the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Sheri S Tepper’ Category

You’ve probably already figured this out about me, but I don’t mind it when an author doesn’t explain everything.  I’d rather a story very slowly tease out the “what’s really going on”, rather than tell me all the fun stuff up front.   Sheri S Tepper’s The Family Tree, published way back in 1997, is very much this kind of story.  We meet some characters and get to know them . .  we meet a second batch of characters and get to know them. . .  and then, well,  you might want to duct tape your jaw to your head, as some insulation against how many times this book will make it drop.


Also, whoever wrote the back cover copy on the paperback I have, man, that person managed to take an amazing, charming, enthralling book and make it sound kinda blah. So don’t read the cover copy!!


As with most other Tepper novels I’ve read, I was drawn in to the story immediately. The characters caught and kept my attention, and Tepper showed me their environment without infodumping.  This is a very Tepper book, and by that I mean the characters are intelligent and persistent, there is a pro-environmental / live kindly with nature theme, and a long game.


We meet police officer Dora Henry as she’s realizing she needs to leave her husband Jared.  They have the absolute strangest relationship ever, more a marriage of convenience than anything romantic. And when she moves her stuff out he flips out. (later in the book, when Jared flips out even more, I described him as a mustache twirling dick. My husband’s response was “but was he a dick twirling mustache?”.  Dick twirling mustache is my new favorite way to describe a petty bad guy).


Even without the divorce and Jared’s drama, Dora has her hands full at work.  There are some murders that her department is investigating (who would kill a scientist?) and invasive plants and trees are taking over the city.  She doesn’t mind the invasive trees and plants, they are quite pretty, if you like that kind of thing (which Dora, and I, do)


So,  just as I’m getting super invested in Dora’s plotline,  the story shifts to this sort of quest fantasy plotline.  My first thought was that Dora was telling this story to someone? Or that someone was telling this, as a bedtime story, to Dora in her childhood? Because it did have the trappings of a fantasy story – among other characters is the young harem slave, Nassif,  who is told to dress like a boy and be a servant for Prince Sahir who is going on a quest,  there is also Prince Izakar who has access to secret library and is told he needs to solve the great mystery of his time, there is a farming family whose humorous children only care that their grazing animals are safe,  there is a countess, there are a few other characters. All these people end up meeting and deciding they should continue together, in hopes they can help each other on their possibly connected quests.


My second thought, after a few chapters of these fantasy style characters was how nice they were to each other. Sure, people disagree, but there was no backstabbing, no betrayals, no intrigue, no bloody wars of conquest. All these folks are, for lack of a better term, decent human beings who show kindness and compassion. (how sad is that, that I’m shocked to run into decent human beings in a sci-fantasy novel??)  There does seem to be this thing about accusing people being cannibals, which was disconcerting and threw my idea of this being a bedtime story out the window.

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Will 2017 be the year of the reread? only time will tell. In the meantime, I’ve been enjoying Sheri S Tepper’s Arbai trilogy. Again.


Raising the Stones by Sheri S. Tepper

published in 1990

where I got it: who knows. I’ve had it forever.



If you’d asked me five years ago for a list of my top five favorite novels, Sheri S. Tepper’s Raising the Stones would have been on that list.  Is it still in my top five? Sadly, no.  Is it a hella good book? Absolutely. I wrote a review of Raising the Stones back in 2011, which gives a great overview of the plot if you’re interested in the plot end of things.


I’ve been itching for some comfort reads lately, escapist novels that I know I will enjoy no matter what is happening in the world around me.  Tepper’s Arbai trilogy fits that bill a hundred percent.  I have no idea how many times I’ve read Raising the Stones, I know exactly what happens in it, I know who dies at the end, who the jerks are, who should have known better, who was blinded by their own narrow-mindedness. It’s neat to read a book that you know so well, to set aside everything that you know you know about it, and find everything else that was hiding there in plain sight all along.


Something that did catch my attention this read through was how the novel is paced, and that the pacing matches exactly something else that is going on in the background. Lemme ‘splain.  The first half of the novel is painfully slow. I’d forgotten how slow it was. Slow isn’t bad per se, there is buckets of fascinating worldbuilding and learning about the various cultures in this star system and their beliefs; characterization of Maire, Sam, China, Jep, and Saturday; the slightest beginnings of what’s happening behind the scenes on the planet of Hobbs Land. There is tons of good *stuff* in the first half of the novel, it just doesn’t feel like anything is happening. Maybe I was just antsy for the good stuff? I dunno, but it felt sooooo sloooooooow.   The last third of the novel is solid anxiety. Everything comes to a head, rebellions and coups are put into action, what’s been happening behind the scenes on Hobbs Land is suddenly very much the center of attention.  It’s like something finally reached a critical mass.


