Comments on Arthur B's Pedo Snore Screed of a Octafish

Sheri S. Tepper's The Waters Rising is sufficient cause to fire the entire editorial staff at Gollancz and HarperCollins, and no credible SF or fantasy publisher should accept her work until she apologises for it.

Comments (go to latest)
Neal Yanje at 06:39 on 2013-02-04
You know, when I started reading this review, I didn't think it could get any weirder than horse rape. I guess I was wrong.

This reads to me like the incoherent ramblings of a young, highly-opinionated first time writer. I would have never guessed Tepper was an accomplished author with decades of publication history from what I've seen here.

I have to wonder why the horse rape stuff was even included. There is probably a valid point to be made about not using human morality to judge non-humans, but it seems Tepper then wants to have it both ways by denying a difference between the two.

Melanie at 07:18 on 2013-02-04
On the whole ice thing--even if you did accept that the ice, er, "somehow" got embedded in the Earth without melting and there were giant chunks of ice underground for no plausible reason... why would it only be melting now? I thought the temperature underground was generally above freezing (maybe not at the poles, but for the most part?) especially as you go deeper down?

...if you find yourself in a position of trying to come up with a long and involved explanation of why something isn't really pedophilia, you have already fucked up.


Yeah, it smacks of rules-lawyering, which is rarely a good sign. It's like saying, "Well, I know this isn't actually okay, but I want to do it anyway, so I'm going to try to justify it by obscuring what it actually is under a pile of technicalities." (Or, okay, sometimes just, "This rule is stupid and so I'm going to try to get around it". But I don't think that applies here specifically.)
Arthur B at 07:34 on 2013-02-04
I have to wonder why the horse rape stuff was even included. There is probably a valid point to be made about not using human morality to judge non-humans, but it seems Tepper then wants to have it both ways by denying a difference between the two.

It's actually more hypocritical than that. Humans aren't allowed to judge non-humans by human morality, but non-humans (the sea creatures) are allowed to judge humans by their morality and demand a temporary period of squidness as atonement for bad things humans have done.
First off, you have the issue of Abasio and Blue, two heroes who fans of A Plague of Angels will probably have some affection for, turning out to be a pedophile and a rapist respectively.

Well, the first things that Abasio does in A Plague Of Angels are fall in love with a baby and then rape a young girl so I'm not sure how much of an issue that is. (Not to mention A Plague Of Angels wasn't published until after The Waters Rising in this country with Gollancz rather disingenuously describing it as a 'prequel'.)
Arthur B at 10:50 on 2013-02-04
Well, the first things that Abasio does in A Plague Of Angels are fall in love with a baby and then rape a young girl so I'm not sure how much of an issue that is.

I stand corrected. Also horrified.
Pear at 14:33 on 2013-02-04
*sips tea*
Daniel F at 14:45 on 2013-02-04
On a far more superficial note, there's something eye-roll-worthy about the cover for me. 'The Waters Rising: A Novel'

No, really?
Arthur B at 15:00 on 2013-02-04
To be fair, in the e-book era it's probably more important to put "A Novel" on the cover of something because you can't eyeball its thickness to quickly and automatically assess how long it is, especially since I've seen people selling short stories with individualised cover art.
Arthur B at 18:12 on 2013-02-04
A thing I have become aware of: an interview with Tepper from Strange Horizons in which she says a number of alarming things. More or less any time she mentions any culture outside of her own it's usually facepalm-worthy, but the money shot is at the end, when she quite seriously proposes sterilising all mentally ill people, reclassifying them as "not human" and sending them to concentration camps (well, "walled cities", but it's the same principle) where they can die off without bothering the rest of us.

Can we stop using the term "eco-feminist" in relation to her political beliefs and just wheel out good old-fashioned "fascist"? I know it's one of the Big Guns but she's earned it several times over.

(Oh, and she talks about about The Waters Rising here. Spoilertron: the waters are a metaphor for excess population.)
Wanted to post this earlier but OpenID wasn't having it...

I have to wonder why the horse rape stuff was even included.

Hopefully we are all agreed that horses cannot commit rape. Tepper keeps horses in real life and is using whinnied and subdued to describe their actual mating habits. Tepper is contrasting this with human mating habits - "I have long observed that human people do not care what they do in front of livestock, and believe me, what some humans do during mating makes horses look absolutely... gentle by comparison." - with the clear wagging finger that we think we are civilised but we are not. This fits into her eco-religious worldview where animals are good and in a state of grace whereas humans are bad and in a state of sin.

