Vonda N(eel) McIntyre Gerald Jonas - Essay

Gerald Jonas

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The heroine of Vonda N. McIntyre's "Dreamsnake" … kidnaps a young girl, to raise as a daughter. The heroine's name is Snake. Her profession is that of healer; the tools of her trade are genetically altered snakes, whose venom-producing glands have been adapted to manufacture specific medications and vaccines. Sometime in the dim past, Snake's world suffered a nuclear holocaust…. Everything about this world, from its wild animals to its people, is described with luminous clarity. Snake's physical prowess, her ability to take care of herself in tight spots, is abundantly demonstrated but never insisted upon; her love for her adopted daughter, and for the desert tribesman who loves her, is handled without undue sentiment.

The dreamsnake of the title is an off-world serpent whose hallucinogenic venom brings not healing but an easeful death for the terminally ill. When the heroine's dreamsnake is killed, she must search for another; the book tells of her quest and its successful outcome. This is a superbly crafted s.f. adventure story, in which the sex of the protagonist is important only as a symbol of the present state of the art. The book would have virtually the same impact if Snake were a sensitive fellow who adopts a young boy and falls in love with a desert maiden. Whether this androgynous quality is a post-feminist triumph, or an example of co-optation, I leave to the ideologists of the movement.

While "Dreamsnake" is unmistakably science fiction, the book itself can be enjoyed by people whose interest in and knowledge of science fiction does not extend much past "Star Wars." (pp. 22, 24)

Gerald Jonas, "Science Fiction: 'Dreamsnake'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1978 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 25, 1978, pp. 22, 24, 26.