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The Companions
Sheri S. Tepper
HarperCollins Eos, 452 pages

The Companions
Sheri S. Tepper
Sheri Stewart Tepper was born (in 1929) and raised in Colorado. For many years, she worked for various non-profit organizations, including the international relief organization, CARE, and she was the executive director of Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood, responsible for the administration of about 30 medical clinics in Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico. In 1983, she left her job to become a full-time writer. She 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: The Visitor
SF Site Review: Raising the Stones
SF Site Review: Beauty
SF Site Review: The Fresco
SF Site Review: Singer from the Sea
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 Hank Luttrell

There is a certain type of science fiction that deals with political ideas in a roundabout manner. These stories aren't obviously about our society, since they take place in the future, or maybe an alternate world. Perhaps they are satirical, or whimsical or farcical; and so the theme and message isn't obviously or confrontationally stated. Critical ideas are stated in a manner that isn't openly critical of contemporary institutions or customs. These stories are subversive in the sense that they try to influence a reader's opinions by insinuating ideas into recreational reading.

Sheri S. Tepper's work tends to polarizes readers. Her books have strong themes and easily recognized agendas, in controversial areas like feminism and ecology. Readers who disagree with these ideas tend to be antagonized. Readers who agree are delighted, but this might not be the best way to promulgate a viewpoint.

Tepper is certainly a feminist. But readers really can't complain that she treats men characters unfairly. While it is true that some of the villains are men, there are also women malefactors, especially in this book.

In The Companions, Earth is grotesquely overcrowded, and likely to remain so, since colonial planet populations have a legal right to return to Earth for retirement. Earth politicians get financial support from colonial governments, so the laws don't change.

Fear-mongering groups on Earth use scarcity of space and resources to discredit the need for biodiversity, and as the novel begins, laws have passed that mean all animal life on Earth (well, except human) is banned, including pets such as dogs and cats.

There are these beings called "concs" -- ambulatory vegetables, somewhat sentient creatures of mysterious origin. They are adopted by humans to provide every sort of company or companionship, anything from chess and conversation to -- as is often the case -- sexual gratification. Where did they come from? Another planet? Why are they on Earth? Could they be some sort of subtle bio-weapon? Any of you old enough to remember Al Capp's Shmoos, from Li'l Abner (in its time, a great comic strip) may agree that concs seem similar to Shmoos. Capp didn't get into the sex stuff with Shmoos, but that was only because it was for family newspapers.

Not everyone on Earth is happy with the eradication of all other animal life, of course; there is an underground attempting to preserve as much life as possible. One project involves manipulating the genetic makeup of dogs to make them a bit more hardy and adaptable. An improvement in the speech center of their brains creates creatures remarkably like Scooby Doo, even to the consonant-challenged pronunciation.

(I seem to be unable to write about Tepper's books without comparing them to comics. I hope this isn't misunderstood, because I love comics!)

Then there are the males of one elder alien race who have long retractable claws that they like to display in order to intimidate foes, just like Wolverine. One other comic-like feature: Tepper uses sound effects -- onomatopoeia -- in this novel. This is not a common literary device.

The story really becomes fascinating when the protagonist and her talking dogs travel to an alien planet to help establish communication with the aboriginal population, who appear only to perform a mysterious dance. Earth scientists correctly assume that the dance is a language, but have to do a lot of set-breaking before they begin to understand the planet's secrets.

The Companions has strong characters, well-developed aliens and alien worlds, strongly stated themes, action, suspense, all leavened with humor; everything Tepper fans have come to expect and appreciate in her work.

Copyright © 2003 Hank Luttrell

Hank Luttrell has reviewed science fiction for newspapers, magazines and web sites. He was nominated for the Best Fanzine Hugo Award and is currently a bookseller in Madison, Wisconsin.

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