Six Moon Dance
by Sheri S Tepper (HarperCollins Voyager, £6.99, 454 pages, paperback; published 19 April 1999.)
Sheri Tepper's work has always been intriguing, possessed of a strong narrative sense, whether the subject matter was fantasy, horror or science fiction. She is a born storyteller, from her early fantasy novels (the 'True Game' series), through the 'Marianne' books, and into her SF work (and beyond, in crime and mystery work published under pseudonyms).
In the past decade, much of her work has been strongly feminist in tone, stridently so in some cases, but with Six Moon Dance, she has seemingly discovered irony (a strange thing to accuse an American author of, unless he happens to be Kurt Vonnegut).
Throughout this new book, there run a number of strands of story, each nesting one within another, all predicated on certain gender roles, and role reversals. In doing this, Tepper lulls her readers into certain assumptions and then subtly undermines them.
An ages old act of rape in an alien space-dwelling species comes to haunt the lives of the human settlers of the planet of Newholme. But what is most occupying their leaders' thoughts is the visit of the Questioner, an artificial construct whose role for hundreds of years has been to maintain the rule of justice in the farflung human settlements that make up the Council of Worlds. Newholme has every reason to fear the Questioner's visit. They have secrets that could have them condemned out of hand, and every reason to try to hide the truth. But they had reckoned without the intervention of other forces with interests in Newholme's future, one of which could destroy the planet altogether.
Tepper's work here is first-rate.
The story begins in a vein familiar to most readers of Tepper -- the description of a world where the gender roles are significantly different to our own, enough to point up the absurdities of our own world's practices. But thereafter it begins to diverge substantially, and twist upon twist is imparted to the tale, until the whole thing is stood upon its head in the later chapters, making you question all your earlier assumptions about what Tepper was trying to say. There is a delicious irony at work here, only apparent once you look back at the book as a whole. A work filled with interest, fascinating characters and a very subtle storyline.
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© John D Owen 4 June 1999