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The Companions    by Sheri S. Tepper order for
by Sheri S. Tepper
Order:  USA  Can
Eos, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Though a long-time fan of Sheri S. Tepper - my favorites of her works being Beauty and The Gate to Women's Country - I have been a little disappointed in recent books like The Fresco and The Visitor, which seem to have become more platforms for messages (albeit important ones) than well crafted stories in their own right. I enjoyed The Companions as much as many of the author's early writings.

It's a universe with a variety of (elder and younger) civilizations. Earth is packed to the gills, due to the passage of a 'Law of Return', which guarantees the right of colonies to send people back (and they're doing so, by the millions). The presence of 'billions of concs' - disposable human-looking companions who become whatever their owner desires - also puts space at a premium. Where did concs originate? No-one seems to know. Demagogue Evolun Moore has been lobbying for the killing of all animals on the planet in order to make room for more 'down-dwellers', and is succeeding.

Jewel Delis accompanies her arrogant linguist brother on assignments to alien cultures and reports back to Earth Enterprises general manager Gainor Brandt, 'one of the mainstays of the preservationist movement'. They are both 'arkists', working to secure safe refuges for Earth's remaining animal life on other planets. Jewel is particularly concerned for the genetically enhanced (larger, more intelligent and with a crude speech capability) dogs under her care, especially her beloved Scramble. She loves them because they are different and tells an alien Phaina 'If everyone is alike, it narrows our world down, it makes us narrow too.'

Earth Enterprises, under contract from the vicious alien Derac, has been exploring the planet Moss and attempting to discover whether the flame like Mossen are sentient, while the explorers' days 'went by like dreams passed in a chamber of the heart, a systole of morning wind, a throb of noon sun, an anticipatory pulsation of evening cool that was like the onset of apotheosis'. It becomes slowly clear to the reader that Moss is another of the author's sentient worlds and we watch it struggle to communicate by scent with humans (who soon include Jewel and her brother) through engaging 'willogs'.

Of course, there's a lot more to any of Sheri Tepper's plots. There's a lost colony of humans gone astray long ago on the planet, including scent mistress Gavi who befriends Jewel; two alien cultures (Zhaar and Orskimi) plotting long-term villainy, against each other and humanity; and mysterious 'harvesters' who open a door into Splendour. There's a Planet of the Apes kind of role reversal and an interspecies war in which 'copses make corpses'. As usual, the author has a lot of fun giving most of her bad guys (including a large portion of humanity) exactly what they deserve, in a deus ex machina ending that is just a little too easy.

Though I prefer David Brin's genetically enhanced creatures, in his Uplift series, to Tepper's evolved dogs, hers are well imagined and credibly oriented to their own goals. And it's good to see an author of Sheri S. Tepper's stature take on the plight of Earth's disappearing species. The Companions is a must read for SF fans.

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