There are some books that really make you think, that challenge both your assumptions and prejudices and follow through on their premise that not only makes you consider how we got here but also where we are likely to go from this point.

Grass, by Sheri S. Tepper, is just such a book.

What could be more commonplace than grass, or a world covered over all its surface with a wind-whipped ocean of grass? But the planet Grass conceals horrifying secrets within its endless pastures.

And as an incurable plague attacks all inhabited planets but this one, the prairie-like Grass begins to reveal these secrets – and nothing will ever be the same again …

Initially, the novel reminded me a lot of Dune in that the focus is on a world that is superficially strange but for which both the environment has been thought through well enough that the details can be allowed to emerge as the story progresses. Even the name of the novel hints at this.

While it takes a bit of time to really get going, once it does, Grass proves itself to be both very much it’s own story and utterly gripping.

Humanity has spread throughout the galaxy and colonised innumerable planets while still owing allegiance to Terra — our home planet — and Sanctity, the dominant religion and political leadership. Sanctity is trying to deny the existence of the plague while also convince the leaders of Grass to allow their scientists to try and discover why this planet, alone in the galaxy, remains unaffected.

A compromise is reached when, instead of scientists, the leaders of Grass agree to an embassy from Sanctity and so Marjorie Yrarier and her children find themselves travelling to the planet along with her husband, Rigo, who has been chosen for the Ambassador’s role. It very quickly becomes clear just how little Sanctity knows about the planet and its people.

Grass is very much a book about ideas, and the novel is packed with them. The environment, ecology, the conflict between religion and belief, the problem with perfection, and how humanity’s relationship to other species. It’s a novel that takes a bit of time to get into, but once you do, the pay-off is well worth it.

If you want a solid story that gives you plenty of food for thought, then I can’t recommend this highly enough.