Review of “Grass” by Sheri S. Tepper

ImageEver since I was a child, I’ve had a particular love for science-fiction and fantasy books. Sure, I have read my fair share of non-fiction and there are a few classics that I love deeply, but give me a good fantasy book, and I am lost to the world. There are, I think, three reasons for that.

First of all, those books give me a chance to explore totally new worlds that the authors created. Places that are either years in the future or not even in our universe. Places that do not exist and never will, but if the author is good, they still seem so real that you can see and smell, and taste them.

The second reason is the characters. Most really good science-fiction and fantasy books have very compelling and memorable characters. Sure, they can be over the board and larger than life sometimes, but you remember them, you sympathize with them and that’s a good thing. After all, they will be your companions on the journey through this new and strange world that the authors have created.

And lastly the book needs a good plot. For the world building and tri-dimensional characters can’t keep my interest for long if the story isn’t getting anywhere. Something needs to happen, the characters need to face and overcome obstacles and evolve.

When it comes to “Grass” by Sheri S. Tepper, the book left me with very mixed feelings.

I really loved the world Sheri Tepper created. I could really visualize Grass: I could see the multitudes of colors and textures of the grasses that constitute the only vegetation of the planet. I could hear the sound of the wind rippling through them, the cries of the peepers in the roots and the rhythmic dances of the Hippae. The ecosystem of the planet is also fascinating – it’s like a serpent biting its own tail in a way – everything evolves and mutates into something else along the food chain.

So as far as world building is concerned, “Grass” delivered, at least for me. It’s the characters that I had a problem with. As I said, I like well developed, tri-dimensional characters that I can empathize with. Sadly, in this book there is only one such character – Lady Marjorie Westriding. You can tell that the author took time to work on her background and motivations. She feels real and alive; I can understand the reasoning behind her actions and choices. Most importantly, she changes and her point of view evolves during the course of the book.

Unfortunately, the rest of the characters are not as lucky – they felt like cardboard cutouts to me. They move, they talk, they act, but they don’t provoke any emotional response from me. Simply put, they are not fleshed out enough for me to care about them. If they had been a bit more memorable, I think I would have reacted differently to the problem of possible imminent extermination that awaits them.

But if you can get past that lack of characterization, the premise is interesting, the plot moves along at a nice pace and the author manages to tie everything neatly together.

While the rest of the colonized planets are not described in as much detail as Grass, the picture the author paints is still convincing, though very bleak. There are several colonized planets, but progress and expansion are at a standstill because Sanctity, the predominant religious order of the star-traveling humanity, forbids it. So the reader is witnessing the slow degradation of a once formidable race. And as if that degradation wasn’t killing humans quickly enough, there is a mysterious but deadly plague that swipes from world to world and for which there is no cure. All the planets are infected. On all of them humans are dying. Except Grass – there is no plague here. Why? If this question is not answered and a cure is not found, Grass might become the only place in the entire galaxy where human life still exists…

But Grass is far from being a bucolic and worry-free haven. Dark tidings are afoot here too. Danger lurks in the shadows. And when hounds are barking and mounts are ready to hunt foxen, their riders are given very little choice in the matter.

To sum it up, I would definitely recommend this book, even with the lack of characterization. Read it for the story, or just read it for the pleasure of walking in the grass gardens of Klive or watching the grasses paint the prairie in different shades of purple when spring finally comes on Grass.

Third Star made me rethink my life.

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Watched Third Star a couple weeks ago, but it took me that long to actually sit down and write a review. I had to let some time pass and wait until the raw emotions this film provokes settle down a bit. I can say this – it’s one of the best movies I have seen this year, but I will admit that not everyone will like it.

Basically, if you are looking for a an easy, switch your brain off and laugh out loud movie , walk away. Third Star is anything but easy, though it has some funny moments. If you are looking for two hours of eye popping non-stop action, chose something else to watch. But if you want a movie that grabs you and takes you on an emotional roller coaster, a movie that makes you laugh and cry and hurt with its characters, a movie that leaves you with many things to think about once it’s over – by all means, buy Third Star.

The main premise is common enough: four childhood friends – James (Benedict Cumberbatch), Davy (Tom Burke), Bill (Adam Robertson) and Miles (JJ Feild) embark on a road trip to James’s favorite place on Earth – Barafundle Bay in Pembrokeshire, Wales. But this is where this trip differs from countless other road trip movies. James is terminally ill with cancer and his friends decided to organize this trip as their last adventure together. This is not a spoiler. In fact the movie starts with James saying “I am 29 today. I won’t be 30.”

So this movie is a road trip, yes, but one that is also a goodbye –  goodbye to a friend, to childhood memories, to dreams not fulfilled and paths not taken. And while all four of the protagonists do their best to ignore the elephant in the room (James’ sickness), they will have to face it eventually, as they will have to face their own shortcomings and lost dreams.

It is hard to describe this movie. Yes it is sad and the ending is hearth-wrenching and had me really crying, which not a lot of movies do. But you know what? It’s also filled with beauty and subtle humor and you can really see how much those four care about each other.

To me, this is what this movie is about – love. Those four friends really love each other and they genuinely care about James or they would never be able to make the decision they made at the end of the movie. And they all love life and see the beauty in the little things around them.

All four actors gave exceptional performances for Third Star. Nothing is overplayed or heavy-handed. I believe them when I watch them interact on screen. I forget that it’s Benedict Cumberbatch and JJ Feild, instead I only see James and Miles. That is the highest praise you can give an actor.

But most importantly for me at least, this movie made me think. We all have dreams and things we want to do eventually, one day, when we have time. And after a while, like James says, “all those daydreams become fantasies rather than possibilities.” Well what if there is no more time? What if the next day is your last one? What would you see when you look back at your life? What happened to all those possibilities and dreams?

This movie made me think about what I really want to do with my life. And you know what? I don’t want my dreams to become mere fantasies. I want to fulfill them, even if it will be hard work. So for this realization I must thank director Hattie Dalton and Western Edge Pictures and the main actors.

And for those who want to spend two hours with a good movie that makes you sympathize with its characters and think about life and death, watch Third Star. It’s available for download from Amazon or on ITunes.

The great NaNoWrimo adventure.

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I am embarking on a great adventure: I decided to join my very first NaNoWriMo

The reason for this madness is to push me to actually sit down and write one of those fabulous stories that have been running around my head for years. Write it from the beginning to the end without pausing to think about logic or grammar or plot holes until I write THE END and put my pen down. To actually get that first draft out of my head and on the paper.

That would be a first for me, for I have plenty of beginnings and half-baked stories, but I have never ever actually followed one to the very end. So this is my NaNoWriMo resolution – to write 50k words in November, but also to continue putting words on paper in December and January if need be, until my story is told in its entirety.

Some would ask why bother? To prove to myself that I can do it. If I can finish a story, I can chase my dream of actually being a writer. Because one doesn’t become a writer by talking about writing or dreaming about writing, but only by actually sitting down and writing.

We will see how that goes. I will try to post updates on my progress all through November.

So far I have actually sat down and wrote a detailed outline of my story as well as bios on all my main characters (and on some support characters too). I have thought and dreamed long enough about this story to see some of the scenes and episodes I know I want to write. I also know exactly how to begin it.

So my computer is ready, Scrivener is configured and loaded with all the research and plot outlines. Bring it NaNo!

My dreams and stories. The life of a writer.

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