The Visitor is a 2002 Gothic/Catastrophe novel by Sheri S. Tepper written via initially parallel stories of pre-Happening period scientist Nell Latimer and her distant descendant in post-Happening period, Disme Latimer. Much of the novel is written from the perspective of Disme, who instinctively avoids revealing her intelligence as much as possible in a brutal society tyrannized by mysogenist and nepotistic theocracy. Superstitution and fear govern the daily life of the oppressed majority. Skepticism is a disease under the Regime and to speak or write un-regimic thoughts is to risk being "chaired" (crippled) or "bottled" (executed) (p. 240). Disme learns the truth about her society from contact with those who have escaped from the Regime and becomes part of the astonishing transformation of the entire human world (Pp. 239-240).

The Regime and the handful of other human societies that survive in North America have emerged from among the survivors of the Happening, a catastrophic encounter between the Earth and an unknown object from space which is first mistaken for an asteriod or a comet and then is understood as something capable of intention. Together with titanic geologic and climatic changes in the Earth, the Happening also releases a plague of monsters, creatures evolved on other worlds.

Interesting in its own right as a novel in the liminal between science fiction and fantasy genres, The Visitor treats the reader to brilliant meditations on the religious irrationality of the Pro-Life variety (p. 395) and of the nature of real moral responsibility (p. 459).

Comparison might be made between The Visitor' and Arthur C. Clarke's classic novel of human encounter with the truely alien, Childhood's End.


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