Sheri S. Tepper, July 16, 1929 – October 22, 2016

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

sheri-s-tepperSheri S. Tepper, the prolific fantasy author who was awarded the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement last year, died on Saturday.

Sheri S. Tepper was the author of dozens of popular fantasy and science fiction novels. Her first published novel was King’s Blood Four (1983), which became part of an ambitious 12-novel series set in The True Game universe, and which spanned her entire career. The seres included The True Game trilogy, the Mavin Manyshaped trilogy, the Jinian trilogy, and the Plague of Angels trilogy, which wrapped up with Fish Tails (2014). She authored many other popular series, including The Marianne Trilogy, the Ettison novels, The Awakeners novels, and especially the Marjorie Westriding trilogy, which began with the Hugo-nominated Grass in 1989.

Tepper’s standalone novels included The Revenants (1984), After Long Silence (1987), The Gate to Women’s Country (1988), The Locus Award-winner Beauty (1991), Gibbon’s Decline and Fall (1996), The Visitor (2002), and The Companions (2003). In his tribute to Tepper this week, John Scalzi writes:

She was one of my favorite science fiction and fantasy writers, and an influence on my thinking about SF/F writing… Her novel Grass has the sort of epic worldbuilding and moral drive that ranks it, in my opinion, with works like Dune and Perdido Street Station and the Earthsea series; the (very) loose sequel to Grass, Raising the Stones, is in many ways even better… If you haven’t read Grass, I really suggest you find it and put it near the top of your SF/F reading queue. You won’t be disappointed… It’s a stone classic.

Tepper began publishing poems and children’s stories in the early 60s under the name Sheri S. Eberhart. Her first genre appearance was the poem “Lullaby, 1990” in the December 1963 Galaxy. Her 1989 novella “The Gardener” was nominated for the World Fantasy Award. She was 87 years old. See our prior coverage of her work here.


Vintage Treasures: Jinian Star-Eye by Sheri S. Tepper

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Jinian Star Eye Tepper-small

Jinian Star-Eye was the last volume of Sheri S. Tepper’s monumental nine-volume fantasy opus, The True Game. On course, in keeping with 1980s-era fantasy marketing, no mention was made of this anywhere on the book. However, if you were an attentive buyer, you might have noticed the poem on the back, a sure tip that this was part of the series. Poetry as a marketing device, to the best of my knowledge, was an idea that was born and died with this series.

We’ve covered several of the previous installments over the years, but not the entire series. It began with King’s Blood Four in 1983, Tepper’s first novel. Subsequent volumes were divided into a trio of trilogies, starting with the True Game trilogy:

King’s Blood Four (1983)
Necromancer Nine (1983)
Wizard’s Eleven (1984)

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New Treasures: Fish Tails by Sheri S. Tepper

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Fish Tails Tepper-small Fish Tails Tepper-back-small

Sheri S. Tepper is one of the most beloved genre authors of the last few decades. Her fantasy series include the nine-volume The True Game, the Marianne trilogy, and The Awakeners trilogy.

Even among that impressive body of work, her 35th novel, Fish Tails, is uniquely ambitious, as it weaves together characters and storylines from eleven previous fantasy novels spanning nearly three decades of her writing career, starting from King’s Blood Four (1983) to her recent The Waters Rising (2010). 

Fish Tails see two of her most popular characters, Abasio and his royal wife Xulai (from A Plague of Angels and The Waters Rising) and their children traveling across the land of Tingawa, searching for those interested in adopting their sea-dwelling lifestyle. As they travel they meet visitors from the far-off world of Lom, characters Tepper’s fans will recognize from The True Game: Mavin Manyshaped, Jinian Star-eye, and Silkhands the Healer… all of whom have been gathered by a mysterious, time-traveling, rule-breaker. For the waters are rising and will soon engulf the entire planet, transforming it utterly.

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Vintage Treasures: The Song of Mavin Manyshaped by Sheri S. Tepper

Monday, July 14th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The song of Mavin Manyshaped-smallI think I’m finally starting to figure out Sheri Tepper’s 9-volume magnum opus The True Game (believe me, it took some work.)

