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Finch, Sheila

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1935-    ) UK-born author, in the USA from 1957, naturalized in 1965, who began publishing sf with "The Confession of Melakos" for Sou-wester in 1977; some of her early stories appeared as by Sheila Finch-Rayner. Her first novel, Infinity's Web (1985), complicatedly describes the lives of five versions of one protagonist who live in various Alternate Worlds, and who gradually gain a sense of the mutual web they inhabit. Though far more devoted to generic pleasures than Joanna Russ in The Female Man (1975), the structure of which tale is superficially similar, the novel still generates a clear and telling Feminist perspective. For some time Finch remained, unfairly, best known for the Shaper Exile sequence – The Garden of the Shaped (1987), Shaper's Legacy (1989) and Shaping the Dawn (1989) – as her presentation of the three separate genetic versions of human stock that dominate the sequence fit uneasily into the underlying Planetary Romance format of the published work. The second volume of the sequence is more toughly argued, but the third is again affected by the embracing plot arabesques common to this subgenre, a form to which she never contributed subsequent tales.

Finch's second series – the Lingster/Xenolinguist Guild sequence – comprising her second novel, Triad (1986), Reading the Bones (fixup 2003), and The Guild of Xenolinguists (coll of linked stories 2007) – very much more successfully modulates between the depiction of personal destinies and the sf puzzles facing Lingsters, a Earth-based corps of trained field xenologists employed on various planets to attempt to cope with both autonomous and colonized Alien races (see Colonization of Other Worlds). Permeated by a deep and long-held interest in Linguistics, Triad brings together a woman-run Earth government, a female mission to a planet where several Alien races seem to congregate, and pirates; Finch may have been the first to use the term "xenolinguist", which she introduces in this volume. Reading the Bones ties together a slightly expanded "Reading the Bones" (January 1998 F&SF) – the magazine version won a novella Nebula – with a new novella and other material into a well-balanced whole and The Guild of Xenolinguists resorts this and other stories into a looser saga. Set much further into the future, "The Evening and the Morning" (March-April 2011 F&SF) fits the sequence as a whole into a Future History with roots, as usual, in the deep past: the ancient never-discovered Sagittans – apparently a Forerunner species who engaged in Uplift activities and have now transcended the flesh (see Transcendence) – have apparently committed genocide against the human race on Earth, as the Xenolinguist Guild had come too close to penetrating their secrets. A last team of xenolinguists lands on the Ruined Earth with an AI who manifests in Avatar form, discovers what can be discovered, and passes on the burden of civilization to uplifted corvids.

Birds (March/April 1997 Tomorrow as "The Falcon and the Falconer"; exp 2004) is a Near Future mystery involving the death of a NASA astronaut. Forkpoints: Stories of Decisions Made and Roads Not Taken (coll 2022) assembles a wide range of tales, several of them recent. [JC]

see also: Genetic Engineering.

Sheila Rosemary Finch

born London: 29 October 1935



Shaper Exile

Lingster/Xenolinguist Guild

  • Triad (New York: Bantam Books, 1986) [Lingster/Xenolinguist Guild: pb/Jim Burns]
  • Reading the Bones (San Francisco, California: Tachyon Publications, 2003) [coll of linked stories: Lingster/Xenolinguist Guild: pb/Michael Dashow]
  • The Guild of Xenolinguists (Urbana, Illinois: Golden Gryphon Press, 2007) [coll of linked stories: Lingster/Xenolinguist Guild: hb/Bob Eggleton]

individual titles




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