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Gibbon's Decline and Fall Paperback – June 2, 1997
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Science fiction is a genre traditionally dominated by male fantasy and values, where Terminator-style machismo saves the universe. Sheri S. Tepper writes feminist science fiction. Exit Terminator, enter Sophy. Sophy was a standout in her college class, for all kinds of reasons from looks to brains to spiritual qualities; she was also reticent about her origins. It is only when she disappears that her former classmates begin to discover just how special she was. Woven into Tepper's cosmology is the matriarchal system that once held sway on earth before males usurped that power. It turns out the "Goddess" is alive. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Tepper (Shadow's End) ) can be characterized as a quirkily feminist writer whose novels often question whether humanity might be better off with a smaller, more docile male population. This theme, combined with the author's ambivalence about Catholicism, informs this fable of ethics, feminism and transcendence, which employs an intriguing concept involving an alternate branching of the evolutionary tree. Carolyn Crespin comes from a stultifying family that believes women should be seen and not heard. When she escapes to college in the early 1960s, she helps form the Decline and Fall Club, comprised of herself and six other women (including a devout nun, a radical lesbian artist and a brilliant scientist). They band together to protect one of their members, an exotic beauty named Sova, from unwanted male attention. During a 40-year gap in the narrative, conservatism and misogyny increase, a focused evil grows and Sova mysteriously disappears. The tale resumes at the dawning of the Millennium, when terrorist bag ladies are on the rise and sexual desire is on the wane. Now, Carolyn and her friends must defeat an embodiment of violence and ultra-patriarchal masculinity or see women reduced to the level of walking wombs. As always, Tepper creates excellent female characters transported by a swiftly flowing plot. Her proposed solutions for the world's problems, however, may leave male readers wondering why they should settle for being little more than ambulatory sperm banks.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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A group of women has met during college, and created a network between them that lasts well into their middle age. All of the stereotypes are there: the bulimic beauty,the ugly duckling nun, the battered/fearful woman, the business woman, and one special and highly mysterious beauty who cannot bear the repeated, rude, attentions of the college boys, so the group helps her camoflage her siren beauty and dress as a drab.
Years go by, and they lose touch with 'the special one',Sophy, after one of their yearly reunions. No one knows where she is, nor where she came from originally; there are no tracks to follow to find this secretive but marvelous woman, yet each of them feels her presence still. All in the group have been deeply touched by some particular wisdom Sophy has shared with her.
Shades of huge military marches flicker behind your eyes as you read of great, threatening, half-maddened men gathering into a larger and larger group as they pass through cities looking for women so they can 'teach them their proper place'. Hmmm. Their proper place. Well, that would seem to be back to the old norm of being a posession, someone (something?)to be in servitude to men, only valuable as childbearing vessels or trophies.
The egalitarian Tepper doesn't leave out women of years, nor women of small means, as bag ladies somehow coalesce to cause distractions and add some misdirection to the changes they sense arriving all around them.
Realizing something is afoot with the attitudes of some men, especially a particular men's organization, the group vows to seek out Sophy as a last vestige of hope to combat this horrendous change.
There is magic and mayhem in this book, as well as a deep compassion for all types of women and the men who love them. Feminist? Yes. Humanist? Yes. Enjoyment and food for thought? Always.
That said, Tepper's novel does offer up some intriguing ideas and theories, albeit ones so far-fetched it's difficult to see how we can apply them to our current culture. Her first mistake, I think, was setting the book in such a near future - written in 1996 and set in 2000, it's impossible to believe that society could ever have deteriorated so drastically in 4 years, much less that this could be set in any plausible near future.
Anyway, the story starts with 7 women attending college in the 50's. They are unlikely friends (so unlikely, in fact, that it's sometimes hard to understand why they're friends at all, but whatever) who make a vow to each other: each will find a pinnacle in her life to stand on, never to decline or fall from that place. Well, fast forward 40 years - Carolyn is a retired lawyer, married to one of the few "good" men in the story. Faye is a militant lesbian and a sculpter. Agnes is a nun, Jessamine a zoologist, Ophelia a doctor, Bettiann a trophy wife, and Sophy, well Sophy's dead - at least they think so. The mysterious girl whose goal in life was to figure out why women are so oppressed has mysteriously disappeared, although her voice still visits the six remaining friends. Meanwhile, society has gone down the aforementioned tubes. Women's colleges are being bombed, men are lashing women in the street, and the misogynistic Alliance is gaining political power, both in the US and internationally. Women, basically, are screwed. Then Carolyn is asked to defend a young girl who threw her newborn into a dumpster, and it all comes together.
Did I mention that I have a hard time with a book that completely excuses infanticide? I know the point Tepper was trying to make (that women are more than walking wombs), but doing it by having all her protaganists repeatedly explain why it was perfectly OK for this young mother to kill her baby is unsettling, to say the least.
That said, the scenario Tepper paints is interesting, if for nothing else in a sort of horror-chills sort of way. Sophy's origins, when they are revealed, are a stretch, but original, and bring the story back to it's fantasy roots. If you can wince your way past the worst of the male-bashing, and suspend your disbelief through most of Tepper's fanciful paranoia, you might even enjoy it - but your conscience won't.
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Brilliant in her ability to bring you into emotional caring about multiple characters, not just the heroine.Read more