Thursday, October 30, 2014

Review of "Fish Tails" by Sheri S. Tepper

I hadn't read any of Sheri Tepper's work since "Beauty," the excellent 1991 dystopia/feminist story, but was given a review copy of her new book, "Fish Tails." It's the conclusion of a trilogy that began with "A Plague of Angels" and "The Waters Rising."

We have an intriguing beginning, as Abasio and Princess Xulai travel about the post-apocalyptic planet, a thousand years in the future, letting folks know everything's about to go under water. Their message: people are going to have to evolve tails and gills. It's "The Little Mermaid," but in reverse!

Abasio and Xulai have undergone an evolutionary procedure and produced
two babies that can survive under water, and they are recruiting other
young people to do the same. Not everyone likes the idea of tampering
with the human genome, of course.

Xulai carries in her pocket a fascinating gizmo called a ul xaolat,
leftover technology from Earth's past. It's an AI that gets power from
transformers on the moon capable of providing defense and services to
the possessors. She's unaware it has become autonomous over time.

Tepper switches to a dreary setting where Grandma Lillis puts up with
living in a valley where the men are cruel and stupid and the women
just go along with it. You wonder, who would put up with such a thing?
Oh, right, half of Earth. Grandma spends all her time lecturing her
granddaughter about the ills of the world, including humanity's
tendency to "monkey brain" thinking. Tepper is rather preachy here,
but she's preaching to the choir. At any rate, we know she and the child,
"Needly," are special.

The story is mostly a long journey, traveling to meet up with
characters that Tepper fans may recognize from previous books. Along
the way, they encounter cannibalistic giants and bio-engineered
griffins. Abasio gets clues about their next steps from dreams, which
seem to indicate that alien entities are interested in Earth events.

Maybe it's not "The Little Mermaid," after all. Maybe it's a Higher
Power deciding to wipe out humanity in a great flood.

Ultimately, it is revealed that the flood is indeed by design of
intergalactic meddlers. They feel that humans are destroying their
planet and are not worthy to join the galactic civilization. They're
willing to give humanity one last chance, however, by presenting an
"extinction" problem (the flood), and seeing if there are individuals
who can save the species and thus become deserving of survival.

Tepper devotes lengthy interludes to showing the importance of the
griffins and gaining them as allies and future fellow sea
creatures. Basically, they represent all the species that may have to
be left behind. To me, though, the question arose as to why the focus
shifted away from Abasio and Xulai's babies, who represent the
future. However, we are comforted by the fact that, in the end, there
will be a future.

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