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The Saga of Pliocene Exile (or the Saga of the Exiles) is a series of science / speculative fiction books by Julian May, first published in the early 1980s. It consists of four books: The Many Colored Land, The Golden Torc, The Nonborn King and The Adversary.
At the start of the story the Strait of Gibraltar is closed and the Mediterranean Sea is dry and empty. The Many Colored Land and The Golden Torc are set in Europe just before and during the rupture at Gibraltar. The rupture and the rapid filling of the Mediterranean form a Wagnerian climax to The Golden Torc, in which aliens and time-traveling humans are caught up in this cataclysm.
The Saga of Pliocene Exile (known as the Saga of the Exiles in some markets) is a narrative surrounding the adventures of a group of late 21st and early 22nd century misfits/outcasts who travel through a one-way time-gate to Earth's Pliocene epoch, in the hopes of finding a simple utopia where they can finally fit in.
However, the reality is far removed from the dream. The time-travelers arrive to discover the Pliocene is already inhabited by a dimorphic race of aliens ('exotics'), the Tanu and the Firvulag. The exotics, who have fled their home galaxy because of religious persecution, are marooned on Pliocene Earth as well.
The Tanu exotics have difficulty reproducing on Earth due to the high terrestrial and solar radiation, relative to their homeworld, and so have enslaved many of the humans in an effort to overcome this problem, interbreeding with the more robust humans. The Firvulag exotics are, in the main, unaffected by the higher levels of radiation and have no reproductive challenges.
Understandably, relationships between all exotics and the humans tend to be somewhat strained, although this manifests in different ways, and is complicated further by the exotics' metapsychic powers.
The device used to transport people back in time allows objects to travel back to the Pliocene era intact, but any object attempting to travel forward by the same method ages by millions of years. This effectively makes the portal one-way for any living being, and most other objects.
To prevent any contamination of the past, the Galactic Milieu sterilises all females before allowing them to go back and does not allow any advanced technology to be taken. The Milieu also does not allow any operant metapsychics to go back.
The exotics are known as the 'Tanu' and the 'Firvulag', and together constitute a single dimorphic race. The Firvulag are the 'metapsychically operant' [see below] members of that race, and the Tanu are the 'metapsychically latent' half. However, the majority of Firvulag have only weak mental powers, whereas the Tanu wear torcs, which are also mind-amplifying devices to allow use of their mental powers. The Tanu are generally much longer lived than the Firvulag. The four books of the Saga of Pliocene Exile abound with Tanu who are more than a thousand years old, who were not born on Earth, and who are called 'first comers' because of the fact. Examples of 'first comers' include King Thagdal, Celadeyr of Afaliah, and Dionket Lord-Healer. The Firvulag are not usually as long lived, although they have a few first-comers of their own (King Yeochee and Palloll One-Eye among them), but are physically hardier and more resistant to Earthly radiation than the Tanu.
Tanu and Firvulag are sworn enemies, with each race routinely attacking the other. The only exceptions to this are in the month before and the month after the ritual Grand Combat, a gladiatorial combat that pits the Tanu against Firvulag. These two months are called The Truce.
Firvulag babies are frequently born to Tanu mothers carrying recessive Firvulag genes. These babies are cared for until they can be handed safely over to the Firvulag. Firvulag never produce Tanu babies.
Both Tanu and Firvulag can be killed by objects made of iron, which they call "blood-metal." Its use in weapons is forbidden by their battle code. Since the exotics are otherwise extremely difficult to kill, some humans take advantage of this weakness.
The Tanu (e.g., Nodonn Battlemaster, Kuhal Earthshaker, Minnanon the Heretic, et al.) are extremely tall, slim, and beautiful, and live in large cities across South West Europe. They tend to have fair hair and green or blue eyes. Their latent metapsychic abilities, once brought to operancy by the Torcs, are on average stronger than the operant abilities of the Firvulag; however, the Firvulag outnumber the Tanu considerably, which for a long while meant that there was a balance between the two races.
In the forty years before the start of the first book in the series, however, the Tanu have claimed ascendancy. Their use of humans to assist their reproductive capacity means that their numbers are rising, albeit with Tanu/human hybrids rather than true Tanu. This gives them an advantage in the Grand Combat (the annual ritual war between Tanu and Firvulag), since their human subjects and "half-breeds" fight on their side. The Tanu have won the Combat without fail for the past forty years, because of their use of grey-torc humans [see below] to fight the Firvulag, and other human innovations, such as the use of horse-like chalicotheres (known as 'chalikos') as riding animals (which gives the Tanu cavalry that the Firvulag lack).
