earth. These aliens, who rule the Pliocene Earth, have metapsychic powers of their own and can even bring out latent abilities by means of devices called torcs. The aliens use glass and bronze weapons, and are strangely vulnerable to iron. Oh, and they have music whose melodies are strangely familiar to people from Ireland and Wales.
You begin to get a sense of what these aliens really are and how their presence *has* influenced human history…
Although ostensibly science fiction, Julian May’s Pliocene novels have a strong science fantasy component to them that has only amplified in the years since they were published. Mental powers and psionics, once a staple and tentpole of science fiction, now seem much more the province of magic and fantasy than anything to be found in a science fiction novel. And it is psionics [metapsychic powers] that are absolutely the major science fictional hardware on display in these novels once the protagonists go through the portal and find themselves on the Pliocene Earth. The Tanu’s torcs, after all, are merely a means of controlling and amplifying psionic powers humans (and the Tanu) already possess.
In interviews and other matter, May has admitted that she wrote the novels deliberately in a historical fiction format, which again goes to the fantasy side of the equation.“Group Green” is a relatively compact set of diverse characters. Aiken Drum, in particular, is a complicated character, both hero and villain, and one of the primary viewpoint characters, and a real plot driver. However, the large cast of the Tanu and the other characters on the Pliocene Earth give the novels a cast of hundreds, with byzantine plots, machinations and complexity that readers of, say, A Game of Thrones, will recognize right off.
With the plethora of fantasy and epic fantasy out there, these novels still hold up with those complicated characters, intriguing plots, excellent worldbuilding and crunchy details that readers today can sink their teeth into as effectively as readers then. Strong male AND female characters, protagonists and antagonists alike, make these novels feel much more contemporary and in line with the best genre fiction today. After the four volumes of the Pliocene Exile came out, May wrote a concordance (The Pliocene Companion) that provided a wealth of background information on the characters, technology and setting.
Julian May has gone on to write more science fiction novels, most detailing how the Galactic Milieu and humanity’s First Contact (The Intervention) came to be. And some fantasy novels as well. I still think, though, that the four novels of the Pliocene Exile are her strongest, most entertaining, and timeless work. The books are readily available for Kindle, and in used bookstores, as well as being newly in print again in the UK. And if Subterranean Press or NESFA wanted to reissue them in hardcover, I’d buy them without question.