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Tepper, Sheri S

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1929-2016) US author whose first genre publications were poems under her then married name Sheri S Eberhart, the earliest being "Lullaby, 1990" in Galaxy for December 1963. She then fell silent as an author, beginning to write again only once she was in her fifties, producing sf and fantasy as Tepper, a horror novel as by E E Horlak, and non-fantastic detective novels (not listed below) as by B J Oliphant and A J Orde. Her first-written novel, a long, complex work of sf, eventually appeared as The Revenants (1984). Her first-published novel was King's Blood Four (1983), which begins the long and very interesting True Game series (see Chess), continuing with Necromancer Nine (1983) and Wizard's Eleven (1984). This initial trilogy was prequelled by another trio: The Song of Mavin Manyshaped (1985), The Flight of Mavin Manyshaped (1985) and The Search of Mavin Manyshaped (1985). A third sequence comprises Jinian Footseer (1985), Dervish Daughter (1986) and Jinian Star-Eye (1986). The first three were assembled as The True Game (omni 1985), the next three as The Chronicles of Mavin Manyshaped (omni 1986) and the final three as The End of the Game (omni 1987). In terms of internal chronology, the middle trilogy (as noted above) precedes the first; the third runs partly parallel with the first and continues beyond. Connected to the True Game books, the Plague of Angels sequence including A Plague of Angels (1993) and The Waters Rising (2010) further emphasizes various characters' awareness that their lives and roles are being played within a Science Fantasy context that easily allows the revelation that much of the fantasy structure of the overall sequence is under science-fictional control, and that indeed the whole universe – the protagonists of Fish Tales (2014) engage upon a Fantastic Voyage through these domains – can be seen as a Godgame venue whose masters seem to be the dominant figures whom the reader has already met.

Their readers knew almost at once that something very unusual was happening in these books, but most serious critics ignore paperback fantasy trilogies, and it took some years before Tepper was spoken of much at all, though by the time A Plague of Angels appeared she had achieved due recognition. In the True Game books, some of the human colonists on a planet also inhabited by Aliens have, long before the story opens, developed a wide range of Psi Powers which have shaped a baroquely intricate society: the second trilogy's Mavin Manyshaped, for example, comes from a clan of Shapeshifters. The world itself, it emerges in the Jinian trilogy, has a Gaia-like planetary consciousness which bestowed and eventually withdraws these misused gifts. The best term for these books would be Science Fantasy. They show an astonishing assuredness of narrative voice; for Tepper is that unusual kind of writer, the apparently born story-teller. Further evidence of her narrative fluency (and her seemingly endless inventiveness) came with the Marianne fantasy trilogy: Marianne, the Magus and the Manticore (1985), Marianne, the Madame and the Momentary Gods (1988) and Marianne, the Matchbox and the Malachite Mouse (1989), all three assembled as The Marianne Trilogy (omni 1990). Tepper also showed real accomplishment in Horror fiction with Blood Heritage (1986) and its sequel The Bones (1987) – both humorous and both involving some very practical modern witchcraft – and the later (and better) horror novel Still Life (1989 as E E Horlak; 1989 UK as by Tepper).

Following though not linked to The Revenants, Tepper's second novel of sf proper was initially split by the publisher into two volumes – The Awakeners: Northshore (1987) and The Awakeners: Volume 2: Southshore (1987) – but was soon sensibly released as The Awakeners (1987). As a work of speculative sociobiology and Ecology it is ebullient, but the plotting of this tale of a theocratic riverside civilization where it is forbidden to travel eastwards is sometimes a little awkward. The same year saw the shorter and more confident After Long Silence (1987; vt The Enigma Score 1989), a melodrama set on a planet whose crystalline native lifeforms are very dangerous, and can be lulled only by Music.

From this point Tepper concentrated on sf, although during and in between sf books she published crime and mystery fiction as by A J Orde (the Jason Lynx series) and B J Oliphant. Her first truly ambitious sf work was The Gate to Women's Country (1988), which surprised some readers for the ferocity with which it imagined a Post-Holocaust world where social separation by Gender is almost complete, but where the supposedly meek women outmanoeuvre the really dreadful men on almost all grounds. All Tepper's subsequent work is fierce; indeed, with hindsight, the same controlled anger is visible in the apparently affable science-fantasy books of her early career that can more easily be found later, even in a moderately uplifting tale like A Plague of Angels (1993), which allows most of its protagonists to survive the long ordeal of coming to a balanced understanding of a world complexly crafted out of sf and fantasy conventions (see Equipoise).