Because the Tanu use humans to reproduce, a number of the 'Tanu' are in reality Tanu/human hybrids (e.g., Bleyn the Champion, Alberonn Mindeater, Katlinel the Darkeyed, et al.). It is generally accepted amongst the Tanu that provided a person looks like a Tanu, they are one, in the same way that humans with gold torcs are considered to be honorary Tanu. However there is a certain amount of discrimination against them from more conservative Tanu.
There are some differences between pure Tanu and hybrids. Hybrids tend to be hairier, darker, have coarser features and less of the ethereal beauty of the Tanu. They also have a much more muscular figure, and often have stronger metapsychic powers. Unlike the Firvulag and the Tanu, hybrids are not poisoned by iron.
The Firvulag (e.g. Fitharn Pegleg) are, on the whole, small, dark and less good looking than the Tanu, although this is not always the case and there are some giants among them. Some Firvulag are large enough that they would not look out of place on a present-day street, while the greatest heroes and leaders amongst the Firvulag (i.e. Pallol One-Eye, Betularn the Whitehand, Medor Battlemaster, etc.) - who also have the most powerful mental abilities - are true giants, from 8 to 12 feet tall, and massively strong. The giants also self-identify as 'ogres' and the smaller Firvulag as 'goblins'. The Firvulag mostly live in mountains and caves, far separate from the Tanu, and regard both humans and Tanu with disdain. The ogres in particular consider humanity to be tasty prey first and foremost. At the beginning of the series they have a shaky treaty with the 'Lowlife' human escapees of the Tanu regime.
The Firvulag are primarily creative adepts, spinning horrific illusions around themselves in battle to terrify their opponents. They are merciless opponents and when working together are capable of driving a human or weak Tanu mind completely mad with their illusions.
The Firvulag martial tradition is very conservative. They do not ride chalikos into battle, unlike the Tanu and their human cavalry. They wear obsidian armor and fight using obsidian bladed swords and obsidian tipped spears. In battle, they fight like an unorganized mob of infantry. They usually throw their spears in the first rush of battle, then close in using their swords and mindpowers. For the last 40 years, the Firvulag have lost every single one of the grand combats because their unorganized and undisciplined infantry cannot withstand the shock of a heavy cavalry charge. Exiled humans introduced the concept of heavy cavalry to the Tanu and helped them mentally tame the chalikos.
Because of the constant defeats, the Firvulag have been recently growing desperate, and have been willing to take on lowlife humans like Madame Guderian as military advisors. The Firvulag are beginning to adapt more and more of human military tactics and equipment.
The Howlers are a rogue Firvulag faction inhabiting the mountains of the Vosges, who parted with mainstream Firvulag society 800 years before the beginning of the first book in the series, over the issue of the perpetual enmity between Tanu and Firvulag. The Howlers are essentially a peace-loving people, and have long been spiritual, if not actual, allies with the Peace Faction amongst the Tanu, who are also opposed to the battle-religion practiced by the Tanu and Firvulag. After over-exposure to dangerous radiation in the radium-rich mountains they have chosen to live in, they have mutated into hideous, deformed entities, filled with self-loathing who attack anyone who strays into their territory.
Technically they are ruled by the King of the Firvulag, but this is in name only, and they have their own king, Sugoll. Both by Sugoll's own assertion and the attestation of the rest of the Howlers, Sugoll is first among the Howlers in all things - mental power, physical ability, and, most of all, physical deformity. Sugoll, although often robed in a handsome illusory body, is the most hideous and terrifying of all the Howlers.
By the end of the series, the Howlers have left their radioactive mountain home and moved to the deserted Firvulag city of Nionel, where they set up a genetic plan to restore their hideously mutated selves to some degree of normality. Interbreeding with humans, to revitalize their genetic stock with uncorrupted alleles, is a major component of this scheme, formulated by a slightly insane gold-torc human named Greg-Donnet Genetics Master (born Gregory Prentice Brown, M.D., Ph.D., D.Sc., L.H.D.), who had fled the Tanu capital of Muriah. Although the Howlers can create beautiful illusions around themselves to disguise their mutations, these illusions do not work on normal Firvulag. They are very effective for humans, though, which is fortunate for Greg-Donnet's schemes.