I think whether Blue is or isn't (or even could be) a rapist is a less interesting question than the question of why Tepper raises the issue. But, contra Arthur's review, horses cannot give consent because they lack intelligence so Blue cannot seek it. There isn't really a direct comparison to this in the real world but it puts him somewhere between humans who have sex with animals and those who have sex with Real Dolls. We usually regard such people as pathetic and disturbed but not as rapists. As a shorthand, "talking horse rapist" sort of elides the depth of Tepper's weirdness.

(Apparently I was wrong about the publication order of A Plague Of Angels - I misunderstood the copyright page on my edition, 2011 was the first Gollancz publication, not the first British publication.)
Arthur B at 20:09 on 2013-02-04
But, contra Arthur's review, horses cannot give consent because they lack intelligence so Blue cannot seek it.

This is true as far as real horses go, but the thing is Blue unquestionably does possess intelligence within the framework of the novel. He does not speak exclusively in idiotic puns and requests for sugarlumps; in fact, he's asked to consider some fairly difficult things, like how he envisions horses transforming when they are transferred into the oceans so that they still feel suitably horsey, and he's able to give fairly cogent answers. Moreover, he understands the concept of rape and also understands that rape is generally considered to be a bad thing.

As for other horses, of course for the most part Blue can't seek it because most other horses don't talk. The operative word is most. There are other talking horses out there; Blue mentions encountering them. Nor does he specify whether the mares he's had sex with were of the talking variety or not.

It emphatically is not the case that Blue is faced with a choice between life as a rapist and a life of celibacy (though someone with a functional moral compass would pretty much always choose the latter over the former, right?). He can choose to have sex with other talking horses. Or, he can choose to have sex with non-talking horses.

If he has sex with horses he can't talk to, then he's not somewhere between a human who has sex with animals and a human who has sex with real dolls, he's exactly like a human who has sex with animals, because he's a creature capable of thinking about consent and able to give it forcing himself on a creature which may well lack the level of intelligence he has (presumably the genetic engineering includes beefing up of the language centres of the brain) and definitely can't express consent in the way he can.

If he sticks to having sex with horses he can talk to, that's very different, because they can give consent to the same extent that he can. But then, why would they need the whinnying and the cajoling and the subduing and the pestering? Gaining language and the ability to unambiguously and meaningfully negotiate and give consent ought to change the way you approach reproduction. Of course, we who are gifted with language don't always live up to that standard ourselves. That's when rape happens. With great power comes great responsibility and all that jazz.

So, put it this way:

- If Blue has sex with horses who need to be pressured into it and can talk, he's a rapist.
- If Blue has sex with horses who need to be pressured into it and can't talk, he's a rapist who's into bestiality.

In addition, Tepper flatly denies in the book that animals lack the same sort of intelligence we have. Even chickens, bees and ants apparently have sufficient intelligence to, say, meaningfully consent to being turned into aquatic species. I would say that if you can consent into having your body physically transformed to a point where it's nigh-unrecognisable, you can probably also think about issues of consent when it comes to sex. So in Tepper's universe animals absolutely can be rapists because everything is intelligent. Hell, it's hinted that trees have a form of intelligence, so conceptually you might be able to have tree rapists.
James D at 21:06 on 2013-02-04
but the money shot is at the end, when she quite seriously proposes sterilising all mentally ill people, reclassifying them as "not human" and sending them to concentration camps (well, "walled cities", but it's the same principle) where they can die off without bothering the rest of us.

What the fuck. The irony of this statement is just stupendous, because Tepper herself definitely belongs in one of those walled cities where she can't bother the rest of us.
http://cheriola.livejournal.com/ at 23:47 on 2013-02-04
Oh, god I shouldn't get into this discussion as this book is evidently irrational and not well thought out. (I'm trying to avoid ableist slurs.)

