The science fiction and fantasy author Sheri S. Tepper died last Saturday. I never met her, but I began reading her work in mid to late 1980s. Locus magazine, often considered one of the principal news source of the professional F&SF community, ran her obituary, and that obituary is one of the reasons for this blog, because of what it did not say about Tepper and her work. While the obituary cited a great number of her books and the numerous awards that she received over her career as a writer, there wasn’t a single word about what was important about her writing.
Because I did not know her, I can’t speak to her as a person, only as a writer. Her writing could be absolutely devastating in its perspectives on the macho side of men, about the strength of women, and even their necessary coldness, and about the hubris of the male-dominated political systems, especially in dealing with or failing to deal with environmental and ecological issues. I’ve always had the feeling that the SF&F field felt a certain embarrassment about Sheri Tepper and what I [and some others] saw and see as her unapologetic ‘eco-feminism.’
The strongest and most direct of her novels in attacking the male propensity to resort to violence in addressing anything disagreeable was The Gate to Women’s Country, first published in 1988. Especially for men or more “traditional” women, it can be a very disturbing book, because it points out the worst in male behavior and nature as well as some of the worst in female nature – carried to extremes in a cold and very orderly fashion. It also contains a brutal depiction of the absolute worse of the overt misogyny of patriarchal fundamentalist Christianity. Unsurprisingly, the Locus obituary omitted any mention of The Gate to Women’s Country.
Tepper could be indirect in some of her work, or brutally strident, but the underlying themes of everything of hers that I read, some ten or so of her novels, centered on the fundamental issues of biology and ecology and how they impacted people, history, and government… and, of course, how far too many men, and even some women, seemed so involved with power and power games to the detriment of society and the environment.
Through works with various degrees of entertainment, she raised issues that are still relevant, sometimes disturbingly, sometimes indirectly, but their relevance remains, and she deserves recognition and appreciation for that, and not just a polite listing of her jobs, published works, and awards. This is my effort to point that out.