JULIAN MAY: PETER F. HAMILTON AND FANS ON HER BESTSELLING NOVELS
06 February 2013
By Bella Pagan
This month, we are reissuing Julian May's fabulous Galactic Milieu series and its prequel, Intervention. As I loved these so much when I was younger, I was really interested in the feedback we had in response to Julian May's Saga of the Exiles on twitter etc., which we re-released last month. I therefore asked a few top fans for their thoughts on these wonderful books...
I read The Saga of the Exiles a couple of years after the books first came in the 80s out and I loved it. I'd never come across anything quite like this before -- and I haven't since. It's got a fantasy feel, but it's SF, it takes place in our (pre) history, and it plays with myth/fairytale tropes. Quite a combination. In scale and depth it compares favourably with A Game of Thrones, with additional bonus elements from outside the fantasy genre. You've got spectacle, psionics, betrayals and a full and interesting cast of characters. Proper epic.
Jaine Fenn writes science fiction, and her Hidden Empire novels are published by Gollancz in the UK.
I have a very distinct memory of walking into a W H Smiths -- it was either in Kilmarnock or Glasgow city centre -- and finding a copy of Julian May's The Many-Coloured Land on the shelves while browsing for something new to read. At that time, actually buying books was a slightly new experience for me. My dad worked in the newspaper industry for decades, and since his desk happened to neighbour that of the paper's book reviewer -- and since that reviewer never, ever reviewed SF of any flavour -- myself and my brother had no lack of free books coming our way. But that didn't last forever, and so in my mid-teens I had to adopt to a new world, wherein review copies of SF novels did not simply fall into my hands like manna from the sky. Which is how I found myself browsing the shelves of an actual bookshop, and discovered Julian May.
The basic idea behind The Saga of the Exiles -- a group of travellers take a one-way trip into the distant, prehistoric past, only to find themselves enslaved by alien colonists -- still strikes me as one of the single most original ideas in the genre. I sucked those books down like amphetamine-laced sweeties. I had little realisation at the time that the novel, though SF on the surface, in fact included a great number of fantasy tropes, with enhanced psychic powers standing in for wizardry and magic. Despite being a solid tech-head so far as my reading tastes went, I didn't care. I've probably re-read the books a couple of times since then, and I'm probably due a re-read of them some time soon.
Gary Gibson's science fiction novels are published by Tor in the UK, and these include the Shoal series (Stealing Light, Nova War, Empire of Light) plus the stand-alone books Angel Stations, Against Gravity and Final Days.number of fantasy tropes, with enhanced psychic powers standing in for wizardry and magic. Despite being a solid tech-head so far as my reading tastes went, I didn't care. I've probably re-read the books a couple of times since then, and I'm probably due a re-read of them some time soon.
PETER F. HAMILTON
There must have been a real drought of science fiction in the seventies. With a few noticeable exceptions, most of the books I read in those days were old pulp serials published back in the forties and fifties and now dusted off to be bound together as a novel. Then at the start of the eighties along came The Saga of the Exiles
. It was something of a game-changer for me. A science fiction series with fantasy elements blended in, and characters that were developed far more than the ones I’d read up to that point. Not only did Julian May write about people that the reader was interested in, but the situations they found themselves in were somehow more modern and altogether more human than those I was accustomed to reading.
Along with authors like Gibson and Simmons who were starting to get published around the same time, The Saga of the Exiles helped raise the standard, benefiting the whole genre enormously. Now, thirty years on from its first publication, I think it still holds together well. Who knows, it might even inspire a new generation of writers.
Peter F. Hamilton has written many bestselling science fiction novels, including the Greg Mandel series, the Night’s Dawn trilogy, the Commonwealth Saga, the Void trilogy, two short story collections and standalone novels including Great North Road. You can find him at www.peterfhamilton.co.uk or on www.facebook.com/PeterFHamilton
CHERYL MORGAN ( #TeamFelice)
It is 1981. Science fiction is in the doldrums, awaiting the arrival of the cyberpunk revolution. Fantasy is mired in mock-Tolkien, and slowly waking up to the possibilities afforded by the relatively new craze of Dungeons & Dragons. The main bright spot on the literary horizon is a new, ambitious and incredibly complex series called the Book of the New Sun, which skillfully blends science fiction and fantasy themes. The critics love it, but many readers find it hard going. Then something new turns up.
The Saga of the Exiles also mixes science fiction and fantasy. It starts in the 22nd Century, but features a group of misfits taking a one-way journey through a time portal into the Pilocene epoc. They hope for a simpler life, but instead find shipwrecked alien warriors who one day will become the gods of Irish mythology. The Galactic Milieu that our misfits flee is a peaceful utopia spanning the stars, into which Earth has been relatively recently inducted. Audaciously, the moment of first contact, and the failed revolution that followed it, are off-stage. Though our heroes talk about them frequently -- the way we talk of our pivotal historical events such as WWII, the Holocaust and Hiroshima -- they are merely the subject of a planned follow-up series. Talk about a carrot.
As for those heroes, some of them too will become the stuff of myth. The fatally attractive Mercedes Lamballe, the incurably sociopathic Aiken Drum, the tiny ball of fury that is Felice Landry, and many others all live on in the memory more than thirty years later. Hopefully they will charm modern readers as much as they charmed me all those years ago.
Cheryl Morgan is a Hugo Award winning writer, editor, publisher and bookseller. She blogs regularly at www.cheryl-morgan.com/
I can't exactly date the day when I got my hands on a boxed set of Saga of the Exiles; it must have been after 1984, when The Adversary was published, and it must have been before 1986, because it was while my family were still living in an ex-pat compound in Riyadh. In defence of my hazy memory, I was somewhere between seven and nine years of age at the time.
As such – after being gifted it by a programmer colleague of my old man's, who'd spotted me devouring dog-eared Anne McCaffreys which I'd found in the compound library, and assumed (correctly, with hindsight) that I needed to step up a level – it took me maybe the best part of a year to read through the first instalment, The Many-Coloured Land. Even then, I was fully aware there was masses of it that I just didn't understand; it's a fairly adult series, after all. But I was also aware that, from that point forward, normal books – books that didn't have time-gates and incredible technologies and aliens and screwed-up oddballs from the future and everything else – simply weren't going to cut it. The best way to describe my teenage reading habits in the nineties would be as a fruitless search to replicate the searing and transformative high of my SF gateway drug. I'm still not convinced I ever have, either.
Just like the recidivist exiles of the story, trying to escape an ostensibly caring and inclusive society which had, nonetheless, determined that they couldn't (or wouldn't) fit, I stepped through old Guderian's time-gate.
Unlike them, I wasn't aware it'd be a one-way trip.
Paul is a Freelance writer, SF literature and music critic, also a researcher in infrastructure futures. Paul blogs at velcro-city.co.uk