Little is known about this race of people from the same galaxy as the Tanu and Firvulag, but a different planet. Whereas the Tanu and Firvulag come from the planet Duat, which also gives the entire galaxy its name, this race comes from Lene. Thousands of years before the action of the novels, the inhabitants of Duat developed interstellar travel, co-mingled their genes, and colonized other planets in their native galaxy. These other planets came to be called 'Daughter Worlds', as in 'the daughter worlds of Duat'. A series of wars and the passage of time cut off Duat from these other worlds. Among the daughter worlds only Lene retained any form of space travel, and only very primitive reaction engines. The war left Duat with a wildly varying climate, and because of this, over a thousand generations on Duat, the race diverged into two separate races, the Tanu and the Firvulag. The Tanu lived in the open highlands and grew tall and lithe. They were metapsychically latent and developed and employed torcs to raise them to a limited form of metapsychic operancy. The Firvulag who dwelt in the dark and wet lowlands grew small and hardy and were naturally operant, but most were much more weakly powered and often limited to Creativity and Farsense. The divergent races were hostile to each other and together developed a highly ritualized battle-religion to formalize the war between them. When science advanced enough to allow for interstellar travel once again (by the daughter worlds), Duat was re-discovered and while the original race was shocked at the divergence of the races there from their own, it was then discovered that the torcs also worked well on most but not all the inhabitants of the daughter worlds. Certain (female) members of Lene, known as Shipspouses, developed a symbiotic relationship with interstellar organisms known as Ships which were capable of superluminal travel. Only one member of the race which inhabits Lene appears in the Saga of Pliocene Exile. She is Brede Shipspouse. She seems longer lived than either the Tanu or Firvulag. She also has a legacy power from her time as Shipspouse: the ability to D-jump. When the daughter race demanded that the Tanu and Firvulag discard their ancient battle-religion and rejoin the rest of the race, a small number refused to and chose to fight a final apocalyptic war to the end. The daughter race intervened to prevent this, and so the remaining Tanu and Firvulag fled with a sympathetic Brede in her Ship into another Galaxy to fight their Nightfall war to the end. Earth was chosen as the only planet capable of supporting life that the Ship, now dying from the immense strain of the Intergalactic jump, could reach before its death.
Gigantic crystalline organisms, self-aware and powerfully psychic, which evolved in and continue to inhabit interstellar space in the Duat Galaxy. Ships were capable of superluminal travel through mental generation of an aperture into hyperspace ("grey limbo"). Ships were entirely benevolent and many of them undertook a symbiotic "mind-marriage" with humanoid females of the Duat daughter-worlds. Ships routinely carried the Duat citizenry on interstellar voyages of considerable distance, the passengers traveling within a vessel embedded in the Ship's crystal body.
Humans in the Pliocene Epoch play a variety of different roles and are difficult to classify as a group. Virtually all humans are time-travelers from the 21st century, as the Tanu forbid human/human procreation on pain of death, so human children are born only in outcast villages. Nevertheless, there are some humans born in the Pliocene (i.e. Sunny Jim Quigley and Calistro, a goat-herder).
Some humans are happy with Tanu rule. Humans with valuable talents like genetics, robotics, etc. are often given golden torcs and are sometimes even ennobled. Other humans with great metapsychic powers are also given silver or golden torcs and may eventually achieve high rank. This is of course, as long as these humans are willing to work for the benefit of the Tanu. Though ramapithecine apes are made to do a lot of the menial labor in the Tanu kingdom, human grey torc slaves end up doing the more complex and dangerous grunt work. For example, grey torc humans are used as shock troops, cavalry, cannon fodder, and as guards.
In order to increase their population more rapidly, the Tanu have been using humans as breeding stock ever since they arrived. The human women have their tubal ligation reversed. Those human women who are metapsychically gifted or have some unique, highly desired talent are often married off to Tanu nobles, after they each have spent one night with King Thagdal. Thagdal is very fertile (which is the main reason he is king) so many of the women who are forced to sleep with him are impregnated. Those human women who are less talented but are beautiful end up in houses of pleasure where they are forced to service the sexual needs of Tanu. Any children resulting from this sexual slavery are separated from their mothers at birth and are placed in adoption with a Tanu couple, to be raised as Tanu.
Human males are also forced to become genetic donors. Those humans who are metapsychically or aesthetically gifted are used by Tanu women who desire to have children. The human males are not allowed to refuse the sexual attentions of the Tanu. Many human men however find this duty not onerous at all as the Tanu ladies are often quite beautiful, exotic, and metapsychically gifted thus able to enhance the man's pleasure far beyond what sex with human women can provide. Others less able to tolerate this quickly become burnt out due to repeated metapsychic trauma.
The "Lowlives" is a term referring to humans in Pliocene Europe. The Firvulag call all humans Lowlives, while the Tanu and humanity reserve the term for those humans in Pliocene Europe not ruled by the Tanu. They live in small bands without medical care or good supplies and are harassed by both the Tanu and Firvulag, although at the beginning of the series there is a shaky treaty in place between the Vosges Lowlives and the Firvulag. It is difficult for free humans to exist in large groups as they become easy targets for exotic attacks. However, In The Many-Colored Land, the Lowlives begin to fight against their oppressors, attacking the Tanu city of Finiah with the Firvulag.
The only true "natives" in the book, the Ramapithecus are a race of small, somewhat fragile seeming hominids, believed (at the time of writing, though no longer) to be the original ancestors of modern humanity. The "Ramas" were enslaved by the Tanu when the exotics first arrived on the planet, through the use of Torcs with control and mindspeak circuits. A derivative form of these circuits were used to create the Gray Torcs and also used in Silver Torcs, derived from the Tanu's own Gold Torcs. The Ramas were in some cases supplanted by the arrival of 21st century humans who are not only more intelligent, but more robust than the simple Ramas. They are still heavily used in farming, mining and other forms of unskilled manual labour, and occasionally still used as surrogate wombs for Tanu offspring as was originally done before humanity arrived.
The author of the novels, Julian May, prefers the term 'metapsychic' to the terms 'psionic' or 'psychic', which she considers mundane and un-evocative thus 'Metapsychic' powers are psychic abilities by another name. Humans in the late 21st century, along with the other races of the Galactic Milieu (the Lylmik, Gi, Krondaku, Poltroyans, and Simbiari) and the Tanu and Firvulag of the Pliocene epoch, have developed psychic powers. The psychic powers of Julian May's books are seemingly magical powers which go far beyond the 'simple' psychic abilities we more commonly think of, such as clairvoyance, telepathy, and telekinesis. The human race is a blend of 'operant' metapsychics (not very many, but more born every day), 'latent' metapsychics (lots, but dwindling in numbers as people learn to actually use their psychic gifts), and those with no useful metapsychic powers at all (most of humanity).
Operancy: Psychic powers which are available for conscious, controlled use by a person. Basically, one is considered operant if they have psychic abilities and can consciously use them. In the Pliocene Epoch, the Firvulag were naturally operant. They did not require torcs or other mechanical assistance to be able to use their psychic powers.
Operant humans in the Galactic Milieu are not allowed to enter Exile, so most humans in the Pliocene are latent at most. The few who are operant are sometimes categorized using terms from the Milieu. These categories include master class (a well above standard amount of metapsychic powers), the grand master class adepts (large amounts of metapsychic abilities, like Elizabeth), and the Paramount Grand Masters (enormous amounts of metapsychic power, including Marc Remillard, Aiken Drum, and Felice Landry). Individuals generally have different levels of ability in the various classes of metapsychic powers. For instance, Felice Landry is Paramount in creativity but only roughly masterclass in redaction.
Latency: Psychic powers which, although present, cannot be consciously used by a person - because of a lack of training, inhibiting factors, trauma, or mental blocks of uncertain origin. In theory, all humans have some psychic abilities, even though they may be hopelessly latent or extremely meager. The Tanu and the vast majority of humans are latents, with most humans having extremely meager abilities. The Tanu use torcs to allow them to use their psychic powers.
In places May implies that individuals noted for possession of an extremely high level of a skill or an attribute are often latents who make unconscious use of their metapsychic powers. For example, Felice (an individual with extremely powerful latencies) has a natural ability to control animals, and many individuals with latent Creative powers are gifted artists or scientists, while those with latent Coercive ability may have substantial charisma - animal magnetism.
There are five categories of 'metapsychic' powers in the series: creation, coercion, psychokinesis, farsensing and redaction.
