Thursday, May 28, 2015

Consuming Posterity

Review: Singer From the Sea, by Sheri S. Tepper

Sheri Tepper‘s The Singer from the Sea is a strongly-stressed parable about consuming: eating, spoiling, using up and undervaluing resources from nature and human society.

The base story is engaging; as we follow an upper-crust maiden through her “prep-school” training and her debut at court, we learn that Genevieve has powers not possessed by other girls in her society. This foundational tale is almost like a Regency novel, complete with evil old suitors for the young girl’s hand, a deceased mother and an heroic (though unqualified) young man who strives to help Genevieve as he falls in love with her.

One by one, the author pours additional, darker flavors into this stew: a king collects precious treasures, then consigns them to a rubbishy pile; men are made widowers over and over as each wife dies tragically; an addictive substance consumes more and more of the attention and prosperity of the land.

Tepper’s work is always richly seasoned with ecological, religious, sociological and feminist arguments. It is ironic, then, that The Singer from the Sea can be read as a warning of the dangers of fetal stem cell research.

The desire to live longer and better lives is a basic human yearning. Tepper’s story warns us that “mining” the wombs of women and the lives of our children to sate the hunger for long life will lead us, in the end, to barrenness and death.