The first volume of Julian May's huge and sweeping Saga of the Pliocene Exile, which itself forms the first half of her ambitious future history.

The book opens with material that tells us the history of the characters, and a glimpse of the worlds they live in, the Galactic Milieu. May's characters are archtypes, larger-than-life figures with a mythic resonance. The galactic civilization they live in is dominated by several species of aliens who possess phenomenal "Metapsychic" powers. Humanity is beginning to give birth to these powers as well, and are being welcomed (with certain reservations) into the community.

But humanity has its discontents, atavistic throwbacks who would rather escape through a one-way timegate in the Lyon region of France, to six million years ago, rather than stay.

    The first major players we meet are
  • Mercedes Lamballe -- Neurotic manager of history pageants
  • Bryan Grenfell -- A cultural anthropologist, desperately in love with Mercedes. He follows her through the gate rather than live without her, even though they only shared a short time together
  • Aiken Drum -- A trickster, a test-tube baby from a Scottish colony world, who has chosen Exile over euthenasia or docilization
  • Felice Landry -- A recidivist, incredibly violent and disturbed. Insane by many measures.
  • Claude Majewski -- Paleoentologist, traveling back to his treasured era to inter the ashes of his wife. Close friend and confidant of
  • Sister Amerie Roccaro -- A nun who worked at the hospice where Claude's wife died. She wishes to become a hermit in a simpler time
  • Elizabeth Orme -- GrandMaster Farspeaker (essentially telepathy and clairvoyance) who has lost her mental powers in an accident
  • Stein Olson -- Viking Berserker warrior trapped in the 22d century
  • Richard Voorhees -- Starfreighter owner/operator, disenfranchised for his xenophobic refusal to rescue a crippled alien ship
The one-way gate into the past only works in one small area of France. Anything brought back through the gate instantly ages 6,000,000 years. Paradoxes are not an issue in this setup, because all time travellers are sterilized, all technology taken through the gate will biodagrade in a couple hundred years, and the faith that the past is implicit in the present. Equipped with assortments of cool and funky gadgets, the chronic argonauts smash through time and into the gentle Pliocene.

Where they find aliens. Two races, from a single world in a distant galaxy (yes, galaxy) who correspond to the Sidhe, the High Faerie Folk (the Tanu), and the Dwarves and Little People (the Firvulag). The Tanu and Firvulag are the last remnants of a battle religion that was banned from their home galaxy, and jumped to Earth in their enourmous living Ship, which died finding it. They are further from home than the humans.

The Tanu have a system of necklaces, torcs, which boost their metapsychic powers. The humans are their property. The group which just came though is unusual, for Elizabeth has regained her powers, and is the only untorced human metapsychic operant in the world (although there are hints of others). Aiken is also highly talented and torced with silver (boost and control). Bryan is a prize -- the Tanu need a cultural anthropologist to tell them what the influx of humanity is doing to their culture. Stein is torced in grey (control only) and slated to become a gladiator. They are shipped off to the capitol.

The other members of the group are sent off to become second-class citizens of a border town. The Tanu have made a mistake, however, and Felice's powers were not detected. Although latent, she can control animals well enough to stage an on-the-road jailbreak, killing their Tanu captor with an iron blade -- for like the Sidhe, the Tanu and Firvulag are poisoned by what they call the "blood-metal".

To give you an idea of the scope and scale of this saga (which runs to eight volumes, two different series), I am only about halfway through the events of the first book at this point, and I have left out five major characters and some pivotal events.

Read these books. They are smart, well-written, fantastic pace, deeply textured and definitely worth the investment of time.

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