on 30 July 2009
I have read almost all of Sherri Tepper's books and enjoyed them, but I found The Margarets different and completely fascinating.
It has her usual theme of mankind destroying its environment and of males trying to subjugate women, but is more forgiving than usual, even giving some sympathetic roles to men and offering a (strange) explanation for human kind's failings.
The story revolves around a woman (the first Margaret) who spins off alternate versions of herself every time she makes a major decision. Her alternate selves (the other Margarets) lead lives that go in very different directions, each unaware of the others' existence.
In the end, it turns out that there is a purpose behind this, as forces bring the Margarets back together to achieve it and save mankind.
I couldn't put the book down! And I enjoyed Tepper in this gentler voice.
on 6 August 2007
Tepper is one of only a handful of authors whose new book gets an automatic pass to the top of my 'to read' pile. I haven't liked every one of her novels but I've certainly read them all. In some ways you always know what you're going to get with Tepper: she's an angry, issues-driven writer with a lot to say. On the other hand, you never quite know what she's going to deliver. She is a skilled writer - even at her worst she's better than most - who always manages to entertain even if her message isn't convincingly conveyed.
The Margarets has an unnecessarily convoluted plot that is spread out over far too many pages. The story is about the need for mankind to be able to learn from its mistakes via the intervention of a god-like entity. This involves a quest that, naturally, comes down to one person - you guessed it! - to succeed. The reasoning behind Margaret's role in this scheme is not adequately explained and the whole scenario seems preposterous.
Not that 'preposterous' is unusual for Tepper. At some point in just about all over her novels, usually when the reader feels most comfortable that they have a handle on the plot, she introduces a twist that flips the book on its head. That twist comes mercifully early in The Margarets. For reasons I'm still not clear on, Margaret splits off personalities from herself at various points. These are not split-personalities but living breathing versions of Margaret. Eventually there are seven different (but the same) 'Margarets' using different names on different planets, all initially unaware of the existence of the others. You will either accept this and just allow Tepper to take you on a journey...or you will throw the book down never to be picked up again.
I'm not likely to ditch a Tepper novel - the rewards for placing yourself in her generally assured hands are usually worth a bit of silliness...but not this time. The Margarets is a failure. The plot seems as though it has been made up on the run and the different 'Margarets' are poorly written. Tepper's message is lost in over-writing and the entire effect is underwhelming. I'll eagerly await Tepper's next novel...and hope it's a worthier book than The Margarets.
on 19 July 2012
I struggled up to about 3/4 of the way through this book before I forgot to take it on the train with me one day and had to read something else instead, which made me realise that I could actually read something enjoyable instead! I found this book to be poorly written, and did not enjoy the story, which doesn't appear to have any clear direction and fails to generate any momentum. There are a lot of interesting concepts, but rather than taking a few of the ideas and turning them into a great story, it feels like they were all poured into a sausage machine with a ton of lips and bumholes, with unpleasant results.
I did not like the following about the book:
- There is little consistency between how the different Margarets arise, or rather, not enough consistency. The majority result from different choices that the main character makes, or things that happen to her - a clear split happens, and you get two characters with a shared past following two different routes. Sometimes, this does not happen. One of the Margarets does not result from such a split, and just "walks out" of the main character, seemingly popping into existence with a complete history and personality, distinct and different to that of the main character. What the new character was doing in the same place as the main character was not explained, at least in the following 250-or so pages. Another Margaret is a boy. Again, no explanation of how this came about. Fair enough, this is a sci-fi/fantasy book, but some theme or thread is necessary, otherwise the reader has no grip on the reality of the story, and just feels lost. Many of the characters are anticipated very early on, but not quite.
- I found the story very difficult to follow. I have read books where the narrative switches between characters before, and enjoyed them. In this book, it felt like this device was used to skip important events in each character's life and to avoid having to do any real storytelling. The result is very confusing and pretty demoralising. I felt no connection to any of the characters or appreciation for their talents or personalities as I had not seen them develop. In addition, the story is very slow, the writing tedious. I was coming up on the last 100 or so pages when I stopped reading, and there was still no sign of the story going anyhere.
- The locations and aliens are very two-dimensional. One planet is very clearly a characterisation of rural, religious America. Four different races of aliens (who are related, but somehow different, in ways that aren't made clear) are, as far as I could tell, basically the warlike lizard aliens of Omicron Persei 8 from Futurama. Another race of aliens are basically humanoid cats, and all the domestic cats found on Earth are the descendents of mentally-/developmentally-handicapped members of their race which they dropped off there at some point in the past. WTF. No explanation of how this squares with evolution or history. (I debated putting a spoiler alert for that, but can't think how this fact has any bearing on the rest of the story. It's just an annoying waste of time.)
I love books about aliens, other worlds, whatever, but if they are used, then they should be used well - to show something truly alien. This book could easily have been told using locations on a single world, with humans of different cultures only, and it would have been a lot simpler for the reader, who could then focus on the story. Instead, this book demands a lot of learning and attention with no payoff.
