Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Mon Feb 10 15:43:37 EST 1992

Raymond's Reviews #173

%T Raising the Stones
%A Sheri S. Tepper
%I Bantam
%D September 1991
%O paperback, 530 pp, US$ 5.99
%G ISBN 0-553-29116-5

Sheri Tepper's ability to bring complex characters and the world they inhabit, to vivid life is undeniable. But as with many authors of her caliber, Tepper's stories serve as vehicles to convey views about ethical issues. In "Raising the Stones," she does so with troubling results.

"Raising the Stones" is set on an agricultural planet called Hobbs Land. Its culture is egalitarian and peaceful, and becomes more so upon the discovery of local "gods," deceased native sentients whose presence seems to exercise a pacific and unifying effect upon the human populace.

One of the important men on Hobbs Land is Samasnier Girat. His mother had brought him as a child from a starkly patriarchical and bloodily fanatical planet called Voorstod, from which she had fled to avoid further (societially-sanctioned) abuse from her husband, Sam's father. Sam becomes obsessed with learning who his father was and what his life stood for. Ultimately, the Voorstoders, interested only in conquering territory for their bloodthirsty god, try to take Hobbs Land, and Sam confronts his father man to man:

"Tell me about your God, Dad. What kind of a thing is your God?" "Demands ... Obedience ... From his sons ... All his sons ..." "Does your god care about anything but men, Dad? Does he care about trees and birds and fish in the streams? Does he care about womenfolk? What about planets? . . . The one Voorstod destroyed?" (p. 519)

Because his father offers no rational reply, Sam concludes that his search was foolish, and burns the books of Greek legends that inspired him to undertake it: "But Sam, Sam," she cried, "What will you do without your books?" He put his arms around her, held her close to him beside the fire as he watched the old bloody stories burn. . . . "Write new ones, China Wilm," he told her ... "Listen to the God, and write new ones." (pp. 529-530).

What is disturbing about this denouement is not Tepper's condemnation of patriarchal oppression and war-lust, but her implication such oppression and violence is the inevitable result of male heroic quest legends like those Sam burns. Tepper refuses to consider the possibility of a quest that empowers the questor without leading him to ravage all in his path, despite that Sam has just, in a real sense, has completed such a quest by the end of the story. This refusal allows her to depict home-centered Hobbs Land as utopic while evading the vital question of whether men can be truly happy and productive without undertaking some kind of quest at sometime in their lives.

"Raising the Stones" could have been a ground-breaking exploration of how men differ emotionally from women and the impact of that difference on a civilized society. However, by refusing to leave room for the male side of the story, Tepper reduces her novel to the level of misanthropic feminist propaganda. We are the poorer for her lapse of moral courage. [CCO]

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Eric S. Raymond <esr@snark.thyrsus.com>