Long ago was the “Big Kill,” horrible, apocalyptic events that destroyed nearly every living thing on earth. Since then the last of humankind has scattered into widespread small kingdoms separated by superstition, war, and fear. And now, while facing a natural catastrophe that threatens to drown a world, an ancient evil resurfaces and may prevent any chance of survival.
With the future of humankind at stake, a small band of disparate characters–a lonely child, a loyal servant, a mysterious wanderer, and a most unusual horse–sets out on a journey fraught with peril and wonder . . . a sacred mission that leaves no room for failure. . . .
Deeply original in scope and vision, “The Waters Rising” is a daring and remarkable work of speculative fiction–a tour de force from one of the most revered writers of our time.
What the everloving fuck is this shit. Yes, this is the novel with the talking horse. What nobody told me was that it also contains a talking chipmunk, a talking stone, a talking dolphin, and yes, the girl on the cover is a hentai fantasy come true. That is, she is half squid. Literally. Trigger warning for pedophilia, by the way.
Before we get on with the quotespam from hell, it’s best to give this a little context. The Waters Rising is Tepper’s latest eco-warrior pamphlet where the world’s been covered in water, and somebody somewhere–probably a bunch of sentient sea animals (in Tepper’s world, animals have feelings too, and they talk. A lot. Every fucking animal talks)–came up with the idea of turning humans aquatic. This is a eugenics program by the way, more on that later. At the forefront of the plot is the love story between a ten-year-old girl and an adult man, of that also more later whether you like it or not. The girl ends up turning into this octopus breeding tank and swears true love for said adult man. Amazingly while Tepper is quick to condemn environmental damage, she doesn’t see anything wrong with portraying pedophilia uncritically.
Sheri Tepper, the blurb wants us to believe, is “one of the most revered writers of our time.” What it doesn’t mention is that Sheri Tepper is a crackpot who is a fan of eugenics and who believes horror writers are motivated by Satan. Mostly it’s the eugenics/breeding program idea that comes to the fore in Waters Rising, among other horrors–talking animals, squid people and all. But what I want you to know is that this book is unintelligible.
I’m not saying that it’s badly written. It’s actually, honestly incomprehensible.
The horse was watching her, however. His head was cocked as though he wanted to ask a question, as though he knew exactly what the trouble was. He saw her watching. He nodded at her. No, he nodded at someone slightly above her head. She turned to look behind her. No one. Perhaps both the man and the horse were strange!
She comforted herself with the possibility that the Woman Upstairs wouldn’t ask her again. Since Xulai hadn’t been able to do it in two tries, maybe the woman wouldn’t ask her again. She really hoped, really did, that the woman would forget about it.
You may have thought Adrienne Kress’ The Friday Society was the shittiest thing ever, language-wise. Well, you were wrong and so was I. I’m not sure what reading level Tepper is aiming at, but it’s below even the low, low standards of the average genre reader. And then we’ve this infamous passage:
Abasio yawned again, loosening his jaw, which had been tightly clenched. “In order to allay suspicion, I am about to sing something pastoral and suggestive of bucolic innocence.”
“Something half-witted and full of tra-la-las,” sneered the horse, sotto voce, “and hey-nonny-nonnies.”
“Very probably,” said Abasio, clearing his throat.
Hey—oh, the wagon pulls the horse,
Or else the horse the wagon,
And no one really knows what force
By which the which is draggin’.
For time can run from front to back
And sometimes even sidewise,
And oceans have the liquid knack
Of often running tidewise. . .
“Neigh, neigh,” offered the horse, “ti-i-idewise.”
Neigh, neigh. You tell me.
Among Abasio’s former friends and companions it was generally supposed that archers who had taken the trouble to paint their hands and faces to match their leafy surroundings were less likely to shoot a passerby if the passerby didn’t notice them. Being noticed could be considered an insult.
Pretty sure that’s not how it works.
The book’s best known for the talking horse (who’s a rapist). The sordid truth is that rapist horses are not the only thing in this book that talk.
“I, Xulai, come at the order of my kinswoman, Xu-i-lok, the Woman Upstairs. I beg you let me pass to the shrine.”
“Speak up, child,” said the stone. “Can’t hear a word you say!”
She had been prepared for it to say something, but speaking up was impossible. She had used up all the voice she had.
“Ah. Well,” the stone murmured when she had spoken, “go on then! About time someonecame to fetch it.”
“So,” said the chipmunk. “What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know.” She almost wept, finding in that moment no wonder left over to spend on a talking chipmunk.
“Stop that!” the chipmunk ordered.
So do chipmunks. Sometimes even “in a didactic tone.” They may also be psychic (“Frightening!” exclaimed the chipmunk, who seemed quite capable of reading her mind).
Xulai turned toward him and met the eyes of a dolphin, head and body tilted in the water so it could see her better.
It warbled, in Tingawan, “Is this your drylander daughter, Sea King?”
“It is,” he rumbled.
“Swim well and swiftly, sea daughter,” said the dolphin. “I will tell my people.”
So do dolphins.
Precious Wind had told her about rape. How to defend against rape. Difficult to do with one’s arms and legs shackled. It had taken Jenger almost a full day to get here from the abbey, and Abasio was a good bit farther away than that.
It was a good thing he hadn’t taken the little girl. He wouldn’t have dared touch the little girl. The duchess had said she had far worse things than rape to do to the little girl and she wanted those things to come as a lovely surprise. He had not seen her torture a child before. He was not sure he could bear it. But a woman the age of the one he’d taken prisoner shouldn’t be that surprised. Even if she were virgin, she should have heard of the things that some men had been taught to enjoy, guessed at those things. She had no right to disbelieve that he existed!
The requisite rape threat. Again, the girl is like… ten. But this isn’t the only place where this creepy sexual threat comes up, because when Xulai–who by that point is eight–is first made to swallow the “magic orb” (which turns out, later, to be a “sea egg” that turns her into the squid breeding machine) we’ve got this skin-crawling, unsavory little scene:
Xulai reached for the orb, then drew back as the voice of the Woman Upstairs spoke in her mind: “Take it. Put it in your mouth, child. Don’t be afraid! Quickly!”
Xulai froze in place… She stared at the orb, measuring it with her eyes. The chipmunk crept toward the orb, sniffing at it.
“It’s too big,” she whispered, to the walls, to herself, perhaps to the chipmunk.
“It isn’t really,” Abasio said firmly.
“Yes, it is,” Xulai asserted angrily. Not for someone grown-up, perhaps, but for her, it was too big.
“Just put it in your mouth for a moment,” the chipmunk told her. “To warm it. Poor thing’s cold!”
Xulai stared at it.
Abasio said lightly, teasingly, “Pretend it’s a sugar drop. You’ve eaten sugarplums bigger than that. Chipmunk is right. Warm it up.”
He watched as her lips closed around it.
The thing in her mouth came alive in an instant. It was like a squirming tadpole, a slippery fish, and she gagged, trying to spit it out. Abasio put his hands across her lips, hugged her tightly, for she was a good deal stronger than she looked. She squirmed as she felt the thing dive down her throat, vanishing like a frog into a pond.
“Not too big?” queried the chipmunk, cocking its head to one side. “Not at all.”
She glared at it, forgetting the woman, forgetting herself in sudden anger, snarling, “It wasn’t your mouth it was squirming around in!” She put her hands to her sides, thrust them under her dress, felt her stomach. Not a flutter, nothing there to say she had swallowed some lively thing. Except a kind of creeping warmth, a feeling of . . . well, the way she felt sometimes when Precious Wind let her have a few sips of wine. Soft inside. Warm. Really wonderful.
