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Thursday, June 23, 2011

After Long Silence, by Sheri S. Tepper

I recently re-read After Long Silence, by Sheri S. Tepper. (Bantam: New York, 1987) I have previously posted on another of her works, Grass. After Long Silence has no Wikipedia article, so far. It deserves one. This won't substitute for a formal article. There are brief reviews here and here.

The basic plot is one that has been used before. An evil company controls the exports from the planet Jubal. The company, and its evil local representative, will do almost anything to keep this state of affairs as it is. This includes suppressing any evidence of native sentient beings.

The main character, Tasmin Ferrence, is a Tripsinger. The land on the planet is functionally divided into areas where the soil is deep, and areas where it is not deep, or is nonexistent. In such areas, there are giant crystals, hundreds of meters/yards in height, and with circumferences to match. It is dangerous to go into, or through, such areas. In fact, the only way to do so safely is to make music which keeps the crystals from shooting off parts of themselves and killing anyone near. The Tripsingers have learned how to traverse some areas where the crystals exist. The music is complex enough that untrained persons cannot survive such trips without a Tripsinger. The Tripsingers, who haven't discussed their beliefs on the subject explicitly, believe that the crystals are sentient.

It turns out, in the end, that there are two intelligent species on Jubal. One is the crystals, and the other is the viggies, a creature appearing somewhat like squirrels or rabbits.

How Tepper gets us to this conclusion is the plot, and it uses her characters. One thing that annoys me about Tepper is that her bad characters get peculiar names -- Chantiford, Aphrodite, whereas her good, or ordinary characters, get more ordinary, if non-common, names. Tasmin, and his assistants, Reb Jamieson and Clarin, are well-drawn. The evil characters, reprehensible as they are -- several of them have no apparent redeeming character traits -- are reasonably well-drawn, too.

This is a solid example of humans-meet-aliens science fiction. There is a fair amount, but not too much, of explicit translation, which helps to see how hard it is to understand beings who don't think like us. There is plenty of music, and it is evident that the music of both non-human intelligent beings is beautiful. There is an appendix, apparently written by a real-life expert on such things, explaining how a crystalline life form could have high intelligence. I'm sorry that I can't be a tourist to Jubal, and see the beautiful crystals, and hear the beautiful music.

One of the evil things that the local company boss does is to hire three other villains to create a religion, for the purpose of attracting tourists, and money, to Jubal. The doctrines of this religion are not well fleshed out, so I can't comment intelligently on it.

There are various kinds of love relationships in the book, including the admiration of Reb Jamieson for his master, Tasmin, and his willingness to sacrifice for Tasmin. Tepper does a good job of explaining the motives of the characters in these relationships.

The last feature I will mention is that Tasmin seeks vengeance on the local company boss. Another character talks him out of it. It isn't easy for her to do so.

Thanks for reading.

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