November 10, 2005

Julian May

Wow, I haven't done a book review in like a million years. Oops.

Julian May has written three speculative fiction series that tell the story of a group of human telepaths and their role on Earth as we join the established community of civilizations in the galaxy. The first series (that I read), "Intervention", is the best, and it is set in the near future. In this series, a family of telepaths and their associates have experiences that fans of the X-Men will probably recognize as they try to simultaneously hide from and fit into society. There are a lot of ethical issues here that are resonant today, such as the parallels with the movement for gay equality and science vs faith issues. This is my favorite kind of fiction, set in the near future with a little tweak (telepaths) that sets off enormous waves of change.

The second series (that I read) is called "The Galactic Milieu" and is set in the decades following events in "Intervention". It tells of the introduction of humanity into the galactic community, how various groups of people (including telepaths and normals) handle the transition. The aliens teach the telepaths new abilities, and some telepaths break through to become extremely powerful and feared. At the same time, there is a terrible, secretive enemy trying to unravel the whole system. I found this series a little weaker than "Intervention", largely because it was much further removed from the kind of "day after tomorrow" fiction I'm fondest of. I still enjoyed it greatly.

One aspect of the new civilization is the establishment of limited, one-way time travel. A doorway is opened to the distant past, namely the Pliocene era in geological history (six million years ago, not six hundred million, so no dinosaurs), and some people choose to go through (provided they are neutered first, so presumably their presence won't massively alter history). Their story is told in "The Saga of Pliocene Exile". This one is a very weird Earth, dominated by competing telepaths of varying levels of madness and evil, snatching groups that come through the time doorway for enslavement or other purposes.

It takes patience to get through "Exile", but I liked it well enough. Since this was actually the first series May wrote with these characters, many recommend that you read "Exile" first, then "Intervention", then what May considers her best, "Milieu". I kind of liked it in the order that I read it, which is the order I've reviewed it here.

Overall, all three series are most reminiscent of and a little better than Orson Scott Card's "Homecoming", a five-book series I've talked about before. That's because the series follows a rapidly changing world but focuses mostly on one extended "prime mover" family. Pretty much all of the good and all of the evil originates from the same small group of characters within the family, and so family dynamics ripple outward and affect everything.

Posted by Observer at November 10, 2005 09:01 AM

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