So, yeah. Sheri Tepper wrote this thing. Later, the adult man and her destined love interest Abasio describes how he felt after she swallowed the magic orb (which isn’t attached or related to him in any way):
“Blue, I don’t know. She went to find something, she found it, brought it back, was told to swallow it. None of my business, but there I was, urging her on to swallow it because I heard this voice . . . tortured, it was. But so . . . determined, needful, imperious! As though the fate of the world hung on it.” He laughed, shaking his head.
“The younger one swallowed it?”
“Yes. And once she had done it, there was a kind of peace that came, exalted, ecstatic, whatever.
Now, keep that reaction in mind when we later come to where Abasio contemplates the budding sexual allure of the very nubile ten-year-old Xulai:
Blue, who took them a distance down the road before commenting, “Has you confused, does she?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Abasio replied, fully aware of what Blue meant. He was not the kind of man who would find a child . . . attractive in that way, yet every time he saw her, his mouth dried and he shivered with a need to . . . to do something about her. He could not, would not, allow himself to define the something.
“Ah,” grunted Blue. “Well, when you figure it out . . .”
So… yes. Sheri Tepper. She wrote that.
“Oh, mares,” said Blue, shaking his head. “They always have to be whinnied into it. Or . . . subdued.”
“Why, Blue,” cried Abasio in an outraged voice. “That’s rape.”
Blue snorted. “I have long observed that human people do not care what they do in front of livestock, and believe me, what some humans do during mating makes horses look absolutely . . . gentle by comparison.” He stalked away and stood, front legs crossed, nose up, facing the sea.
“Isn’t Abasio your friend?” the Sea King asked him.
“Friends do not call their friends rapists,” said the horse without turning around.
“I’m sorry,” said Abasio. “Really.”
“You are getting more judgmental,” said Blue. “You need to watch that. Elderly people do get more judgmental.”
She also wrote that. Don’t be so judgmental of rapists, okay? It means you’re getting elderly.
“It would extend your life but it would not make you immortal. Both you and Xulai will live out your lives long before the oceans cover the last mountaintops. But it will give your descendants a new life and that will give us more time to save humanity.”
Xulai cried, “I don’t understand any of this. But . . . but suppose I might give an egg to a woman who is a perfectly lovely woman, but she might marry someone who was a dreadful person, and then their children would be all wrong . . .”
“This difficulty was foreseen. It is all planned for! Once the man or woman has the egg, only the right kind of mate will attract them. As your mother found Justinian, Xulai. Your father has told you. They saw one another; she knew he was the right one.”
So, eugenics, basically. For more on Tepper’s thoughts on eugenics, check out Rachel Swirsky’s analysis of an interview Tepper gave.
“Change,” the Sea King murmured. “Daughter, change.”
Her fingers changed. The bones went out of them. They flexed. Little circles erupted from their bottom sides. Her hand split in two. Dreamily, she remembered this feeling. She had been a tree in a very tight little pot, breaking the pot. It was the feeling she had had in the dungeon, as though her arm had split in two. Her hand split in two with little cups replacing the palm, wrist splitting in two, then the lower arm, elbow, upper arm, shoulder. At the same time her feet and the other arm were also splitting, the separations rising toward her shoulders, and she was becoming eight limbed, each limb lengthening, changing color, turning, spiraling, curving, infinitely flexible. She felt the bones come apart into pieces, tiny pieces, moving aside, encapsulating, staying there but no longer attached to one another, each capsule flexibly joined to the next. The change reached her neck, her head. There was a carapace there. Her eyes moved outward, to the sides, seeing things she had never seen before. She had no nose, but she had something that sensed a smell, things she had never smelled before.
“Come,” he said, tugging gently. “You are homo cephalo-sapiens. You are many-legged brain-holding humankind. You are a color changer, shape changer, dweller beneath the sea. And yet you are still humankind, still female, and inside you, in that organ you call an ovary, you are creating more sea eggs.”
“So you want me with you? Always? So you’d grieve my loss? Would you leap between me and certain death?” He laughed harshly. “I would answer yes to any of those questions about you, though I’d prefer not to find the last one necessary.”
“Well, do you love me, Abasio? Will you come under the sea with me? Will you chat with my sea father and live as part octopus?”
His face clouded. “How do octopuses . . . you know?”
She laughed at his expression. “It’s what the Sea King calls ‘an arm’s-length transaction.’ As soon as he said it, I remembered it was in the book I borrowed from the abbey library. The males give the females a sperm packet. The females store it inside themselves, then they use it when they get ready to plant their egg packets. I absolutely know there has to be some biological incentive, some hormonal or sensory drive, but the Sea King spoke of it as though he were . . . simply being accommodating. ‘Here, madam, you seem a pleasant cephalopod, please accept this with my compliments.’ ”
“Isn’t it nice to have the choice of methods?” Abasio croaked from a throat suddenly tight and painful.
She drew away from him. “I’m not sure we have that choice. Sea-egg people will evidently be part human, part octopus-who-talks, but the Sea King is all octopus-who-talks. The only humanity he has is in the design of his vocal apparatus. I don’t think his children can change. With the waters rising, there’d be no point in that.”
True love! True pedophiliac love. I really like how he gets straight to asking her how they’ll have sex. Remember how at the beginning of the book Abasio was an adult man and Xulai was an eight-year-old girl? And how he starts getting hot and bothered when she magically becomes a ten-ear-old? Yeah, that.
“Don’t you think it’s strange, then, that they are not transforming humans into mermen and mermaids, letting us retain our humanity? We will have dog-shaped swimmers with gills and finned feet. Maybe horse-shaped swimmers. Why must humans transform into octopi? Why not human swimmers with gills and finned hands and feet?”
She stared, stunned. “Why?”
“I think your sea father made it clear: because the sea dwellers wouldn’t stand for it. They were willing to save us, but not as humans. Humans did too much damage. The only way they’ll let us live is if we don’t look like humans. We have to be willing to take a shape that’s totally unlike our own! A shape that may even be repulsive to many of us. We have to be willing to do that before they’ll accept us. Horses and dogs never hurt them. We did!”
Humans destroying environment: bad. Sentient horse rapists: don’t be so judgmental. Pedophilia? Pfft, that’s just true love transcending age. We also this… bizarre fucking discussion about turning dogs into aquatic animals.
“These are third-generation seadogs,” the Sea King said proudly.
“They have skinny tails,” Abasio exclaimed. “Not very good for steering.”
“For wagging. Notice the articulation of the front and rear legs. Sitting and wagging were specified by the canine design committee.”
“The design committee?”
“Of dogs. It seems to be a species thing.”
“How do they breathe?”
“See the gills all along the sides?”
“They have fur.”
The Sea King sighed. “Yes. They felt strongly about fur, as well. The fur does rather hide the gills. It cuts down their swimming speed as well, and the large ears are no help. In time, perhaps they’ll give the fur and ears up, though seals seem to have kept the fur with no problems. Seals are still dryland birthers, of course, which these will be, too. We can’t get away from that just yet. Young mammals have to suckle.”
“Whales manage. And dolphins.”
The design committee of dogs.
If, as I understand Xulai has suggested, there are ice floes in our future, the seadogs might bear their young on ice floes as seals and walruses and otters do now. Ice floes melt rather rapidly, however. They might not last long enough.”
“I don’t think we’ve ever considered it,” the Sea King said in a shocked voice. “And I thought we’d considered everything. It would help the seabirds, as well. Though, actually, we have a lot of seabirds already, but we’d like to adapt parrots and ravens, since they are linguistically advanced. Ducks, swans, and other swimmers will have no trouble, but Lok-i-xan tells me his people grieve over the loss of chickens. They have tried, but chickens do not wish to adapt. Pigeons, on the other hand, do.” The Sea King sighed deeply and changed the subject.
This is hands down the fucking worst “science” I’ve ever seen in a fiction ever.
A TOUR DE FORCE.