Tepper, Sheri S(tewart)

views updated

TEPPER, Sheri S(tewart)

Born Shirley Stewart Douglas, 16 July 1929 in Colorado

Wrote under A. J. Orde, B. J. Oliphant, E. E. Horlak, Sheri S. Eberhart

Married Gene Tepper; children: one son, one daughter

Sheri Tepper was born in Colorado. She sold poetry and children's stories as Sheri S. Eberhart while working for the relief agency CARE, then in 1962 launched a 24-year career in the Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood, becoming executive director and writing pamphlets on topics such as sex instruction for children and self-assertiveness for young women. She married Gene Tepper in the late 1960s.

Her first fictional works were King's Blood Four (1983), Necromancer Nine (1983), and Wizard's Eleven (1984), later collected as The True Game (1996). These are narrated by Peter, who grows up on another planet ruled by Game-players, who wield supernatural powers such as shape-shifting and teleportation. The Gamelords carelessly throw away their Gamesmen and "pawns"—unTalented farmers, traders and craftsmen—in bloody feuds.

Peter, who seems to have no Talents, learns otherwise when he discovers special figurines, representing the Eleven forebears of the Gamesmen, which lend him their powers. Peter is forced to join the Game, and his adventure-filled quest to defeat tyranny leads him to discover the historic colonization of the planet and the reasons behind the terrible Game. The tripartite bildungsroman concludes with a revelation of Peter's identity and his own, unforeseen Talent. This trilogy is continued in the Mavin Manyshaped series and the Jinian series, collected as The End of the Game (1986).

The True Game books exemplify the plot format Tepper uses in most of her works: young protagonists dwelling on an old planet become aware of the mysteries of their world and discover their strengths as they fight those who delight in destruction and enslavement. Through their journeys they learn of the foolish ambitions that led to the planet's colonization, realize the deceptions and self-deceptions upon which their government is based, ally themselves with the natives, and create a balance in which human and alien can live harmoniously. In each case, revelation opens up to greater and greater revelations, considered delightful by some reviewers and implausible by others; novels like Grass (1989) and The Family Tree (1997) are particularly famous for their wondrous plot surprises.

Tepper is a didactic writer. These early books attack the evils of despoliation and coercion, arguing that humans must learn self-restraint in politics and religion, the thoughtless destruction of dimly understood ecologies and population control. Her villains are two-dimensional, as though Tepper considers tyrants merely stupid rather than criminal masterminds. Though preachy, she provides nonstop thrills and stunningly imagined landscapes that make her books compulsively readable.

Tepper's feminist polemical streak turned bitingly satiric in The Gate to Women's Country (1988), an important novel that sparked a continuing controversy between male and female readers. Feminists loved the book; men found it disturbing. Stavia grows up in a postapocalyptic society in which women govern all aspects of culture except, seemingly, the military, which men maintain in closed garrisons. Adolescent males must choose to join the garrisons or enter the walled Women's Country, where they are educated and become "servitors." Most choose the former, though over the centuries more men seek the gentler way of life. Foolishly running away, Stavia learns the "true nature" of men in the wilderness. She is raped, then confined and tortured in a settlement made up of the worst aspects of Mormonism and Islam. Returning to Women's Country, she learns the ruling clique of women has been selectively breeding men for feminine traits such as cooperation and caring.

Many readers consider Tepper's finest novel to be Grass (1989), a New York Times Notable Book and Hugo awards nominee. Marjorie Westriding Yrarier is sent as ambassador to Grass, the one planet immune to a plague devastating other worlds. There she learns of the bizarre relationship between the local human nobility and the native creatures and discovers the truth that will lead to a cure for the pandemic. " Grass is about man's relationship to God" and "what religion does to man: environmentalists don't worship the same god as those who are out to destroy the world. Western religions are all about getting even," Tepper said in a 1989 interview. Marjorie also appears in Raising the Stones (1990), which considers "what would we do if we had a god that actually gave us peace?," and Sideshow (1992), a blistering attack upon the complacent relativism that condones atrocities perpetrated in the name of freedom of religion.

