My life in outer space

Gibbon’s Decline and Fall – Sheri S Tepper (1996)

Gibbon's Decline and Fall

More of a gender morality tale than an SF novel, arguably Tepper’s most feminist novel starts realistically enough in 1959 where a group of girls swear an oath to always be friends and to reunite regularly.
Years later, odd waves of behaviour are sweeping the world. Sexist and patriarchal views are in the ascendancy. One of the friends, a beautiful enigmatic mystery, is now dead but seems to be mysteriously appearing to them.
In America, a male-dominated organisation called The Alliance seeks to reduce women to the position of child-bearing slaves. The Alliance in turn has links to the Vatican which is itself in a secret union with Islam in order to deny women rights.
Things get stranger still in a plot development involving an ancient intelligent race which has been hiding itself from humans since they emerged into sapience, as well as their implacable foe, a male intelligence from out of space which is causing Humanity’s problems.
Tepper takes an awful lot of artistic licence with some degree of success. As a wish fulfilment fantasy it works, and at the end of the day it is a novel which I presume is written for women whom no doubt appreciate it on a far different level.
In my view there is much to commend this book. It is written from the soul and much righteous anger bleeds through in sections which – quite divorced from the fantastical elements – ring true in relation to modern USA.
Many would argue that it boils down to a ‘battle of the sexes’, and a grim and bloody one at that. There is some truth in this. It’s not a joyful read, but it’s one that stays in the mind.
The denouement though is a positive one, in which one of the female protagonists is given the power to make a choice regarding the future direction of the human race. The power of this novel is that even now, some weeks since I finished it, I am still wondering what choice I would have made. That’s a great thing for any book to be able to do.


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