But I can't sleep and this is bugging my inner biologist, so here goes:

No, Arthur, if Blue fucks non-sapient horses, he's not a rapist. Humanity has long ago made it clear that it's not possible to do a moral wrong to something that isn't sapient (though it may be sentient) aside from subjecting it to "unnecessary" physical pain. That's why it's an *it*. Otherwise killing an animal for whatever reason (food, leather, to end its suffering) would be murder. Domestication would be slavery. Medical experiments on, say, rats and mice, would be seen on par as crimes against humanity. And things like spaying and neutering, all breeding programmes, artificial insemination of for example cows (or for that matter what needs to be done to the bull to get the semen in the first place), and most things a veterinary does to assist the birthing process in farm animals would all be rape.
This is why bestiality isn't a crime in the Netherlands, by the way. As long as the human's actions don't constitute willful cruelty (so fucking anything smaller than an adult human is still illegal) giving the animals personal rights in this context but not all the others is seen as hypocrisy. (Yes, I know some people really do think that way. If they actually manage to live by their convictions, fine. But most make the rights dependent on how similar looking an animal is to a human, and are not willing to extend the same rights to insects or mollusks and other beings that are without a doubt sentient (feeling). Which, yes, probably includes plants.)

Also, even though I really don't think the author of this book thought this far: the question isn't whether Blue could ask for consent, or even if he and his sexual partner have the cognitive capacity to understand ethics or empathy. The question is whether he's been given the ability to consciously override his instincts when in estrus, or if his "uplift" only goes so far. Humans have evolved to lose any truly imperative procreative urges in favor of a more rational choice of an advantageous time and partner and have also evolved an internal and external reward system as an incentive to do it without being absolutely forced to by instincts and hormones. In fact, one of the major evolutionary differences between humans and all other animals (except maybe large primates, I'm not sure - I dimly remember reading somewhere that chimpanzees sometimes use rape as a weapon) is the fact that the human ovulation is so well hidden that the male usually can't even tell if the female is currently able to conceive. So we really can't compare Blue's situation to a human's until it's been made very clear that he always has the ability to choose, even in those few weeks in spring. If he doesn't, I can see why he would take offense at the accusation that he's responsible for something he has just as little choice over as the mare he is impregnating at the time. And why would the people who experimented on his genes go so far as to mess with something as complicated as reproductive instincts and exceptional hormonal states, when he's just as capable of answering their questions some other time of the year if they leave that part of his physiology alone? (Yes, I know this question is a bit silly considering a horse that can actually make human sounds would already need a complete rearrangement of his vocal box, tongue and brain.)

Of course, if she actually meant something like that, then you get the problem of her writing an extended metaphor for "I'm a man, I can't help it." and/or the temporary insanity excuse. That's where things get really awful. And this is why writing about talking animals in a mature context is always a bad idea unless those animals are basically humans in all but name and shape.
(I know a few fantasy authors who still managed to do this without the animals, though. I think the Dragonriders of Pern feature something like this for the rider and the general population they're flying over whenever a dragon goes into estrus. The Darkover series by our dearly departed second wave feminist Marion Zimmer Bradley features seasonal spreads of sex pollen, at least in the early books. In fact the whole trope is pretty sure to crop up in most bond-animal stories or sci-fi written by people who want to have their hero(ines) "blameless" for the sex scene they're about to write...)
Arthur B at 00:31 on 2013-02-05
Of course, if she actually meant something like that, then you get the problem of her writing an extended metaphor for "I'm a man, I can't help it." and/or the temporary insanity excuse. That's where things get really awful. And this is why writing about talking animals in a mature context is always a bad idea unless those animals are basically humans in all but name and shape.

Basically this. Tepper wants us to treat animals as though they were human beings - in fact, as though they were better than human beings, not burdened with the Original Sin (the Original Sin, of course, being burning fossil fuels and generally being messy pups) - for some of the time, and at other points she wants us to give them a free ride because they are animals.

There is no particular rationale as to when we are meant to treat Blue like a person and when we are meant to treat him like a horse, except that she tends to roll with whatever makes human beings look worse. Therefore chickens and bees and ants are alleged to have a level of sentience and sapience comparable to people when she wants to slam us for eating meat and stepping on bugs. On the other hand, if Blue says something which, if a human being said it, would basically amount to condoning rape, we're meant to give him a free pass, because how dare we judge Blue for anything at all he does when there are also human beings who do wrong things?