I accidentally started (as usual) in the middle, with Dervish Daughter, which I didn’t even realize was part of a series, much less the eighth frickin’ volume. However, I overcame this as, after many decades of reading fantasy, I have mad reader skillz. Dervish Daughter isn’t really the eighth volume anyway, it’s actually the middle volume of the last trilogy, known as The Books of the True Game: Jinian.

The first trilogy, The Books of the True Game: Mavin Manyshaped, was written second, after the middle trilogy, which was composed of King’s Blood Four, Necromancer Nine, and Wizard’s Eleven, which were collectively gathered in a one-volume edition as The True Game. Which isn’t at all confusing. Still with me?

Forget it, I’m lost again. Let’s start over. The Song of Mavin Manyshaped is the first book in the first trilogy of The True Game. Mavin is a shapeshifter, and this opening trilogy tells the story from her point of view.

It is never easy growing up as a shape-shifter, learning to control the wild Talent for changing into any shape at all — a winged dragon, a pillar of stone, another human being, a creature from a nightmare. But for Mavin Manyshaped — one of only two she-shifters in her tribe, and recklessly headstrong by nature — coming of age is both exhilarating and terrifying. Little does she know she is destined to become the most notorious shape-shifter in all the lands of the True Game.

I bought The Song of Mavin Manyshaped as part of a jaunty collection of seven Sheri S. Tepper paperbacks on eBay for $10.50. They’re not all part of The True Game… I think. Anything is possible.

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Vintage Treasures: Marianne, The Magus, and the Manticore by Sheri S. Tepper

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Marianne The Magus and the Manticore-smallI’ve written a lot of Vintage Treasures articles (over 400 now, believe it or not.) Most of them feature collectible paperbacks and virtually all of them — even the old Ace Doubles from the 1950s — are inexpensive to acquire for the patient collector. It’s very, very rare that I discuss one that costs as much as a new paperback, for example.

Sheri S. Tepper’s Marianne, The Magus, and the Manticore is an exception. Used copies start at $10 – 15 on both Amazon and eBay and copies in good shape will run you closer to $40. It’s not particularly old — published in 1985 — and it’s not even all that rare. So why is it so expensive? Because it was published just before her groundbreaking novel The Gate to Women’s Country (1988) and the Hugo-nominated Grass (1989). In other words, before Tepper became a Big Name in the industry. The book was reprinted once, in 1988, but has now been out of print for nearly 30 years. Tepper has a great many fans, and the law of supply and demand dictates that the volumes in this trilogy are likely to be hot properties for some time.

Legacy Of Magic

Marianne was born to luxury in the tiny nation of Alphenlicht, nestled in the mountains between Turkey and Iraq. The her parents died, leaving control of their fortune to the older brother she fears. Struggling to make her way as a student in America, Alphenlicht seems as unreal as a fairy tale, her childhood there as distant as a dream…

… Until the Magus comes to claim her, and the Black Madame to destroy her, and the Manticore to hunt her down through the streets of another world. For there is magic in the land of Alphenlicht. Magic in Marianne’s blood, and magic in her soul…

Marianne, The Magus, and the Manticore was followed by two sequels in what’s now known as the Marianne series: Marianne, The Madame, and the Momentary Gods (1988), and Marianne, the Matchbox, and the Malachite Mouse (1989). A 592-page omnibus volume, The Marianne Trilogy, was offered briefly in paperback by Corgi in 1990 — it’s a great value, if you can find it.

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Vintage Treasures: Dervish Daughter by Sheri S. Tepper

Thursday, April 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Dervish Daughter-smallI need to read more Sheri S. Tepper.

I tend to think of her primarily as a science fiction writer, probably because I first encountered her with her groundbreaking The Gate to Women’s Country (1988) and the major SF novel that followed, Grass (1989), a Hugo and Locus Awards nominee. But she wrote a great deal of highly acclaimed fantasy in the 80s and 90s, and it’s high time I acquainted myself with it.