Tepper became increasingly didactic on the issues of ecology and women's rights. Beauty (1991) interweaves and revises the tales of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Snow White. A Plague of Angels (1993) shows that female dictators can be evil too, as a witch prepares an army of androids to kill or subjugate everyone in a far-future America. The protagonists ally with talking animals and mythological monsters to overthrow her and reforest the wastelands. In Plague and Shadow's End (1994), alien superbeings sit in judgement upon humanity and take extreme measures to end oppression and order men not to ruin and discard one planet after another. Gibbon's Decline and Fall (1996), a near-future tale set in the U.S., rages against antiabortionists.

The Family Tree (1997) and Six Moon Dance (1998) continue these polemics, but in a more lighthearted vein. Six Moon Dance again considers allowing women to control breeding. Both novels argue that humans are not superior beings, but part of a beautiful biosphere. Tepper feels we must learn to treasure our planet in its majestic variety.

Tepper has also written mysteries under the pseudonyms A. J. Orde and B. J. Oliphant, and a few horror novels under her own name and as E. E. Horlak. Her canon is widely praised for its overall high quality and boldness in tackling controversial themes, chiefly her celebration of biodiversity and transformations of all types; her demand for equality and symbiosis not only among humans but between humans and their environment; and her promise that the antagonistic relationships between men and women can evolve into something precious and life-affirming.

Other Works:

The People Know (1968). The Perils of Puberty (1974). The Problem with Puberty (1976). This Is You (1977). So Your Happily Ever After Isn't (1977). So You Don't Want To Be a Sex Object (1978). The Revenants (1984). The True Game (1985). Marianne, the Magus, and the Manticore (1985). The Song of Mavin Manyshaped (1985). The Flight of Mavin Manyshaped (1985). The Search of Mavin Manyshaped (1985). Jinian Footseer (1985). Blood Heritage (1986). Dervish Daughter (1986). The Bones (1987). Northshore (1987). Southshore (1987). The Awakeners (1987). After Long Silence (1987, as The Enigma Score, 1989). Marianne, the Madame, and the Momentary Gods (1988). Marianne, the Matchbox, and the Malachite Mouse (1989). Still Life (1989). The Marianne Trilogy (1990). Singer From the Sea (1999).

As A. J. Orde: A Little Neighborhood Murder (1989). Death and the Dogwalker (1990). Death for Old Times' Sake (1992). Looking for the Aardvark (1993, retitled Dead on Sunday, 1993). A Long Time Dead (1995). A Death of Innocents (1997).

As B. J. Oliphant: A Ceremonial Death (1985). Dead in the Scrub (1990). The Unexpected Corpse (1990). Death and the Delinquent (1992). Deservedly Dead (1992). Death Served Up Cold (1994). Here's to the Newly Dead (1997).

As E. E. Horlak: Still Life (1989).


Bogstad, J., "Gender, Power and Reversal in Contemporary Anglo-American and French Feminist Science Fiction" (thesis, 1992). Canty, J. F., "Does Eugenics = (E)Utopia? Reproductive Control and Ethical Issues in Contempoary North American Feminist Fabulation" (thesis, 1995). Carroll, L., "Mythological Backgrounds in Sheri S. Tepper's Fiction" (thesis, 1996). Harris, D. L., "Acts of Genesis: A Feminist Look at the Changing Face of the Mother in Selected Works of Science Fiction by Women" (thesis, 1997). Jesser, N. S., "Troubling Worlds: The Transformation and Persistence of Violence in Contemporary Feminist Utopian Narratives" (thesis, 1998). Zaman, Sobia, "The Feminist Appropriation of Dystopia: A Study of Atwood, Elgin, Fairbairns, and Tepper" (thesis, 1995).

Reference works:

Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997). Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature (1996). St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers (1995).

Other references:

Denver Post (15 Oct. 1989, 30 July 1990, 3 Dec. 1995) Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 7 (1996). Locus 41 (Sept. 1998). New York Review of Science Fiction 8 (July 1996). Science-Fiction Studies 19 (1992).