- Poorly thought out political/religious agenda.
Again, if an author has a point to make, I'll go with it, if they've thought about it, and the story is good and sci-fi enough. That is not the case in this book. Tepper goes all out on a number of subjects, including railing against the concept of gods/religion, making gods out to be little more than petty characterisations of the races they represent. Human gods are no different ... except the gods she obviously likes, characterisations of Mother Nature and Father Time who help the main characters and are wise and wonderful and do no wrong. The apparently monotheistic, God-fearing, rural American-type people are little more than bumpkins, doing no more than breeding, struggling through their miserable lives and wasting time in their churches and on petty squabbling - one of the Margarets meanwhile, is a shaman, a follower of an ancient faith which surprise surprise, has none of the negative hangups of the religions associated with gods. As an aside, during one of her rants Tepper incorrectly equates Allah, Jehovah and Jupiter - again, criticism of religion is fine in my book, but at least know what you're against and get it right. The cherry on the cake is a rant about "no child left behind" as an education policy, again with little or no bearing on the story. Seriously. Parts of this book felt like the ravings I'd expect from Fox news.
I really enjoyed Grass and Beauty, two of Tepper's other books, but this book just felt like it was lazily written, sadly a chore to read.
on 24 January 2009
It is true that some of Sheri Tepper's books take several readings before one really appreciates them; I found this with The Companions and Six Moon Dance particularly. Oddly, given what other reviewers have said here, I did not find it with The Margarets, which I would say was my favourite ever - were it not that The Gate to Women's Country will always remain at the top of my list. Perhaps it is a story better suited to those of us who are getting to the stage in life when we look back on choices and think what might have been? Certainly the structure is challenging, but the story and visions of the future are as fascinating as ever, and Margaret (what's wrong with the idea of one woman being brave enough to accept the role of saving the entire world or even universe?!) is as beautifully drawn as all Tepper's other main characters, and a lot more sympathetic than some. If you didn't get on with it now, save it until you are twenty years older, and it might suddenly make sense (and I don't mean that in a patronising way - it happened to me with Atwood's Cat's Eye).
on 13 October 2011
Let me put my cards on the table - I'm a fan of Tepper's writing. 'A Plague of Angels' absolutely blew me away. I still vividly recall the main details of the plot years later - something that happens with only a handful of books, given my shocking memory. So it was a red letter day, when I discovered this book on the library shelves.
Like all Tepper's plots, it is a nifty twist on a familiar theme underpinning many a fantasy series - that of a special person selected by reason of his/her ability and birth to fulfil a particular prophesy. What Tepper does, is give that fantasy staple a science fiction spin, so that we have a classic space opera adventure spanning a number of worlds - think of Elizabeth Moon meeting Juliet Marillier... The various worlds and the particular plight of humankind are depicted with the clarity and precision you'd expect from a writer of Tepper's pedigree, giving the reader a rich, three dimensional universe to enjoy. But what holds this book together is the narratives of the Margarets as they struggle to survive in a variety of difficult and largely life threatening environments.
It is here that I ran up against a problem - there are seven Margarets out there and for my money, I'd have preferred five, or even three. This is a fairly hefty book at over 500 hundred pages of reasonably small print and after an absolutely cracking start, the pace sagged slightly in the middle as I struggled to keep up with them all. Tepper makes the task as easy as possible - each Margaret's name is altered, depending on where she ends up, with one changing gender, while the scene changes are clearly labelled as we switch viewpoints. There certainly was no bland blending of their experiences, which could have all too easily happened in the hands of a lesser writer. However, the fact remains that I did get a bit bogged down in the middle and I do believe that having so many major protagonists to follow is a very big ask for the reader.
The effort certainly paid off, though. As the book neared the end, the pace once more picked up and as we approached the climax, I was completely immersed in the plot. I love the mix of science fiction and fantasy within the story - no one does it better than Tepper and the ending produced some unexpected twists with a completely satisfactory conclusion. If you are a fantasy fan who doesn't generally dip your toe into the techie world of science fiction, or a sci fi follower who can't be bothered with all that wafty magic stuff - give this book a try. It is a substantial, enjoyable read by one of the best speculative fiction authors of her generation.
Set in a dystopian future where mankind has completely filled the Earth, destroying virtually all other life on the planet, Margaret's consciousness splits off at critical moments in her life to create 7 parallel Margarets all living completely separate lives.
The entire Earth is at breaking point. We desperately need to trade with alien cultures to obtain raw materials such as water - and the only thing we have in abundance is people. So one of the Margarets is sold as a slave, others leave Earth to become settlers, workers and translators on other planets.
Eventually they must come together to solve the riddle, with help from various mysterious friends, in order to reach the mythical Keeper and request a boon which will save all of mankind.
I loved this book! The story is quite difficult to follow and it can feel disjointed as the narrative jumps from one Margaret to another - so it is not for the faint-hearted! But it contains powerful messages about law and justice, slavery, environmental destruction and the nature of good and evil, all woven into a compelling story line and set in richly imagined alien worlds. One of Tepper's best!