Goodbye Sheri S. Tepper: Brilliant Author & My Feminist Sci-Fi Inspiration
“Grass! Millions of square miles of it; numberless wind-whipped tsunamis of grass, a thousand sun-lulled Caribbeans of grass, a hundred rippling oceans, every ripple a gleam of scarlet or amber, emerald or turquoise, multicolored as rainbows, the colors shivering over the prairies in stripes and blotches, the grasses” – excerpt from Grass by Sheri S. Tepper
These are the first words in Grass; the first words of The Arbai Trilogy.
You know how I love the opening paragraphs of books; how it sets the tone and puts your feet on the path that leads you down into the watery depths of the authors imagination.
Keep reading Grass. By the end of Chapter Two you know exactly what Sheri's muse – that demon that rides every writer's shoulder goading them onward as they write – looks like. It is a siren; a beautiful, lithe temptress who lures you in with intoxicating song but 'ware you who delve too deep because her muse has fangs instead of teeth and talons instead of fingers. By the end of the second chapter of Grass you already know something monstrous lurks out there in that ocean of grass and you are fairly drowning, being pulled down under the waves of those green blades, choking on their alien attentions.
Sheri wrote this when she was approaching 60 years old while juggling life – jobs, kids, husbands, business ventures – and some might argue that she wrote her best works at an age when most people are thinking about slowing down and retiring. The year before Grass was published, The Gate into Women's Country was published. Probably her most famous work, this book earned her the label “feminist science fiction writer” though I am sure this annoyed her. She was a writer of considerable skill who wrote more than just science fiction. Yes, her main characters were women and yes, she imagined solving all that was wrong with the world by turning the war-loving patriarchy on its head. But then, don't we all dream about that possible future?
We stand upon the shoulders of giants, and when it came to world building, Sheri S. Tepper was pretty damned tall.
Sheri S. Tepper died Oct 22, 2016. She was 87. But I don't think she is going to rest. I imagine her finding some kid with a fire in her gut and the unshakable urge to write and she is sitting on the poor author's shoulder poking her in the back of the head saying “Write. Why aren't you writing?”