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.
Length: 535 pages
Published: 2011 (originally 1989)
I read Grass for my science fiction module at university. I had never heard of it before, though I had come across the author in passing. It’s a long book, and quite slow as well, especially for science fiction. It is definitely more about the themes and messages the author was trying to communicate, rather than the characters or plot.
Grass is a planet that consists, primarily, of grass. It is a small human outpost in a universe in which Earth has been more or less destroyed, and humanity has gone to the stars to seek out new homes. Though Tepper originally wrote Grass in the 1980s, she does foreshadow the the climate breakdown we are now seeing, proving that we have known how things were going for a very long time.
The planet itself is interesting, as are the native inhabitants, whom we spend most of the story puzzling out. It’s not clear quite what they are, how intelligent they are, or what their role is going to be in the story. It is clear that the narrative is about colonialism, and who or what we classify as ‘human’ and worthy of respect (or not). I liked this exploration of the topic, as it’s something I’m interested in. I found that the mystery of the inhabitants of Grass kept me reading and interested throughout the novel.
The story, however, wasn’t quite as interesting. The plot centres around a mysterious virus that is slowly wiping humanity out. I didn’t fully follow the scientific explanations for it all, and felt a little like this plot was an afterthought to the themes of the book. At this stage, a Catholic-like religion dominates humanity and in some ways this drives the story. Tepper is clearly debating the blind way people follow religion, as well as concepts such as ‘original sin’. This isn’t something I know a lot about, not being a religious person, so a lot of it went over my head. I think this is one reason I struggled to follow it, especially towards the end.
The characters aren’t tremendously well-rounded. I am aware though, that Tepper did write this novel, as I stated, in the 1980s. At this point science fiction was still more in the realm of the science and worldbuilding being the important parts – characters were secondary and simply functions of the plot. I definitely felt this to be the case in Grass. Though we see the story through Marjorie’s eyes, and she is our main character, I didn’t really feel like I knew her that well. The characters made sense, and stayed within their prescribed boundaries, but I never quite felt that they could be real people. There was just that something missing.
Grass is a complex novel, and has some interesting themes in it. However, Grass is let down by its sheer length, lack of real plot, and slightly wooden characters. A middle-of-the-road book for me. A joy to analyse from a literature student point of view, but lacks in entertainment value.