Science fiction and fantasy
Raising the Stones
by Sheri S. Tepper
Maire Manone has a turbulent past and has come to Hobbs Land to get away from it. On her homeland of Voorstod, whipping slaves seems to be the national sport, closely followed by war and mutilation. Women are fiercely repressed, whilst the men follow a selection of prophets of varying degrees of savagery and insanity. Voorstod is an absurdly violent place, a caricature of religious fanaticism and mysogyny.
By contrast Hobbs Land is something of a feminist utopia, a matriarchal society where nobody uses the word "father" or gets married, and a child may have one mother but many "uncles". Maire has friends, children and grandchildren there, and her son, Sam, has grown to be the Topman, or leader, of Settlement One. She isn't inclined to leave. However a group of Voorstoders have decided that they want her to return, for propaganda purposes.
Raising the Stones takes place in a diverse universe populated by several different races. From the Gharm, the diminutive people enslaved by the Voorstod, to the disgusting slug-like Porsa, it's a colourful universe. Throwing a spanner in the works are the High Baidee, a religious group who are dead set against all forms of mind control, to the extent that they won't allow themselves to be treated for mental illnesses or even brain tumours. When the Gods of Hobbs Land begin to resurface one of the High Baidee feels threatened, fearing that the Gods are exercising a sinister control over the thoughts and actions of the inhabitants.
The story is complex and lengthy, involving many facets and plenty of different characters. Yet Raising the Stones never drags, in spite of the fact that it isn't tremendously pacy. This is perhaps because Tepper is good at cultivating mystery. You're never quite sure whether Sam is delusional and dangerous, or whether the God of Hobbs Land is not as benevolent as it appears to be.
This book has some clear messages against patriarchy and unquestioning religious fanaticism, but fortunately this doesn't descend into a rant. The characters are drawn with such subtlety and attention to detail that it's easy to sympathise with them. Parts of the story are dark and brutal, but the main shock factor in Raising the Stones is simply how unusual it is. Magic and myth turn up next to some very down-to-earth people and places, and the net effect is quite strange. Then the ending, which seemed to be building up throughout into a heroic showdown, turns out to be a far more considered and thought-provoking affair.
If you like this, try:The Compass Rose by Ursula Le Guin
This collection features a range of short stories organised around the points of the compass.
Walking The Tree by Kaaron Warren
In Botanica, life under the great Tree is all they know. What will a young woman learn as she journeys around it?
The Longest Way Home by Robert Silverberg
A young aristocrat learns the truth about his society as he attempts to get home.
Review © Ros Jackson
More about Sheri S Tepper