Raising The Stones (SF Masterworks) by Sheri S. Tepper (book review).

October 27, 2020 | By | 1 Reply More

There is a danger, especially amongst the readers of genre fiction, to forget authors after they have died. Everyone always wants the next book by an author but if there isn’t one, they are not interested. This is understandable with the number of books to choose from, but short-sighted as there are some brilliant books by authors no longer with us.

Authors such as Charles Dickens are studied in schools and his books were the pulp fiction of the time but as the stories were mostly contemporary they can now be regarded as historical social commentaries and thus become classics. Science Fiction suffers from the problem that science may supersede that of the fiction. That isn’t necessarily true or eliminate the work from the potential of being classed as a classic.

Publishers like to have a range of material for sale to the public and are mostly aware that there is merit in the work of dead authors. Many have experimented with the ‘classic’ or ‘masterworks’ series of reprinted books. A classic can cover almost anything but often represents the popular tropes of the time it was written. Many of the ideas and attitudes by have been superseded, such as the role of women in SF or the lone, swashbuckling hero who would be better suited to a career in piracy than fighting aliens. Their merit is that they were milestones in the path SF has taken to the present day. The ‘SF Masterworks’ are of a different calibre. There has to be good writing, plotting, ideas and to say something about human attitudes. The best are brilliant and should remain in print as examples of excellent SF. As one of the Gollancz SF Masterworks series, ‘Raising The Stones’ is a good choice.

The setting is the far future where Earth is a distant memory. Passage between planets is through doors which allow instantaneous translation between places. Hobbs Land is an agricultural planet that has a number of settlements feeding other planets. When humans first arrived, they found the last few remnants of a dying species who had raised temples to what the humans assumed to be Gods. Only one of these remains. On the death of the last native, care of the temple and the God within it was taken over by Birribat Shum. When Birribat succumbs to old age, the God disintegrates into fine ash. Birribat is buried in a shallow grave, the position of which is forgotten.

Maire Girat had come to Hobbs Land with her two children, Samasnier (Sam) and Saluniel (Sal), fleeing the oppressive regime of Voorstod. This is a very male-dominated society where women have no rights and members of an alien race are regarded as inferior and only useful as slaves. The attitude there are how many perceive the Taliban culture to be. The Voorstod hierarchy has ambitions to invade other planets and impose their beliefs on others. The Hobbs Land society is an opposite.

Children belong to their mothers and fathers are not recognised. Sal happy embraces the new life but her older brother, Sam, has memories of a father. To compensate for the lack, he explores the archives and builds fictional scenarios where he is the hero and returns to a father who is proud of him. One of the legends he finds is of a young man who is told that if he turns over the right stone he will find the sword hidden there by his father and prove himself worthy to take his place as the king’s heir. Sam doesn’t understand that his father is no different from the other Voorstod men.

Meanwhile, the spores from the dead God have been growing under the soil. Jeopardy, Sam’s offspring, and his cousin, Saturday, along with a number of other youngsters have felt the urge to rebuild the God’s temple. When it is finished, they dig up a stone that has formed within the mycelium growing from around Birribat’s body and raise it as a new God in the newly rebuilt temple. Many of the human communities on other worlds have their own religions but what is happening on Hobbs Land is more of a faith rather than a doctrinal belief system and it is spreading with the aid of the youngsters.

The title, ‘Raising The Stones’, has a duality. As the Hobbs Land faith spreads, the stones are raised to sit in the temples. The effects of having them appear to be beneficial. There is more productivity, more kindness and less belligerency in places with temples. The Gods care for their communities. At the same time, Sam is struggling to understand what his mother has been telling him about his father’s people. As in the legend, he is raising metaphorical stones in order to find the means to gain his father’s love and approval.

Raising The Stones’ is a book that beautifully describes the aliens and alien landscapes. The groups of humans have distinct cultures and the characters are finely drawn with their own personalities, desires and they change and evolve through the story. Most of all, though, this is an exploration of belief and the wat that doctrines can easily be warped by misinterpretation. Above all, ‘Raising The Stones’ well deserves its accolade as an SF Masterwork.

Pauline Morgan

October 2020

(pub: Gollancz, London, 2017. 453 page paperback. Price: £ 9.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-473-22265-6)

check out website: www.gollancz.com

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Category: Books, Scifi

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  1. Gregory Shearman says:

    It should also be mentioned that the books “Grass” and “Sideshow” are both set in the same universe as “Raising the Stones”. “Sideshow” depicts a time millenia further in the future from “Raising the Stones” where humanity is terrified of the Hobbs Land Gods and set themselves protections against it.

    Sheri S. Tepper is one of my favourite authors. I especially love it that she was a big influence in Denver’s chapter of Planned Parenthood. I fine feminist in writing and real life. I miss her and her wonderful imagination. The world is poorer without her, even if they’ve never even heard of her.

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