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Singer from the Sea
Sheri S. Tepper
Avon EOS Books, 426 pages

J.K. Potter
Singer from the Sea
Sheri S. Tepper
Sheri S. Tepper is the author of several acclaimed novels, including The Family Tree, Gibbon's Decline and Fall, Shadow's End, A Plague of Angels, Sideshow, and Beauty, which was voted Best Fantasy Novel of the Year by the readers of Locus magazine. She has also published novels using the pseudonyms of E.E. Horlak, B.J. Oliphant and A.J. Orde.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Six Moon Dance
SF Site Review: The Family Tree
SF Site Review: Gibbon's Decline and Fall

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Robert Francis

Singer from the Sea is set on Haven, one of the many words settled by mankind after good ol' Earth got used up. Like many of the other worlds, Haven was acquired for settlement by a group of like-minded people. In Haven's case, it was a small group of very rich men who were looking for a world where they could set themselves up as the landed gentry. Of course, they had to recruit a bunch of crafts people, artisans, and farmers to take care of those pesky day-to-day details like making sure there was food for the evening's soirée (and someone to cook and serve it, of course).

Fortunately, as many of the other worlds had also been settled by narrowly-defined interest groups, it was not hard to find people willing to emigrate to a world knowing it would be locked into a pastoral aristocracy and they would be for the most part locked into their "proper station." After all, only the members of the "nobility," their families and descendants, had to strictly adhere to the Covenants set up by the original purchasers, though of course the lesser folk had to live with the ramifications.

However, there were some odd things plaguing Haven. Like the mysterious "batfly fever" which seemed to selectively target, and kill, nursing women. Odd, then, that the original Covenants were later modified to include a requirement that noble women must nurse each of their children for a full year. Not surprising that noble women tended to be scarce, and given the child-bearing requirements in the Covenants, those over the age of 35 or 40 were very rare indeed. The noble men lived long, full lives, and the Lord Paramount and his inner circle seemed to live very, very long lives.

The scarcity of women, attributed to the effects of batfly fever, was also felt by the commoners, and appeared to cause the common men of a province to steal women from neighbouring provinces. Unusual though, that every province complained to the Lord Paramount that their women were being stolen, and yet every province was both victim and accused perpetrator. And the Lord Paramount did nothing serious to address the disappearances.

Singer from the Sea is set approximately 1,000 years after the original Covenants were set up, and given the situation that Haven's women are in, it is not surprising that the protagonist of the story, Genevieve, is a noble woman just entering her child-bearing years. Through the story of Genevieve we learn that not only are the mysterious deaths and disappearances of Haven's women linked to the unnatural longevity of its male ruling class, but also that the fate of Haven itself hangs in the balance. For many of the other worlds settled during mankind's mass exodus from Earth have become as barren and lifeless as Earth, and this fate could await Haven.

Many of Tepper's books explore the consequences of mankind inserting itself into an alien world and running afoul of the complex and interwoven alien ecosystems. Many of Tepper's novels are set on worlds where the ecosystems are so integrated that they have developed a "world consciousness," which mankind blunders into with about as much grace, and subtlety, as a strip-mine. The worlds of Tepper's novels are not passive players, and they actively try to cope with the disruptions caused by the unwelcome intrusion of mankind. And I mean mankind in its gender-specific sense, as it is invariably a woman who holds the key to understanding the problem and affecting a solution. I do not point this out in a negative sense, because in Tepper's novels this approach works, and works well.

And do not be misled to think that just because there is a similar underlying theme in most of Tepper's novels, you can take the "read one, read them all" stance. Tepper is such a gifted and imaginative writer that in her hand this theme could offer limitless potential.

I also want to mention that many of Tepper's stories are also commentaries on our present-day society, and some of the more frightening possibly logical next steps. She uses allegorical techniques in subtle, and not-so-subtle ways to make her point. An example from Singer from the Sea is the philosophy of Hestonism, espoused by the settlers of the planet Ares, which tells its adherents that they should be doing something -- people sitting around thinking are probably up to no good. God provided hunting and sports because He knew those were the best pastimes for honourable men. The Aresians

"felt there was no challenge that could not be met by well-toned muscle augmented by superior fire power under the approving eye of a deity who kept His omniscient eye on the target and His omnipresent hand on the trigger."
Another nice thing about allegorical books is that they make great re-reads, as you invariably find new things each time you read them. That has certainly been my experience with the work of Sheri S. Tepper.

I highly recommend Singer from the Sea. Frankly, I have yet to read a book by Sheri S. Tepper that I did not thoroughly enjoy. Granted, I have only read 22 of her novels to date, but I am sure that the ones I've missed so far will be pleasant surprises when I get time to read them. It's always nice to have something to look forward to, after all.

Copyright © 1999 by Robert Francis

Robert Francis is by profession a geologist, and, perhaps due to some hidden need for symmetry, spends his spare time looking at the stars. He is married, has a son, and is proud that the entire family would rather read anything remotely resembling literature than watch Jerry Springer.

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