I think I keep reading fantasy novels because I hope they will be like The Hobbit or The Last Unicorn, two favorites from my very early years. The first part of Sheri S. Tepper’s The Visitor had what I liked about those two–a tight focus on a small set of characters living in an interesting fantasy world. When this works for me, I have a wonderful time reading.
The Visitor is set many generations after the earth is struck by an enormous asteroid. The survivors have rebuilt, under the guidance of “The Guardians,” a mysterious group of oracle like recluses who only appear in times of great need. The local civilization has restored old technology which they see as supernatural in nature. They always say a prayer before turning the machines on, believing the prayer is what makes the machine work. I liked this notion of advanced technology being hard to distinguish from magic, and the theocracy that grows up around this notion provided an interesting setting for the characters more intimate conflicts.
Most of the novel is about Disme and her step-sister Rashell who are engaged in a competition of sorts that becomes a life and death struggle for power as the two reach adulthood. When the novel was about this struggle I was interested. However, towards the end, the book spins into national political struggles and them some gods arrive making the book a strange cross between Game of Thrones mixed with Octavia Butler’s god-like characters.
That part I didn’t like so much. I know both are popular, Martin probably much more so at this point in time, but I’ve no interest in which schmuck will end up king. I’m an anti-royalist in real life and in fantasy fiction. And, while I do love Octavia Butler, I find the god-child novels tough to grapple with. Who becomes god interests me about as much as who becomes king.
Still, there are lots of interesting world building ideas along the way. For example, the theocracy that runs Disme and Rashell’s culture practices something called “bottling” which is putting a tissue sample of anyone who is about to die into a bottle for future regeneration, once the technology has come back, as clones. The theocracy eventually determines that as long as part of a person survives in bottled form, the person is not really dead. This belief has all sorts of unpleasant consequences.
So, I guess in the end I cannot say whether or not Sheri S. Tepper’s The Visitor is good or not, I can only say that it really wasn’t my cup of tea, or bottle of soda.
And I’ll keep looking for more books like The Hobbit and The Last Unicorn.