Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Grass by Sherri S. Tepper (1989)

I re-read Grass for my book club; I've read it at least twice before.  I don't remember when I first read it; but I imagine I checked it out from a library.  This is all conjecture, but I probably had never read anything quite like it before.  Tepper wasn't a writer of hard science fiction; she often explored issues of women's exploitation, usually under the guise of other worlds, plants, aliens, and ideas.   I always call her a feminist science fiction writer, and a quick google search proves that I'm right about that.  She died almost exactly a year ago.

Grass is a strange book, but not in a bad way.  The characters are a bit wooden at times; they pontificate on occasion.  Tepper is great at coming up with characters - all of them in Grass are fascinating; but dialogue isn't one of her strong suits.  She has them say and explain a lot, instead of using plot and character to define their actions and their world.  That is not something I ever noticed before, but it definitely a weakness in the book.

The setting of Grass is unique.  I think I have always liked and appreciated Grass most for its unusual setting.  There is a touch of dystopia (before the genre had even been defined); Tepper also creates a future version of the LDS church that's scary and fascinating.  Grass is definitely about religion, and particularly about religion's treatment of women.  The monstrous Hippae in the book could easily stand in for the brutish patriarchy, trampling over everything, taking and raping young girls both physically and metaphorically, taking them and making them into something else.

The Hippae, in my head, have become velociraptors, which shows the power of film to influence the mind.  The last half or so of the book also reminds me of Jurassic Park because of that - there is a lot of people escaping and Hippae rampaging with intent.

Grass is still an engaging story, and for me at least, it's a novel that I can't read in small chunks; once I start, I have to keep reading until the end.  This latest re-read was enjoyable, and I'm exciting to discuss it in bookclub.

Grass (Arbai, #1)Grass by Sheri S. Tepper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tepper has created a unique and memorable setting; her future building and world building are spot on. If you are looking for hard science fiction, shy away - there are space ships, but technology porn isn't her goal here. She uses a strange world full of aliens to explore ideas of patriarchy, what we now call rape culture, and religion's role in the empowerment or repression of women. Somehow, she does all this, and still tells a gripping story with some plot twists and excitedly harrying adventures. Tepper probably isn't for everyone; but I know I've enjoyed several of her books. None more than this one. This is her finest work.

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