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Singer from the Sea, Sheri S Tepper

June 22, 2012

Singer from the Sea, Sheri S Tepper (1999)
Review by Cheryl Morgan

These days, a Sheri Tepper novel has a lot in common with an episode of Star Trek. The characters are familiar, though Sheri insists on keeping giving them different names, the plot is predictable, and there the moralising which becomes increasingly trite as each new episode is produced. There are even the comic asides which, since Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, have transformed Sheri’s work from strident and depressing to comfortably entertaining. But, like one of my mother’s cakes, each one turns out just as perfectly crafted, and just the same, as the last.

Their belief system was called Hestonism, a homocentric faith with a god who looked and acted like the best among them, fair minded and honourable and masculine in his approach to problems. If asked, any Aresian would have said that God was an honourable competitor, a good shot, and comfortable on the playing field… Aresians felt that there was no challenge that could not be met by well-toned muscle augmented by superior fire power under the approving eye of a deity who kept His omniscient eye on the target and His omnipresent hand on the trigger.

Singer from the Sea is, so her interview in SF Chronicle tells us, the book that Sheri was writing during the last Wiscon. At the time it was called The Covenants of Haven, Haven being the planet on which it is set, and said Covenants being the latest set of rules by which Sheri’s heroines are oppressed by a bunch of wicked, selfish and exploitative old men. Naturally the bad guys are overthrown. As expected, loads of people, many of them apparently fairly innocent, die in the process. Sheri still believes that mankind’s crimes are a collective responsibility, but these days she is at least prepared to allow a few of the better of us of us to survive.

What was fresh about the previous book, Six Moon Dance, was that Sheri started playing with gender and began to be prepared to admit that, shock, horror, Not All Men Are Evil. Singer from the Sea tries to continue in the same vein, but does so half-heartedly. The heroine is, for once, allowed a handsome, competent and caring lover, though he is required to make an idiot of himself at the end to show that all men, no matter how good they might seem, fall apart in a crisis.

For most of the rest of the good men Sheri relies upon the gay community but can’t bring herself to write about them. A transvestite character is introduced but never used, the heroine is helped by a presumably gay and dreadfully clichéd dressmaker. Later in the book the heroine has to make a long journey without feminine company to the dressmaker finds her a “womanly” man who loves babies to help tend her child. Again this character, although around for quite a while, does not speak, and doesn’t even rate a name.

None of which is to say that the book wasn’t enjoyable. It reads easily enough and I romped through it very quickly. But it doesn’t look like any effort was put into it (an impression which is augmented by a particularly sloppy job by the publishers). To anyone picking up a Tepper book for the first time it will probably come as a very nasty shock, but for the rest of us it is the same, predictable and increasingly tired formula. This was a hack job, Sheri. You can do better.

This review originally appeared on Emerald City.

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