[Book Review] Gibbon's Decline and Fall

Gibbon's Decline and Fall / Sheri S. Tepper

I first read Gibbon's Decline and Fall in my early teens.  I had never read anything like it before, it.  It starts out reading like a contemporary novel, but slowly slips into the otherworldly.  The story is unapologetically feminist, environmentalist, and philosophical.  It asks questions of the reader.  I was enthralled with Tepper's writing and went on to rip through her body of work.  She has become one of my favorite authors, and I re-read her work, including Gibbon's Decline and Fall, regularly.  I could have chosen any of a number of Tepper's books for Virtual Speculation, others that would have more solidly resounded as Science Fiction or Fantasy, but I went with this one.

Discussion Fodder.
  • Gibbon's Decline and Fall starts in 1959 and ends in a then 'near future' (the year 2000, now 15 years past).  What do you think about the changes (or lack of changes) in race and gender relations exhibited in the story?  How do they compare to real life?  Could the story still take place in a 'near future?'
  • Sophy says "Words are as powerful as weapons, as useful as tools.  They can injure like a flung stone, cut like a knife, batter like a club.  They can open heaven or they can ruin and destroy!"  Do you think this is a true statement or hyperbole?
  • Do we as a culture 'devour' those we see in the lime light?  How do Sophy's experiences as an object of desire compare to those of women who chose to expose themselves to the public (or in some cases, specifically with the male gaze in mind)?  What about Bettiann and her experiences in pagents as a child, then later on while a trophy wife?
  • The women make a pact to not decline and fall.  Do the women decline and fall?  What does it mean to you in your life to (or to not) decline and fall?
  • What do you think of Jake Jagger's "creation" story, and his need for his story?
  • Gender equality is obviously not a new issue, but how do you think it has changed over the years?  How do people like Webster and the members of the American Alliance compare with affiliations like Men's Rights Activists?  What parts of the gender equality struggle in this book feel familiar in your life?
  • Bettiann says "Well, it would be nice to live in a world where women didn't expect to be uncomfortable just because they're female."  Do you feel this is an accurate description of society expectations?  How does it apply to men and the standards they are expected to meet?
  • Sophy is furious at the idea that someone does a task because it is "good for the soul" rather than the right thing to do.  That helping someone in trouble to benefit yourself is exploiting their pain.  Does morality need incentive?  Does the reasoning behind someone's moral action matter more than the results?
  •  What do you think about the statement "That's the reason decline and fall has to be up to our own consciences.  We have such different ideas about what women are.  For instance, in your religion your priests say women brought sin into the world when she bit into the apple, but my people would say man brought sin into the world when God asked who did it and Adam blamed Eve.  Which is the greater sin?  Intellectual curiosity?  Or betrayal?  Scientific experimentation?  Or disloyalty?"
  • Birth control and sex education (as well as lack of) is brought up variously throughout the book.  The idea that using birth control is helping to eliminate groups of people, or "Do it ceaselessly, sequentially, serially, even promiscuously; hear it discussed ad lib, ad nausem on every channel; but do not speak of it applying to oneself.  Taboo."  How does this compare to messages we encounter on local, national, or global scales?
  • How does sexuality (and expressions of it) define our perceptions of masculinity?  What do you think about the statement "Even when you didn't do it, you said you did.  You know, you've got to pretend, otherwise you'd start doubting your manhood, right?  If we didn't have sex and football, what would we talk about?"
  • Ophy describes "advanced" and "barbaric" health care systems, and describes the US health care system as a hybrid, split along economic status.  Do you think this is reflective of the US health care system we have today?  How do we compare to other countries?
  • Which of the vials would you have chosen?  Ruby with mated pairs and one child a decade, topaz to live in a parthenogenic society with the rare men born generations in between, emerald with life as it is now but conceiving only as a deliberate choice, sapphire with the lengthened youth and a quick maturity, or lapis to keep things as they are today?

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