On top of that: in the Strange Horizons review I linked earlier Tepper basically holds forth the view that things which don't look human can still qualify as human if they hit a certain ethical level. On the other hand, she also says that if you cause harm to other living things then you are evil and shouldn't be treated as a human being. She doesn't care if this harm happens because of mental illness, drug addiction, or any other compulsion. So by her own standards, if Blue is even mildly rougher with the mares he pairs up with than he needs to be (and if we go with the estrus theory he's not likely to be in control of that), then by Tepper morality we have to declare him not-human and send him to a concentration camp.

Basically, Tepper talks an awful lot of shit and doesn't seem capable of stopping and thinking about how it all connects together and what it ends up implying.
Daniel F at 01:52 on 2013-02-05
There is no particular rationale as to when we are meant to treat Blue like a person and when we are meant to treat him like a horse, except that she tends to roll with whatever makes human beings look worse. Therefore chickens and bees and ants are alleged to have a level of sentience and sapience comparable to people when she wants to slam us for eating meat and stepping on bugs.


Um, question. Is there any way to tease out what is so bad about humans coherently? As you pointed out, there are quite a lot of carnivores in the animal world, and apparently those are fine. Killing insects and the like are the same. Using fossil fuels was up there as well, but it seems a rather bizarre choice; and in any case, humans are clearly not the only animals capable of causing ecological devastation.

The point of original sin is that humans, from the time they are born onwards, have a tendency towards evil, both in thought and in deed. That is both not particularly radical and actually rather sensible, but whatever: the doctrine as a whole is meant to be an aetiology for evil. If God is good and made humans good, why do humans do evil? Answer, we have this original sin thing on us modifying our decision-making processes. I believe there are some versions of the doctrine that suggest that original sin applies to all other living creatures and perhaps even the physical universe, in order to explain cruelty and violence between animals. (Presumably animals were also originally good, in a 'the wolf shall lie down with the lamb' sort of way, though that raises its own issues...)

I bring this up because Tepper's version seems to hinge on some massive, unbridgeable gulf between humans and animals. You've commented on how religious her view is. The traditional Abrahamic view is that there is a gulf between humans and animals, but that it's rationality. Humans can reason, know God, make free choices, and so on. Tepper seems to have decided that animals can do all that as well, so she's left with no justification for the gulf.

Therefore she has to come up with something else unique about humans... and apparently it's our capacity for evil? The thing is, I could accept that if it was linked to something like intelligence. Humans are more self-aware or have advanced technology or something like that, therefore we are capable of bad stuff on a far wider scale than animals, or maybe we're morally culpable for our actions in a way that animals are not because we know what we're doing. That's not an option for Tepper, though, and I get the impression that the intelligent animals in The Waters Rising are not portrayed as particularly different to humans, psychologically, so all we get is that humans are uniquely evil for... um... well... because! If we have some greater tendency towards evil, what is it? Why do animals lack it?

It surprises me because as far as I'm aware people who study animals have been gradually narrowing the supposed gulf between animals and humans for decades. Many animals are smarter than we thought, and at the same time, we ourselves are victims of our monkey brains more often than we like to think. Abrahamic original sin is at least robust enough to survive a narrowing of the gap. Tepper's view of humanity doesn't seem to be.
Arthur B at 10:40 on 2013-02-05
Um, question. Is there any way to tease out what is so bad about humans coherently?

As far as I can tell we are bad because we murder and make war and are intolerant and made pollution happen.

It occurs to me that this is another aspect in which it makes no sense for the global flood to be non-anthropogenic, actually: if it's meant to be a metaphor for runaway human population growth and we've crapped up the environment and need to atone for it, then for both those reasons the flood really ought to have some anthropogenic cause instead of the comet nonsense.

It surprises me because as far as I'm aware people who study animals have been gradually narrowing the supposed gulf between animals and humans for decades. Many animals are smarter than we thought, and at the same time, we ourselves are victims of our monkey brains more often than we like to think. Abrahamic original sin is at least robust enough to survive a narrowing of the gap. Tepper's view of humanity doesn't seem to be.

It doesn't need to be if she completely ignores any new evidence.

