Fish Tails Author: Sheri S. Tepper Publisher: Harper Voyager, October 21, 2014 Format: Hardcover and eBook, 720 pages List Price: $32.00 (print) ISBN: 9780062304582 (print) Review Copy: Reviewer's Own Upcoming: Trade Paperback, July 28, 2015
In her 35th novel, science fiction master Sheri S. Tepper boldly weaves together the storylines of eleven of her previous works—from King’s Blood Four (1983) to The Waters Rising (2010).
In Fish Tails, two of Sheri S. Tepper’s beloved characters—Abasio and Xulai (A Plague of Angels and The Waters Rising)—and their children travel from village to village scattered across the sparsely populated land of Tingawa. They are searching for others who might be interested in adopting their sea-dwelling lifestyle.
Along their journey they encounter strange visitors from the far-off world of Lom, characters from Tepper’s nine-book True Game series of novels—Mavin Manyshaped, Jinian Star-eye, and Silkhands the Healer—all of whom have been gathered up by an interfering, time-traveling, rule-breaking do-gooder to do one last good deed on earth before its metamorphosis is complete. For the waters are rising and will soon engulf the entire planet, transforming it utterly and irrevocably.
I think the first introduction to Tepper’s work for me was Beauty or the omnibus of The True Game. There are things that you can rely on to be present in almost all of her writing: strong female characters, eco-friendly messages, and deep seated worry for the future. Something else I find is that as dark or hopeless as some populations of humanity can be, she agrees and paints their future in bleak terms. Without fail though she also tells the story of how humanity can save itself.
Fish Tails draws on several of her previous works. Included at the end of the book was a synopsis of the stories and books involved in this story and while reading the other items first isn’t required reading this can help make sense of some of the plot points and characters. I am not really clear on why this wasn’t a preface or something more clearly offered to readers before leaping head first into a deep pool of work.
The primary mover in this book was the need to convince people of the coming of a flooded earth where normal people would not be able to survive and the only way to preserve humanity was with a genetic change allowing people to live in the water. The princess and former pauper who lead the cast on a trek to proselytize the populace struggle with the uneducated and bigoted in their path to changing the course of human existence. With a touch of Canterbury Tales meets the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Tepper draws together talking animals, griffins, aliens, monsters (human and non), and struggles with the best way to deal with a drowning planet and those who refuse to acknowledge the danger.
I am and will always be a huge fan of all of Sheri Tepper’s work because I think she isn’t wrong when it comes to the need for a more eco-feminist approach to saving ourselves from…well ourselves, but this book was not as subtle or enthralling as some of her other works and the inclusion of seemingly unrelated stories feels more like fan fiction of her own earlier works. For fans I think this is a solid book in her catalog, but for the uninitiated I would recommend starting with some of the precursor books both for the world building and to get a sense of the messages that are a little lighter than in this polemic against climate change deniers.