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Fish Tails
by Sheri S. Tepper
Harper Voyager, $32, 720 pp
Publication Date: October 21, 2014
Sheri S. Tepper is hailed as a giant among sci-fi and fantasy writers – a staunch feminist and eco-champion known for her witty novels. Fish Tails is her 35th novel and serves as a sort of capstone to her career, tying her recent “Plague of Angels” trilogy with her first novels, the “True Game” series.

I admit I have not read her work previously, but Tepper has a respectable pedigree, with Hugo, Clarke and Campbell nominations, as well as a Locus Award for her 1991 novel “Beauty.”  So I went in with high expectations -which were immediately dashed.

Fish Tails is a “Dying Earth” pastiche – reminiscent of Jack Vance without the picaresque anti-heroes and sexism. Or the humor.

The novel follows Abasio and Xulai from the “Plague of Angels” books as they journey the Earth warning of a coming flood which will destroy humanity. Abasio and Xulai have two children who have adapted to water life, essentially evolving into merfolk, and they seek to encourage the people they meet to adapt to a seagoing life for their children in order to survive the coming apocalypse.

Fish Tails was overly didactic and hamfisted with its feminist and environmentalist messages — so much so that I found myself almost offended by positions that I would normally be sympathetic to.

The lengthy novel is filled with episodes showing how much humanity has descended to barbarism — highlighting the folly of man in ignoring the environment and showcasing overbearing examples of misogyny. Abasio and Xulai come along, and convince people to follow them, or flee from religious fanatics offended by their mer-children.

I did like some of her descriptions and there are some vivid, beautiful and stark passages in the novel, but I also found the writing overly excitable with far too many exclamation points peppered throughout the text.

And in the end Mavin Manyshaped, Jinian Star-eye, and Silkhands the Healer from her earlier novels show up for no particularly good reason.

If this is a typical example of Tepper’s work I’m not really interested in exploring further.  ~~ Michael Senft

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