Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Raising the Stones by Sheri S Tepper

Sheri Tepper is one of those sf writers who eschews the ray gun and the spaceship, in favour of a more thoughtful type of story, contemplating the nature of society in the science-fictional worlds she creates. In doing so she brings in themes including feminism, religion and violence, the three of which collide head on in Raising the Stones.

The story opens with Sam Girat, Topman of Settlement One, on the colonised world of Hobbs Land. Here, society is matriarchal, and largely non-religious, apart from a token respect for the last God of the recently extinct native race, the Owlbrit.

Until, that is, the God dies, and the settlers take it upon themselves to raise up a new God in the Owlbrit tradition, and then set about becoming missionaries to the other Settlements of Hobbs Land, and beyond.

So far, so good; this new found religion only increases the wellbeing of the Hobbs Landers. However, humankind has brought some of its own religions into the System - the harsh, patriarchal Voorstod religion, from which Sam fled as a child along with his mother; and the Baidee, who appear to have twisted the original words of their prophet in various ways, resulting in different degrees of radical extremism.

Another non-human race, the Gharm, have been treated (or more often, mistreated) as slaves by the Voorstoders, and when the missionaries from Hobbs Land reach them, they accept the new Gods as incarnations of their own Tchenka - a kind of pagan/Native American style god creature.

These cultures - particularly the human religions - are built up in some detail as the tensions build and ultimately boil over into an almighty clash on Hobbs Land. Some of the religious aspects, certainly the extremism of the Voorstoders, appear a bit too extreme to remain realistic, and so the ultimate outcome can only be conflict; there is no room for debate, discussion, finding common ground or just agreeing to disagree with these three religions. As a result the whole story simply ends up saying 'look at organised religion, it's the cause of all wars, especially religion organised by men, etc. etc.' The sort of thing Christians hear a lot of, as I'm sure do other followers of 'organised religions'.

However, if I may now come to some sort of a point, this book shows that it is possible to write about religion - and not much else - in the mainstream science fiction market. The problem being that if something like Raising the Stones were written to be more sympathetic to the way people of faith generally are, there wouldn't be nearly so much conflict and the story would risk dying prematurely.

To sum up: it's interesting to see how religion can be tackled in this type of story, but ultimately the anti-religion, anti-men undercurrent was a bit, well, anti-me.


Elliot said...

"ultimately the anti-religion, anti-men undercurrent was a bit, well, anti-me."

Ha! So true. Why do people think they'll change opinions by insulting the readers who need their opinions changed?

I've seen one or two people who pushed Tepper as if she's real profound, and a better writer than all the usual suspects... but usually, it seemed, for ideological reasons rather than artistic ones.

Elliot said...

The Voorstoders sound like Boers; the Baidee, like Muslims.

It also sounds like the pre-Fall state of Tepper's story is when "society is matriarchal, and largely non-religious."

So, the world as viewed by your average feminist college professor. Ho hum.

Mirtika said...

I think if you're radically feminist and anti-religion, you're "secular SF cool" and you get a pass.

A woman writing in favor of Patriarchy (no matter how benign) and in favor of Christianity, would be, most often, trashed.

I never read Tepper cause every review of every novel of hers I ever bothered to check on seemed to me like more of that "woman good, man bad" crap. And as a woman, I'm not buying that NOW mantra, cause my dad and my husband and most of the men in the churches we've attended have been good and admirable and...manly. And I have no objections to "manly" men.:)