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The Margarets    by Sheri S. Tepper order for
by Sheri S. Tepper
Order:  USA  Can
Eos, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The only child - and a very lonely one - growing up in a human colony on the Martian satellite Phobos, young Margaret Bain invents imaginary companions - a queen, a healer, a spy, a (male) warrior, a shaman, a telepath, and a linguist. Then the Phobos project is terminated and Margaret and her parents have no choice but to return to overcrowded Earth. There, Margaret discovers the shameful truth of humanity's desperate situation - in return for water and other necessities, Earthgov trades the only thing of value it controls, surplus population. Countless people aged ten to fifty are sent offworld for fifteen year labor contracts, on completion of which survivors are transferred to human colonies (many don't make it).

The alien Gentherans speak up for humanity in the Interstellar Trade Organization, help them establish colonies on other planets, arrange to sterilize most of Earth's population, and work for their long term interests as part of a very secret organization called the Third Order of the Siblinghood (the first and second Orders failed in their efforts). Other aliens are not so benign - the Quaatar in particular have long harbored a hatred for humans, ever since a small group of primitives fleeing predators took refuge in a moon that came down from the sky. The Quaatar considered their vessel defiled. Their immediate punishment and ongoing thirst for vengeance - specifically for the annihilation of mankind - far exceed the crime committed in ignorance.

Margaret has a talent for languages. And somehow, over time and based on key decision points in her life, each invented companion from her childhood spins away from her to live lives separate from her own - and very different one from the other - on far-flung planets. Margaret ends up having children and grandchildren on the human colony of Tercis in a region known as Rueful. Wilvia grows up to marry Prince Joziré and become Queen of Ghoss, though soon a queen in exile. Gretamara is the healer, learning from the Gardener on the human colony world of Chottem. Ongamar is sent into bondage on Cantardene, where she's purchased as a pet by a K'Famira, but teaches herself to spy. Naumi, the only male, trains on Thairy as a warrior. The shaman is M'urgi who learns her craft on Earth colony B'yurngrad. Telepath Mar-agern ends up enslaved in the worst place of all, Frossian Fajnard.

We're shown a Gathering of gods created from the beliefs of all races (human and alien), some kindly and others 'squatting above bloody altars', depending on the race they spring from. Some human gods intervene in their affairs. There are ghyrm, foul creations that feed on pain. And there's a folktale/foretelling that the Third Order of the Siblinghood is trying to fulfill, predicting that 'One person walking seven roads at once finds the Keeper.' It's a remarkable compendium of interwoven stories that pull apart and come together just as the Margarets do, with well-defined personalities - humans, aliens and gods - playing their parts. And Sheri S. Tepper, one of the all-time best SF writers, ties it all together in a gripping, thought-provoking story, not to be missed by any fan of the genre.

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