Sheri S. Tepper:Beauty

I've been a big fan of Sheri S. Tepper's work ever since the True Game trilogies. With her last few novels, she's stepped directly into the upper echelons of SF--and she deserves it, for the likes of The Gates To Women's Country and Raising The Stones. Beauty is the closest thing she's written to fantasy since making the move to SF.

It's not entirely untouched by SF, either, but most of the underlying logic of the book rests on fantasy. It starts out simply enough with something we can tend to recognize as Sleeping Beauty, as the notebook of Beauty herself as she nears her 16th birthday and the curse that was due to descend. She manages to escape the curse herself, but only to get snapped up a crew of 21st-century documentarists who don't want to risk a paradox. The 21st-century, in this book, is a hive far, far worse than Asimov's Caves of Steel, where all food production has been taken over by "Fidipur", so that everyone gets the same amount of food. (In theory, at least.)

Beauty manages to escape from there to the 20th century, and from there she hops around in time and space, along Earth's time track, to the imaginary world of Chinanga, and to the world of Faery. She is raped, and has a daughter. She is reunited with her own mother, a Queen of Faery. But this is oversimplifying the in-depth examination Tepper puts into the nature of motherhood, daughterhood, and the Faery.

She returns periodically to her own century(the 14th and early 15th), and sees several generations of her progeny, who seem destined to carry out others of our traditional fairy tales besides Sleeping Beauty. (Beauty, who's watched Disney in the 20th, picks up on this right away.) Beauty also finds herself getting older, much of her time stolen as she spends it in Faery and other worlds. She returns to the 20th Century and heads a major environmental organization for a while before realizing the futility of her fight, as "Fidipur" is foreordained. (Tepper is taking the view that the timestream is unchangeable in this book, obviously.) She spends some time in Hell, and galvanizes the forces of Faery into a last hopeless fight against Evil. And then she returns once more to her home to re-enact one of mankind's oldest myths. (Which one? That would be telling. I've already told you enough.)

There are definite opinions on the current state of mankind and the Earth which I am not sure whether they originate with Beauty or with Tepper herself. (For instance, Beauty roundly condemns writers of horror fiction, while Tepper has written a few books in that genre herself.) There's also the strong environmentalist undercurrent, as well as advocating population control(including a pro-choice stance on abortion)and the like. Again, whether this is merely Beauty's view(having seen both the 14th Century, around the time of the Black Death, and the overstuffed 21st, where mankind eventually dies under its own weight)or whether it is Tepper's, is not clear.

In any case, the book's main theme is obviously the loss of beauty--in the span of life on the Earth, in Faery, in Beauty herself as she ages, in her progeny as her genes for beauty are mixed with dross. But Beauty herself carries within her the soul of Beauty, and refuses to let it be lost.

A very powerful book, although at times a bit preachy. I wouldn't say it was Tepper's best, but it is still extremely strong.

%A Tepper, Sheri S.
%T Beauty
%I Doubleday Foundation
%C New York
%D August 1991
%G ISBN 0-385-41940-6
%P 412 pp.
%O Trade paperback, US $12, Can $15

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The Den of Ubiquity / Aaron V. Humphrey / alfvaen@gmail.com