Sheri S. Tepper

Harper Voyager / 454 pages / 1st edition (August 1, 1998)

ISBN: 1931081549

For some time, Sheri Tepper has been concerned about gender issues. If you were among the fortunate ones who read Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, you probably began to understand some of that concern. By the time you finish Six Moon Dance, you may find yourself looking at the world in a different light. Through Tepper’s prose, you will begin to see how gender impacts every aspect of our existence.

But don’t panic at the thought of learning something — Tepper makes the process more enjoyable than formal education ever will be

In Six Moon Dance, the focus of the action is Newholme, a planet that has developed along very different lines from most of Earth. And ready or not, the people of Newholme are about to receive a visit from the Questioner. The arbiter of the Council of Worlds (COW) is coming to review every aspect of their society. If things don’t align with the humanist ideals of COW, the Newholmians will suffer the consequences. Their suffering will be brief, though, because failure to measure up means extermination. Total extermination.

A visit from the cybernetic Questioner might not be a cause for concern on some planets, but those worlds don’t have as much to hide. Or as little chance of keeping their sins hidden. About as much chance as they have of preventing the volcanic eruptions that represent the other threat to Newholme.

Reveal the truth and face certain death or hide the truth and face certain death. Either way, the Questioner will out.

The temptation to reveal more is intense, but that would be telling and I’m sworn to secrecy. Let me give you a bit of advice up front: Six Moon Dance may seem just a bit too weird; keep with it and you’ll soon be hooked.

Tepper is a dab hand at creating amazing, plausible aliens and alien societies. She fills her novels with humans who are distinctly inhuman and creatures with more humanity the most Earthlings can claim. She places them all in strange and wonderful and strange and dreadful locations. And no matter how bizarre the situation, she maintains the credibility that keeps readers mesmerised.

Against this background, Tepper attacks our most basic beliefs and knocks the supports out from under them. Feel your mind boggle as you realise how gender colours our most basic perceptions. Some of these assumptions are so ingrown that seeing them reversed can elicit a knee-jerk “oh, come on!” response. It’s that reaction that may put some readers off, at first. Until you stop to think about it. And we could all stand to take some time to think about it, not simply accept things as they are handed to us.

One thing you should accept is the gift of Sheri S. Tepper. She knows exotic, new worlds where nothing’s the same and people seldom change without coercion and you won’t want to leave.