Another sprawling, speculative yarn from Tepper (The Companions, 2003, etc.), this time nibbling at the boundaries between fantasy and science fiction.
Long ago, the malevolent alien Quaatar stole part of humanity’s birthright, rendering the race incapable of learning from past mistakes. So, in the far future, Earth is one vast, teeming city, forced to export its surplus population as bondservants, colonists or slaves. The Quaatar and their equally sadistic kindred races are plotting to exterminate humanity altogether, torturing human children as a means to create wormlike, parasitic ghyrms, which feed on pain and horror and suck the life-force out of their victims. To counter the Quaatar, the human Siblinghood, with their benevolent alien allies, have set up a scheme to produce a human who can mystically walk seven roads at once in order to evoke the godlike Keeper—who may or may not be disposed to restore what was taken from humanity. The key is Margaret Bain of Phobos and Earth, soon declared surplus population and forced into space—where, somehow, she becomes seven separate individuals, each with different talents. On planet Cantardene, for instance, Margaret becomes Ongamar, a ghyrm-ridden spy; on Hell (this planet’s a story in itself) she is Wilvia, a princess fleeing Quaatar assassins; on Chottem she’s psychic shaman Gretamara, while on Thairy she’s expert strategist Naumi, a male! Gradually, the Margarets intersect—but can they learn how to walk the seven roads before the Quaatar catch them?
Supremely imaginative, intriguingly peopled, always challenging and frequently astonishing—but overwrought, with mere complexity becoming an end in itself.