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Long On Concepts Loosely Told
on 29 May 2000
It is unfortunate that the publisher has allowed this collection to go out of stock. Worthy of reading if only as representing the author's first trilogy of works, it also introduces the reader to Tepper's interweaving of social and philosophical ideas into genre narrative that has so typified and exemplified her later and more serious work.
Tepper is largely a writer of science fiction, known for conflating her ventures into fantasy through its elements. They are in evidence here, especially present in "Necromancer Nine," with its references to a world seeded by an alien race who have lost touch with their purpose in colonizing the planet, as well as the technology supporting their society. As usual, Tepper attempts to use fantasy to explore larger issues, here including the relationships between science, religion, education, and society. Unfortunately, as is often the case with science fiction writers, the storyline gets subsumed in the expression of the ideas, greatly diminishing the strength of the narrative. The plot is often loosely wrapped and largely dependent upon the underpinning of the concepts explored, with a concomittant lack of narrative description and character development. Intriguing ideas and conceptual exploration do not by themselves provide good story telling, and it is here that this trilogy appears its weakest. Many of the characters remain one dimensional, and at times Tepper appears to lose track of her earlier plot development in order to tailor the story development to what she wishes to express conceptually. Thus plot contrivances at times emerge, and the resolution of "King's Blood Four" and "Wizard's Eleven" seems rushed and far from satisfying in terms of storytelling, and the evolution of Huld's character is forced to fit Tepper's evolving needs in the latter two works of the trilogy, largely at odds with his earlier characterization in the first book.
I suppose a complaint that can be leveled at many writers of fantasy is the lack of substance often present in the telling of a good tale, their avoidance often of addressing larger social or political or philosophical issues in preference for spinning a good yarn. However, true as this often may be, I would offer that many writers of science fiction loose sight, in their pursuit of conceptual content, of the elements necessary to construct a good, tightly woven storyline, the ideas contained in their writing often having to carry or substitute for a lack of solid narrative development. In this work, for all its intellectual merits, Tepper fails to provide a story that fully engages or is developed beyond stimulating an inquiry of the intellect. While offering a large degree of mental richness, visually and emotionally it remains largely atrophied and only minimally developed. It would be wonderful to find Tepper's conceptual skills merged with the narrative and storytelling abilities of an author such as Jordan or Hobb. So far these skills---good storytelling versus conceptual investigation---appear to remain mutually exclusive. However, we can always hope for the future...