Tepper has been caught before using extremely out of date notions in her fiction - this commentary on the Strange Horizons review highlights ways in which she hasn't been keeping up with the discourse in a whole swathe of fields she nonetheless feels a need to comment on. Her ideas about population growth stem from being introduced one day to Malthus, and as far as I can tell since then she hasn't really developed them further or considered other perspectives. (Both the interview and this book, in fact, give me the impression of the sort of person who when they first learn about a subject rapidly settles on a fairly black-and-white opinion about it, and then determinedly ignores all subsequent data.)
Cammalot at 22:25 on 2013-02-05
This... saddens me. I remember liking "Grass" and "The Awakeners" (I forgot that was one of hers) unequivocally, and "Six Moon Dance" (except for the sex-torture machines... yeah. I mentally edited those out), and being very impressed by "Gibbons Decline and Fall" (it contained ideas I had not yet encountered) when I was maybe sixteen, but giving up on "The Family Tree" midway (I am not sure, but I think that was the one where the main character turned out to be a monkey of some sort at the very end, and her pet turned out to be a human being -- I think it ends with all the "pets" standing on their hind legs again, having decided that their hundreds-of-years-long penance of living as beast of burden to intelligent animals was not over and... I sense a theme).

There was a point in my early twenties where I stopped reading both Tepper and Octavia Butler, simultaneously, because there was this recurring theme in their works that nothing in the world could possibly improve until human beings were somehow altered at the genetic level, forcibly. But I went back to Butler, and never got back around to Tepper. At this point, I have no regrets on this score.
http://alula_auburn.livejournal.com/ at 00:37 on 2013-02-06
This is. . .kind of amazing. In a jaw-to-the-floor kind of way.

I'm pretty sure Beauty crossed my radar at some point, because feminist (or even "feminist") fairy tale retellings are kind of A Thing I Have, and I think I may have gotten scared off by some other review.

I've been amusing myself by googling other responses to that Strange Horizons interview, and I'm curious/horrified by a few references that suggest Plague of Angels suggests the dystopia is partly caused by treating HIV-patients instead of, idk, summarily walling them up?

I'm honestly horrified at the handful of rave reviews I do find, including that interview. And honestly, the supposedly beautiful "Shakespearean" prose strikes me as competently violet at best.

So if nothing else, I don't feel the need to read Beauty now!
Arthur B at 13:38 on 2013-02-06
I've been amusing myself by googling other responses to that Strange Horizons interview, and I'm curious/horrified by a few references that suggest Plague of Angels suggests the dystopia is partly caused by treating HIV-patients instead of, idk, summarily walling them up?

Not read Plague of Angels and am incredibly unlikely to after suffering through this, but at the same time I wouldn't be entirely surprised. Tepper seems to be desperately concerned about runaway population growth so I guess she's the sort of person who'd see AIDS as a glorious opportunity to drive the numbers down a bit.

Fun fact: she used to work for Planned Parenthood and wrote a bunch of educational pamphlets for them before she turned to SF full-time, and only retired from that in 1986. The idea of a Planned Parenthood executive in the early 1980s having such an attitude to HIV chills me to the bone.
Cammalot at 14:41 on 2013-02-06
"The Family Tree" midway (I am not sure, but I think that was the one where the main character turned out to be a monkey of some sort at the very end, and her pet turned out to be a human being -- I think it ends with all the "pets" standing on their hind legs again, having decided that their hundreds-of-years-long penance of living as beast of burden to intelligent animals was not over and... I sense a theme).


Yikes. Ought to read:

'I think it ends with all the "pets" standing on their hind legs again, having decided that their hundreds-of-years-long penance of living as BEASTS of burden FOR intelligent animals was NOW over...'

(I don't know what happened there.)
Cammalot at 14:46 on 2013-02-06
Fun fact: she used to work for Planned Parenthood and wrote a bunch of educational pamphlets for them before she turned to SF full-time, and only retired from that in 1986. The idea of a Planned Parenthood executive in the early 1980s having such an attitude to HIV chills me to the bone

I'm fairly chilled, now, about a thread in "Gibbons" that I wasn't before, a bit about [good/effective] motherhood being a learned behavior and not innate. That on its own still doesn't sound very off to me, except it was juxtaposed with a minority girl who didn't or wasn't capable of seeing her baby -- whom she'd abandoned -- as a human being because she wasn't raised right.
Sunnyskywalker at 02:53 on 2013-02-07
...what. I don't even.

I remember back when I first read The Gate to Women's Country and had only vaguely heard of Tepper (she, like, wrote some books?), I thought the Big Damn Societal Conspiracy reveal was meant to be disturbing. There were bits all throughout, like the offhand comment that Stavia's sister might have turned out okay if she'd been allowed to focus on the job she loved instead of being forced into a mold that didn't fit. And didn't "women's country" in the play they perform every year turn out to be death? That doesn't really seem like much of a recommendation for its non-theatrical counterpart, does it? So surely we were supposed to note the wack science and fascism and homophobia etc. and feel that if anything was improving, it was in spite of the scary conspiracy - and that things were more likely setting up for disaster?

Then I read a couple more of her books and realized she meant it straight. *shivers*

Also, anyone who can take book with trees suddenly springing up in cities like some sort of mad Huorn revenge, eating bits of your homes and occasionally your children (except for people who propitiate the Tree Gods enough getting handy bug screens and bike holders instead), and make it turn boring, is not a good writer even if you disregard all the chilling eugenics parts. Yes, I quit Tepper The Family Tree... after I think only 4 Tepper books, fortunately for my poor brain. (Yeah, slow learner. You'd think I'd stop thinking authors are doing something subtle and clever after the 523rd time being wrong...)

But never in my wildest literary nightmares could I have imagined anything approaching the horror that you and Valse have described. Times like these, I wish there really were an official feminist ID card so we could take hers away. Along with her eco-advocate ID card. And her license to kill brain cells with words.
Arthur B at 11:56 on 2013-02-07
Then I read a couple more of her books and realized she meant it straight. *shivers*

Unfortunately, there's little space here to read the Tingawan master plan as being a dystopian mess. When Xulai actually gets a chance to take a tour of the undersea world with the Sea King it's this incredibly cutesy and twee place with all different species happily living in harmony, where the dolphins and octopi and other animals live together happily. Tepper's conception of how the animal kingdom works is the sort of thing which is only sustainable if you studiously ignore everything we learn about nature.
http://alula_auburn.livejournal.com/ at 20:32 on 2013-02-07
This rambling, incoherent review kind of scared me, although part of it was curiosity that it appeared as a Scalzi review on my Googling. (I find Scalzi as an internet presence kind of meh, but her weirdness didn't seem like what I think of as his weirdness, if that makes sense.) On the other hand, I'm partial to shitty reviews that inadvertantly reflect shitty content (although obviously not as much as I am to clever reviews which intentionally and joyfully reveal shitty content.)

I'm just. . .really having trouble understanding what people DO like about her, let alone describing her a href="http://www.tor.com/blogs/2010/08/ok-where-do-i-start-with-that-t">"joyous" or "comfort reading". Even from my lazy-ass liberal arts student POV, the science is nonsensical, even internally; the excerpted quotes and plot summaries make me want to dive for a red pen, and the attitudes are ludicrous when not repulsive. I could see ignoring one of those things on balance, but all three?

I'm also weirdly curious about the interviewer/"shaman" guy from the Strange Horizons interview. I only read SH sporadically, and I can't tell if the end is, like, whole-hearted endorsement or backing away slowly or just a very poor interviewer letting that drop with no follow up.
Arthur B at 22:22 on 2013-02-07
I'm also weirdly curious about the interviewer/"shaman" guy from the Strange Horizons interview. I only read SH sporadically, and I can't tell if the end is, like, whole-hearted endorsement or backing away slowly or just a very poor interviewer letting that drop with no follow up.

I'm actually inclined to give the interviewer the benefit of the doubt and assume they were doing a Louis Theroux thing, where they just concentrated on getting Tepper comfortable enough with them that she'd start making with the really outrageous stuff and, once she started on that, letting it roll. Really, a lot of her statements in that interview more or less condemn themselves without the interviewer needing to step in to challenge her.
Cammalot at 22:57 on 2013-02-07
The piece on the Scalzi page isn't him -- the intro paragraph is, but the rest is his "The Big Idea" feature where he lets authors self promote. So it's Tepper herself. (If I remember correctly, when it began he'd let authors he didn't necessarily like or agree with self promote -- including, if I remember correctly, the delightful personage who's now running for SFWA, per Michal's playpen post -- and I don't think it was the best policy. Especially in that case, it seems to have had repercussions. I don't think it's still the policy
Adrienne at 05:48 on 2013-02-08
So I am actually a huge fan of a lot of Sheri Tepper's earlier work, although you won't hear me defending anything she's written in the last fifteen years or so at least.

