I re-read these recently, before the internet suddenly took notice of a bizarre interview with Sheri S. Tepper from 2008, in which she ranted about how people she doesn't like (including all mentally ill people) ought to be declared "not-human" and lose all rights, said that horror writers are evil, and seemed unaware of the fact that India is a democracy.

Yes. Tepper is very, very weird. I don't just mean politically. My own interest in her reading can be nicely summed up in this review: For those of you who have never read anything by Sheri S. Tepper, the thing about Sheri S. Tepper is that almost every one of her books is a Very Special Episode about Eco-Feminism Plus Some Other Stuff Sheri Tepper Really Wants To Talk About, As Filtered Through Enormous Amounts of Crack.

I was always in it for the crack; I stopped reading Tepper when the lecture-to-crack ratio got too high. I first read these in high school, and the first book of each of the three series has remained on my comfort re-read list. (The sequels get increasingly weird and incoherent, but the first books all more or less stand on their own.)

In the world of the True Game, some people have psychic powers, which they mostly use to “game” (fight wars and politick) against each other. If you like RPGs and intricate systems of magic powers, complete with charts and costumes and cool names like Oneiromancer, Elator, and Bonedancer, this series may well appeal to you too. I am certain that people have made it into an RPG system, if it wasn’t one to begin with. Tepper seems to realize this, because at one point someone asks why there’s all the formal names for everything, and someone else replies, “Because ‘sorceror’s spell seven!’ sounds more impressive than ‘I’m going to smash your sorcerer!’”

The Mavin books are about a female shapeshifter. I wasn’t all that into them (incoherence with rape) but the bits where Mavin learns to shapeshift are pretty cool. Oh, speaking of rape: any given Tepper novel is likely to have some. I think the Jinian books don't, though they may have some rape threats. The Peter series has one off-page rape, described in one line and so non-explicitly that I missed it when I was thirteen, and assumed the thing Peter didn't want to talk about was some sort of torture. (But while I'm on the subject, beware of Tepper's Beauty, which sucks you in with a charming fairy-tale first third, and then suddenly turns into RAPEFEST.)

The Peter books (King’s Blood Four, Necromancer Nine, Wizard’s Eleven) concern a boy in a boarding school for boys whose Talents haven’t shown up yet. It flew waaaaay over my head, when I read it at thirteen, that Peter was having an affair with one of his schoolmasters. The latter is, of course, a villain, and I wish it was only because of the pedophilia, but I think Tepper equated that with being gay. (The affair is consensual; the rape comes later.) Later Tepper seems to have forgotten all about this, because Peter acts very virginal indeed. In any case, they are a lively farrago of powers, battles, shapeshifting, rescues, kidnappings, and investigating the origins of Talents and the world.

They are the most coherent of the series, which isn’t saying all that much. Characters appear and vanish in a remarkably unexplicated manner. My favorite moment of that is when Peter’s long-lost mother makes her first appearance when she abruptly shows up in the middle of a dungeon, performs magic that does not match at all with the systems we’ve seen previously, knits two animals into existence who then transform into guys who then do stuff and then are never mentioned again, and suddenly isn’t there any more.

The best book is Jinian Footseer, in which a girl with no apparent Talent is raised by a bunch of old ladies who also have no apparent Talents, but teach her seemingly small and harmless spells. It slowly transforms from domestic fantasy to pure fairy-tale, complete with riddles and talking beasts, and then back to fantasy again, with clever rationalized (for fantasy) explanations of all the fairy-tale elements. That hangs together as a single story better than any of the others, and is still worth reading.

The second book is fine but less memorable, and the conclusion, which also concludes the whole series, is completely bizarre and features an ending which accomplished the feat of being simultaneously weird, stupid, and creepy: aliens come down and announce that they gave everyone powers but everyone misused them, so they’re taking them back now. Without magic powers, there can be no war! But they’re leaving one single magic power intact, because it will be essential to the planet’s peaceful future: the ability to foresee whether or not a newborn will turn out to be a sociopath, so that they can be murdered at birth if they are. Infanticide, just the recipe for a happy ending!

Despite the terrible series ending, I still enjoy Jinian Footseer and King’s Blood Four. They undoubtedly have the nostalgia factor working for them, but if you like psychic kids, pulp D&D adventuring, and fairy-tales, you might like these. They have comparatively little preaching, except for a hammer-to-head drugs are bad message that shows up in later books, and a hilarious bit in King’s Blood Four in which it is pointed out that the world is SO UNJUST that the very language has no words or concepts for “right,” “wrong,” “correct,” “justice,” etc. But if you value your sanity, avoid the last book. Jinian Star-Eye is the one with the “infanticide yay!” conclusion.

The True Game

Jinian Footseer

Song Of Mavin Manyshaped
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