I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
When a one-way time tunnel to Earth's distant past, specifically six million B.C., was discovered by folks on the Galactic Milieu, every misfit for light-years around hurried to pass through it. Each sought his own brand of happiness. But none could have guessed what awaited them. Not even in a million years....
A re-read as a refresher before tackling the rest of the series. I remember reading it while on vacation a number of years ago at a friend’s cabin and staying up far too late in order to finish the book. I originally gave it 5 excited stars from that reading and I think I will leave that score intact to reflect my first excitement about the work. Despite my initial enthusiasm, I am amazed at how many details were completely wiped from my memory banks—as a result, I enjoyed my second read almost as much as the first.
Paleontology has always been an interest of mine and I’ve read a number of sci-fi works that deal with time travel back to prehistoric times to hunt or investigate ancient animals. Julian May gives this a new twist by making the trip a one-way journey. You can go back to the Pliocene, but you can never come home. Part of the interest of this book is the psychology of the people who would choose such an option—the misfits of the Galactic Milieu, those who can’t or won’t abide by the strictures of advanced society as part of a multi-race future. It makes for an interesting mix of personalities for May to work with for the rest of the series.
I did love the Pliocene animals, of course, but there are also interesting aliens to deal with—refugees with much the same outlook as the humans who come to the Pliocene. The Tanu and the Firvulag (two morphs of the same species) also were in flight from a changing society and chose to maintain their ancient ways of life on a new planet far from home. Their society is thrown into imbalance when the humans begin arriving and are just too tempting a resource to be allowed to wander off into the sunset. The translation site is within Tanu territory and they quickly take advantage of the regular shipments of people and goods, giving the Tanu a large advantage over the less organized Firvulag.
There are echoes of Celtic and European mythology woven throughout the novel. The Tanu have “domesticated” the small apes known as Ramapithecines (called Ramas in the novel) which were believed at the time to be human ancestors (I’m not sure what the paleoanthropological doctrine on the matter is today). Perhaps May is suggesting some kind of racial memory passed down from the Ramas in the Pliocene. It is also interesting to speculate on the archaeological record and why none of this activity is discovered in the future which the humans come from.
As a kind of throw-back to the 60s, there is a theme of psi powers (telepathy, telekinesis, etc.) featured in both the Tanu/Firvulag and in those future humans.
In short, there are many interesting threads to follow and I will very much look forward to reading the second book, The Golden Torc.