Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Dreamsnake is an award winning novel (Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards) about the world after a nuclear holocaust. One of the things that makes it fascinating is that it first came out in 1978, so it shows a post apocalyptic view that doesn't account for anything humanity has experienced in the last 35 years. Yet McIntyre's view of what this future world is like doesn't have much about it that seems lacking from a 2013 point of view. To me that means our advancements have been more about technology than they have been about how we relate to each other. In McIntyre's world there is still bigotry, drug abuse, sexual abuse, and greed. Those were things people worried about in the seventies and still worry about today.
The main character is a young woman named Snake who is a healer. She travels about the world with three snakes: Grass, a rare dreamsnake who is used for pain management, Sand, a rattlesnake whose venom is used to make medicines and Mist, a cobra whose purpose is similar to Sand's. Early in the book Grass is hurt by a group of people Snake has been helping, people who don't understand the purpose of a dreamsnake. Snake is forced to kill Grass because the reptile has been hurt so badly. Since Snake's people have not had success breeding dreamsnakes, Grass's death means that Snake may not be able to go on as a healer. Her only hope of continuing her work is to find another source of dreamsnakes.
Snake meets a man, Arevin, who is attracted to Snake enough to follow her. Snake also meets a young, abused girl, Melissa, whom she adopts. These are the three people I would consider the main characters of the novel, but there are many others Snake encounters along the way. This future world is filled with clans of people who live in camps, villages, and a city. The city dwellers look down on the people who live outside their walls, but in some ways the outsiders have a better life. They certainly have a more open view about the rest of humanity.
I loved McIntyre's picture of a world when humanity has bombed itself back into the dark ages, but I did have a few problems with the structure of her plot. It's a book where the end doesn't flow as much from the actions of the main characters as it does from a separate stroke of luck. Still, I enjoyed it very much.
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