Her early stuff isn't free of problems, but some of it is pretty fantastic. Arthur B: if you never read anything else by her, at least read Grass. It's a phenomenal novel. (I have a soft spot for the other two novels in the same milieu, Raising the Stones and Sideshow, but Sideshow in particular is well into what i'd say is her "later and therefore rantier and more full of fail" period. I mostly love it because of the female protagonist, not because it's really very good.)

And contra Sunnyskywalker, I am entirely certain that the society in The Gate to Women's Country isn't meant to be read straight. Women's Country isn't a utopia, it's simply the best solution anyone has. And TGtWC is also a book I'd say is worth reading, because it is an Important Feminist Novel, for all its issues. But it doesn't hold a candle to Grass for either sensawunda or quality.

I also love the three interlocking trilogies that make up the True Game, which are her very earliest novels. But dear god, they are early novels, with all sorts of stylistic and plotting issues and a lot of heavyhanded philosophizing.

She's always had Stuff She Wants To Talk About. Patriarchal religions being made up of villains; how commonly whole cultures engage in the subjugation and sexual abuse of women; eugenics as a Good Thing; certain classes of criminals being in some way "subhuman" by definition. But early on in her career, they were themes rather than obsessions, and she was a hell of a lot more readable.
Robinson L at 08:36 on 2013-02-08
I'd never read any of her work before this and am unlikely to in the future; I was mainly aware of her because Beauty was honoured with a spot in the Fantasy Masterworks series, but based on valse's assessment this seems to have been a mistake.

Oh, I can assure you, it was. (Also see this.)

I think the first time Tepper crossed my radar it was in a favorable mention by someone whose opinion I respected. Between that and the sheer What the Hell, Seriously? factor of Beauty, I half chalked it up to a weird little side-project by an otherwise respectable speculative fiction author. So much for that theory.

Tepper dislikes the idea of eating meat but also has trouble tackling the idea that some animals kind of need to eat meat if they're going to get proper nutrition.

Ha, reminds me of the muddled polemic for vegetarianism in Eldest.

she genuinely seems to believe (or proposes for the purposes of this story at least) that there is such a thing as objectively evil people and creatures whose deaths are necessary so that everyone else can live a sustainable lifestyle.

Yeah, that fits in with her general attitude toward humanity as expressed in Beauty. Though to be fair, most speculative fiction implicitly embraces the idea that some people are objectively evil and need a good killing so that everyone else can live a sustainable lifestyle.

essentially, to survive the drowning of the world and ensure a future for your children, you have to personally accept that humanity are bad and need to be punished by being turned into squids to prove worthy of survival.

This actually sounds reminiscent of one of the more disturbing elements of Beauty which I didn't touch on at the time only because it took place mostly as background.

By the 21st century, humanity has so overextended the Earth's resources that everybody has to live in capsules closed off from the outside and eat nutrient tablets. Most of the action takes place in the fourteenth and twentieth centuries, but the main character occasionally meets time-travelers from this 21st century dystopia, and she eventually realizes that by around the beginning of the 22nd century, even this system has broken down and the entire human race is horribly wiped out by famine.

Ah, but without us humans to muck things up, the Earth will then begin the slow process of healing and regenerating life. So what the protagonists do is, they build a magical ark for all the humans and animals (who aren't fetishized in Beauty the way they apparently are here) to tide through the 22nd century apocalypse and however more centuries it takes for the Earth to be able to support animal life once again. Only they don't build the ark in the 21st/22nd century to save all the poor bastards who get caught in the great collapse without a working time machine to escape, and they don't even build it in the 20th century, when the book is written - they build it in their own time, which is the 14th. Even when I first read the book it came off as a big middle finger to following six centuries (especially considering the sequences where our main character is in the 20th century trying to avert the coming catastrophe to avail, with the implication that humanity has spiritually as well as environmentally passed the point of no return).

So in that book, it's not necessarily that human beings are inherently evil, but sometime between the 14th and 20th centuries we became, as a species, so irredeemably evil that the only solution is to nuke the whole project and then reach back 600 years into (Europe's) past and start over again from there.

