Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Tepper, Sheri S

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(1929-2016) US writer whose extensive publications include sf, mystery (as by A J Orde, B J Oliphant), Horror (under her own name and as E E Horlak) and poetry (under her then married name, Sheri S Eberhart). Most of her work has been sf. Her first published fiction, the first of a trio of linked trilogies known collectively as the True Game series, is dramatized in terms of fantasy yet technically is sf: this readiness to conflate the conventions of distinct genres has characterized her work since, so that much of her writing is perhaps best described as Science Fantasy or Technofantasy.

In the rush of her first years as a published novelist, SST produced both of her two unqualified ventures into fantasy: the long novel The Revenants (1984) and the first volume of the Marianne trilogy, Marianne, the Magus and the Manticore (1985), assembled with Marianne, the Madame and the Momentary Gods (1988) and Marianne, the Matchbox, and the Malachite Mouse (1989) as The Marianne Trilogy (omni 1990 UK) – before the True Game sequence was fully published. Like the True Game novels (in which people with Talents are ranked in their hierarchical society rather like human Chess pieces), the Marianne trilogy involves Game-playing: the complex elements in SST's multivolume tales seem to require the organizing framework of a rule-bound pattern.

SST's subsequent books have tended to be more or less independent (if rather long) novels. The Awakeners: Northshore (1987) and The Awakeners: Southshore (1987) – the two volumes, written as one work, also published together as The Awakeners (1987 UK) – are again written in the manner of fantasy although plainly set on another planet; SST was to continue combining sf and fantasy conventions as late as A Plague of Angels (1993). Only Beauty (1991; rev [preferred text] 1992 UK), which begins as a revisionist version of Sleeping Beauty set in the 14th century (but soon is interrupted by a visitation of time travellers from a polluted 21st century), seems even for a while to be Revisionist Fantasy. Although her later work admixes fantasy elements, sometimes in dollops – Grass (1989), though set on an exotic planet settled by a galactic civilization, possesses various scene-setting elements from "medieval fantasy" – SST seems to have shifted her focus to sf. Grass was the first of a loose trilogy, the other two volumes being Raising the Stones (1990) and Sideshow (1992); though they cannot be classified as pure fantasy (although they are close to Instauration Fantasies), it is also very hard to regard them, despite their distant settings, as pure sf. The latter two are both concerned with the nature of godhood (> Gods): in the former the emphasis is on the relationship between mortals and gods, who are in this instance manifest and "scientifically" rationalized; in the latter, the viewpoint shifts more to that of gods and their desire to go unworshipped, or even to divest themselves of godhood. Despite some longueurs, the books repay repeated reading, for SST is delving in very deep waters – and using fantasy techniques to probe some of the legitimate concerns of full fantasy.

Against SST's narrative fluency and exuberant invention must be weighed her tendency towards polished glibness and her occasional moment of stark improbability as she defaults into a stock Plot Device. Midway through the century's last decade, she seems characteristic of her time – it is a trait shared by such dissimilar writers as John Crowley and Dan Simmons – in combining genre conventions traditionally kept distinct; the storyteller becomes synthesist, subsuming diverse elements into audacious and unprecedented wholes. [GF/JCB]

other works: The True Game sequence, being King's Blood Four (1983), Necromancer Nine (1983), Wizard's Eleven (1984) – these 3 assembled as The True Game (omni 1985 UK) – The Song of Mavin Manyshaped (1985), The Flight of Mavin Manyshaped (1985), The Search of Mavin Manyshaped (1985) – these 3, which come first in internal chronology, assembled as The Chronicles of Mavin Manyshaped (omni 1986 UK) – Jinian Footseer (1985), Dervish Daughter (1985), Jinian Star-Eye (1986) – these 3 assembled as The End of the Game (omni 1987); Blood Heritage (1986) and its sequel, The Bones (1987), are superficially Horror but read like Contemporary-Fantasy comedies; The Gate to Women's Country (1988), theoretically sf but reading like a fantasy, exploring topics of Feminism; Still Life (1989 as by E E Horlak; 1989 UK as by SST), horror; Shadow's End (1994); Gibbon's Decline and Fall (1996), Science Fantasy.

Sheri S Tepper


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.