, by Vonda N. McIntyre (Link points to ebook at Book View Cafe
. Book appears to be out of print in paper format.)
Snake is a healer traveling on her proving year, along with her three serpents. Mist is an albino cobra, and Sand is a diamondback rattlesnake; both have been modified so that, when fed the proper catalysts, they can produce medicines: vaccines, antitoxins, antibiotics. Grass, by contrast, is a dreamsnake, an alien serpent whose bite produces dreams and relieves pain. Snake's three snakes are medical laboratory, pharmacy, and hypodermic all in one. But when Snake heals a child from a desert clan of a cancerous tumor, she neglects to realize that the only snakes they are familiar with are the deadly sand vipers, whose bites result inevitably in a lingering, painful death. And so when she leaves their child unattended with Grass, they, ignorant of Grass's healing purpose, kill the snake to protect the child. Unfortunately, dreamsnakes are rare—they are difficult to clone and even more difficult to breed, their alien biology confounding even the healers—and Snake cannot be a healer without one. So she sets out on a search for atonement . . . and for another dreamsnake.
I read Dreamsnake for the first time years and years ago, when I was in high school. I read it at the time because it had won the Hugo and the Nebula (actually, as I understand it, it won the Nebula twice, once for the original short story "Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand," and then again for the full novel). But most of all I read it because it had a strong female protagonist, one with valuable skills and who set out to solve her own problems. I reread it, when I saw that it was avaliable on Book View Cafe, because I had very fond (if dim) memories of having read it when I was fourteen.
Interestingly, although Snake was the reason I read the book, I actually feel that I know less about her than many of the other characters. She is very proud and very reserved; I feel like I spent the book seeing through her eyes but not, necessarily, into her mind. Indeed, because Snake had an incisive grasp of other peoples' characters, I often felt that I understood the other characters better than her: the prospectors Jesse, Merideth and Alex; Gabriel, a haunted young man; the scarred and abused Melissa; Grum, the caravan leader.
I've mentioned before that I read for character and worldbuilding first, plot next, and idea last. So when I say that the characters and worldbuilding are fantastic in this book, you will understand why I love it. Though Snake is difficult to understand, it's obviously for a reason: she really is proud and reserved, and that comes through very clearly. And the other characters, major and minor, are sharply and clearly realized like cut gems. The worldbuilding also delighted me—while it's clearly a far-future setting (indeed, it seems to be far-future post-apocalyptic Earth, though I wouldn't swear to that), it's clear that physics and mechanical sciences have taken a nosedive, and biological sciences have taken predominance. Hence the ability to use snakes as portable chemical factories, as well as the fact that 'biocontrol' (a biorhythmic manipulation to control fertility) is expected as a basic skill that every adult should have.
The book isn't flawless, of course. The major flaw is the fact that it doesn't hang together as a single novel very well: it's extremely episodic, with Snake moving from one group of people who she must help to another. Her quest for more dreamsnakes is the thread that ties them together, but most of her stops don't have much to do with that. This doesn't bother me much, since plot isn't my first concern, but it might bug someone who cares more about a smooth or fluid plot than I do. Similarly, I didn't quite... buy the romance; while it was obviously an important part of the book, I didn't understand why those particular characters were so taken with one another, given how little time they spent together. (This is partly not the fault of the book but the result of my own fictional romance preferences; I prefer long-developing romances a la Crown Duel
, and am dubious about love at first meeting.)
There's no serious spoilers under the cut, I don't think. I'm mostly cutting for length. (Too late, I know!)( Read more... )