Raising the Stones, by Sheri S Tepper
Posted June 11, 2011on:
published in 1990
Where I got it: have owned it for a while
A sprawling story that covers multiple planets and their satellites, a varity of religions and cultures, and even non-human races, both native and non-native to the planets, Raising the Stones perfectly balances epicness with intimacy. While Raising the Stones is considered the middle book in Tepper’s Marjorie Westriding series (the first book is Grass, and the third is Sideshow), I consider all of them to be stand alones. Yes, they take place in the same universe, but the characters and situations are very different. Occasionally characters or places are referred to, but I feel you can read some of the trilogy, or all of it, in any order you want.
The planet Hobbs Land (so named because it is owned by Hobbs Transworld Systems) is a pastoral agricultural planet. The company allows the colonists to live as they will, so long as the agricultural quotas are met. When humans first landed on Hobbs Land, the native race was dying. After sitting with a few translators, the oldest of the natives attempted to explain a few religious matters, and then died. The colonists have developed a matrelinial semi-communist society and never have a problem meeting quotes on this near-Eden like planet.
Hobbs Landers may not subscribe to a specific religion per se, unlike other ethnic groups that populate the rest of the star system, such as the Voorstoders, an over-the-top mysogynistic and violent culture; the Baidee who eschew coersion of any kind, the Gharm, a humanoid race that have been enslaved by the Voorstoders; and the bureaucratic and militaristic arms of the the local governments who are mainly interested in trade relations, quotas, and safety of the population. To say the least, this is an ensemble peice, and there is a lot of keep track of. Only a few characters are fully developed, but this is where Tepper successfully pulls an interesting stunt: it’s not the massive cast of characters that is important, it is the clashing cultures and religions that are of the utmost importance.
The first hundred or so pages of the book are pure set up, focusing mostly around Maire Girat, her son Sam, and her grandsom Jep. How Sam refuses to understand why Maire left her abusive husband and brought her children to Hobbs Land, how Sam’s girlfriend China can’t understand why he keeps looking for answers, why he is obsessed with old Terra legends, how Jep and his friends decide it would be a really cool thing to clean up one of the old ruined temples, because it just seems like a fun thing to do.
The natives of Hobbs Land are long dead, but their small, mushroom shaped temples remain, as do the god statues that reside inside them. A few people from each settlement took it upon themselves to keep the native temples clean and looked after, and became known as the “Ones Who”. When an elderly One Who passes away, it’s felt it’s only proper to bury him near a temple. A few months later, the colonists exhume him to find something new, something special, something that is and both isn’t his body, and is and isn’t similar to the God statues that resided in the temples. He is brought to the local temple. Hobbs Land has been given new Gods. and they are awake. It needs to be said that the Hobbs Land gods are physical things that exist, and grow.
When a god wakes up, what does it want? How do you know what it wants, or what it wants you to do? Does it take over your mind? Does it force you to do things against your will? Simply put, what defines “god”? The Hobbs Landers don’t gloat about their local gods, they don’t pray to them, or sacrifice things to them, or tell anyone in the system that anything different is going on. But the colonists become more peaceful, their production increases, anger and frustration subsides, and most citizens feel it’s just the right thing to do to make sure the godstuff gets to where it’s needed.. When some High Baidee and Voorstoders visit Hobbs Land, it’s not long before the entire solar system knows something very strange is happening on the planet.
In what become increasingly important plot lines, the Voorstoders decide they need Maire back as a mascot, and the High Baidee decide something very terrible is happening on Hobbs Land and must be stopped at all costs. As we get to know these cultures better, we can at least see their reasoning as befitting their beliefs, even if much of it is quite obviously a mistransliteration of a mistranslation of a misinterpretation of a prophet who once upon a time simply meant well.
Remember though, the Hobbs Land Gods are physical things, sort of a fungus type growth that grows underground, and spreads. No one really knows what this fungus type thing is, or where it came from, or what it’s life cycle is, and the Hobbslanders are too busy simply living their lives to care. This is a dire mistake.
Being about the birth of gods, there is much talk of religion in Raising the Stones. Ostensibly, that is what this book is about. Closer to the end, the discussions begin to fall just this side of preachy. But I kept asking myself: preachy of what? That religion is good? that gods are good? Not that at all, but that religion and gods are neither here nor there, it’s what people do with them that matters. There was a reason why Tepper populated this star system with cultures that are diametrically opposed. It’s a bit of a plot device, but it gets us where we need to be to know that the right questions are being asked. This is the kind of book that you are still contemplating weeks, sometimes years after reading.
I’ve run hot and cold with Tepper books all through her career, but Raising the Stones is a book I find myself returning to again and again. It is a stunning story that defies categorization. And even better, it sets me up to read Sideshow, my favorite Tepper title.