In Memoriam: Sheri S. Tepper

Sheri S. Tepper (b.1929), critically acclaimed author of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mystery novels, died October 22, 2016, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she ran a guest ranch. She is survived by her husband of 51 years, Eugene X. Tepper; her daughter, Regan Eberhart; son, Mark Eberhart; two grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews.

Sheri was born in 1929 in rural Colorado, near the town of Littleton, to Hazel Louise and Stedman Stewart. She recalled her childhood as being lonely because she and her younger brother, James, were often banished outdoors to make the house quiet for the elderly relatives living there. Playmates were few and far away. The outdoors is where Sheri learned to appreciate solitude and to amuse herself with her vivid imagination. It is also where she developed her love for animals and the environment, which were strong themes in her books.

In 1962, Sheri began a 25-year career as the executive director of Planned Parenthood in Denver, now known as Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. At the time, it was a small nonprofit, primarily serving the Denver area. By the time she retired, she had overseen the growth of the organization to provide family planning services to thousands of women throughout Colorado and Wyoming. She pioneered a service-delivery model that made family planning affordable for low-income women, and this model was widely adopted throughout the United States in the ’80s and ’90s. During her tenure at Planned Parenthood, she was a fierce advocate for women’s rights and reproductive freedom.

Upon Sheri’s retirement, she and Gene moved from Denver to a ranch near Castle Rock, Colorado, and later to Santa Fe, where she launched her second career, writing novels. Not surprisingly, they were written from a fierce feminist (and environmental) viewpoint. Sheri recounted that when she met her publisher for the first time, the publisher had expected to meet a young woman, maybe 30 years old, because it would have been unusual for someone of Sheri’s age to be an eco-feminist. “She was quite surprised,” Sheri said, “to meet instead a middle-aged matron in the middle of a hot flash.”

Sheri wrote prolifically for nearly three decades, authoring nearly 40 science fiction and fantasy novels. She also wrote murder mysteries under the names A. J. Orde and B. J. Oliphant and horror books under the name E. E. Horlak. Her first published work during this period was the True Game series, which began with Kings Blood Four in 1983. The following year, she was nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Many of her novels were shortlisted for major awards, including the Arthur C. Clarke, the James Tiptree Jr. Literary Award, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Her novel Grass was a Hugo Award finalist and her novella The Gardener (1989) was a World Fantasy Award finalist. She received a World Fantasy Life Achievement Award in 2015. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction calls her “one of science fiction’s premier world-builders.”

The guest ranch that Sheri owned and managed reflects her talent at building new worlds. Wind sculptures and fantastic statuary adorn the grounds, which are teeming with vivid perennial gardens and inviting nooks and spaces. Rare breeds of farm animals live throughout—sheep, goats, burros, chickens, rabbits in a warren—and families of raucous peafowl roost in the trees and eves.

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Cat Rambo, President of SFWA, had this to say, “I came to Tepper’s work with her marvelous True Game series and have been a faithful fan for decades now, following her through any number of amazing, beautifully crafted, and thought-provoking landscapes. This is a tremendous loss to the genre.”

8 Responses

  1. Lucille Duncan

    This was sad news for those of us who love her books. She was a wonderful writer and one of my all-time favorite authors for any genre.

  2. Shirley Goodgame

    Sheri passed away in October 2016. She wrote her first novel in her mid-50’s, her last about age 85, and some 40 novels altogether. She was an amazing person. I am one of those readers who “adore” Sheri Tepper, and think she was genius. Her ideas had a profound impact on me.

    I’ve now read positive and negative commentators on Tepper’s works, and wonder if one of the hallmarks of a great writer is that they hold up a mirror to their readers, reflecting who they are at the time they read it, and what concerns they might have in our world? I never connected Gate to Women’s Country with eugenics, for example, but with the horrors of war and our possible human extinction from war. I hated the women’s “solution” in the book, but gathered that they also hated it, suffering grievously throughout the novel from loss of their sons, and revealing at the end of the book that the few who took up the burden to carry out their solution were the irrevocably “Damned.” It was a “dystopia,” after all. There was no happiness in it. I thought it was Tepper’s warning to us to “Do something,” something Else, before it was too late. The consequences of doing Nothing had led to this awful future.

