cover image Sideshow

Sideshow

Sheri S. Tepper, Author Spectra Books $21.5 (0p) ISBN 978-0-553-08130-5

Loosely related to her earlier books Grass and Raising the Stones, Tepper's newest big novel questions the desirability of further evolution. A sentient fungus has infested most of the galaxy, reworking the life forms it inhabits to enhance their physical and spiritual comfort. The people of the planet Elsewhere, however, see the fungus's contented hosts as slaves; to preserve free will on Elsewhere, the rulers have imposed absolute cultural relativity within which pleasant and unsavory societies coexist, their integrity rigidly maintained by Enforcers. But powers have arisen to challenge the status quo: creatures resembling dragons are reported in unexplored regions, and evil entities in the computer network are manifesting themselves in a deadly way. The planetary provost, Boarmus, sends a crew of three Enforcers with an assortment of misfits to investigate the dragons, while he tries to thwart the net-beings. The pointlessly complicated plot veers off into long digressions that add only pages to the main story, and though Tepper tries to raise the stakes with debates over current issues such as isolationism and sexism, she fails to grapple with the complex implications of these concerns. After her last book, Beauty , this one is a disappointment. (Apr.)