Six Moon Dance, I think, represents both a new departure and a retreat for Tepper. It is a new departure in that she finally admits that it is who you are, not what gender you are, that determines your quality as a person. It is a retreat in that it falls back on two standard Tepper themes that were so blessedly absent from The Family Tree. So far, so undecided. But is it any good, and, more importantly, does it have anything new to say?
Well, Tepper novels are always good, even when they are highly irritating. She does write well, she can tell a good story, and she is always inventive, particularly with societies. This time she chooses to play with an environment in which women are so rare that they have the majority of political power. It is a society in which it is boys whose families sell them into prostitution and men who are deemed excessively emotional and have to wear veils.
This does not mean, however, that the society is a mirror image of our own. For example, Tepper is well aware that women have different attitudes to sexuality than men. The young gigolos are rigorously trained to be everything that a romantic hero should be, not just a strutting cock. More interestingly, she has her women deliberately avoid the sordid power games of commerce, leaving that area free for men to compete in. This is a potential weakness in the female control of society, though Tepper assumes that most of the men will be too selfish, and too busy competing with each other, to provide a major threat.
Had she left it at that and just explored the implications of the world she had created it would have been a very interesting book. Unfortunately she could not resist bringing in the usual psychotic, male-dominated cult and the all-powerful natural force that enables her characters to combat the bad guys. This is standard Tepper stuff and it is beginning to get boring. Which is a shame because she does a lot in this book to break down the normal stereotypes of Tepper characters. It also contains a lot of other fascinating ideas.
The cast includes a sadistic old woman, a positively charming and somewhat effeminate young gigolo, a female ballet dancer who seems almost sexless and a transvestite actor. There is also an android who looks like a matronly woman but doesn’t really behave like one until she discovers where the brains making up her processing unit came from. There are also two fascinating alien races and a radical political philosophy on which human interplanetary society is based. Most importantly, the book once again ends with a message of hope, not of despair. Sadly there is nowhere near enough room in one novel to explore any of these things in any detail.
My guess is that Tepper’s view of the world is evolving at a fairly glacier-like pace. Slowly but surely she is managing to let go of the hatred and distrust that have marred her work over the past few years. But it is a painful process, and one not likely to be enhanced by her present withdrawal from the world.
Ah well, she writes entertaining, if irritating books. Maybe one day she’ll get her sense of perspective back and write something as good as Grass. Maybe she’ll get her sense of humour back and write something as good as A Gate to Women’s Country. In the meantime we wait, and have to settle for books which are merely good.
This review originally appeared on Emerald City.