The Fresco is a surprisingly contemporary work for Sheri S Tepper, a
writer who would seem to be more at home in the far future universe of Grass or the fairy tale setting of Beauty. In The Fresco we meet Benita Alvarez, a Latino woman with grown children and an abusive husband who makes first contact with aliens on a mountain top in New Mexico. The aliens are called the Pistach, and The Fresco is the story of their teaching humanity the skills of "neighborliness" as they prepare us for membership of a galactic federation.
Most of The Fresco is a humorous and ironic look at the US and global politics on issues such as government, war, drugs, and the treatment of women. Tepper's politics have a feminist slant, but she's no bleeding heart leftie. She's a sternly radical feminist who advocates making people do better by force if need be.
Once the "bad guy" aliens arrive and begin making mischief and eating, people the story becomes much more like classic Tepper. The novel culminates with a trip off world where the humans teach the stodgy Pistach a little lesson or two about religion telling right from wrong.
I enjoyed The Fresco primarily because of the character of Benita
Alvaraz. I fell in love with Benita in the opening pages where she
describes her relationship with her abusive, alcoholic husband and her
feelings of worthlessness * a passage which evoked my sympathy and stirred up memories of my own life. Throughout the novel, Benita is a strong, reasonable woman, trying to deal seriously with problems which get more and more surreal and Pythonesque. It’s her strength and humanity which make this a memorable read.
If this novel has a flaw, it is that Tepper's humor gets too surreal and bloodthirsty in places. Yes, hypocritical middle-age men, who dictate to women that they may not have abortions are evil; but implanting nasty alien chest bursters into them is probably not the answer. Probably. I'm almost sure that it isn't the way to go. Hmmm. Well, it is funny in a bloody minded sort of way.
For a feminist, Tepper's solutions to world problems seem surprisingly paternalistic at times * on the level with an angry male god thundering "Thou shalt not!" She seems to feel that instead of talking about feelings and trying to reform people's thoughts and emotions we should take vengeance on wrongdoers, preferably before they do any damage. Thus, the drug dealers are arrested, gun-wielders are shot, and rabid, religious fanatics are punished by "divine intervention". Morally, it's all on an Old Testament level of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." Being the dominant paradigm.
Some people will find anti-islamic messages here. Perhaps for someone so outspoken on the rights of women this was an inevitability?
"Is that the truth? Is it Justice?" asks your jesting correspondent who does not wait for an answer. You be the judge. The Fresco is recommended.
I liked this, what else is there that I can read?
The Fresco is Tepper's 28th work according to Feminist SF, Fantasy and
Utopia. I recommend Grass, Raising the Stones, The Gate to Women's Country, and the Marianne trilogy. Fans of Tepper will probably enjoy the works of Ursula LeGuin. I recommend the Earthsea trillogy and The Dispossesed.
Is there anything like this in Wyvern's Library?
Is anyone writing feminist SF in Wyverns? Well, for stories with strong female leads consider the works of Debra Lynn Turpin. Alice L Raven had a story about an encounter with a small horse shaped craft in her bio, but she removed it.
Author: Sheri S Tepper