Shadow's End

Sheri S. Tepper

Bantam Books. $ 22.95
(paper $6.50)

Human civilization spans the galaxies, its foremost philosophy that the universe was created for mankind to fill. Now, however, all human life has completely disappeared from some colonized planets and the phenomenon is spreading, except for one world -- Dinadh -- which remains untouched.

A team travels to Dinadh, hoping to learn what keeps that planet safe. During a local religious ceremony, they are transported, along with Saluez, a young Dinadhi woman outcast from her society, through a wormhole in space to another planet, one already stripped of human life.

There they find that the answer to the fate of human civilization rests in their souls . . .

As always, Sheri Tepper creates strong characters and devilishly interesting scenarios on which to string her plot. And as with some previous novels -- Beauty in particular -- Shadow's End is a cautionary tale, this time about man's arrogance in driving animals to extinction. This time it doesn't work.

Two major flaws compromise the integrity of the novel.

The first is the structure of Shadow's End itself. Tepper has chosen a first person narrator, Saluez, but the scope of the story is much larger than Saluez's participation. The general convention is that other characters at some point tell everything to Saluez, but as a plot device this feels more than a little contrived. Yet the story is strong enough to support this, a tribute to Tepper's skill as a storyteller.

The second and fatal flaw is this: The plot falls apart some thirty pages from the end, exactly at the crucial moment when the mystery should be made clear. Despite subtle references throughout, the revelation that the extinction of animals is to blame for the current crisis comes as a sudden left hook. All the puzzle pieces that nearly fit together scatter. Tepper does not satisfactorily explain things by the end of the book; nor does Shadow's End seem to require a sequel. The reader can only wonder -- what happened?

Sheri Tepper is the author of over twenty novels of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mystery.


This review copyright 1997 by Wendy Morris

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