Monday, April 09, 2007

Sheri S. Tepper Slam!

King's Blood Four and Necromancer Nine— Sheri S. Tepper
First and second in series of three

In the lands of the True Game, you may have a talent. This talent defines who you are, and how you play: a King has enormous charisma, a Necromancer may raise the dead. When people play the True Game, there is often death, whether it is a game player or a pawn, one without talent. Schooltown is a haven for young gamers, a place where they may learn the rules of the game without having to play it themselves.

Peter, one of the foundling children of Schooltown, ends up badly wounded in the aftermath of somebody else's game. For his protection, he is sent elsewhere, but soon discovers that he is sought after for reasons he does not understand, and for talents he might yet possess. Tepper has an interesting manner of dealing with Peter and his adolescent difficulties, though the near-catatonia he sometimes goes into following his injury is somewhat alarming. Mostly, though, while he's clueless it seems reasonable for a fifteen-year-old.

Jinian Footseer and Jinian Star-Eye— Sheri S. Tepper
First and last in series of three

I really hate that these are out of print and hard to find. Yes, I have read the entire nine-book series featured on this page, but that was years ago.

Continuing with the story told in the Peter books, this is the tale from Jinian's point of view. Jinian is a Wizard, which is not precisely a talent in the manner of the True Game. This becomes important as it becomes increasingly evident that the world they live on is dying. Talents fall apart as the planet dies. As the people of the True Game wonder and die themselves, Jinian and those she loves have to discover why the land is dying, and how to possibly save it.

Sheri Tepper introduces the concept of bao, which may have a distinct meaning from the religions that use it here. (I know I've seen that term associated with some religion but I don't know how they view it.) Bao is somewhere in between a soul and a conscience; people do not have it at birth but those who have the talent of Midwifery can see if they will gain it in the future. Those who don't are, in a sense, amoral; they are incapable of learning. One might use the example of Ted Bundy, charming, social, and a friend to many, but a sociopath who killed for fun. Those without bao are not always that bad but they are incapable of relating to other people or of seeing them as real.

In this world, the merciful thing to do someone without bao is to kill them quickly and without suffering since they will suffer without learning. It's an interesting philosophical point that is a little too intricate to go into here (to begin with, a person who lacks bao may still be part of another's bao, so there is a careful line to tread) but is worth a look-through.

The Song of Mavin Manyshaped and The Flight of Mavin Manyshaped— Sheri S. Tepper
First and second in series of three

Going back in time a generation, we learn of Mavin Manyshaped, the famous Shifter of the lands of the True Game. Mavin is, in many senses, Tepper's most moral character of the series, but not in an uptight way. Mavin understands right and wrong at a deep, physical level, and is not afraid to act on her perceptions. When she discovers the life of torment that is her sister's (and will be hers when her talent is revealed), she deals with the tormenters is an exactingly appropriate manner. When she discovers that a town would rather see a human predator go free to keep killing their daughters rather than be thought cruel, she sets a trap for the predator— then destroys the town, after placing their children elsewhere, and forces the townsfolk to seek a new home.

Tepper is sometimes strident in her feminism, but the Mavin books (and the rest of the True Game books) are not strident in the least, and their fantasy settings allow her to play out certain philosophies in an interesting manner. Mavin's decisions have real weight at the same time as being almost like a fairy tale. She is a figure of certainty, with the irony that as a shapeshifter, her physicality is the last thing to be certain.

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