No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Monday, October 16, 2006

#88-#91: The Saga of the Exiles -- Julian May (reread)

I discovered Julian May's Saga of the Exiles [The Many-Colored Land, The Golden Torc, The Non-Born King, The Adversary] during my second year at university, and fell for May's blend of SF and myth: I still think her characterisation, dialogue and pacing is exemplary, at least in these books. (I haven't enjoyed her most recent novels nearly as much.)

Some years later, I read Intervention and the Galactic Milieu trilogy, and they sent me back to Exiles, particularly the second half of the quartet, The Non-Born King and The Adversary. This is SF on the grand scale, though the focus remains firmly on individuals. And it's SF with a happy, or at least hopeful, ending; a conclusion, a resolution, a redemption.

Rereading Exiles recently (having acquired them in plain text format) I was surprised to find that I was appreciating them in quite a different way. Back in my early twenties (and in the middle of a comparative literature degree) I was busy recognising concordances and resonances. Stein, the deep miner who's well-acquainted with the internal geology of the earth, falls in love with Sukie (brought up in a satellite colony) who believes that the earth is hollow. Richard Vorhees is the Flying Dutchman, and he's redeemed by the love of a woman. Some of the Exiles become legends all unwitting: some impose legend on their own Pliocene existence.

This time round I noticed less of the structure and appreciated more of the detail. More, it must be said, of the nasty bits: Felice's ordeal; her relationship with Amerie (and Amerie's reaction, which I had subconsciously interpreted as homophobic, but which doesn't seem so this time 'round); cannibalism as a spectator sport; the geology of the wider world; the atrocities of physical and psychic warfare.

And I noticed one very important omission. May's Pliocene is a refuge for all sorts of misfits: opera singers (who know Wagner's mythology inside out), reenactors, historians, criminals. But where are the SF fans, eh? (There are plenty in the Milieu trilogy! And May, a BNF herself in her day, is familiar with the species.)

I think we should be told.

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