And that’s exactly what the pacing of the plot mirrors – the pace of the growths on Hobbs Land reaching their critical mass.  Very slow, barely detectable at first, and then slowly increasing, and then reaching a point where it has no choice but to asymptotically reach for infinity.  Pretty brilliant trick for an author to pull off, when you think about it!

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grass-tepperGrass by Sheri S. Tepper

published in 1989

where I got it: have owned forever






Sheri S. Tepper’s Arbai trilogy consists of Grass (1989),  Raising the Stones (1990), and Sideshow (1992).  Although they take place in the same universe and a few characters cross over, you can read these books as stand alones, or in any order you want. Sideshow is my favorite of the bunch, and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read it.  In the trilogy, humanity has colonized many planets, and colonists live rather pastoral lives on these mostly empty planets.  We’ve come across tons of alien ruins, but very little in the way of living aliens. Like many space operas, there is politics and intrigue, back stabbing and the loss of innocent life.  Grass was nominated for the Hugo and the Locus award, but sadly these novels seem to have passed into obscurity. It’s really too bad, because all three are freakin’ fantastic.


At first blush, the plot of Grass feels a little like Frank Herbert’s Dune – political family goes to secretive planet, has no idea what they are getting themselves into, intrigue and attempted murder ensues, family must connect with the locals if they hope to survive. Tepper of course takes things in a completely different direction, but if you liked Dune you’ll probably like Grass, and if you’re interested in Dune but have maybe felt a little intimidated by it, give Grass a try.  Grass is a planet on which nothing is what it seems, and everything you don’t understand is so old even its history has become a myth.


The “nobility” of Grass have no interest in hosting the Yrarier family or in allowing their children to fraternize with the Yrarier heirs. Ostensibly ambassadors of the Church, the Marjorie and Rigo Yrarier have just enough upper crust-ness to hopefully be accepted by the Bons of Grass.  But more important than that, the Yrariers were chosen because both Marjorie and Rigo are retired equestrian olympians, and the entire family is highly skilled in horsemanship and hunting.  It sounds very old fashioned, but what are nobles if not old fashioned? And everyone on Grass is simply obsessed with hunting.


What happens when an obsession become something you are no longer in control of, something you are no longer able to choose for yourself? I’m not talking about a cult, I’m talking about something much worse.

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The big mega-grocery store near us sells live lobsters at the fish counter. I’ve never bought one, I don’t know if they knock it out before you take it home, or what.  But they always have live lobsters in an aquarium, and I am fascinated/terrified of them.  A few times a year, I get brave enough to wander up to the tank, maybe tap on it a few times, and watch the writhing mass of articulated legs, eye stalks, and rubber-banded snapping claws crawl over and around itself.  To the amusement of the folks working at the fish counter  I last about 10 seconds before running away like a scared little girl. Those lobster critters really creep me out!!  But every time we go to that store, a little voice inside me says “let’s go  look at the lobsters!”.  because although they creep me out, I still want to go look at them.   see if maybe I can last more than 10 seconds.

(East coasters forgive me! I am a midwesterner!)

Sheri S. Tepper’s Sideshow is one of my all time favorite novels.  the 3rd book in a very loose series, you can read the books as stand alones and in any order, but if you read them in somewhat chronological order, you’ll want to read them GrassRaising the Stones, and then finally Sideshow.  It’s a very loose  series, the books take place on different planets in the same universe, but there are some behind the scenes things that make more sense if you read the books in the order they were published.  I’ve read Raising the Stones a handful of times, and Sideshow probably six or seven times, but I’ve only read Grass once.  All I remember about Grass was something about horses that were not horses, and that the book scared the shit out of me.

But, I wanted to reread this trilogy in the order in which it was published, so I took Grass down from the shelf on Saturday morning. By Sunday night, I’d read about half of it.

I remembered this book scaring me.  I remember being disturbed by it.  I didn’t remember how viscerally terrifying it was.  But I can’t put it down.  Every time I’ve put it down, I keep coming back, touching the cover, thinking to myself “I’ll just read a few pages, then I’ll go do something else”, and suddenly I’ve read 40 pages and an hour has gone by.

This book is a lobster. It scares the shit out of me and makes me feel all creepy crawly and I’m afraid of the nightmares it might give me, but a little voice inside me keeps saying “let’s go read that book!”.




Sideshow, by Sheri S Tepper

published in 1992

where I got it: purchased used

why I read it: This is my favorite Tepper, and one of my all time favorite SF novels.









