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The Fresco by Sheri S. Tepper
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The Fresco (2000)

by Sheri S. Tepper

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6921513,753 (3.67)42
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I’ve read quite a few of Sheri Tepper’s books. I usually consider them a guaranteed entertaining read; regardless of the author’s tendency to preach her spiritual/ecological agenda, and her tendency toward overwrought denouements. I can take that in stride, when balanced out by vivid worldbuilding, unique and interesting settings and social extrapolation, and dramatic events that ofter veer toward the horrific. Lots of Tepper’s books have lots of that good stuff.

This one features none of Tepper’s strengths, and practically works as a showcase for all of her weaknesses. I think most of the problem here is that it’s set in present-day Earth, rather than a fantasy world. Usually Tepper is forced by her sci-fi settings to use metaphor to get her agenda across. Without that barrier, every single page of this book beats the reader over the head with Tepper’s political opinions. It also made me less than impressed with those opinions. When filtered through a fantastic allegory, I’ve usually felt that I agree with her (even if I don’t agree with the didacticism). I still don’t totally disagree, but the opinions in this book, applied directly to our own world, made her politics come across as overly simplistic and somewhat condescending.

Our heroine, Benita (that means “good” – get it!) is a minority woman escaping an abusive relationship. (Men! Bad!) Luckily, although disadvantaged in many ways, Benita works at a bookstore and has been able to self-educate herself (Education! Good!). Her employers are nice to her (Gay men! Good!). She has a son who’s a jerk and a daughter who’s nice. (Men BAD! Women GOOD!) Benita’s life really turns around, though, when she happens to meet a couple of aliens, members of the Pistach race, who ask her to be their representative to Our Leaders.

These aliens seem to just want to help Earth and help end our wars and ecological depredations, (Peace and Ecology GOOD!), and help us join a Galactic Federation. Unfortunately, they’re just one member of a complicated society out there in space, and some other alien species would rather use Earth as a hunting reserve. (Humans tasty!) Some self-centered right-wing politicians make a deal with other aliens that would give away our legal rights. (Right-wing BAD!) In order to defend Human Rights (to not be hunted as game), Earth will need the help of our new allies. Unfortunately, at a critical juncture, the Pistach have a social crisis of their own regarding religious and historical revelations. If it’s not resolved, they might descend into chaos and leave us to our fate. (Snacks!)

The way the crisis is resolved is absolutely INFURIATING (not to mention unrealistic, unbelievable, and dumb). Without creating any spoilers, I think I can say that Tepper comes out firmly on the side that believes that both truth and history should take a back seat to a political agenda, and that knowingly re-writing the past as lies is just fine and dandy if it serves her perceived ‘greater good.’ She dismisses the destruction of ancient historical artifacts with a blithe ‘they weren’t very well-crafted anyway.’ Myself, I believe in learning from history – even the most unpleasant aspects of it. I don’t believe in whitewashing the past or intentionally twisting facts. So I really did find this book quite personally offensive.

I also felt that it failed as far as what Tepper was trying to do. I couldn’t tell if it was supposed to be humorous or not. There certainly are many bits that seem to be intended as funny (the anti-abortionists being injected with alien fetuses; the middle-eastern women having an illusion of ugliness cast over them) but then it veers into over-earnestness. The tone wasn’t consistent or effective. Overall, it just wasn’t very good. At all. Disappointing.

( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
I liked this book, about aliens contacting humanity through a self-educated middle-aged woman in a sometimes abusive marriage. A good story, it is also a reflection on how societies determine their values and how those values color reflection and interpretation of history and art. ( )
  nmele | Nov 8, 2013 |
Tepper considers the origins of culture and moral behavior in a tale of first contact and interstellar politics and intrigue. Good read. ( )
  nmele | Apr 6, 2013 |
Great read. Intelligent, fresh approach to aliens visiting earth with some provocative social commentary. Really enjoyed it. ( )
  spbooks | Jun 21, 2011 |
The Fresco is an ecofemminist diatribe attempting to masquerade as science fiction. ( )
  PLReader | Feb 19, 2011 |
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Along the Oregon coast an arm of the Pacific shushes softly against rocky shores.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 038081658X, Mass Market Paperback)

Part thriller, part social SF, prolific novelist Sheri S. Tepper's latest follows the adventures of Benita Alvarez-Shipton, an empty nester in her mid-30s, whose life is changed when two aliens ask her to carry their greetings to Washington, D.C. Chosen as intermediary because she is both ordinary and beyond political reproach, Benita seizes the opportunity to leave her abusive, alcoholic husband and start a new life in D.C. However, she doesn't count on her role extending beyond the initial delivery of the alien greetings, or on the dangers it will attract to her and her children.

Chiddy and Vess, ethical representatives of the benevolent Pistach, come to offer earth inclusion in a multirace Confederation--but on condition that earth clean up its societal woes. Earth has also attracted the attention of a subgroup of predatory races, who view the overpopulated planet as a rich hunting ground. Humanity must choose--either adopt the Pistach principal of Neighborliness and be ushered into the Confederation or refuse and be left at the mercy of the predators.

Interwoven with the earth-based action are excerpts from Chiddy's diary, written as a letter to Benita, that describe the complex Pistach society and the Pistach religion documented by the eponymous Fresco. The 17-panel, divinely inspired painting has for centuries been obscured by smoke from votive candles. Tradition dictates the events and symbols that lie hidden beneath the grime, and it is taboo to ever clean the Fresco. When Chiddy accidentally clears away part of the soot, revealing images that contradict Pistach dogma, it sets into motion a chain of events that undermine racial self-perception and threaten both Pistach and human survival.

Though some of the characters are drawn with such broad strokes as to render them caricatures, and there are elements of Pistach social engineering to alarm readers of just about any political stripe, The Fresco is nonetheless an engrossing, sometimes wickedly funny read. --Eddy Avery

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:39 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

The bizarre events that have been occurring across the United States, unexplained "oddities" tracked by Air Defense, mysterious disappearances, shocking deaths, seem to have no bearing on Benita Alvarez-Shipton's life. That is, until the soft-spoken thirty-six year-old bookstore manager is approached by a pair of aliens who request that she transmit a "message of peace" to the powers-that-be in Washington, D.C. Suddenly an ordinary woman with a poor self-image and low self-esteem has been thrust into the limelight as she leaves behind an unhappy home and marriage to undertake a mission of utmost importance.… (more)

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