Creativity: the ability to create illusions, change shape and manipulate energy. The Firvulag are described as being naturally gifted at creativity, often using it to assume monstrous forms. More powerful individuals could use it to crudely change states of matter (air to plasma and thus throw lightning bolts and so forth) but the most powerful can actually manipulate and change the very form of matter (air & water to fresh cherries for example).
Coercion: the ability of metapsychic mind control over other people.
Psychokinesis: (or PK) the ability to move physical objects through space metapsychically. The most powerful PK Tanu used this ability to levitate a number of Tanu and their chaliko steeds as a Pliocene Wild Hunt.
Farsensing: the ability to communicate with others and to sense remotely via metapsychic means. Analogous to telepathy, clairvoyance and remote viewing. In the story "Intervention", this ability is initially termed ultrasensing.
Redaction: the ability of psychic healing and, to a certain extent, mind reading. This is most commonly described in the books for mental or psychological healing, but it is also used for healing physical ailments as well. It was also used in the Galactic Milieu to help latent metapsychics achieve operancy. It could also occasionally be used for interrogation and torture. In the Galactic Milieu recidivist criminals would be adjusted with this power.
Each latent or operant individual has a different combination of these abilities and, amongst the Tanu, those with similar abilities were organized into guilds, called the Five Guilds Mental, each with a guild leader. As of the start of the first novel, "The Many Colored Land", the leaders of the five Tanu guilds were as follows: the Coercer Guild was led by the human Sebi-Gomnol (formerly the embittered Eusebio Gomez-Nolan, ennobled because he invented the controlling silver and grey torcs). The Creator Guild followed Aluteyn Craftsmaster, while the Farsensor Guild was led by Mayvar Kingmaker. The Psychokinetic Guild followed highly influential Nodonn Battlemaster (leader of the Wild Hunt), and the Redactor Guild was led by peaceful Dionket, Lord Healer. All of the guilds came under the authority of a Tanu noble called the Dean of Guilds, Lady Eadone Sciencemaster (the oldest surviving child of the Tanu King Thagdal).
A sixth power, prolepsis, is alluded to in The Saga of Pliocene Exile and explored a little in the Galactic Milieu trilogy. May does not clarify whether prolepsis, the ability to predict future events, is a separate metapsychic ability or merely a manifestation of extremely developed farsensory ability.
D-jumping (dimension jumping) or teleportation may also be considered a metapsychic power, but appears more in the Galactic Milieu Series of books also by Julian May. For the purposes of the Saga of Pliocene Exile only Brede, Felice and later Marc may have been able to use this power and it may have been a synthesis of other powers (creativity, psychokinesis and farsense?) rather than a separate power.
There are three kinds of torc made by the Tanu: gold, silver and grey. Gold Torcs are the original version, worn by all pure-blooded Tanu, as well as the inhabitants of the Daughter Worlds back in the Duat Galaxy. A gold torc makes a person with latent powers completely operant in those powers.
Dr. Eusebio Gomez-Nolan, a human who was given the name Sebi-Gomnol by the Tanu, invented the silver and grey torcs, along with much simplified torc-like devices for controlling the ramapithecine apes which do the drudge work in Tanu society. These lesser torcs allow for control of the wearer by any gold torc wearer.
Silver Torcs give operancy equal to that of the gold, but unlike the gold torc they also incorporate control circuitry. This allows a gold torc wearer to compel obedience in the silver torc wearer, allows for punishment or reward of the silver torc wearer via so-called pleasure-pain circuitry, and act as a means of mentally tracking the wearer. (Therefore a silver torc wearer can never succeed in running away, unless their metaphysical talent is so great it burns out the torc circuitry (see Aiken)). Humans with significant latent powers who come through the time-gate are initially given silver torcs. This allows the Tanu a degree of control over them until they prove themselves trustworthy, at which point they may be given a gold torc.
Grey Torcs do not enhance metapsychic powers at all, although they do grant the wearer a much simplified version of Farspeech. They have control circuitry like that found in the silver torcs. They are given to humans with no significant latent metapsychic powers at all, but who have skills which the Tanu consider to be vital or sensitive, e.g. physicians, technicians, soldiers/guards.
There are many parallels between the persons and places of the Saga of the Exiles and Celtic (and other) myths and legends. The presumption is that such myths and legends result from the peoples, individuals, and events in this story. The list below is far from exhaustive.
Julian May has written nine books which concern this material.