I Remember Her

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 don’t always like them, but they almost always affect me strongly. That’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.

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My stress level is very high today. I looked through my recent photographs to see if any of them made me feel better. Here’s one that did.


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SITY: Not a Stick

I spent a lot of time in the yard on Sunday, just walking the perimeter and looking around. Though I’ve done this hundreds of times, I still always find things of interest. Here’s one of them.

This is a caterpillar, not a stick!

When I first saw this caterpillar, it was as straight and rigid as a stick. If it hadn’t moved when I brushed the host plant, I would never have known that it wasn’t part of the plant. Even after seeing it move, I had a hard time believing that it was a caterpillar. That’s why I chose this particular picture to show you. The markings on the body are convincingly plantlike, but it’s curved in a less sticklike way, and you can see where it’s grabbing the real branch.

When I searched for this caterpillar online, I found similar images labeled as “stick caterpillar spanworm.” It will develop into some kind of geometrid moth. Unfortunately, as is the case for most new caterpillars that I find around the yard, this thing is bad news. It’s a defoliator. As if we don’t have enough of those already!

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Real Disappointment

Real Murders (Aurora Teagarden Mysteries) by Charlaine Harris

Grade: C+

I became interested in reading Real Murders because I was looking for some harmless videos to watch, and there is a Hallmark series based on the book. The author is better known for her Sookie Stackhouse books, actually, which means she has at least two TV series to her name. I figured her books ought to be worth a try.

The main character of Real Murders is Aurora “Roe” Teagarden. She lives in a small town in Georgia. She works as a librarian and belongs to a group called Real Murders, a club in which they discuss the details of old murders.

One evening Roe goes to her Real Murders meeting and finds a real dead body. The body is that of another club member, and the scene has been deliberately arranged to imitate a famous murder. Everyone at the meeting is a suspect and, as they soon discover, a potential victim. They’re not merely dealing with a killer, but with a serial killer.

I struggled to grade this book. The writing is okay, so you can read all the way to the final scene without thinking too hard about anything. But when you get to the big final scene, which is graphically violent and upsetting, then you start to wonder about the details.

Aurora is a librarian with an interest in old murders, but neither her vocation nor her avocation adds much to the story. She doesn’t do a lot of research or sleuthing. Mostly she just goes about her everyday life while the people around her drop like flies. Her friends come off as distant and/or shallow. She’s also dating two guys (without telling either about the other), which wasn’t so bad at first, but it was decidedly off-putting by the end. She seems only vaguely concerned with her own safety, even after an attempt is made on her life, and she continues with plans to have a house guest. Doesn’t it occur to her that her guest could be in danger?

This book stayed with me for a while, but not in a good way. The more I thought about it, the less I liked it. I do not recommend it.

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Confessions of a Liberal

Dear Conservative In-Laws,

I just want to state for the record that college did make me liberal, but not for the reasons you may have been told. College didn’t brainwash me. It opened my eyes.

I learned a lot about history, language, and literature, but I also learned a lot about people. I met people from all around the country and all around the globe. They had different skin tones and practiced different religions (or none at all), and some had different sexual orientations.

I liked some of the people I met and disliked others, but how I felt about them had little to do with how they looked, where they were from, which god they worshiped, or whom they slept with. It was all about personality. When we talked, we didn’t always agree, but we listened to each other and came to respect each other’s opinions. I learned as much from them as I did from my college classes.

We live in a big world, and there are so many thoughts to think and ways to be and things to do that you couldn’t describe every combination if you had a thousand years in which to try. This diversity is not a bad thing. It’s actually really cool.

And all the people of the world are going about their days, trying to make lives for themselves in whatever ways feels right to them, just as you are. However different we may seem, we are all human beings. We are all equally deserving of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

I was not coerced or led blindly into being a liberal, but even if I had been, I’d say it was for the good. The word “liberal” means “broad-minded,” and broad-mindedness is a worthy goal. How can you stake any claim to intelligence if you’re not willing to learn new things? And how can you learn anything if you mind isn’t open to it? You don’t have to go to college to be intelligent or knowledgeable, but you do have to be open to learning.

So don’t hate liberals. Join us instead.


Your Liberal In-Law

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Good Point

Yesterday I picked Marshall up from his final computer boot camp class. I gave him the option of going to day camp for the rest of the day or coming home with me. He wanted to stay with me, but he didn’t want to go home. He suggested we get lunch together. I said, “I don’t know, Marshall. I really ought to get back to work.” He said, “What’s more important, work or spending time with your family?”

The kid made a good point, so we had lunch together 🙂

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Surface Thoughts

I’m supposed to sit myself down every morning and write about whatever is on my mind, be it family or work or politics. The purpose of the writing is to clear out the surface thoughts and prepare the mind to face the day. It works wonders. Really, it does. I wholeheartedly recommend the practice.

The only problem, for me, is that I usually forget. If I were to believe the creativity guru from whom I got the idea, then there would be no making up for it. According to her, this writing has to be done first thing in the morning, and it has to be done in a certain amount and written on a certain kind of paper. Her rigid rules seem very much at odds with the point of the exercise, which is to be creative.  So I don’t always follow all of the rules. I don’t think I ever could.

This morning, my main surface thought is “I really ought to write on my blog more often, especially given how expensive it is.” So I’m breaking all the rules today. I’m writing later in the morning rather than first thing (gasp!) and on the computer (egads!), and I’m going to post the writing rather than throw it away (horrors!). My other surface thoughts will have to wait, though, as I have run out of time. Good-bye!

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Won It!

Today I hit the 50K mark on my novel. Finally! So I’ve won NaNoWriMo, just a little late (which is to be expected, since I’m hardly ever on time for anything).

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SITY: A Bit of Local Color

It’s true that our summer New England wildlife isn’t as colorful as what they have in some places, such as the tropics. Still, we’ve got a lot of color here. You just have to look a little closer to find it.

Green on Green

I don’t know what kind of fly that is, but wow, it’s green!

Hey, Blue!

Why do dragonflies come in so many colors? I don’t know. But they are all gorgeous.

Wild Yellow

This yellow flower is totally weedy, but also quite striking.

Underappreciated Purple

Poor purple clover doesn’t get the adoration that it deserves. It’s pretty, and insects love it. As a child, I used to pull the purple parts out and suck the nectar from them. Very sweet. It’s still one of my favorite flowers.

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I Heart Palindromes (and My Car)

An interesting number came up on my odometer this week:

Palindromes are awesome. And given all the trouble I’ve had with my car lately, and how close I came to replacing it, I’m happy to see it reach this high number. I hope to see this odometer hit many more interesting numbers.

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