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Shadow’s End, Sheri S Tepper

July 13, 2012

Shadow’s End, Sheri S Tepper (1994)
Review by Cheryl Morgan

A few years ago there was a book called Grass. It was famous, it got nominated for things, it was very good. Since then its author has produced a stream of excellent, thoughtful novels. None of them have become famous, none of them have been nominated for anything, most of them are just as good.

There are two things that Tepper does very well. The first is to construct different environments and societies which work, which are interesting, and which have some sort of central mystery to them which teases and tantalises you through the story. She has a good imagination, and works the ideas through.

The other is to pose moral issues as part of the plot. She thinks about things, she cares. She is interested in questions such as the future role of mankind in the cosmos, and our relationship to other species. Will we evolve? If so, how? And how will our interaction with others affect this?

There has been a larger plot as well. Most of the novels since Grass have been following the same sort of theme. But even so I was surprised to see the whole thing come full circle at the end of Sideshow. There was some long term planning in there somewhere.

Of course in the middle of that lot came the excellent Gate to Women’s Country, which is a most wry and elegant commentary on the sex war. Believe me girls, it is a classic. Read this book, and from then on, every time some macho twit gets up your nose, just say “reindeer” to yourself and you will collapse into giggles. Recommended.

This particular article, however, was prompted by the arrival of Tepper’s latest offering, Shadow’s End. It bears all of the trappings of a traditional Tepper novel. There is a mystery planet with a strange social ecology that involves a mysterious alien species. There is an arrogant, intolerant religion – male-dominated, of course. In fact there are two, although one masquerades as social philosophy. There is a change on the way, and seemingly ordinary but fated people caught up in it. So far so good.

Unfortunately Tepper’s imagination seems to have failed her this time, and although the mystery unfolds with its customary elegance, the plot draws to a grinding halt in a discordant squeal of heavy Deus-ex-machina. And that capital D was deliberate. It is a shame, because she has some good points to make. This time, I’m sorry to say, she lost it.

Which is a shame, because the rest of the canon since Grass has been darned good. Some may find it offensive. After all, she is a feminist, and she does have a particular downer on intolerant, patriarchal religions. But personally I think they need all of the taking down a peg that they can get.

This review originally appeared on Emerald City.

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