Off the Shelf

"The Companions"

By Marcus Pan

The CompanionsI thought the Golden Age of science fiction was long over. With the retirement (or passing…I’m really not sure) of folks like Asimov, Philip K. Dick, Alfred Bester and the surrounding crew. I was pretty sure I’d have to delve back a few decades in order to find anything worth reading in the genre. Lo and behold, Harper Collins is still around. Of course I’ve been too busy reading all these oldsters to notice – until their sci-fi/fantasy arm, E.O.S., dropped me a line to smack me in the head and remind me that there’s still writers chugging along on the path!

First out of the gate from E.O.S. to my mailbox was Sheri S. Tepper. Being lulled into the old glory days I’ve completely missed her and all of the work she’s done thus far. Prior to writing The Companions she’s written The Visitor, The Fresco, Sideshow and plenty more besides. The Companions can easily stand next to those other authors I’ve mentioned. It’s a very complicated novel, with intricate details that come into play as the story progresses.

Tepper is amazing at character development. And her knack for designing different races, religions, cultures and beliefs is astoundingly realistic. The races she’s created to populate the milieu within The Companions is so utterly detailed that it becomes more realistic than a lot of science fiction out there. A recent book I read, Infusion(1), dealt with only three planets – and did so as boorishly, unimaginatively and shoddily as possible. The Companions on the other hand deals with a multitude of planets and every one has its own character, lively detail and believable tranquility.

The story surrounds the life of Jewel, a young woman who tags along with her brother Paul who’s a linguist. He will regularly be sent to other planets to help document languages of alien races to facilitate communication and trade. Jewel will go to help him as a live-in maid, in some respects, but in actuality she does a bit of snooping for a group that is trying to save animals. On Earth, as population increased (expectedly), a religious organization called IGI-HFO are eradicating all non-human animals in the attempt to save space and air for humankind. Jewel’s group is trying to preserve these endangered species, such as dogs which is her current project, by finding new planets on which they can live. Which is the main reason why Jewel will tag along with her annoying brother on these offworld expeditions.

There’s a lot of raveling storylines in The Companions as various races attempt to return, infiltrate and move to dominate in different ways. From the warlike Derac to the millennium-long plans of the Orskis. The Phain who subtly manipulate and the humans who, as always, go around breaking shit stupidly with only a few exceptions. The return of a banished race, the Zhaar, hidden in a nether-world far removed but accessible necessitates a wide-reaching ending that actually resolves all the raveled out story loops. Again I bring up Infusion, which attempted to create a few threads of different plotlines inside, few of which were unraveled. The Companions wraps up nice and tidy!

The only caveat to The Companions was the ending, which while far-reaching was a bit anti-climactic. But the travel to this ending was very satisfying and well played. Tales of multiple worlds did come together in a neat bundle. I recommend The Companions to anybody and dare any reader to tell me that some of the science-fiction of today can’t be as good, well written and ingeniously designed as it was in the Golden Age.

“The Companions” by Sheri S. Tepper
Copyright © 2003 by Sheri S. Tepper
Published by EOS, an Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers
ISBN: 0-06-053822-8
(1) Reviewed in Legends #147.

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