This is genuinely upsetting news for me: Locus is reporting the death of Sheri S. Tepper, who wrote the Hugo-nominated novel Grass among many others, and who was given a lifetime achievement award by the World Fantasy Convention just last year. Tepper was in her late 80s, and had an accomplished life outside of her considerable writing career, including being an executive director of the Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood in Colorado, so one can’t precisely say this is an unexpected development. But she was one of my favorite science fiction and fantasy writers, and an influence on my thinking about SF/F writing, so to have her gone on is still a deeply depressing thing.
Also a bit depressing: That Tepper, while well-regarded, is as far as I can tell generally not considered in the top rank of SF/F writers, which is a fact I find completely flummoxing. Her novel Grass has the sort of epic worldbuilding and moral drive that ranks it, in my opinion, with works like Dune and Perdido Street Station and the Earthsea series; the (very) loose sequel to Grass, Raising the Stones, is in many ways even better, and the fact that Stones is currently out of print is a thing I find all sorts of appalling.
If you haven’t read Grass, I really suggest you find it and put it near the top of your SF/F reading queue. You won’t be disappointed (and if you are, then, well, I don’t know what to tell you). It’s a stone classic. Not everything that Tepper wrote worked for me, which makes her like literally every single writer I admire; but the things of hers that did (these two novels, The Fresco, Beauty, The Visitor and others) have stayed with me year in and year out.
Aside from her considerable talents as an author, Tepper stands as a reminder that it’s never too late to write. Tepper didn’t publish her first novel until 1983, when she was in her 54th year of life; she wrote something like 40 total, the most recent published in 2014. It’s never too late to write; it’s never too late to write a classic novel; it’s never too late to be a great writer, whether or not the genre has entirely caught up with you yet.
Farewell, Ms. Tepper. Your voice will be missed. I’ll keep reading what you have left us.