The Many-Colored Land by Julian May and Its Eight Protagonists & Its Awesome 80s Hair

Posted: July 1, 2016 in Book Review
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When life is complicated by technology and intergalactic relations, time travel is, ironically, the only refuge for the anachronistic personality. Eight characters with various motives travel back in time to the Pliocene era to start afresh. But none of them expected to find that others already had the same idea…1981 Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel (1982), Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel (1981), Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1982)

Why I Read It:

A long-time reader of spec fiction recommended it to me. In fact, he loved this series so much, he ordered it through a special library program and paid the shipping for me, just so I could read it. I was intrigued, when he insisted that Julian May’s work had been suppressed because of her gender. Which…I mean, have you ever heard of Julian May, author of fabulous fiction? I hadn’t. Books 1 & 2 weren’t in our system and we couldn’t order them because they’re not on Amazon Prime. I don’t know if Julian May’s work was suppressed, or not, but I thought I’d highlight The Many-Colored Land because it’s pretty good.


I enjoyed everything about The Many-Colored Land except for the first 55ish pages, which switched perspectives 10+ times. For example, here’s the first paragraph of the long prologue:

“To confirm that it was indeed near death, the great vessel broke through into normal space with lingering slowness. The pain of the usually swift translation was prolonged as well, until the thousand, for all their strength, cursed and wept within their minds and become convinced that they would be trapped. It would be the gray limbo endlessly. That and pain.
But the ship was doing its best.”

…What? The ship? Did May just open the long prologue of a brand new book in the perspective of a spaceship? Maybe more hardcore speculative fans wouldn’t mind this, but I was confused throughout most of the prologue because it was unclear who was supposed to be narrating this thing.

And it didn’t get any easier—not for a while, at least. I felt like I was reading Game of Thrones, again. I prefer getting acquainted with a small cast of characters, which is, perhaps, a vestigial preference from my childhood reading. But I was pretty irritated, by page 54 (not to mention the unnumbered the prologue), because I couldn’t see where the story was going at all.

But then I suddenly breached the real story and everything made sense. If someone had told me, “Oh, don’t worry, it’s only ten perspectives, then the plot unsticks,” I might have enjoyed the beginning more. In the exact sentence when two characters agree to travel back in time, I suddenly understood what all these people had in common: they all wanted a fresh start in the Pliocene. After that, I raced through the pages—their excitement, their united goal, got me excited. Little humor, voice or (reputedly) viable science characterized this book, but once I understood “the point,” I didn’t care. I just wanted to see what would happen to the characters in the new world—and, of course, I wanted to see the new world itself.

My Favorite Bits:

Confession: I adored Richard almost immediately, even though he’s a jerk, in the beginning. What can I say? Growth makes a character shine. He’s basically Han Solo. Who ever hated Han Solo for being a jerk? Well, probably lots of people. Whatever.

I also loved the lush, engaging worldbuilding in the Pliocene. It’s the best part of the book. I really got a sense of why these characters were so keen to ditch the 22nd century and settle into the past. You may be able to imagine the excellent narrative detail of the Pliocene just from the prologue quote. There’s some really lovely stuff. The worldbuilding is also kind of…fantasy-esque. Which was a total and welcome surprise, to me!

The plot is nice, but it moves rather slower than I expected, like with Dragonflight. Perhaps that was the plot norm, in the 80s, or perhaps the saga was just warming up.


A really fun read. 3.5 stars. It wasn’t my favorite thing ever, but I’m going to continue reading because my friend is ordering them for me (hah, free books? Yes please!). Otherwise I wouldn’t be in any particular hurry…after all, I haven’t yet gotten to read the last installment of The Raven Boys! But I’m really glad I got to read this.


I won’t set any age limit on this. I think anyone might enjoy it, if it appeals to both my friend and me; his tastes in speculative fiction are very different than mine. (He’s the one who didn’t like The Scorpio Races!) Children, teens and adults of both genders would probably enjoy it. The audiobook is also a decent option.

3.5/5 STARS

  1. […] plot. The plot of book I, The Many Colored Land, is split between setup for the time warp (from “intergalactic age […]


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