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Gibbon's Decline and Fall
Sheri S. Tepper
Bantam Spectra Books, 465 pages

Gibbon's Decline and Fall
Sheri S. Tepper
Perhaps best known for The Gate to Women's Country (1988) and Raising the Stones (1990), Sheri Tepper has also published novels using the pseudonyms of E. E. Horlak, B. J. Oliphant and A. J. Orde.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

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Let me begin by stating that it has been several years since I tried reading any of Sheri Tepper's novels. In fact, my last go-round with her writing was her first fantasy series, The True Game. More impressed with the ideas of that series than the writing, I have stayed away from her novels. However, I had heard good things about Gibbon's Decline and Fall and decided I would give her another chance after all these years.

Unfortunately, I found her latest novel to be somewhat on the preachy side. I imagine that staunch feminists will be able to overlook this aspect of the novel, but in their case, Tepper is already preaching to the choir. Tepper's diatribes, although well-reasoned and obviously at the core of Tepper's own views, tend to stop the action of the novel when they appear and could, perhaps, be better integrated into the work. Even when Tepper espouses views I agree with, I find it difficult to wade through her lectures.

Many of Tepper's ideas, although interesting, seem to be unrealistic. A plague which renders men and women sterile suddenly appears out of nowhere, like a latter-day AIDS. However, AIDS gave plenty of early warnings about its existence, many of which were ignored because it seemed endemic to a specific minority of the population. Tepper's plague does not have that camouflaging feature.

Tepper's point-of-view characters switch around, in some cases within the same conversation. This makes portions of the book difficult to follow.

Set in the year 2000 (although a short prologue takes place in 1959), many of Tepper's extrapolations seem on target. Her rise in suicide cults can already be seen in the form of such groups as Heaven's Gate, the Branch Davidians and similar groups. Right-wing ideologues also continue to grow from today's organizations (Branch Davidians, Republic of Texas, etc.). However, Tepper also includes stock futuristic trappings which don't seem as likely to exist. These are mostly technological advances like hibernation tanks and palm-print readers.

At the heart of Gibbon's Decline and Fall, there may very well be an interesting story. Unfortunately, Tepper asks the reader to wade through the surrounding fens to find her plot. She should have been more honest and simply issued a manifesto.

Copyright © 1997 by Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He sits on concoms for Windycon, Chicon 2000 and Clavius in 2001 and is co-chair of Picnicon 1998. Steven will be serving as the Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. He lives at home with his wife and 3200 books. He is available for convention panels.


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