Sunday, December 8, 2013


Sheri S. Tepper

Today I wandered the science fiction aisles of Barnes & Noble and came away empty-handed. This happens often enough that I sometimes wonder if I really like the genre. To be sure, B&N had some books that I like but have already read, and they had an interesting sequel on the New Books shelf - although not the first book, and I'm rather strict about order. Yet, overall, my impression was that speculative fiction is apparently all urban fantasy (in the vampires-and-werewolves sense) or daring space expeditions (in the warmed-over Star Trek sense).

Therefore, it's always reassuring to find an author that I do like, especially when it's an author with a substantial backlist. On one hand, I wonder why I didn't know about them sooner, but on the other, I'm just glad to find more to read. The latest instance of this is Grass by Sheri S. Tepper, another book that ended up on my Amazon wishlist without any recollection on my part of how it got there.

Tepper is a feminist and environmentalist and an autodidact whose writing bats far above her education level. If I were an English professor or con organizer, I'd prepare some thoughtful analysis of the ideology of Grass as compared to Nicola Griffith's Ammonite and Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow (perhaps contrasted with Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead?), but I'm not, and you can't make me.

Grass is the story of a world with humans and other sentient lifeforms that the humans don't understand too well. A virus that threatens humanity all across the universe serves as a MacGuffin for the exploration of morality and responsibility.

There are a few miscues - Tepper seems to have a hard time sympathetically portraying characters in opposition to the "right" side, which is problematic when writing in head-hopping third person. The protagonist's husband and daughter, in particular, come off with all the believability of cardboard. And there is what I swear is a reference to an Elton John song at one point. It wouldn't jar so if it weren't the only 20th-century wink in the entire book.

Still, Grass is engrossing, and even when you can see where it is headed, it journey remains an interesting one. I'm curious to read the next book in the trilogy, as it takes place on another world, with other characters.