Sheri S. Tepper. Somehow I missed her. A FANTASTIC sci-fi/fantasy author who’s been publishing award-winning novels since the Eighties and I don’t recall even hearing her name. Wikipedia has her as an author ‘particularly known as a feminist science fiction writer.’ If I’d heard that before, obviously I would have run to the library to check her out! But it’s never too late, and who doesn’t love finding a new favorite that has DECADES of writing behind her – meaning there’s lots of books waiting to be read.
It was John Scalzi who waved the flag for me – he wrote about Grass being one of ten sci-fi books that mean the most to him. He lauds her as a world-builder equal to Frank Herbert, and a better writer of characters than most. That’s a huge recommendation, and I was in the market for a new book. The library had Grass immediately available (it was written in 1993) so I got it right away.
I devoured it, and it was everything he said and more. A great example of how the science and fantasy elements of this genre are not separate things, but , in the right hands, the best way to build a new world and populate it with beings, human and other. The plot and characters are impressive, but the theme put me over the top. I’m a die-hard believer in cooperation over competition, and Tepper makes a case for love and trust winning over separation and fear that includes a future Earth of scant resources and fringe religious groups in power, and other worlds full of rainbow grass, murderous horse-like animals and mind-reading alien wildcats that will keep you turning the pages until early in the morning. It was my first Tepper and so far my favorite.
It’s the second book by a new (to me, in this case) author that can really tell the tale. Sometimes that first book is an aberration, or a side trip, or a pinnacle, and the rest is average fare (or worse). So I approached Singer from the Sea with great hope and a bit of trepidation. Could she hit the same bar as Grass a second time, or even get close to it? Yes, she can. Singer from the Sea holds themes similar to Grass (environmental disaster back home, new worlds populated by familiar-seeming humans doing stupid things), but the world-building and character development are equally engaging and I again stayed up way too late.
I started Grass on October 23, and I’ve read three more Tepper novels after Singer; The Waters Rising, The Companions and The Gate to Women’s Country. Not a dud in the bunch. The only negative to reading them all in a row is the repetitive themes feel, well, repetitive. But even that very minor caveat is more an artifact of my reading them one after the other than any borrowing or repeating of story. Each world looks and feels different, each heroine (because, yes, each book has a female protagonist) is her own unique individual and each plot wanders a different road, a different fork and arrives somewhere new. The Gate to Women’s Country stands alone as a more negative view of the future (and no aliens). It reminded me so much of The Handmaid’s Tale that I had to go back and read that again.
Wikipedia has 34 novels listed for Tepper, plus various shorter works, poetry and essays (she wrote pamphlets for Planned Parenthood in the 60s and 70s!).
Here’s the answer to the two questions I get most often – ‘what have you read lately?’ and ‘what are you reading now?’ It’s going to be Tepper, Tepper, Tepper for a while!