Christmas 2010: I realised that I had got stuck in a rut. I was re-reading old favourites again and again, waiting for a few trusted authors to release new works. Something had to be done.
On the spur of the moment I set myself a challenge, to read every book to have won the Locus Sci-Fi award. That’s 35 books, 6 of which I’d previously read, leaving 29 titles by 14 authors who were new to me.
While working through this reading list I got married, went on my honeymoon, switched career and became a father. As such these stories became imprinted on my memory as the soundtrack to the happiest period in my life (so far).
The Many Coloured Land beat Downbelow Station and God Emperor of Dune to win the 1982 Locus Sci-Fi award. It’s one of the six award winners I’d already read before starting this reading list and the opening novel in one of my all-time favourite series.
The Galactic Milieu Trilogy and the Saga of the Pliocine Exile are (for some reason) usually viewed as two separate series, even though they contain significant shared characters and are set in the same universe within one continuous timeline (albeit a sort of figure-8 line what with the time-travel). Personally, I’ve always viewed the whole shebang (including Intervention) as one eight book mega-works.
As you can tell by my 5-star rating, I’m a big fan. I must have first read this series back when I was about twelve or thirteen, fallen in love the way only a teenager can and returned to it half a dozen times since – often nostalgic but never disappointed.
Before I start to wax lyrical about the whys and wherefores, it seems only reasonable to throw up a few warning flags for those with inflated expectations:
• May’s writing style is nothing special, so don’t expect a Miévillian wordsmith.
• The sci-fi element doesn’t stand-up to close examination, so don’t expect Asimovian rigour.
• The concept isn’t razor sharp, so don’t expect a Simmons-esque mind-blowing.
• The themes aren’t powerful and/or meaningful, so don’t expect a Robinson life-lesson.
• The characters aren’t overly deep or psychologically rounded, so don’t expect Le Guin-ish insight.
Now that we’ve got all that out of the way, there’s one big reason to read these books: They are great FUN!
The premise is a sci-fi fantasy cross-over: psychic powers evolving among humans, a galactic society of psychic aliens, thinly veiled faerie references, time-travel, pre-historic animals, outcasts, criminals, slaves and family empires! There are plenty of elements for May to play around with and she creates some excellent characters to explore her world(s).
In terms of scope and style we’re talking about the same sort of ballpark as David Brin’s Uplift series (although I much prefer this scenario).
Because I’m so familiar with the entire series, it’s hard to separate out the events of Book 1 in particular. There are a lot of characters to introduce and a fairly complex universe to get set-up, so I remember it being a touch heavy on the exposition and getting-to-know-you dialogue. But it’s also the origin-story for each of the characters as they move into their Pliocene adventure, and as they’re only just starting out into the great unknown it’s full of varying levels of hope and mystery.
My personal favourites (by a long way) are Aiken and Felice.
Go Trickster! Go Mad-Rhino-Riding-Psycho!
I’m delighted to recommend highly.