Friday, November 25, 2005

The Companions - by Sheri S. Tepper

This is yet another science-fiction tale from the author of such excellent tales as Grass, Raising The Stones and Sideshow. Here we are shown the dire consequences that could await those who would meddle with world ecology so here's the basic storyline...

Humankind has arrived on the planet Moss, a verdant paradise, to discover if any intelligent native life exists there, and to assess the planet for development - and profit. When multi-coloured shapes of dancing light are spotted and strange sounds heard in the night, the researchers send for a linquist to ascertain if it is evidence of intelligent life.

The linguist who tries to decipher the strange language of the Mossen is Paul Delis who is accompanied by his half-sister Jewel - but Jewel has a secret mission. A new law on Earth means the imminent extermination of all animal life on the planet, so Jewel must discover if Moss holds the promise of sanctuary for the doomed animals including her dogs, once mankind's beloved companions.

Time is running out for Jewel's creatures, but it might be running out for Humanity too: An interstellar war is brewing and Moss, itself a living entity, is not sure it cares for any of the species currently living on its surface...

I quite like Tepper's books, and this is one of the better ones, but her feminist eco-warrior themes tend to get a bit predictable. Women as the underdogs in a male dominated society and religious fanatacism are also recurring sterotypes in Tepper stories and it's also fairly obvious that she isn't very keen on war or fighting just for the sake of it either.

Jewel, obviously the heroine of the piece, is so talented at everything she undertakes it's a wonder she's not running the planet and she's surrounded by bad guys and incompetents. The bad buys are obvious - her brother, a fairly disturbed misogynist, treats Delis as his property; the reptilian Derac, a nomadic race that discovered the planet, fancy trying human flesh for dinner and cross breeding with them to try and make their own females more intelligent; the insectoid Orskimi race have plans of galactic domination that includes the destruction of both Derac and Humanity; the IGIHFO fanatics who want to kill all non-human life on Earth and eventually everywhere and last, but not least, her mother-in-law. The incompetents are the ESC (Exploration and Survey Corps) and PPI (Planetary Protection Institute), who've been on Moss for some time and can't see what's so obviously in front of their noses.

The book's title is a bit confusing in that it could refer to either the mysterious Concs, also called Companions, that have appeared on Earth and are being adopted by all and sundry as pets or sexual playthings. It could also mean the dogs as man's best friend and long time companions.

All that aside, the story has well developed alien races and societies, a well developed human space culture, a fair bit of action and mystery and even a wee bit of humour.

Genre: Science-Fiction
ISBN: 0-575-07628-3
My Rating: 7/10

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