Sheri S. Tepper

Book cover

I picked this up based on a mention in the excellent John Scalzi “By The Book” NYT column (where he describes it as “exceptional, with Dune-level worldbuilding”). Especially after enjoying “The Steerswoman,” I’m interested in finding pre-2000 woman-authored sci-fi books that go unmentioned in the canon.

I found “Grass” quite interesting, although I’m not sure that I liked it in the end. It has quite an unconventional plot, and early in the book, I often had the feeling that I was actually reading a Gothic horror novel, and not sci-fi. The planet of Grass, its ecology, and its society are all presented as interesting puzzles, and Tepper mostly follows through on them. I was reminded quite a bit of the mulefa world in Pullman’s “Amber Spyglass” (which of course was written well after “Grass”), partly just from the immersive feel of it. Marjorie Westriding is an enjoyable main character–how often do sci-fi books have as protagonists middle-aged women with children? And Tepper throws out many interesting ideas, especially about the relation of God and humanity.

Ultimately I didn’t feel satisfied with the way the story wrapped up. In part, I think the Gothic horror tone was dropped, which was a shame. And while I did appreciate the world-building around the planet of Grass, its history, and its ecology, I felt a little sad by the end that there seemed to be little mystery left–we understand the relationship between the Hounds, the Hippae, the Foxen, and the Peepers; we understand the history of the Arbai on Grass (at least in broad outlines); we understand the nature of the plague and its cure (in midichlorian-level detail!). Part of the romance of the planet Grass for me was its alien nature, and I think something is lost in piecing everything together.

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars