I had to ponder this one for a week, because it hit home. I may be adding to this post over the next few days.
Sherri S. Tepper was a powerful author and outspoken activist, who happened to write science fiction and fantasy.
I first ran across her work in 1983, when my best friend Kathryn shoved King’s Blood Four into my hands and yelped ‘You gotta read this!’ I did. It was damn good.
That started my long and varied experience with Tepper’s work. Like that of Tanith Lee, some of Tepper’s writing was painful for me to read. To paraphrase a certain Discworld witch, it didn’t do ‘Nice’, it did ‘Right’.
Tepper’s decades as a feminist and ecological activist made her fiercely uncompromising on certain principles that younger and weaker writers would never dare reveal in public: women’s rights, abortion and birth control, euthanasia of severely-brain damaged individuals, internally consistent portrayals of alien viewpoints, the importance of reason and logic, and the harsh equations of survival that pit planetary collapse against human activity.
Tepper’s writing could be painful in its honesty, hilariously sly, or shockingly beautiful. Some of it, I couldn’t stand. Other pieces are favorite re-reads. The ‘Mavin Manyshaped’ trilogy links into her ‘True Game’ books, but those books are hallmarks of what can be done with extremely short novels. They’re worth looking at, in this era of bloated best-sellers.
I stole some of my core concepts about the Lonhra Sequence cosmology from her ‘True Game’ books and from Grass. I’d always meant to ask permission to showcase one or two heartbreakingly gorgeous humanist passages from Beauty in an artist’s book, if I could figure out how to present them…and now I’ll have to ask that of her estate, not the lady herself.
I’m still wondering if she was the woman who bought one of my beaded and embroidered tapestries at a Phoenix convention in 1992. The woman looked a bit like Tepper from across the room, but I never found out for sure.
She was a fellow Westerner, Colorado-born, and lived for many years in New Mexico.
If she believed in such things, I’d hope she walks in human-hallowed Baskarone at this moment…and I hope to hell she was able to vote before she died.
I found a couple of the passages from Beauty (a hard and lovely book that pulls no punches). The first is worth revisiting, and I hope that showing it here falls under Fair Use and an earnest homage:
What shall I write of Baskarone?
Everything that was lovely of the world when men came into it is here. Everything that men made beautiful while they were in it is here. None of the dross, only the glory. Some gardens. Some monuments. There is even an entire town, designed by a woman of great artistry. I had seen a film on it in the twenty-first. It was built early in the twenty-first and then destroyed by the nationalist terrorists in the Great Reunification War of 2043, the same war that killed all the people in Ireland, North and South, and half those in England and Scotland, as well as sinking the lands of Ireland forever beneath the sea.
In the long run, it didn’t matter who destroyed the city. Fidipur’s ocean farms now cover the place it once stood. If the terrorists hadn’t bombed it and thereby started the war, Fidipur would have razed it anyhow. Mortal man is mad.
There are a handful of marvelous mosques in Baskarone, serene and beautiful. An Egyptian temple is here, crowded with painted columns. A mud fortress is here, its walls glistening with bright murals in tiles. There are structures in Baskarone from Ecbatana and Susa. There is a building from Troy. There are two from the States of America, quite small ones, sculptural houses which look as though they grew from the earth.
Cave paintings are here, fleeing horses and lumbering bison. African carvings are here, and so many things from the Orient I could not see them all, including a city from China, lacquered all in red and gold with dragons upon its roofs.
And all these things are set in gardens and woods and forests and prairies. The flowers that bloom in those gardens are the loveliest that ever grew. The trees in those woods are tall and straight. The grasses on the prairies have never been cut, and the little peeping birds run about among their roots.
There are people here as well. The woman who designed the city, the men who built the fortress, the carpenters who carved the dragons. All those who made beauty with their lives, they are here. Those who climbed. Those whose names ring, like a wine glass in a cupboard, hidden but sounding nonetheless.
The dreams of the men who tried to reach the planets, before Fidipur took everything, they are here. I don’t know how they are there, but they glitter like sequins in the shade of that place.