This novel is the first in The Saga of Pliocene Exile. Since I’m a confirmed fan of palaeontology, the word “Pliocene” attracted my attention early on in my reading project. I was interested enough to research a bit and find out that the author, Julian May, was in fact a woman (Judy May). Add more points to the plus side for a female author of speculative fiction.
And my hopes came true: I found the book hard to put down—I lost a lot of sleep during the week that I read it [thankfully spent on vacation, not trying to concentrate at work]. Probably the slowest part is the initial introduction, where we learn the set up for the story: a world in which mankind is one of several species involved in the Galactic Milieu, which has some pretty specific guidelines for how life will be lived ; an elderly physicist who has established a time-travel portal to Earth’s Pliocene, six million years in the past ; his widow, who decides to finance her future by transporting discontented people back to the Pliocene for a fee ; and meeting the “Green Group” of travelers that the novel follows through the way-back machine.
Who hasn’t dreamed of really getting away from it all? For me, it means a week at Sylvan Lake, away from my phone, a computer connection, my job & a regular schedule. For some people, it means a beach holiday. Others retreat to the wilderness to camp. Think of the Pliocene as the ultimate camping adventure: no civilization, large & dangerous animals and no way home. Yes, it’s a one-way trip. When the distinguished professor attempts to bring creatures forward in time, they instantaneously age 6 million years and crumble to dust before his eyes [as he demonstrats with a Hyracotherium caught with carrot bait—so awesome]. So time-portal travelers are heading into the unknown to rough it among mastodons and sabre-tooth cats. At least in theory.
In practice, the time travelers find that another space-faring species (The Tanu) has arrived before them and is finding the constant flow of escape-seeking humans to be a bonanza of workers—need a body guard, a farm worker or a sex-slave? Wait until next week’s shipment and we’ll see who arrives! They also have the advantage of psi-powers, amplified by necklace-like torcs and they slap a similar device on anyone who they wish to control.
Once again, who hasn’t had a plan go horribly wrong? The vacation that is compromised by unpleasant tour participants, getting your dream job and then realizing that you now have the boss from hell, the project that you thought would be so fun that has turned into the biggest circus ever? It’s a situation that we can all relate to—getting more than we bargained for and/or ending up in over our heads. Only we usually get to go home at some point and leave the nightmare behind.
There’s a lot that I can relate to in this novel—including some female main characters who have realistic thoughts, feelings, goals….you name it. I hadn’t thought that gender of the author mattered, until I started reading speculative fiction by female authors! Night and day! It is so refreshing to be able to truly identify with the characters and have them reflect your own concerns and emotions realistically. It made me realize how often male-authored science fiction just feels uncomfortable to me—the women don’t feel and think like I do. I would be interested to know if men feel as off-kilter when reading female authors as I do when reading male authors!
It was also startling [in a good way] to have a lesbian (Felice) appear as a main character [trying to out-testosterone the men and being pretty good at it!]. I think this is the first time during my reading project that I’ve encountered a homosexual character—and she is portrayed as a strong and determined woman. Considering the amount of prejudice which still exists for the homosexual community, I found this rendering to be extraordinary for a novel published in 1981.
Add to that the fossil creatures that run through the narrative and this was just an excellent book for my tastes! I can hardly wait to read the other three novels in the series and to get my hands on more speculative fiction written by women. We’ve come a long way, baby!