Grass • 1989 • SF novel by Sheri S. Tepper

★★★★

Sheri S. Tepper, Grass SF Masterworks Science Fiction #TheGateway

Meta: isfdb. SF Master works #48. SF novel of Sheri S. Tepper published in 1989.

Synopsis: A plague threatens humanity’s demise. There is the vague hope of finding a cure on the planet Grass, eponymous for a grass-covered planet with alien living forms. The planet’s human aristocracy doesn’t allow anyone to enter besides of a an ambassadorial family whose target is to find a cure.

Review: Mrs Tepper needs a very long exposition for her world-building and introduction of the main protagonists. The aliens – similar to large mounts and hounds – are a creepy factor and I’m quite glad that it didn’t develop to a horror story, which I don’t like at all. Instead, Tepper builds up tension between commoners and aristocracy, tension within the embassy family and their religious background and it evolves to a mystery story.
I found the names to be quite interesting: „Rowena“ is the second growth of hay in a year, „Dimity“ is a cotton fabric and „Sylvan“ is a woodland.
The Grass‘ hunting families are called „bon“ which might be derived from German „von“ (e.g. „Johann Wolfgang von Goethe“) which is a nobiliary particle. Quite fitting, as the families seem to come from noble families and they behave in a decadent way (with all the fox hunting etc.). Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that hunting as such is decadent – only fox hunting 😉

It is a very thoughtful story, full of philosophical discussions which are sometimes elaborated quite heavy-handed.
I don’t quite understand why this feminist author projects religions the way she did here: Catholicism isn’t known to be exactly feministic, but a woman having to support her man while he has a mistress? I mean, those two religions give an interesting contrast and the discussion of original sin and its relation to aliens gives me some thoughts. But why had Tepper to introduce those heavy-handed preachery?

It took half of the book before I managed to connect to the various protagonists like the ambassador Marjorie, Grass noble Sylvan and Brother Mainoa.
The story got really interesting as well, interleaving different facets like those fanatics who introduce the plague to salvage everyone. She manages to unwind them all in the end and bring it to a conclusion.

On the downside, she left a couple of things open like the lost Arbai culture which could be interesting but isn’t explained enough (yet). The novel should have been shorter to be more accessible.

At the beginning I tended to give the novel 3 stars, but I ended up with 4 because it picked me up in the second half. I wouldn’t recommend this if you don’t like philosophical discussions or have problems with backwards oriented religions which drive main protagonists.

 

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