And so this chapter of the Julian May’s epic saga ends, not with a whimper but with a bang. Many of the issues with certain characters becoming overpowered in the last volume are addressed in this one and Marc Remillard, the Adversary (or Abaddon) takes center stage for much of the story.
The reader finds out much more about his motivations and what instigated his rebellion. He is no stock villain, he believes in humanity’s potential and simply wants to see it realized. Yes, it is made clear that his underlying motivations may have their roots in jealousy of his brother (who was made a Saint in the Millieu and called Jack the Bodiless) and his methods to achieve his goal are nothing less than monstrous, but he did begin with an altruistic motive and one wonders if someone would have pointed out the inherent flaws in his plan, if he could have found another way to achieve his objective (whether someone as arrogant as Marc would have listened is an entirely different question).
The story touches on a lot of deep philosophical issues that are normally not seen in speculative fiction. The concept of mental unity and all minds coalescing towards Unity is fascinating idea and one that is taken from the French philosopher Teilhard de Chardin (this is covered in much greater depth in subsequent parts of the series).
When I was younger, the idea of a Unity was one I struggled with and could not see it as anything other than a form of a hive mind. Now, as I am much older, I see it much more as a marriage to your true partner. One does not surrender any of yourself in union such as that, rather you love and accept the other, draw strength from them when you are weak and give them your strength when they need it. It is a beautiful concept and the notion that all minds in a galaxy could evolve towards and share in such a union is one that I find very appealing.
it is this Unity, and fear of it, which initially drives Marc towards rebellion. However, one aspect I love about this story is Marc’s redemption. He realizes his mistake and, while he can never atone for what he did in the Millieu, undertakes the task (along with Elizabeth, another powerful psychic) to help the creatures in another galaxy achieve Unity.
In doing so, he inadvertently creates the very Millieu he once nearly destroyed. Marc is immortal and lives to see the birth of the Millieu, thus completing his cycle of penance.
Birth, death, penance, redemption, these are all classic themes that May handles brilliantly. While the series does dip a bit in the middle, the beginning and ending are so powerful that this remains one of my all time favorites.