I sometimes feel that every review of a Sheri Tepper novel should be subtitled, “Dances With Words.” Even though I rarely agree with the writer’s premises, the astoundingly graceful way in which she spins words into story is seductive, and subliminally persuasive.
The moss world… was a Victorian parlor of a planet, everywhere padded and bolstered, its cliffs hung with garlands, its crevices studded with cushions, every cranny silk-woven, every surface napped into velvet. Here were peridot parklands where moss piled itself into caverned outcrops of sapphire shade. There were violet valleys, veiled in lavender and wine, across a mat of miniscule, multi-colored moss beads…
I first read The Companions as soon as it was released in paperback, in September 2004. In addition to another mono-cultured world (see Grass), Tepper has introduced conquering canines, vat-cultured conc[ubine]s, a burkha-clad populace on Earth trying desperately to stay sane in the crowded conditions, and the siren comfort of Moss, a pillowed and bolstered world that may (or may not) have inhabitants.
The most wonderful characters in The Companions are the talking dogs rescued from Earth by the linguist Jewell. Together Jewell and her companions Scramble, Behemoth, Dapple, Titan, Wolf and Vigilant contact the intelligent life of Moss, and are “dognapped” to a world where canine-forms rule (and where Jewel is reduced to pet-status while her companions are lauded). Together they must solve the ultimate mystery posed by Moss and a dozen other worlds: where have the ancient races gone?
You need not subscribe to the eco-crisis, feminist vision of Tepper to thoroughly enjoy the disturbing pleasure of her writing. Like scarlet moss, it carries the reader to ever-higher transports of delight. And if a Tepper novel does not exactly provide a happy ending, at least, like a well-composed fugue, it will always provide closure.