Shiri’s Review: Dreamsnake
As I mentioned the other day, I was excited to discover, in my quest to conquer some of the classics of genre fiction, that the 1978 Hugo and Nebula award winning novel was written by Vonda McIntyre (of recently read, enjoyed, and reviewed The Sun and the Moon fame). Finally, a classic free from the constraints of the sausage fest, right? Right?
I came away with mixed feelings.
Caveat: Dreamsnake is, apparently, the follow up to a short story. I have not read said, nor do I plan to. It’s possible some of the issues I had with the longer work would be resolved if I did so. This being the longer work, I’m of the mind it should stand independently if not alone and anything important should be explained, if only briefly.
The Not so Great:
** It took me until almost halfway through the novel to figure out what was giving me the visceral feeling of irk that accompanied my perusal of this award winning collection of words. Conclusion: it feels like a focus group, made up of men, chose the plot and characters thinking they knew what women would want in a sci-fi novel.
Proof, you demand. I have it!
The Dreamsnake book jacket actually states this is:
“… one of the growing number of sf novels that reach the field’s widening audience of women readers…”
So we start with the premise that women like a specific type of sci-fi book. One with a formulaic love triangle: Snake as the point with rugged, brusk, stoic dude as one leg and vulnerable, posh, sweet dude as the other. As expected, rugged, brusk, stoic dude saves the day in the end and shows that he too, is sweet and vulnerable. It also assumes that every woman feels a maternal instinct that drives them to make terrible decision that further endanger the very child said woman is attempting to save.
Did you hear that? That was me horking.
** Snake could be anyone, male or female not because she’s such a well drawn character but because she’s a generic hero who does a lot things and participates in a lot of action but doesn’t feel like a solid person. She could be a man or a teenager or a really smart monkey. Or an animate rock. The qualities that set her apart are her “presumption,” her “rebelliousness,” and her “big mouth.” At best she’s a trope. At worst, she’s a prototype that demonstrates that not even women could envision a future for women that was any different than the present state of affairs.
Well, that’s just terrifying.
** There’s a noble savage. Yeah, I get that the book was published in 1978, but gag me with a spoon. I bitch all the time about how the guys seemed incapable of envisioning a future for women that was any different from their present and here, a female author goes and does that. Just shoot me in the heart, people, it will be over so much faster for everyone.
** Oh, and, and when this courageous gent shows up in the semi-civilized part of the world there is absolutely no language barrier whatsoever. What the actual fuck. People who have grown up with different levels of tech, in different climates, with different career opportunities, and different levels of education don’t even stumble over dialect? Seeing has how there is no mention of brain salmon, I’m at a loss to explain ease of communication.
** The multi-layered sci-fi world can work really well, especially when the advanced and the bombed back to the stone age civilizations go at it. They do not, in Dreamsnake go at it. They don’t even speak with one another. They both sort of roll along not doing much of anything. And there are aliens. Apparently. People talk about them. But they aren’t present and have absolutely no influence whatsoever on the story. What the actual fuck? Why would you waste aliens like that?
The Not So Bad
** While the seemingly “necessary” inclusion of the mother-daughter relationship set my teeth on edge, it was nice to have an adventure story wherein the mother was alive and participatory. Points earned for no dead mother.
** The tech/science deals mostly with genetics that was really cutting edge in the late 70s and is still so today (encapsulating viruses to block or enhance a gene, for example). I wish there had been more done with it, more participation in it, but at least it’s there and applied in interesting, if purely theoretical and passive in nature.
** The idea of “biocontrol” is super neat. I would love to be trained to make my body do what I want when I want said body to do the thing. Again, introduced and then underutilized, but pretty rad conceptually.
** Vonda McIntyre is a very talented writer. Clearly, when this novel was written, she was still developing as a story-teller, but her language is beautiful, when she does describe setting one gets a very visceral sense of it, and her use of different speech patterns to demonstrate different ethnic and geographical origins is really, really well done. Snake’s ability to use either the formal or more casual modes of speech is a great way of demonstrating her skill in moving between the cultures who need her.
So. Did I hate Dreamsnake? No. I didn’t really feel strongly enough about it to hate it. Did I feel let down? Definitely, though I’m willing to admit perhaps my expectations were a little high. I doubt I’ll go back and read the rest of McIntyre’s older stuff, though I will definitely take a look at anything new that comes out.
First foray into lady-led classic sic-fi? Three starts on Goodreads but only 2 fingers on the Hand of Glory. Read it if you’re interested, if you skip it, you’re not missing much.
Any other suggestions for female penned sic-fi “classics?”