One of Tepper's better books, I think. And it even had a major male character without any major, horrible flaws to his humanity!
I think I would have enjoyed it a bit more if I hadn't read it directly after reading The Companions, however - it shares a lot of the same elements/themes (especially the concept of a sentient world-organism with separable, seemingly-independent parts that are actually part of the whole.)
Upon second reading:
In Six Moon Dance, Tepper introduces her readers to the world of Newholme - a colony world that has developed a unique way of dealing with the challenges that a new world has given them. In this strict society, where there are more men than women, with few exceptions, women are required to marry and bear children - but they are also socially powerful, and considered to be entitled to "compensatory joys" in the form of trained male courtesans. Unlike many feminist renditions of alternate societies, this one is very interesting, because its not simply a reverse situation, and its neither a utopia nor a dystopia - simply a different society with its own pros and cons.
On Newholme, we meet Mouche - a young man who is sold to a Consort training house due to his family's poverty, but who learns quickly to adapt and embrace his new situation.
Meanwhile, however, Newholme has come to the atttention of the Questioner - a bionic construct which exists to travel to different planets and ensure that they are adhering to certain ethical strictures. Together with a team that includes, strangely, two young ballet dancers, she sets off to inspect the situation on Newholme. But will it be the strict gender rules of their society that come under her surveillance - or have the people of Newholme been hiding something more shameful, and more strange?
The latter, of course, is the case, and the revelations that come are imaginative and interesting - but, at, times, I felt like the plot was getting a bit too complex, piling twists on top of twists, and packing too many different issues into a single book. It also gets a bit too unrealistically grotesque toward the end, with Nightbreed-like creatures who have been deformed in far-too-obviously-metaphorical ways. I enjoyed the novel, but I feel that it would have been a better book, structurally, if it stuck to the first plotline that was brought up - the society of Newholme, and the Questioner, without bringing in the multiple plot strands that appear later.
I read The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S Tepper and absolutely LOVED it. So I had high hopes for this one. I really, really did not care for Six Moon Dance. Since it was a Tepper book, I gave it a chance and read the entire 534 pages. It didn't really grab my interest at all until about 200 or 300 pages in. Then it got better. If the other Tepper books are like this one and not like Gate to Women's Country, I will be very disappointed. I don't know if I will try another book by her for quite a while.
From Publishers Weekly
Ambitiously choreographed and executed without a misstep, Tepper's complex new novel follows her acclaimed The Family Tree into a profound ecological and sociological commentary on human individuality. Originally settled by now-vanished immigrants from the testosterone-rich planet of Thor, the matriarchal world of Newholme faces imminent volcanic destruction. To determine whether Newholme's ruling Hags and their society deserve to be saved, the galactic Council of Worlds dispatches a cybernetic super-grandma, the Great Questioner, who collects a brilliantly conceived multispecies team to probe mysteries deep in Newholme's past. Tepper courageously tackles touchy issues like gender dominance with grace and wit. Through handsome charmer Mouche, sold by his parents into Hunk toy-boy training, Tepper unveils the Hag-ridden female will-to-power, just as threatening to individual freedom as that of the horrid male supremacist-schemers she depicts. Tepper deftly conjoins a superb awareness of otherness with penetrating insight into selfhood in this shining, bravura performance. (July) FYI: Tepper's Beauty (1991) was voted Best Fantasy Novel of the Year by readers of Locus magazine.
Tepper is an author that always engages in wondrously imaginative world-building and who weaves very complex plots with a multitude of viewpoints together seamlessly. She sometimes gets pigeonholed as an ecofeminist SF author, because ecology and gender roles are frequent topics in her novels, but she never lets her message (which is nothing more radical than that we should think of the consequences of our actions and always treat each other like human beings, rather than men and women treating each other as "other" and "alien") get in the way of telling an engaging story.
Six Moon Dance is the most complete novel I've read by her yet. The world is fascinating -- on first glance it is a matriarchy, but the relationship between the sexes is nowhere near as simple as the reader at first assumes; there is an undercurrent of unease from the very first chapter at the mention of "invisibles" and the Questioner; and all this against a backdrop of seismic activity that may or may not mean something. The characters, while never entirely fleshed out (a task nearly impossible given Tepper's propensity for perspective shifts every few pages) are both likable and relateable, and there was never a perspective I did not want to return to.
It is also a novel of big ideas, those things that SF is best at: as mentioned, it explores gender roles and human involvement with the environment; but it also weaves in an exploration of personal identity and cultural identity; justice and its enforcement and how that is affected by the experiences of the individuals acting as judges; what it means to be human; and it even does a good job at portraying a pretty convincingly alien alien race.
But what is best about the novel, the reason I can't stop smiling about it even while writing this review, is its core sense that life is absurd, and its absurdity, joyous. The climax is absolutely perfect, one of the few I've read where the fate of the world is at stake and yet I was grinning and doubled over with laughter. What is gets absolutely right is that life simply isn't worth living if you can't embrace its compensatory joys.
This is an excellent alternative world book. Written thoughtfully and characters are amazing. My copy is well worn around edges, but well worth the read if your not collecting it. It's a story worth passing on.