A few weeks back, I purchased a set of four Tepper fantasy novels on eBay, all originally published in 1985-86 (and they look great, too — just look). Last night, I grabbed one to bring with me on a business trip. I chose Dervish Daughter because it had a floating ghost skull on the cover and this criterion has rarely steered me wrong in the past.

So now I’m sitting on the 24th floor of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, with what I just discovered is the second volume in the Jinian trilogy, itself the third series in a trilogy of trilogies called The True Game. Not that the Tor paperback bothered to tell me this. In fact, Tor doesn’t tell me much about the book at all. There’s not much of a plot description on the back, just this kooky poem.

Egg in the hollow — Hatching to follow
Lovers come calling — Bitter tears falling
Bright the sun burning — Night will come turning
New powers arise in the Land… Players beware!

I’m guessing free verse on the back of paperbacks was a short-lived marketing trend in the mid-80s. Anyway, I’m a little frustrated — as I imagine casual paperback buyers in 1986 were frustrated, when they discovered this is the second (eighth?) novel in a series. Over the last few decades, Tor has gotten better at letting buyers know books are part of a series. (They aren’t big on marketing through poetry anymore, either.)

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A Review of King’s Blood Four, by Sheri S. Tepper

Monday, October 18th, 2010 | Posted by Isabel Pelech

kb4aKing’s Blood Four, by Sheri S. Tepper
Ace (202 pages, $2.50, 1983)

I know Sheri S. Tepper primarily as a science fiction author. She tends to write sociological stuff, a little bit like Ursula K. LeGuin’s science fiction. I feel that she’s prone to having her message hijack her story, but I still read her books whenever I see a new one in the library. I wasn’t sure what to expect out of her fantasy.

As it turns out, King’s Blood Four might or might not be set in a fantasy universe. There is a strong hint that it might be crypto-SF. In a way, it doesn’t matter; fantasy or science fiction, it’s still a study of an alien society.

The story is narrated by Peter, a fifteen-year-old boy who lives at a boarding school devoted to teaching a peculiar chess-like game. In fact, it’s a training exercise for the deadly True Game. It seems that many people in this world have magic — or possibly psychic — powers, and the True Game forms a framework for their power struggles. It includes everything from dueling to intrigue to outright war, and children such as Peter are sent to the Schooltowns so that the True Game doesn’t chew them up as cannon fodder before they can come into their power. (We find out later that peasants — called pawns, in keeping with the chess theme — don’t ordinarily get this privilege, although at least one pawn’s mother found a way to manage it.) We also find out that Peter has been seduced by one of the teachers, a man named Mandor. The affair is forbidden, and one of the other teachers tries to warn Peter about it, but he’s convinced that he has it all under control.

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A Rich Library of Modern Science Fiction: The SF Gateway Omnibus Editions

Wednesday, February 6th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Heinlein The Past Through Tomorrow The SF Gateway Omnibus-small Gordon R Dickson SF Gateway Omnibus-small Connie Willis SF Gateway Omnibus-small
Heinlein The Past Through Tomorrow The SF Gateway Omnibus-back-small Gordon R Dickson SF Gateway Omnibus-back-small Connie Willis SF Gateway Omnibus-back-small

Yesterday I posted a brief article on Jack Vance, and as one of the header images I included a pic of the Jack Vance SF Gateway Omnibus, a massive volume from Orion Publishing/Gollancz containing three complete works: Big Planet, The Blue World, and the collection The Dragon Masters and Other Stories. I did it because I thought the book was very cool, and I wanted readers to know about it. And it paid off — in the comments section Glenn posted the following:

Just an aside John. Has anyone at Black Gate taken a look at the Gateway Omnibus series? I saw a whole bunch of them turn up at my local Half Price Books. The covers are weird but they seem dedicated to getting some lesser read classics out there in an inexpensive format.

