The Many-Colored Land: Blackstone, please put the sequels on audio!

Julian May Pliocene Exiles 1. The Many-Coloured Land audiobookscience fantasy audiobook review Julian May The Saga of Pliocene Exile 1. The Many-Colored LandThe Many-Colored Land by Julian May

The Many-Colored Land, a classic (1981) science fantasy novel by Julian May, wasn’t too high on my TBR list until I noticed that Blackstone Audio released it last month and I remembered that Thomas Wagner recommended it. I like science fantasy, so I gave it shot, and I sure am glad I did. I loved every moment of The Many-Colored Land and my only disappointment is that the rest of The Saga of Pliocene Exile is not available on audio.

The story begins on Earth and the rest of the Galactic Milieu in our 22nd century. Professor Guderian has opened a time tunnel that goes back 6 million years to Earth’s Pliocene period. He can send objects or animals through the gate, but when he attempts to bring them back, they age 6 million years and decay during the journey. When Guderian dies, his wife discovers that she can pay her debts by selling passage through the tunnel to nice people who are unhappy with their lives and want to escape. It seems that there’s no law against sending people back in time, and there are lots of people who are willing to give Madame Guderian their money for a chance at a new and adventurous life.

As the history of the portal is explained to us, we meet eight men and women who we’ll follow through the tunnel: Bryan, a middle-aged anthropologist who’s in love with a woman who’s already gone through; Stein, who fantasizes about being a Viking; Richard, the black sheep of a rich family of spaceship captains who’d rather be a pirate; Aiken who, despite careful genetic engineering, became an incorrigible — yet charming and creative — sociopath who chooses “exile” over brain surgery or euthanasia; Claude, an elderly but “rejuvenated” paleontologist who just lost his wife; Sister Amerie, a medic and counselor who helped Claude during his wife’s long convalescence, and wants to become a religious hermit; Elizabeth, who was once a widely respected meta-psychic but lost her powers after a traumatic accident; Felice, a 17-year-old ring hockey player (gladiator) who has some coercive powers and a penchant for S & M; Each is a fascinating character but things get even more fun when they become “Group Green” as they get trained in survival skills and useful trades before they all go through the gate together.

Each of these characters is quickly and deeply developed, and I was fascinated by them and the anticipation of what they would find and who they’d become 6 million years in the past. All of the set-up and backstory, which is often the dullest part of a novel, moved quickly and was exciting as the tension built. What will it be like when they get to the other side? What’s happened to all the people (90,000 by this time) who’ve gone on before? Have they worked together to develop a new civilization? Or have they been eaten by beasts that may be waiting for them on the other side as if the portal is a big invisible Skinnerian food hopper? I couldn’t wait to find out, and when I did…. I was shocked. That’s all I’ll say: Shocked.

Besides the excellent characterization and the excitement of a story like this, the writing was excellent, too. The dialogue, in particular, felt so right for each of these diverse characters, and it was often humorous (“’Fuck You!’ said the nun.”) My audio version was read by Bernadette Dunn who I liked in Memoirs of a Geisha but didn’t like in Bujold’s Beguilement. Here she was perfect — her voices worked well with all of Julian May’s characters and the subtle humor.

I only have one complaint about Blackstone audio’s version of The Many-Colored Land, and that’s that I’m dying to read the rest of this story and it’s not available yet on audio (and I’m not sure if it will be). This is not a self-contained story and readers will definitely want to have the next volume, The Golden Torc in hand. I’ve ordered the print version.


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KAT HOOPER is a professor at the University of North Florida where she teaches neuroscience, psychology, and research methods courses. She occasionally gets paid to review scientific textbooks, but reviewing speculative fiction is much more fun. Kat lives with her husband and their children in Jacksonville Florida.

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7 comments

  1. I forgot to say in this review that the cover art is ridiculous. It does not represent the story well.

  2. I just now read your review of this, Kat. (funny you mentioned the cover art, because when I glanced at it I kinda unknowingly just filed the book away as something that didn’t interest me enough to bother looking at for the small amount of time I had to be out in the web over Christmas).
    But then I noticed you gave it five stars, so I took a closer look. This is a very interesting plot with an intriguing round of characters.
    Nice review.

  3. That’s really too bad about the cover. It will turn off a lot of people.

    I loved the book. One of my favorite reads this year.

  4. If that’s the best illustration they could do, it would have been better with just lettering and/or an abstract design.
    In fact, I would think it would pretty much write-off a dude picking it up.
    I’m about as secure a guy as a guy can be in my manhood, and I realize this is an audio but I would be embarrassed if someone saw me with a book that had a cover like that. It brings to my mind a feminist Earth-mother-goddess.
    And check this cover for it. Looks like a different book.

  5. Yes, that’s a much better indicator of what’s in the book!

  6. Andrew /

    The name of the book and plot sounded familiar to me but the cover didn’t ring any bells. I looked it out and my paperback has a picture of a mammoth’s skull and snow capped mountains on the cover, much better.

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