I thought I would toss a few things together on Sheri Tepper, an eco-feminist Science Fiction author who passed away two years ago, ending a brilliant but short career in science fiction. We still miss her terribly here at Celestial Attic. For your enjoyment:
For Sheri S. Tepper, there are too many people. It’s why her books have so many plagues.
I tell my editor about it on the trip home from a World Fantasy Convention in the Midwest. I’d agreed to write a retrospective of Tepper’s work to mark her passing; it was a good place to chat with the industry lifers who had known her. As it turned out, she’s so remarkably out of print that even gathering material had the air of a quest. And few people had met her. No idea, they said. She lived in the desert a while, but that was all they knew. “I’ve read her, though,” said someone, with a look I didn’t understand yet. “I read Grass,” said someone else, shaking their head — about never having met her or about Grass, I couldn’t tell. “Disturbing,” I heard, over and over.
Sheri S. Tepper was born Shirley Stewart Douglas, July 16, 1929, near Littleton, Colorado. She married for the first time at age 20, but divorced ”when I was 26 or 27, so I became a single mother of two kids, and spent ten years on my own, working all kinds of different jobs.” That included a clerical job with international relief agency CARE, but her major career was with what was then called Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood, where she stayed for 24 years (1962-1986), eventually becoming Executive Director. She married Gene Tepper in the late ’60s. She runs a guest ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Sheri S. Tepper is unapologetic about the label “ecofeminist.” Author of nearly forty novels, she creates complex, well-rounded characters in elegant blends of science fiction, fantasy, ecological alarum, and feminist fable. She writes what she cares about deeply, hoping to awaken readers to the hard realities of history and our times. She argues for a truly long view regarding our use of the Earth and its creatures—including each other—if we mean to survive.
On the phone, Tepper is warm, kind, and gracious, and laughs easily, as might be expected of someone who owns a guest ranch near Santa Fe, New Mexico. But she is unflinching as she describes inequities she has seen, stupidities she perceives, and the remedies she recommends.
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I got a chance to read Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing. It is a fast read. In just 150 short pages, interviewer David Naimon, host of the Portland-based podcast Behind the Covers, conducted the interview for broadcast by KBOO 90.7 FM in Portland Oregon. The book moves quickly through Le Guin’s thoughts on writing fiction, poetry and nonfiction. This is not as in-depth as some of her other writings about writing. You will find longer, more in-depth interviews elsewhere as well. (See her interview with Bill Moyers for example.) What you get from this book are some of Le Guin’s last thoughts on the subject. If you have never heard her speak on any subject before, there is much here.
Le Guin’s world outlook is heavily influenced by asian religion, Buddhism, the I-ching, Taoism and Naimon digs into that. On some broad level, that Asian worldview influences her work, but not visibly at the macro scale of obvious plot. In many ways, the concepts are so broad and fundamental that they influence the rhythm of EVERY part of her work. Right down to the words. Right down to the rhythm of the words in sentences. Right down to the way words convey the structure of alien thought. She argues forcefully that good prose ignores the current “fads” of writing, digging for something deeper. Good prose follows the rhythm of thought. It is an idea she credits to Virginia Woolf.
I left the book feeling I had gotten the barest taste of her thoughts and it brought back the sorrow and hollowness of her passing. At one point in this book, she discussed the inability to see sexism in the science fiction genre at a book level. Often, modern science fiction will exhibit strong female characters. But, she stresses, when you look at the broad level, the tendencies of the genre are apparent. She cites the fading of C. J. Cherryh from the canon while authors like William Gibson remain. I hope we have changed. I hope that observation isn’t prophecy for her own body of work. It would be tragic if Le Guin joined Cherryh in under-appreciated obscurity. When Ursula speaks, even beyond the grave, even in such a slender volume, we should listen.