Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Golden Oldies

Desperate for some new sci-fi, I hit the local library the other day and came back with a few. One is Banner of Souls by Liz Williams, which is restoring my faith that there really is good, interesting, speculative sci-fi still being written out there. The other was A Plague of Angels by Sheri S. Tepper, and, while I enjoyed it immensely, it unfortunately confirmed my feeling that since the early nineties she's mostly been writing self-pastiche. In fact, I started to play a game with myself as I read it, called Identify-The-Early-Tepper-Source-Novel (spoilers follow):

The Marianne Trilogy: Dark-haired and innocent/knowing girl protagonist, pursued by adoring but clumsy boyfriend who turns out to be a distant relative of hers and by a grotesque female antagonist; character with hair "like a dark cloud" (c.f. Marianne's "Cloud-Haired Mama"); talking dog (OK, in this book it's a coyote) companion; magical creatures turning up and being taken for granted; girl protagonist turns out to have mystical powers the likes of which none of her friends and acquaintaces had remotely guessed.

The Gate to Women's Country: Post-nuclear society obsessed with eugenics, in which the men and women live separate lives and only come together to have sex (in fact, if it weren't for the fact that the cultural reference point is Native American rather than Ancient Greek, and that this book appears to be set in California rather than Washington, I'd have suspected it was the same society, just a few centuries down the road). Whole society is built on a fiction, which a few of the top people know about but nobody else does. Female character who runs away from home in search of adventures, is kidnapped and forced into concubinage, is traumatised about this for the rest of her life, and has a son who can't or won't take a valuable object lesson from his mother's experiences. Girl protagonist's boyfriend doesn't really understand about women's feelings, but gradually figures it out after a few harsh lessons from various female authority figures.

Gibbon's Decline and Fall: Evil rulers of society secretly have a plan to oppress everyone, which is thwarted by a coalition of clever humans and nonhumans; future society in which STDs are rampant (which again turns out to be someone's cunning population-control plan); exploration of alternative ways of sexual/social partnership; Native American spirituality; one character even paraphrases the whole "humans don't mate monogamously like gibbons do" speech from the earlier book.

Grass: Amusing but poignant peasant couple who help out protagonist; diseases; female protagonist finds a resolution at the end of the story that makes her happy but leaves everyone else totally baffled.

The Song of Maven Manyshaped: Girl protagonist, magical powers, adoring but clumsy male companion who needs to be taught a few lessons about gender politics and the oppression of women but he's not a bad sort really, yadda yadda.

There's probably more, but that was all that I identified on a brief readthrough. The idea of a post-catastrophic California in which people live in "archetypical villages", living out Disneyfied fairy-tale scenarios, was intriguing, but it wasn't really explored in enough depth to satisfy me. So: it was worth reading as a kind of greatest-hits album, but I'm glad I didn't actually pay money for it.