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The True Game by Sheri S. Tepper
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Lack of diversity in this work is hardly unexpected. The entire colony is a thousand years old and started from the families of the power-elite of one Earth country. The prime candidates for such a country (other than China -- in which case there would still be no diversity) tend to have majority populations of whites. Starting with such a small group, and allowing for a thousand years of cross breeding, it's hard to see how any other racial types could have endured.
  Snaz | Feb 20, 2011 |
Sherri S. Tepper wrote three delightful little interconnected fantasy trilogies with a science fiction core back in the 1980s. These books are now rather obscure and quite difficult to find. The first trilogy features the eponymous Mavin Many-Shaped; the second, her son Peter; and the third, his sweetheart Jinian. I stumbled over the series bass-ackwards during my peripatetic youth. I spent a few years traveling between seasonal jobs and habitually browsed used bookstores to pick up cheap, interesting paperbacks, then discarded them at the next stop (I went through a lot of Dick Francis novels that way).

Thus I found Jinian Footseer. It was an imaginative fantasy novel featuring an intrepid young heroine confronting the challenges of adolescence as much as her magical quest, and very much a palate cleanser after the many derivative works I’d ingested by that point. About ten years ago, after I settled down, I visited a local bookstore and found The True Game omnibus edition of the Peter stories alongside The End of the Game omnibus of the Jinian stories. Although I typically do not purchase hardcover fiction, I did not hesitate to acquire these two volumes. I finally got to read Jinian’s entire story and the complementary Peter storyline. They were very much worth the wait.

I lacked only the Mavin books. Over the years, I patiently scoured used bookstores everywhere. I search online as well without success. But last year, finally, the local Half-Price Books had the entire trilogy in excellent condition—clearly someone had liquidated their inventory to my benefit. The broad parameters of the Mavin books were no surprise, given that I was already familiar with later events that built upon the earlier stories, but that did not hinder the joy of discovery. These books are all keepers, and I am glad that I can finally stop searching.

The series addresses fundamental social issues. The Mavin books feature strong feminist themes, while the Peter books (King's Blood Four, Necromancer Nine, and Wizard's Eleven) concentrate on class differences and more general social justice. Finally, the Jinian books (Jinian Footseer, Dervish Daughter, and Jinian Star-eye) take all of these and combine them with spiritual and environmental concerns on par with Aldo Leopold’s land ethic in something of a science fiction context of first contact.

The stories take place primarily in the Land of the True Game, where Gamesmen have various magical talents, such as teleporting (Elators), mindreading (Demons), telekinesis (Tragamors), flying (Sentinels), beguiling (Kings, Queens, etc.), and changing shape (Shifters). Their frequently short, interesting lives generally consist of exercising their talents in various Games, which range from one-on-one duels to large-scale wars. Caught up in these Games as well are the untalented lower-class pawns who actually keep civilization going as farmers, merchants, servants, etc. And a third class of people are the Immutables who not only are immune to the talents of Gamesmen, but also effectively neutralize their talents, thus creating a safe zone bordering the Land of the True Game.

Being a biology geek, I love the mix of familiar and strange: horses and zellers, rabbits and bunwits. Tepper creates a delightful alien world with its own ecology and logic. From the arboreal towns that straddle giant tree limbs crossing the depths of an enormous chasm in The Flight of Mavin Many-Shaped to the self-aware Chimmerdong Forest in Jinian Footseer, Tepper explores how nature and culture might commingle in new and interesting ways. Also, I particularly enjoyed the scathing satire of academia reduced to absurdity in Necromancer Nine.

Peter’s story begins in King’s Blood Four as a foundling who grew up at a boarding school. After being injured in a Game, he discovers that he is Mavin’s son and is sent away in the company of the servant Chance. As is always the case in these stories, he meets many interesting people such as Silkhands the Healer and the Wizard Himaggery (his father) and Seer Windlow and falls into adventures. In Necromancer Nine, Peter searches for his famous mother (more adventures ensue). Finally, in Wizard’s Eleven, Peter meets Jinian, and the book ends with the climactic Battle of the Wastes of Bleer.

The largest deficit in this series is the lack of diversity. In effect, we have an entire human colony filled with only white people as far as I can tell. And all of the characters are straight and able-bodied and so on. The characters are not particularly deep or complex, not surprising in plot-driven novels that average less than two hundred pages each. And they follow the standard fantasy formula of good triumphing over evil, with characters readily falling in one camp or the other. This is not to say that poignancy is lacking. Each trilogy has a bittersweet ending that encompasses profound loss as part of the cost of success, all part of the heroic formula, I suppose, along the lines of sacrifice for the greater good. And depending on your politics, you may object to the underlying political/ethical/moral messages in these stories. Personally, the Shadowpeople’s traditional greeting resonates: lolly duro balta lus lom (walk well upon the lovely land). ( )
5 vote justchris | Jan 18, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sheri S. Tepperprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bradbury, StephenCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Christensen, JamesCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Velez, WalterCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Totem to King's Blood Four." The moment I said it, I knew it was wrong. I said, "No!"
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0441003311, Paperback)

Grass, has helped redefine speculative fiction. Award winner, national bestseller, and one of the genre's most respected and acclaimed talents, she has transcended the boundaries of science fiction and fantasy with her widespread success. Available for the first time in one volume, this is the long out-of-print trilogy that launched her remarkable career: King's Blood Four, Necromancer Nine, and Wizard's Eleven.

 

In the lands of the True Game, your lifelong identity emerges as you play-Prince or Sorcerer, Demon or Doyen. Raising the dead is the least of the Necromancer's Talents-he is a wild card who threatens the True Game itself. A giant stalks the mountains. Shadowpeople gather by the light of the moon. Bonedancers raise up armies of the dead. And the Wizard's Eleven sleep trapped in their dreams. Players, take your places. The final Game begins now...

 

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:14 -0400)

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