Sheri S. Tepper was a science fiction author who gained some popularity during the ’80s, enough for me to notice and start reading her work. I’ve read many of her books over the years, including two since starting the blog: Beauty (Grade: C+) and The Gate to Women’s Country (Grade: B), both read in 2008. This is what I wrote about her back then.
Sheri S. Tepper writes powerful books. I donâ€™t always like them, but they almost always affect me strongly. Thatâ€™s why, even though she has written some truly horrendous things, I continue to read her work.
I recently decided to reread After Long Silence, which is one of my favorite Tepper novels. The story takes place on a fictional planet named Jubal, where there are giant crystal masses that react with deadly violence to any sound or disturbance. You can’t even walk past one of these things without getting killed (crushed under a cascade of crystal shards—ouch!). Quiet is imperative, so motorized vehicles are not allowed on the planet. The colonists have discovered that if you sing the right tune to a crystal presence, that will calm it. There is a guild of “tripsingers” who are devoted to learning the songs. Their job is to soothe the crystal presences with song long enough for travelers to pass by. The story follows a tripsinger and his apprentices as they discover more about the planet, its native species, and the people who would destroy it all.
I’m a less forgiving reader now than I was in my teens, which is when I first read this book. I think that it has too many characters and far too much depraved human behavior. But it also has all the goods things that I expect from a Tepper novel, and parts of it are brilliant, even beautiful, particularly the ending. The crystal presences are so cool, and I adore the viggies (one of the planet’s native species), so I will probably keep this book forever.
I looked up Sheri S. Tepper online. Sadly, she passed away a couple of years ago. There were two things I found interesting about her biography. One is that she didn’t start writing professionally until her 50s. I always find stories of late starters to be encouraging. I like the idea that we can start something new at any time.
The other interesting fact about her is that she spent the earlier part of her adulthood working for Planned Parenthood. Wow. That explains a lot. No wonder so many of her female characters were raped, or were treated as property, or were forced to carry alien beings in their wombs. And no wonder she got so preachy so often.
And that’s the thing you have to understand about Tepper: if you want to read her work, you have to take the bad with the good. That’s the case with every author, really; it’s just a matter of degree. In Tepper’s case, I think the good is good enough to make up for the bad, though admittedly I would never read Beauty again. This piece does a great job of explaining the upsides and downsides of Tepper’s work.
I don’t know how popular Tepper’s work ever got, or how it fares today, because I don’t follow science fiction trends. There’s always so much new fiction coming out, and a lot of older work gets lost in the shuffle, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s on her way to being mostly forgotten. That’s why I wrote a little more than I usually do for a book review. I wanted to say that I remember her and that I always will. I still think that her novels are thought-provoking, unusual, and interesting. That’s is a lot more than I would say for your average author.