Sheri Tepper’s Sideshow is one of my all time favorite science fiction novels. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve read this book.  Technically, it is the third book in her loosely related trilogy that starts with Grass and Raising the Stones.  I’ve read all three, and I believe they can easily be read as stand alones, or even better, in backwards order for a different, yet very satisfying experience.

Taking place many many generations after Raising the Stones (reviewed here), the remnants of humanity have fled to the hidden planet of Elsewhere, the only planet in the galaxy that is free of the Hobbs Land Gods.  On Elsewhere, diversity is prized above everything else, all cultures are respected and allowed to live their lives as they wish, and the two Arbai doors are guarded day and night. The citizens of Elsewhere may all belong to different cultures and tribes, but everyone celebrates on Great Question Day, when they celebrate the founding of Elsewhere and jokingly attempt to answer the great question of the age old galactic university: what is the ultimate destiny of man?

Meanwhile, back on Earth, in our time, a very important set of siamese twins are born. Nela and Bertan are as loved by their doting parents as any children could hope to be. And then, well, things go very badly with their parents and the twins quite literally end up joining the circus. Actually, it couldn’t have worked out better. If they’d never joined the circus, they would have never met the alien, and our story would never have happened.

If I got much more into the plot you’d be reading for ages, and even worse I know I’d inadvertently give away some great spoilers. The plot is subtle, engrossing, at times hilarious and at times truly tragic. Strong characters abound, along side aliens, orphans, ghosts, and  names you might recognize from other Tepper novels.

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Raising the Stones, by Sheri S Tepper

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.

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Just so you know, this is a super long post with a funny at the end.  Not unlike an epic quest. . . .

I describe this website as offering Science Fiction & Fantasy reviews.  But going through my list of reviews, I’m seeing far more fantasy than science.  Maybe I should just describe it as a fantasy review site?  Or a gateway to fantasy review site?

When I was a kid, I was an adamant SF fan. Much of my youth was spent building spaceships out of legos and watching PBS shows about astronomy.  I craved scientific explanations for everything.  I wanted to know how everything worked

While my friends were reading Lloyd Alexander, I was reading Interstellar Pig.  As they moved onto Tolkien and Raymond Feist and Katherine Kurtz, I moved onto David Brin and Robert Heinlein and Frank Herbert.

To me, Fantasy was wizards with long beards, royals who went on quests where their soldiers and magical armor protected them, and elves and dwarves who spent the first half of the conversation telling you their lineages, and embarassingly rediculous cover art. really nothing else. I had no understanding that “high fantasy” was only the tip of the iceberg of the genre.  My limited experiences with high fantasy let me know quickly that I didn’t care for it.

And then I started reading manga, a form famous for mixing genres. Cyborg mechas using laser guns against a castle and fighting flesh and blood dragons that guarded hoards of treasure? no problem. Kids who get wisked away from their regular life to fight demons and spirits and collect magical shards? piece of cake.  Vampires, martians, aliens, dragons, time travel, often in the same series. And it worked, like magic.

Wait, wasn’t this, um, fantasy?  It sure was fantastical, and it sure wasn’t hard scifi. Read the rest of this entry »

  Xulai (Shoo-Lie, rhymes with July. Isn’t that a cool name??) lives as a servant in the household of Duke Justinian and his Tingawan wife Princess Xu-i-Lok. After they were married and the Princess learned she had been cursed, they requested a soul carrier from her Tingawan homeland. Xulai is that soul carrier. Appearing as a child of seven or eight, Xulai’s only use in life is to be with the Princess when she dies (which could be any moment), and then return to Tingawa with the Princess’s soul. In the meantime, Xulai is taught and protected by Precious Wind, who came with her from Tingawa, and Bear, a Tingawan Warrior. Early on, when we first meet Xulai, she is approached by an unusual traveler, Abasio, and his even more unusual talking horse, Blue. Abasio and Blue will prove to be the best part of the story. 

The Princess does die, and she does give her soul (and something else) to Xulai. Tingawa lies across the sea, and it is decided the safest way to get there is to travel to the southern end of the continent to a port city where a Tingawan ship is waiting. It is of the utmost importance that Xulai reach Tingawa. But the roads are dangerous, and on the way they stop at the abbey, which seems more a center of population than a religious center. There is corruption afoot, as the Queen of the realm, Mirami, and her daugher, Alicia, are constantly fighting each other for power. When Precious Wind and Abasio learn they have been betrayed at the abbey, the party continues south, even more cautious than before.

Much of the plot revolves around the journey south and avoiding Mirami, Alicia, and their mentor the Dark Old Man. Xulai may appear as a child, but she is older than she looks. In fact, many of the characters are not what they appear to be. Once Xulai discovers who and what she is, plans must be laid to keep the truth safe. Read the rest of this entry »

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FTC Stuff

some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.