I thought I would toss a few things together on Sheri Tepper, an eco-feminist Science Fiction author who passed away two years ago, ending a brilliant but short career in science fiction. We still miss her terribly here at Celestial Attic. For your enjoyment:
For Sheri S. Tepper, there are too many people. It’s why her books have so many plagues.
I tell my editor about it on the trip home from a World Fantasy Convention in the Midwest. I’d agreed to write a retrospective of Tepper’s work to mark her passing; it was a good place to chat with the industry lifers who had known her. As it turned out, she’s so remarkably out of print that even gathering material had the air of a quest. And few people had met her. No idea, they said. She lived in the desert a while, but that was all they knew. “I’ve read her, though,” said someone, with a look I didn’t understand yet. “I read Grass,” said someone else, shaking their head — about never having met her or about Grass, I couldn’t tell. “Disturbing,” I heard, over and over.
Sheri S. Tepper was born Shirley Stewart Douglas, July 16, 1929, near Littleton, Colorado. She married for the first time at age 20, but divorced ”when I was 26 or 27, so I became a single mother of two kids, and spent ten years on my own, working all kinds of different jobs.” That included a clerical job with international relief agency CARE, but her major career was with what was then called Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood, where she stayed for 24 years (1962-1986), eventually becoming Executive Director. She married Gene Tepper in the late ’60s. She runs a guest ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Sheri S. Tepper is unapologetic about the label “ecofeminist.” Author of nearly forty novels, she creates complex, well-rounded characters in elegant blends of science fiction, fantasy, ecological alarum, and feminist fable. She writes what she cares about deeply, hoping to awaken readers to the hard realities of history and our times. She argues for a truly long view regarding our use of the Earth and its creatures—including each other—if we mean to survive.
On the phone, Tepper is warm, kind, and gracious, and laughs easily, as might be expected of someone who owns a guest ranch near Santa Fe, New Mexico. But she is unflinching as she describes inequities she has seen, stupidities she perceives, and the remedies she recommends.
“Kyth liked tiled floors the way other people liked venomous snakes.” With that, we enter the world of Kyth, not a thief, but a taker. She is a mercenary finder of things and solver of problems with an eye for detail and a well-earned experience with traps, like the ones hidden by tiles. Structures talk to Kyth through that experience. She has an almost supernatural ability to divine the creator’s intentions, be he a dying tyrant or bargain-minded priest, and unravel his tomb, tower or temple.
For fans of classic sword and sorcery like Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, or even role-playing gamers with their own hard-won experience, these stories are a delight. The three tales don’t really interconnect aside from Kyth, and we learn little about her. There is a backstory unsaid there that begs more tales. What we do have are “The Beautiful Corridor,” “The Shuttered Temple,” and “The Silent Castle.” Each structure comes with its own purpose and challenges for Kyth to unravel. “The Beautiful Corridor” is the humorous story, but the second two are darker in different ways. “The Shuttered Temple” is as psychologically and philosophically dangerous as it is destructive, and perhaps the most fiendish sort of trap about which I have ever read. “The Silent Castle” is a sort of magical cautionary tale with deadly consequences.
At the end of 112 pages, the reader is left with a Kyth-shaped hole in their life and an urge to urge Jonathan L. Howard for more. This book, like all the books from Air and Nothingness Press, is a jewel-like tiny treasure. They specialize in translations reproduced in hand-made letterpress editions. You will want to share it and handle it, but with a print run limited to just 100 copies, you might be best served locking it away behind fiendish traps. An afterword by the author helps place these stories in context and explain why this is all there is. But rest assured, if Kyth has found Howard before, she may yet be his muse again.
I got a chance to read Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing. It is a fast read. In just 150 short pages, interviewer David Naimon, host of the Portland-based podcast Behind the Covers, conducted the interview for broadcast by KBOO 90.7 FM in Portland Oregon. The book moves quickly through Le Guin’s thoughts on writing fiction, poetry and nonfiction. This is not as in-depth as some of her other writings about writing. You will find longer, more in-depth interviews elsewhere as well. (See her interview with Bill Moyers for example.) What you get from this book are some of Le Guin’s last thoughts on the subject. If you have never heard her speak on any subject before, there is much here.
Le Guin’s world outlook is heavily influenced by asian religion, Buddhism, the I-ching, Taoism and Naimon digs into that. On some broad level, that Asian worldview influences her work, but not visibly at the macro scale of obvious plot. In many ways, the concepts are so broad and fundamental that they influence the rhythm of EVERY part of her work. Right down to the words. Right down to the rhythm of the words in sentences. Right down to the way words convey the structure of alien thought. She argues forcefully that good prose ignores the current “fads” of writing, digging for something deeper. Good prose follows the rhythm of thought. It is an idea she credits to Virginia Woolf.
I left the book feeling I had gotten the barest taste of her thoughts and it brought back the sorrow and hollowness of her passing. At one point in this book, she discussed the inability to see sexism in the science fiction genre at a book level. Often, modern science fiction will exhibit strong female characters. But, she stresses, when you look at the broad level, the tendencies of the genre are apparent. She cites the fading of C. J. Cherryh from the canon while authors like William Gibson remain. I hope we have changed. I hope that observation isn’t prophecy for her own body of work. It would be tragic if Le Guin joined Cherryh in under-appreciated obscurity. When Ursula speaks, even beyond the grave, even in such a slender volume, we should listen.