"Unearthing Otherwise: Sheri S. Tepper's Quest to Rewrite the Story of Homo sapiens."
Stephanie Studzinski, Ph.D. candidate at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2021
This thesis is devoted to demonstrating the existence of and the iterations of a single metanarrative threaded through the oeuvre of Sheri S. Tepper (1929-2016), a speculative fiction author. This metanarrative asserts that humans as a species need to evolve to survive and to become fully human by learning to coexist with unlike others; the metanarrative simultaneously demonstrates this need as it calls for it by examining who or what is human (or inversely, nonhuman) and what kind of world that creates in terms of social and ecological justice, or antithetically, in terms of mass death and ecoapocalypse. Each of Tepper’s texts contributes to this metanarrative by questioning the social structures that create or deny social and ecological justice while ostensibly operating as complete, unique individual narratives. I explore this metanarrative as a dichotomy between two stories: the story of how to be less than human, Homo singularis and the story of how to become more than human, Consocio homo.
"I know there are writers who say they have no social responsibility except to write a good book, but that doesn’t satisfy me." -Sheri S. Tepper, Interview, Locus (1998)
I compare and analyze a large breadth of her work which has not been done before and some of which has no critical attention whatsoever. I then contextualize her work and philosophy with all eight of her interviews which has also not been done before and many of which are now obscure and difficult to access. I examine the most salient examples of both from Tepper’s SF texts: The Gate to Women’s Country, Six Moon Dance, The Margarets, The Arbai Trilogy: Grass, Raising the Stones and Sideshow, and the Plague of Angel’s Series: A Plague of Angels, The Water’s Rising, and Fish Tails. I also draw together a representative cross-section from her other texts, short stories and educational pamphlets to reveal a consistent thematic and philosophical project based on Tepper’s beliefs about the need for humanity as a species to evolve, her perceived authorial obligation to do so and her belief in the power of story to change the real world. The larger existence and significance of Tepper’s writing and philosophy and its real-life correlations have so far gone unresearched. I hope to remedy this by revealing and exploring the metanarrative I have identified alongside Tepper’s ethics and philosophy and their salient relations to the real world.
"Think if the whole destiny of the universe rested on us. I don't think we are living in a homocentric universe. If you are living in a homocentric universe, you'll kill anything that comes along." -Sheri S. Tepper, Interview Locus (1998)
Sheri S. Tepper; Speculative Ecofiction; Metanarrative; Nonhuman