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Sheri S. Tepper
Victor Gollancz, 542 pages

Sheri S. Tepper
Sheri Stewart Tepper was born (in 1929) and raised in Colorado. For many years, she worked for various non-profit organizations, including the international relief organization, CARE, and she was the executive director of Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood, responsible for the administration of about 30 medical clinics in Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico. In 1983, she left her job to become a full-time writer. She is the author of several acclaimed novels, including The Family Tree, Gibbon's Decline and Fall, Shadow's End, A Plague of Angels, Sideshow, and Beauty, which was voted Best Fantasy Novel of the Year by the readers of Locus magazine. She has also published novels using the pseudonyms of E.E. Horlak, B.J. Oliphant and A.J. Orde.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Beauty
SF Site Review: The Fresco
SF Site Review: Singer from the Sea
SF Site Review: Six Moon Dance
SF Site Review: The Family Tree
SF Site Review: Gibbon's Decline and Fall

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Peter D. Tillman


"Grass! Millions of square miles of it... a hundred rippling oceans, each ripple a gleam of scarlet or amber, emerald or turquoise... the colors shivering over the prairies... Sapphire seas of grass with dark islands of grass bearing great plumy trees which are grass again."
So opens Grass, Sheri Tepper's first fully-successful novel and perhaps still her best. When I first read Grass, I realised that Tepper is a genuine wild talent, taking SF in new and unexpected directions.

If you've read any Tepper, you'll have noticed that she takes a pretty dim view of human nature, especially among men -- and of religion, especially patriarchal religion. The standard Tepper themes are here -- of course, they weren't standard back then -- but handled lightly and thoughtfully, with only a bit of the didactic ham-fistedness that mars some of her later books. What I didn't remember about Grass is the splendid sense of place she evokes -- Grass emerges as a fully-formed, beautiful, and thoroughly alien world. The formative image of Grass, to the Colorado-born & raised Tepper, is that of the American Great Plains after a good spring, which is indeed an oceanic experience -- one that your Oklahoma-raised reviewer has shared, and misses.

Sanctity, the noxious world-religion of Tepper's Earth, is explicitly modelled on Mormonism. Mormon readers ('saints') will not be flattered -- though Tepper has exaggerated for effect. Sanctity is not nice. At times it verges on cartoonish, but then I would reflect on the banality of evil.... Tepper does a good job, handling evil. Beauty (1991) is her masterwork of evil -- a remarkable book, but not for the squeamish. "Down, down, to Happy Land..." Ugh.

The Hippae aren't nice, either. Neither are the Hounds, another Grassian species she introduces in the Hunt, and splendidly develops as the novel progresses. I've seen criticism of Grass's ecology, but to this non-biologist it seems reasonably sound, certainly good enough for fictional background.

The extreme isolation and strange behavior of Grass's rural aristocracy are again drawn from Tepper's Western experience. Larry McMurtry has written eloquently of just how strange isolated pioneers could get 1, and I remember similar stories from Oklahoma. Tepper, McMurtry and other senior Westerners (like me) are just one lifetime distant from the frontier...

Marjorie Westriding -- besides having a wonderful name, and a remarkably irritating husband -- remains Tepper's most memorable character. The NY Times says she's "one of the most interesting and likable heroines in modern science fiction." Well, "me too." Westriding appears in two more of Tepper's books, but is far less memorable in those (sigh). But she's great here.

The Great Plague, ah, that's where the dodgy biology lies, and it's a pretty contrived Maguffin, too. And the wrap-up gets a little mooshy and pat. But these are quibbles. I had a great time re-reading Grass, and you will, too. Highly recommended.

Grass is #48 in the wonderful Gollancz-Orion SF Masterworks reissue series . Wonderful titles, that is, but indifferent printing and paper quality, and (in this case) weirdly-inappropriate cover art. Harrumph.

1 In his recent essay collection, Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen (highly recommended), and in almost all of his historical novels. Of course, many of the pioneers were pretty strange to start with....

Copyright © 2002 Peter D. Tillman

Pete Tillman has been reading SF for better than 40 years now. He reviews SF -- and other books -- for Usenet, "Under the Covers", Infinity-Plus, Dark Planet, and SF Site. He's a mineral exploration geologist based in Arizona. More of his reviews are posted at .

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