Sheri S. Tepper returns to her favorite themes human overpopulation and man's inhumanity to man and all other creatures in her latest novel, The Companions. Tepper has rung similar warning bells in previous novels, including the wonderful The Gate to Women's Country, where men and women live separately, and The Family Tree, where humanity pays a horrible price for exerting dominion over animals. Here, Tepper puts us into a future where the Earth is so overpopulated that the few remaining animal species are being killed off to provide more space for people. Paul Delis is one of the top linguists on Earth. Despite personality quirks for which he would probably be jailed in our time, he is well regarded and often hired for prestigious jobs far from Earth. His sister, Jewel, whom he regards as hardly more than his personal maid, is an "arkist" part of a secretive group attempting to ship the remaining Earth species to other planets. Jewel travels widely with Paul, and her natural empathy with animals and aliens enables her to become the conduit for a number of interstellar diplomatic treaties. The best parts of The Companions focus on the eons-old relationship between dogs and humans. Tepper looks at the widely held supposition that dogs adapted to living with humanity and, in a lovely fictive twist, turns that theory on its head.
The Companions is packed with challenging ideas, strong and strange characters, and enough alien diplomacy, treachery and war to keep the reader intensely interested in the future world Tepper creates. Gavin J. Grant writes from Northampton, Massachusetts.