Book choice for July

The Many-Coloured Land by Julian May [suggested by John Beresford]

front cover

Although having achieved some success with short fiction, Julian May seemed to leap from nowhere into SF major status with this initial sequence of four books (The Saga of The Exiles).  The Many-Coloured Land is one of those wonderful books in which the narrative refuses to provide explanation of its own internal history.  In the first chapters, tantalising hints are given about "the Intervention" and "The Metapsychic Rebellion" and the reader gradually picks up the pieces of human history throughout the text although some references are not explained until much later in the novel sequence.  It is not clear whether the entire overall saga (which comprises eight books) was initially designed as such, but as the full narrative is in the form of a time-loop, the final novel comes back to almost the point at which The Many-Coloured Land starts.  Deftly manipulating a multi-character storyline, May starts us off in a near future in which human colonists are being set up on hundreds of ethnically-streamed fresh planets; many humans are developing metapsychic operancy with talents such as psychokinesis, telepathy, the transformation of matter, illusion spinning and mental coercion.  Five alien races, members of a kind of superpsychic gestalt, have made themselves known and are helping Humanity along the road to Coalescence.  Meanwhile, Madame Guderian, a French hotelier, is custodian of an odd piece of Earth history.  Her late husband had constructed a machine which interfaced with a unique geological and temporal anomaly within the Earth's crust.  He had built, in effect, a time portal, but one which led only one way, back to Earth's Pliocene past.  After a traveller paid handsomely for the privilege of escaping the modern world into Exile, Madame Guderian began a trade in transporting `misfits', those discomfited by the strange complex place their society had become.  Once in the past, however, the travellers find themselves enslaved by the Tanu, an oddly humanoid race.  The aliens had fled to earth from their own world where they were being forced to abandon certain traditions which their enlightened brethren deemed barbarous.  We follow the fortunes of several travellers, all of whom got to know each other in the orientation and survival training sessions before they left.  May's characters are an eccentric bunch: a "blinded" Grandmaster Metapsychic lady; a disgraced space captain; a neurotic Viking; a psychotic lesbian sports player; a recidivist trickster; a lovesick sociologist; a bereaved palaeontologist; and an "old school" nun.  It sparkles with wit and a depth of character and background research which is refreshing and breathtaking.  It is by far one of the best series of books of the late Twentieth Century, and is compulsory reading for fans of SF.  [Review from by Rod Williams]

Julian May grew up in Chicago, and became involved in science fiction fandom in her late teens.  She sold her first professional fiction, a short story called "Dune Roller", in 1951 to John W. Campbell's Astounding Science Fiction.  She met her future husband, Ted Dikty, later that year when he requested permission to reprint the story in his anthology series; they were married in 1952.  She chaired the Tenth World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago that same year.  After selling one more short story, "Star of Wonder" (to Thrilling Wonder Stories in 1953), she dropped out of the science fiction field.  During the 1950s, May wrote thousands of science articles for the World Book encyclopedia.  In 1957 she and her husband founded a production and editorial service for small publishers, specializing in children's non-fiction.  Between 1957 and 1981 she wrote more than one hundred books for children and young adults, all non-fiction, and two stories under her own names and a variety of pseudonyms.  In 1981 she returned to science fiction with the Saga of the Exiles.  In 1987 she continued the series with Intervention followed by the Galactic Milieu Series: Jack the Bodiless, Diamond Mask and Magnificat.

The above short bio is taken from Julian May's Wikipedia page, which also contains an extensive bibliography.


Shortlisted for this month

This is the final month of our experiment with a new way of choosing our monthly read.  Offering a choice of three books each month to a vote had tended to result in very similar books being chosen.  In an effort to introduce more variety in the reading material we are allowing a single person, chosen by ballot during the meeting, to propose the book for the following month.  There are therefore no "shortlisted" books for this month.

Next month we will be starting another "pilot" scheme which combines the two methods of choosing.  Once again one person will be chosen by ballot, but they will present three options to the meeting and the one with the most votes will be book of the month.  Next month will therefore see the return of "the shortlist"!


Previous Months' Book Choices

June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006