Glenn read my mind. And in fact, he had the exact same experience I did. In April last year, while I was in Lombard, Illinois for the Windy City Pulp & Paper Show, I dropped into the local Half Price Books. I came out with a few interesting vintage paperbacks, but the real find was a handsome assortment of bright yellow oversized trade paperbacks with the Gateway Omnibus logo. All were brand new, and each volume contained a generous sampling of reprints from a well-known science fiction name. I’d never seen them before, but I was struck by both the eclectic mix of titles, and the wide range of authors: folks like Algis Budrys, C.L. Moore, Damon Knight, Clifford D. Simak, Edmond Hamilton, E.C. Tubb, Edgar Pangborn, John Brunner, Jack Williamson, Kate Wilhelm, James Blaylock, Joe Haldeman, Frank Herbert, Henry Kuttner, and many others. Best of all, the books were very reasonably priced — $7.99 each. I ended up taking four home with me that day (the Wilhelm, Kuttner, Williamson and Moore), and doing an online search to find just how many were out there.

What I discovered was an extremely impressive catalog of over 50 titles. All were originally published in the UK, so distribution in the US is spotty at best, but many are still widely available (and still reasonably priced). To give you an idea of the amazing scope of the collection, I’ve gathered 51 thumbnail images for you to browse below.

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Gender Boundaries Crumble in YA: The XY by Virginia Bergin

Friday, February 1st, 2019 | Posted by Elizabeth Galewski

Cover of Virginia Bergin's THE XY

Cover of Virginia Bergin’s THE XY

River drives her horse and cart through the woods as night falls. But when she sees a body lying in the middle of the road, her first emotion isn’t fear. It’s surprise.

The body doesn’t look like any she’s ever seen. It’s clearly human, but it has no breasts. There’s hair on its face, and a strange lumpiness rises between its legs.

It’s an XY. A male.

River has never encountered an XY before. Boys and men all live in hermetically sealed Sanctuaries where they won’t contract a lethal virus. The rest of the planet has been given over to women, who are immune. Any boy or man who leaves one of the Sanctuaries dies within 24 hours.

When River rouses the XY to consciousness, he attacks her, steals her knife, threatens to kill her, and eats her food without permission. River has never encountered anyone who would behave so badly before.

The XY – his name is Mason – says he’s been on the run in women’s country for five days. But only now does he fall ill. Losing his faculties, he releases her once again.

Watching him writhe on the road, River knows this male creature – this boy named Mason – is going to die. He knows it, too. He said as much to her.

She knows the humane thing to do. Her community’s code requires her to put him out of his misery. She’s given mercy to injured animals before.

But she just can’t bring herself to draw her blade across his neck. He’s a human being.

It takes three hours, but she carts Mason back to her village. The appearance of the first XY to survive the virus for more than a day reveals rifts in this community of women. Some race to heal him. Others want him to die. Caught in the middle, River finds herself lying for the first time in her life. Everything in her safe existence starts to unravel.

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Vintage Treasures: Strange Dreams by Stephen R. Donaldson

Wednesday, December 26th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Strange Dreams Stephen R Donaldson-small Strange Dreams Stephen R Donaldson-back-small

Bantam Spectra cover by Gervase Gallardo

Twenty-five years ago oversized trade paperbacks fantasy anthologies were few and far between. Today they’re the default, but in the early 90s, when original anthologies routinely appeared as mass markets paperbacks, you had to be something special to warrant the deluxe trade paper format. (Nowadays, of course, the mass market anthology is long dead, but that’s a subject for a different post.)

Strange Dreams was something special. In the early 90s Stephen Donaldson was one of top-selling fantasy writers on the planet, with the bestelling Mordant’s Need and Chronicles of Thomas Covenant to his credit. In his introduction he relates how the book came about as a result of a conversation with master anthologist Martin H. Greenberg.

We were discussing the basis on which I might be willing — or indeed able — to pull together a collection, and I quickly dismissed the traditional anthological fundaments: Historical Development (where fantasy came from and how it grew); Defense of Genre (why fantasy is written); Technical Display (how fantasy can be written); and Thematic Modulation (what fantasy has to say about X and Y)… once all these bases have been diminished, why bother to do a collection at all?

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