The structure and pacing got pretty bad at times, as well, but I wouldn't characterize them as outright terrible. So either I'm just ridiculously forgiving, or on this point at least, Beauty scores higher than The Waters Rising.

alua-auburn: So if nothing else, I don't feel the need to read Beauty now!

Congratulations on dodging that bullet.
Arthur B at 10:16 on 2013-02-08
@Adrienne:
But early on in her career, they were themes rather than obsessions, and she was a hell of a lot more readable.

Eh, I'm inclined to say that a fixation on eugenics and declaring people subhuman is still going to be a problem even if you sprinkle it on lightly.

@Robinson:
So in that book, it's not necessarily that human beings are inherently evil, but sometime between the 14th and 20th centuries we became, as a species, so irredeemably evil that the only solution is to nuke the whole project and then reach back 600 years into (Europe's) past and start over again from there.

Well, obviously, because patriarchal religion and deeply ingrained cultural misogyny were so rare in 14th century Europe. Wait, what?
Robinson L at 15:00 on 2013-02-08
Arthur: Well, obviously, because patriarchal religion and deeply ingrained cultural misogyny were so rare in 14th century Europe. Wait, what?

Ah yes, but Medieval Europe still lacked at least two of the greatest blights of the contemporary world: massive environmental devastation (I suspect the 14th century Europeans were probably about as bad about the Earth's ecology as we are today, they just didn't have the technological capacity to screw it up to the degree we do; but from everything I've seen first-, second-, and third-hand, I wouldn't be surprised if Tepper didn't see it that way); and horror writers. Yes, horror writers. You can't make this shit up.
Janne Kirjasniemi at 15:45 on 2013-02-08
suspect the 14th century Europeans were probably about as bad about the Earth's ecology as we are today, they just didn't have the technological capacity to screw it up to the degree we do;


Oddly enough, Romans were still able to screw the environment pretty badly. For some reason, many hard core environmentalists seem to put the tragic mistake somewhere from 14th to the 17th century, for all I know because of the renaissance and because arguably the birth of the scientific revolution could be placed there, although that's a bit sketchy. Wouldn't the real original sin have been the invention of agriculture, or the handling of fire? So why not try to get back to that?

On the review, two notes. First:

This novel really did a number on me. I'm lying on the floor broken and twitching with fury. The primary targets of my fury are this book and Tepper herself, but there's a sizable dose of rage left over reserved for the editors who greenlit this. The Waters Rising is a miserably incompetent and morally reprehensible science fantasy novel which demeans science fiction, fantasy, the political causes Tepper supposedly espouses and literature as a whole by its existence.


You should put this quote to every review site from amazon to whatever. It would make a handy template as well, although if it was used too much, it wouldn't be as effective.

Secondly, you should probably take a break from these sort of books. You'll end up reading some equivalent of the King in Yellow and just breaking down completely.
Arthur B at 20:29 on 2013-02-08
Ah yes, but Medieval Europe still lacked at least two of the greatest blights of the contemporary world: massive environmental devastation (I suspect the 14th century Europeans were probably about as bad about the Earth's ecology as we are today, they just didn't have the technological capacity to screw it up to the degree we do; but from everything I've seen first-, second-, and third-hand, I wouldn't be surprised if Tepper didn't see it that way); and horror writers.

And of course the 14th Century boasts the most efficient means of human population control ever unleashed on Europe.
Adrienne at 20:43 on 2013-02-08
@ArthurB

Eh, I'm inclined to say that a fixation on eugenics and declaring people subhuman is still going to be a problem even if you sprinkle it on lightly.


I don't say they're not. :) But some of her early novels are still worth reading, and the eugenics and subhuman crap certainly isn't present in all of them. (And some of the stuff she's had to say, over the years, about how cultures keep women subjugated is pretty damn insightful.)

Grass, for example, has crazy religious villains and overpopulation and cultural subjugation of women as themes, but no eugenics. The Gate to Women's Country has eugenics, a whole bunch of it, but it's never presented as anything like an unmitigated good. (The society they're trying to build, in Gate, is based on eugenics and fueled by terror. In some sense even if they succeed in their grand project, they've already failed.)

Seriously, there's much more nuance in some of her work than there is in Waters, i swear!
Ash at 21:22 on 2014-07-23
In a shocking twist, ice comets are apparently a thing, now. (I have spent way too long trying to figure out why this news srticle made me think of talking horses.)
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