I can say without hesitation that Sherri S. Tepper’s “Singer from the Sea” is one of the strangest books I’ve ever read. It’s what would happen if one were to mash Frank Herbert’s “Dune,” Margaret Atwood’s “A Handmaid’s Tale,” and the movie ‘Fern Gully” into one story. It’s an environmentalist feminist epic complete with murder and mermaids.
The book tells the story of a young woman named Genevieve who lives on the planet Haven. Women on Haven are trained from an early age to be submissive to men and to obey the Covenants which were signed by their ancestors. Strict conformity to Haven’s social structure has created a peaceful society. However, when Genevieve and her father are invited to the Lord Paramount’s court, she begins to realize that there was something sinister going on behind Haven’s utopian front. Certain men in the Lord Paramount’s favor tend to live unnaturally long, but their wives all seem to die immediately after childbirth. Genevieve finds herself betrothed to the Lord Paramount’s son and must figure out what’s going on before it’s too late.
In “Singer from the Sea,” worlds have souls rather than individuals. If a planet’s soul becomes saddened to the point of departing from that world, then all life there begins to die off. Earth had already died off in the past, and humans have split up between other planets. Haven was founded by a bunch of rich people so they could relax and enjoy their lives.
One of the neat details that Tepper included was that Genevieve is black. You don’t see that very often in sci-fi, and it made me happy.
This was one of those books that I couldn’t put down. Tepper’s writing style is engaging, and I liked the way that she used the form of a mystery to describe the strange occurrences on Haven. The story began with a prophetic dream that Genevieve had, and then the story returned to the past until we eventually hit that point in Genevieve’s life, which made for some interesting foreshadowing.
While I enjoyed the book, I did feel like I was being drummed over the head by the whole “Women are oppressed” and “We need to save the planet” message, which was not at all subtle. It felt a bit preachy, but I didn’t think it detracted too much from the story.
I’d recommend “Singer from the Sea” if you’re looking for some unusual feminist sci-fi.
I read this book as part of the Speculative Fiction Challenge.