Sheri S. Tepper’s latest, The Visitor, tells a common story: a giant meteor is about to hit Earth and cause global destruction. Scientists prepare
while religious fanatics trust their god to protect them, or at the very least, deliver them to a better place. Human life survives and begins anew.
Jump ahead scores of generations later and you have a civilization that only resembles its long-ago predecessor. As if finding remnants of an instruction manual, it uses the recognized parts and makes up the rest. The main character, Disme Latimer, lives in Bastion, a city-state settled by bitter religious fundamentalists who were not expecting to start over in a barren wasteland. There, belief in science is cause for execution and advancement in magic is the common goal. Run by a group of power-hungry warmongers, Bastion is considered the boil on the butt of society by anyone living outside its city limits.
The citizens of Bastion are oblivious to a different way of life, and any who show the slightest hint of freethinking are immediately silenced. As members of Disme’s family die or escape, she resolves to live an obedient life under the thumb of her cruel and overbearing stepsister, Rashel. Eventually, Disme becomes a reluctant heroine when her own knack for magic is made evident and she joins others in the ultimate clash of good against evil.
The Visitor contains many elements of Tepper’s past work. She presents a bleak future in a world with serious problems. Her characters are given a chance for betterment without making it too easy for them. She gives evidence that true evil exists and that even well-meaning people can fall prey to it.
It is difficult for us to agree on a future world. For those of us who grew up with Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek future, we see endless possibilities as we race around the galaxy. We refuse to visualize a world that fundamentally predates our own. We want a world with no wars and no diseases. Anything else and we believe we are to blame. The Visitor does not contest that theory. While we cannot blame ourselves if Earth is in the path of a meteor, we can be held accountable for what is left when the smoke clears. It is Tepper’s view that evil will still be around and that it is up to the surviving inhabitants of Earth as to how strong it will be. So in a sense, Tepper’s future is no different from our present. The Visitor just presents it in a more obvious and adventurous way.