    In Grass and in Beauty, I also perceived a “warning” from Tepper, about human overpopulation, the consequences of fertility worship, Me-as-God-image, and greed for more children than we can cherish by support. I did not see that she was against “feeding the poor,” but rather that focusing on this as a “solution” was futile, without reproductive responsibility as a shared human value. Ours’ is so clearly now a world of throwaway children and throwaway adults. We’ve taken a path leading to the abomination visited by Beauty in Tepper’s novel. Tepper’s call again was to “Do Something” both rational and kind, for all the human family, before it was too late.

    The consequences of overpopulation have long been known to be the Four Horsemen of religion: war, plague, starvation and death. We’ve been seeing the symptoms every day in our “news” for a long time now–what major human problem does it not underlie? How about immigration? Climate change? Surely. Tepper’s portrayal of religious influence and impact upon our world is woven throughout her novels, most keenly on its stubborn insistence to keep on irresponsibly breeding. Hand-in-hand with capitalism, of course, which has become another “religion” to many. Science fiction at its best is, of course, idea fiction. What if? Why? Tepper took so many of us on those mind journeys. Explorations of ideas, travel to other worlds, other minds.

    My favorite Tepper book was Raising the Stones, in which she introduced the idea of the Hobbs Land gods. No other commentator mentioned it, in any posting site I read. Of all the “ideas” Tepper extrapolated or perhaps even invented, I think the most startling, charming and impactful upon me was the idea of “a God that worked.” Just THINK of it: a God who actually WORKS! Yep. She was genius, in my book. I will miss her, and hope she someday receives the recognition she deserves, as a Classic writer of several top-ranking Classic novels, in science fiction.

    1. Nica Sharshon

      Shirley –

      So happy that you mentioned “Raising the Stones” & its Hobbs Land gods. That was the first of Tepper’s books I read & enjoyed. How intriguing to me to have found this Arbai Device also in “Grass” & “Sideshow”.

      Until today I hadn’t heard that Sheri Tepper died, & I’m saddened by the loss. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate her other genres as well. Yet I’ve returned again & again to “Raising the Stones”, sometimes reading only the Hobbs Land chapters in times too dark to deal with the Ahabar violence. Like you, I resonate with the thought of a God Who Worked. I wish that the publishers would float the idea of reissuing this novel….

      BTW, to friends unacquainted with her books, I most often recommend starting with “Gibbon’s Decline & Fall” as the way to ease into her fantasy worlds.

  3. Abbey Riley

    What a disappointing year this has been, personally. Ms. Tepper has long been my favorite author and her work has gotten me through my darkest times, always bringing me fresh insight that I didn’t see on my first read. From the first time I picked up Six Moon Dance at the age of 16, I have ravenously devoured every work of hers I could get my hands on, collecting all her speculative fiction pieces except for two of the Marianne series (which are hard to get in good condition). I did my senior thesis on the feminine apocalyptic vision, using her works and the works of Margaret Atwood as the basis. I have read and reread her works with the greatest sense of belonging I have ever felt and am truly saddened to hear of her passing. I hope future generations can appreciate the wit, insight, and depth of her storytelling.

  4. Thalia Rentes Daughter

    A long life well lived. The Gate to Women’s Country was one of the seminal books of the late feminist era. An accomplished novel that made an “ends justifies the means” argument that highlighted some of the desperation women were feeling at the time. Like all good science fiction it zeroed in on what people were experiencing at the time it was written. May the Lady escort your soul, Sheri.

  5. Rowena

    This is so very sad.

    I recently came across my copy of the Marianne trilogy while sorting through some old books and decided to look up Sheri Tepper and see if she’d released anything new lately. I was devastated to learn that she had passed away. Her books were so important to me in my formative years and I regularly reread my old favourites every so often. I’m so heartbroken to find out that we won’t be reading any more of them. Condolences to her family.

  6. Phoebe Diamond

    I am broken. Sheri Tepper’s words have stayed in my mind long after I completed her books. Her ability to express challenging ideas was a gift that I will miss, especially in today’s world.