The Buffet Is Open – a review of Grass by Sheri S. Tepper

Grass by Sheri S TepperGrass by Sheri S. Tepper

It always comes down to something like this, doesn’t it. No matter what our consciences say, no matter how much doctrine we’ve been taught, no matter how many ethical considerations we’ve chewed and swallowed and tried to digest, it always comes down to us arming ourselves with weapons as deadly as we can manage and going out into combat…

Why I chose this book

I wanted to read “classic” science fiction by a female author I’d not encountered before. Sheri S. Tepper not only fit the bill, but is also known to write with a feminist slant, which appealed to me for this particular project.

What it’s about

The easiest answer would be “lots of stuff”, it’s just that kind of book. In short, however, Grass takes place in a distant future, when Terra (earth) has been ruined by overpopulation and the human populations of other colonized planets are threatened by a deadly plague. Marjorie Westriding and her family travel to Grass, the only world which seems immune to the plague, to try and find a cure for the disease.

The cover blurb

Generations ago, humans fled to the cosmic anomaly known as Grass. But before humanity arrived, another species had already claimed Grass for its own. It too had developed a culture……

Now a deadly plague is spreading across the stars, leaving no planet untouched, save for Grass. But the secret of the planet’s immunity hides a truth so shattering it could mean the end of life itself.

My thoughts

Where to begin? Grass is one of those books that I think scare off potential new readers of science fiction, it is also one of those books that sparked my love for the genre. I adore the mystery of science fiction. I love arriving on a new world and placing my trust in the author to guide me through all the strange sights, bizarre creatures, and foreign words. Tepper does just that, for which I want to hug her.

Yes, Grass is science fiction but it is also part horror, part mystery, and part cautionary tale. The prose is gorgeous and the settings are described so perfectly I felt as if I was there among the grasses. Here’s a small sample:

Grass. Ruby ridges, blood-coloured highlands, wine-shaded glades. Sapphire seas of grass with dark islands of grass bearing great plumy trees which are grass again. Interminable meadows of silver hay where the great grazing beasts move in slanted lines like mowing machines, leaving the stubble behind them to spring up again in trackless wildernesses of rippling argent.

This is also Big Idea Sci-fi personified. Tepper tackles everything from religion, to gender equality, to environmentalism, to race relations. Philosophical questions? How many would you like? This is the Las Vegas buffet of SF stories…and I gorged myself.

Ironically, the most common reviewer complaints about this book—it’s disjointed and tends to sprawl—are on my list of “Top 5 Reasons This Book Rocked”. I know common wisdom these days says that novels should focus on a minimal amount of POVs, contained to the main characters, with long passages (a chapter or longer) between changes. Why? Do the people in charge of How Books Should Be Written think I’m so stupid I cannot possibly keep up with rapidly shifting points of view? Or that too many viewpoint characters would confuse my tiny brain? I don’t know, but it was refreshing to read a novel that credited me with enough intelligence to “keep up”. Also, I don’t need every story I read to follow a straight line from beginning to end. I like a little sprawl. It’s the difference between deadheading on the freeway and taking the scenic road full of meandering turns and lots of photo-op stops—both get you where you’re going but one’s a lot more relaxing and fun.

My final big cheer for this book is its female protagonist Marjorie Westriding. (Best name ever, by the way). When Neil Gaiman talked about how people misunderstand the meaning of “strong women”, this character sprang immediately to my mind. In fiction, there are characters who “do” a lot of things we associate with strength—often fighting and killing—but then there are those characters whose strength comes from some deep reservoir inside. They possess a quiet, subtle strength. That is Marjorie.

Grass is a lush, immersive experience and well deserving of the term “classic”.

Will I read more by this author?


You should read this book if…

  • You like stories with depth and complexity.
  • Dune was good but just a bit too macho for you.
  • Your other favourite genre is mystery.
  • You’d rather take the scenic road than the freeway.
  • It’s time to give your brain a little workout.

Where to find Grass on The Zon: Grass

Up next: Dust by Elizabeth Bear

This entry was posted in Book reviews, Entertainment, On Scribbling, Women's Issues and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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