Saturday, March 12, 2016

Dreamsnake (1978)

Dreamsnake (1978) by Vonda N. McIntyre tells the SF story of Snake, a healer living in a future long past the post apocalypse. (It's sorta post-postapocalyptic.) Snake is journeying from town to town earning earning her "healing abroad" achievement so that she can become a for-real healer. In her possession are three snakes which she uses to manufacture all sorts of medicinal compounds. When she loses her dreamsnake, which is a snake of alien origin, she begins a long quest to find a new one.

This is one of those novels that won awards, and from the opening, you understand why. Vonda slips you into a SF strong on fiction, light on science, with no ray guns in sight. The people here are what's important in this story, long after the fall of their star-faring civilization. The focus here is on believability and verisimilitude and the customs people adopt to handle their new situations. In many ways, this world of the future is as much an alien world as a planet across space.

This novel is what I call a "human scale" story, where the actions of people in their own lives matter more than great political movements or action sequences. Our heroine gives as good as she gets in a fight, but she's not immune from limping away and living with the aches.

This novel also explores what a post-patriarchal society might look like, but without wandering over to matriarchal. Perhaps we should call this a consenting society? I'm sure that Vonda must have a name for it. People are free to conduct their sexual lives as they please, as responsible adult, as long as they remain responsible.

The novel itself dwells on linked vignettes than on an overarching design. What connection tissue exists is minimal, yet I'm not convinced that the novel is a fix-up, because then too much wouldn't make sense. (But I will accept being proven wrong.) Each arc tells a part of the story, rather than the story existing as a single unified arc. That would be odd for a novel today, but it's a fair structure even if it's out of fashion.

I must say that I enjoyed this book immensely. Its joys outweighs it flaws. I enjoyed the solidity of the storytelling from beginning to end. I have my quibbles with the ending, finding that part weak, but not enough to stop me from recommending it gladly.