I love writing reviews but some are harder than others. There are some books one reads as a teenager or young adult that help shape their interests, their philosophies, really begin to define the template for who they are as a person. For me, those books included the Lord of the Rings, Thomas Covenant and yes, the 9 books within Julian May’s Galactic Millieu epic. So it will be challenging for me to be completely objective about these books.
The answer to why this book affected me so much is not an easy one to answer. First, there is the story which I found wholly unique as a young person. The tale begins in the 22 century when mankind has been accepted into a galactic federation, a small percentage of humanity has gained mental powers and there is peace. However, some people are dissatisfied with this life and take advantage of a one way doorway to 6 million years into Earth’s past to escape what they feel is a restrictive society. Aliens, mental powers, dissatisfaction with society, this was basically crack for a teen who never fit in with his peers.
When humans arrive in the past they find that they are not alone on the planet. A dimorphic race of aliens has escaped to the planet also and are using it to continue their battle. One group, called the Tanu, is tall, generally extremely beautiful an psychically operant through the use of a device called a torc which bring their latent powers awake. The other group, the Firvulang are generally smaller but their largest individuals can dwarf even the tallest Tanu. It turns out that there is compatibility with human germ plasm and the Tanu, whose population is smaller than the Firvulang, have taken advantage of this to mate with humans and increase their numbers. One commonality of both races is that iron is deadly to both.
I had already read myths from various parts of the world such as Ireland, Norway, and Greece so I could see some similarities in those myths. The idea that there was a basis for them blew my mind as a 13 year old. I also thought the vulnerability to iron was a nice touch as that traditionally has been poison to fairy folk.
The psychic powers also were fascinating to me as they were classified into several types: farsensing (being able to astrally project, essentially), telekinesis, creativity (being able to control energy or manipulate objects on a more minute level), coercion, redaction or healing. Being able to see the future is also an ability but is not well understood.
This really is a setup book for the rest of the series so it does move at a fairly slow pace as May takes her time establishing the world, the environment and the society in which they are operating. It is clear that May did a tremendous amount of research when writing this book as she details the geography, climate, flora and fauna of this world in exquisite detail.
One criticism is that a number of characters are introduced and a fair amount of time is spent on them, only to see the character die by the end of this book or the next. Those storylines felt superfluous and I would have rather seen that time devoted to other characters or even more details about the alien races.
There is another reason this book is so important to me. I wrote my first fan letter to Julian May after reading this book and she wrote back to me. As a kid who had few friends, and had a ton of difficulty communicating with others, to have an author acknowledge me and respond gave me confidence and a sense of self worth at a time when I desperately needed it. For that reason, if for no other, this will always remain one of my favorite books of all time.