Sheri S. Tepper – Grass

The version of Grass I have is part of the Sci-fi Masterworks series by Gollancz which includes selected works from PKD, Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke etc. I picked it up from a charity shop for a couple of quid having been drawn to it by the distinctive yellow branding on the spine, not really knowing what to expect but trusting that it would be of similar quality to the works of those other great sci-fi writers in the series.

Initially I found the story hard going despite Tepper’s interesting way of introducing all the key characters. There was a lot of information to take in over the first hundred pages or so and being not at all interested in horses or hunting I had to tell myself to persevere because here was a whole other world to be discovered. A world populated by Hippae who begrudgingly share their grass covered globe with humans. The Hippae are violent spiked creatures like giant horses with no small measure of telepathic skills.

The elite class of Grass (the Bons) go hunting on the backs of the hippie for hours and hours chasing down foxen with giant bestial hounds, lulled into a trance like state by the Hippae. The elite class are somewhat of a joke among the townsfolk of the spaceport some of whom are just as wealthy as the Bons but don’t put on strange colonial airs and steer well clear of going into the grasslands. People from the town sometimes do go in but they never come back.

The story revolves mostly around Marjorie Yrarier the somewhat estranged wife of the aloof and distant Rigo sent on an ambassadorial mission to the strange planet. Their mission is to find out how it is that the plague that has been reported to Sanctity, the religious government on Earth, as having spread over all other planets and killing millions has not been reported on Grass. Is there a cure?

Rigo and Marjorie’s daughter Stella are drawn into the hunting rituals despite dire warnings from the locals not to get involved. Young woman often go missing on the hunts and are never seen again. Inevitably Stella disappears and Marjorie ventures into the grasslands with a band of supporting characters to find her. What she finds there is unexpected and fascinating.

I have very much simplified the story which has many layers to it and features many interesting characters. The complex relation between foxen, hound and Hippae is reminiscent of the writing Orson Scott Card and as such is to be applauded.

At times I found the first half of the book to be a little tiresome but once I was over that hump, and I had been hooked by the various mysteries set up by Tepper, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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