The next year saw the beginning of her major sf work to date, the loosely and thematically connected Marjorie Westriding trilogy: Grass (1989), Raising the Stones (1990) and Sideshow (1992), set in the backwash of a galaxy-spanning Pandemic that may have originated on Earth. To describe the trilogy by naming its villains somewhat distorts the ease and glow of these books' telling, and labours their melodramatic elements (which are only sometimes insistent): the villains are Nature-ruiners, fundamentalist religionists and – it is a category which comprehends the previous two – men, whom Tepper sees as almost doomed by their own sociobiological nature (see Gender); only the final volume – after the planet Elsewhere, five millennia hence, is freed from a tyrannous attempt to maintain by force a fetishized dream of human diversity – offers some relief. Tepper interrupted this trilogy with Beauty (1991; preferred text 1992), part Magic Realism, part fairy tale, part sf, in which Sleeping Beauty is taken by Time Travel – because she has witnessed some visitors from the future – to a savagely Dystopian twenty-second century and meets (in various guises, including that of Prince Charming) the Beast; this is a book about despoliation as a consequence of Climate Change and other Disasters, including, again, the incapacity of male humans to change their behaviour: in the end, the planet has no chance. In the first volumes of the Marjorie Westriding sequence and in Beauty the effective End of the World, for all these reasons, can be placed about a century hence; Shadow's End (1994) returns directly to this scenario, with environmental destruction again primarily caused by a dire marriage of fundamentalist Religion and maleness: in this case at the hands of religionists whom she calls Firsters, after their insistence that only humans, of all creatures in the galaxy, have any right to live.

Later novels sharing these concerns – sometimes with excessive intensity – include Gibbon's Decline and Fall (1994), The Fresco (2000) and The Waters Rising (2010), where that intensity has become simplistic. More tolerantly, Six Moon Dance (1998) allows Old Earth to survive (by the skin of its teeth) in the background, focusing instead on a colony planet (see Colonization of Other Worlds) whose native indigenes do all the physical labour for humans but are "perceived" as invisible (see Perception). The story, however, becomes far more complex than its beginning chapters suggest, and its subtleties of social analysis – along with some highly intricate Godgame manoeuvres by a sentient distributed network evolved beyond real comparison with Computers – make it perhaps Tepper's finest late work. The Companions (2003) complexifies her continuing focus on the distortions of male species triumphalism in an interlocking portrait of three theoretically exploitable worlds. Also very notable is The Margarets (2007), whose title describes the seven distinct Avatars or Doppelgangers, occupying differing contexts on different planets, into which the tale's protagonist Margaret becomes divided, as though her various strands of childish lifestyle fantasy had been actualized by a tangling of similar Parallel Worlds; meanwhile humanity has a bad case of Arrested Development (especially in matters of Ecology) caused by unpleasant Aliens, but may with difficulty be saved.

Tepper required the engine of story to provide impulsion for the other things she could do, which tended to tilt her work towards melodrama and excess, and thus to obscure a little her remarkable sophistication. In the space of only a few years she became one of sf's premier world-builders; the diversity of invented societies in Sideshow – this diversity being the actual point of the book – is breathtaking, as is the vivid ecological mystery of Grass, the bizarre discovery of a bona fide "god" in Raising the Stones, and the planetary dance that climaxes Six Moon Dance. She was one of the most significant new – and new Feminist – voices to enter 1980s sf, and a figure whose daunting singlemindedness about the disasters threatening this planet has significantly affected the world of sf. She received a World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement in 2015. [PN/JC/DRL]

see also: Fantasy; Gothic SF; Magic; Memory Edit; Pastoral; Precognition; Torture.

Sheri Stewart Tepper

born near Littleton, Colorado: 16 July 1929

died 22 October 2016



True Game/Plague of Angels




Marjorie Westriding

  • Grass (New York: Doubleday Foundation, 1989) [Marjorie Westriding: hb/Oscar Chichoni]
  • Raising the Stones (New York: Doubleday Foundation, 1990) [Marjorie Westriding: hb/Alan Ayers]
  • Sideshow (New York: Doubleday Foundation, 1992) [Marjorie Westriding: hb/Wil Cormier]

individual titles

about the author


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