In haste, I’m afraid, but I’ve just heard of the death of Sheri S. Tepper, and I can’t let that pass.
Tepper was born in 1929, and only began writing novels in her late 50s, but she then wrote steadily a mixture of science fiction, fantasy and horror, right up until her death on October 22 at the age of 87.
Her fiction was marked by a strong, often ferocious, feminist sensibility. And if some of her later books became rather simplistic, formulaic or just plain silly, at her best she wrote some of the most powerful stories about gender in sf. Her work was, at one point or another, shortlisted for just about all of the major genre awards, though she didn’t win any, which has led some to suggest that she never quite achieved the recognition that her work deserved. However she was, belatedly, presented with a World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement.
For anyone coming late to Tepper’s work, there are several places to start, but the novels I think stand out are:
Grass, the first part of her Marjorie Westriding trilogy, is one of the earliest and perhaps best statements of themes that would come to dominate her fiction, in which despoilation of the planet is linked to gender and social inequalities, but she wraps this up in a thrilling novel about a strange alien world and the human aristocrats who rule it.
The Gate to Women’s Country is set long after a devastating war has wiped out much of the population, and what remains has fragmented into small communities. Women’s Country is an area where the genders are rigorously divided, and the ruling women have managed to establish a sustainable, low-tech technology, but at the cost of a devastating secret.
After Long Silence is set on a world where only music can control the dangerous crystaline natives.
The Awakeners was originally published as two books, Northshore and Southshore, and was her first major work of science fiction, which could explain the sometimes clumsy plotting. But the story of a theocratic society where it is forbidden to travel to the east is a fascinating mix of sociology and ecology that would become typical of her work.
Gibbons Decline and Fall is set in our modern world and tells of a group of women who come together to protect the enigmatic Sophy, but as the world falls apart they must find Sophy again as their only hope of defeating a wave of fundamentalism and anti-women violence.
The Family Tree tells of a near-future where trees are taking over the world, babies are disappearing and a police officer must investigate the murder of three key geneticists; meanwhile in the distant future a disparate group of the creatures who have inherited the Earth must travel back in time to stop an enemy who has attempted to change the past.
From Nebula and Hugo Award–nominated Carolyn Ives Gilman comes Dark Orbit, a compelling novel featuring alien contact, mystery, and murder.
Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate.