About the BookPart thriller, part social SF, prolific novelist Sheri S. Tepper's latest follows the adventures of Benita Alvarez-Shipton, an empty nester in her mid-30s, whose life is changed when two aliens ask her to carry their greetings to Washington, D.C. Chosen as intermediary because she is both ordinary and beyond political reproach, Benita seizes the opportunity to leave her abusive, alcoholic husband and start a new life in D.C. However, she doesn't count on her role extending beyond the initial delivery of the alien greetings, or on the dangers it will attract to her and her children.
Chiddy and Vess, ethical representatives of the benevolent Pistach, come to offer earth inclusion in a multirace Confederation--but on condition that earth clean up its societal woes. Earth has also attracted the attention of a subgroup of predatory races, who view the overpopulated planet as a rich hunting ground. Humanity must choose--either adopt the Pistach principal of Neighborliness and be ushered into the Confederation or refuse and be left at the mercy of the predators.
Interwoven with the earth-based action are excerpts from Chiddy's diary, written as a letter to Benita, that describe the complex Pistach society and the Pistach religion documented by the eponymous Fresco. The 17-panel, divinely inspired painting has for centuries been obscured by smoke from votive candles. Tradition dictates the events and symbols that lie hidden beneath the grime, and it is taboo to ever clean the Fresco. When Chiddy accidentally clears away part of the soot, revealing images that contradict Pistach dogma, it sets into motion a chain of events that undermine racial self-perception and threaten both Pistach and human survival.
Though some of the characters are drawn with such broad strokes as to render them caricatures, and there are elements of Pistach social engineering to alarm readers of just about any political stripe, The Fresco is nonetheless an engrossing, sometimes wickedly funny read. --Eddy Avery