Tag Archives: nebula award

Book Review: Dreamsnake

Book Name: Dreamsnake
Author: Vonda N. McIntyre
First Published: 1978
Awards: Hugo, Nebula, Locus

Vonda N. McIntyre was born in 1948 in Louisville, Kentucky. She moved around a great deal during her childhood finally settling in Seattle, Washington with her family. She earned a bachelor of science in biology at the University of Washington and graduated with honors. Before going on to graduate school, she attended the Clarion Writers Workshop in Clarion, Pennsylvania in 1970. This is a professional science fiction writer’s school. She went on to study genetics in graduate school and made the self discovery that a research scientist makes a wonderful background for a science fiction writer. She is a woman of many talents from riding horses in hunting, jumping, and three-phase events, earning a black-belt in Aikido, designing websites, partaking in public access television, crochet, and other handcrafts based on mathematical principals.

Ms. McIntyre became an ongoing instructor of the Clarion Writer’s Workshop, now in its new locations on the West Coast, and has been a workshop writing instructor at various colleges and conventions. She belongs to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and several feminist organizations.

McIntyre has been writing since her early 20s. Her first novel, The Exile Waiting being published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1975. It was followed by her Nebula award winning novel Dreamsnake, based off her Analog short entitled Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand. At that point, the author turned to writing Star Trek novels for Paramount and landed the job of writing the novelizations of their hit movies: Star Trek II, III, and IV. She also wrote a fanfiction novel for Paramount entitled The Entropy Effect that was extremely popular with Star Trek fans.

“It’s a haunting, rich, and tender novel that explores the human side of science fiction in a manner that’s all too uncommon. The world it creates is vivid and fascinating, and Snake is a marvelously well realized character.” —Roger Zelazny

Dreamsnake follows the journey of a young female healer in a post dystopic world that has been reduced to the neolithic and yet has retained technology of a biologic nature. There is space flight and knowledge of other worlds, but access to this is curtailed.

Snake depends on three different types of serpents in order to be a successful healer, without one she is unable to perform her biological tech based medicine. Sand is the rattlesnake that has venom for vaccines and potions, Mist is a cobra with stronger venomous properties as Sand, and finally there’s Grass whose venom is used as a pain reliever and acts as a hallucinogenic drug similar to LSD. What makes Grass unique is that he’s a snake from another world without the ability to breed (as far as we know) and therefore his kind are very rare on Earth.

After having saved a young boy named Stavin from a village of people who fear snakes and therefore murder her precious dreamsnake, Snake is called upon to heal another patient is injured after a fall from her horse. Snake is hesitant to attempt to heal Jesse due to her lack of a dreamsnake, but her duty as a healer overrides her concerns. Jesse is grateful to Snake bids her to go to a place known as Central City where the otherworlders touch down. There she might find a replacement for Grass. Snake, Jesse and a companion set off for the city together.

Not long after the start of their journey, Jesse begins to sicken. The place that she fell off her horse was a radioactive crater and she has developed radiation poisoning. Snake is unable to cure her of this ailment. Before Jesses dies, she bequethes her horse Swift to Snake in the hope that the horse will be recognized by her people and Snake will be allowed access into the city despite Jesse’s absence.

Snake sets off to a place called the Oasis where she learns that her belongings have been destroyed and her precious journal has been stolen. This is where we are introduced to Arevin, the young desert dweller that has fallen in love with the young healer. Snake continues her travels and enters another town where she heals the governor and invites the governor’s son to her bed. This is where we learn about some of the strange sexual trainings and odd tribal practices – the governor’s son failed in a thing called biocontrol (a biological method of birth control that is based on training instead of drugs) and because of this the boy walks around covered in a cloak to hide his shame. Snake helps him to overcome his failing.

Snake then meets a child that has been abused and burned. Snake later adopts this little girl named Melissa. The crazy person that stole her journal, we never know the sex of the character as it is transgender, attacks and injures Snake leaving her to require several days of healing before she can travel to Central City.

Once she reaches the city, Snake is turned away from completing her quest and does not gain access to another dreamsnake. In the end, this doesn’t matter to Snake, who is disappointed by the result, but who realizes that she is self-sufficient as a healer and can continue to heal people without the third snake after all. She has traveled far and learned a great deal of new things. Things happen for a reason and those occurrences shape us into who we are. Dreamsnake comes full circle and the things that were once thought to be obstacles become opportunities.

There is some controversy about this classic science fiction novel. It is one of the first to explore transgender and to feature a woman protagonist that is female of outlook instead of a poorly disguised male character. At the time, the male dominated science fiction realm was scandalized by this. There are relationships in this book, but the sex is freely given and somewhat graphic in places. While the story is structured like a classic quest, the outcomes are subtle and are gained via understanding and teaching instead of via violence. As a teenage girl reading the book when it debuted, I admit that it rather blew my mind. At that age I could not put my finger on why the novel had such an impact on me both as a reader and as a writer, but now I see the threads of feminism and new ways for societies to live that were quite intriguing. The biological tech is very interesting and something that may become a reality via our genetic engineers in the not too distant future. McIntyre’s background as a biologist clearly shows in her writing.

Dreamsnake Book CoverDreamsnake is not in print, but you can purchase an ebook copy directly from the author. While the story is a little dated, it is a novel worth reading if you wish to learn more about classic science fiction.

Book Review: Sheepfarmer’s Daughter

Book Name: Sheepfarmer’s Daughter
Author: Elizabeth Moon
First Published: 1988
1989 Compton Crook Award winner

Born in McAllen, Texas, Susan Elizabeth Norris started writing when she was a small child. Her first novel was about the family dog. In her teens, she began writing science fiction. She considered writing to be a hobby and focused her career on other interests.

In 1968, she earned her bachelor’s degree in History from Rice University in Houston, Texas and later followed up with a second B.A. in Biology. That year, she enlisted in the US Marine Corps as a computer specialist. She served on active duty for a number of years, reaching the rank of 1st Lieutenant. She married Richard Sloan Moon in 1969 and they had one son, Michael who was born in 1983.

Elizabeth Moon started her professional writing career in her mid-thirties with a newspaper column in a country weekly. Her first short story published in Analog and she was published in one of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress anthologies. Moon’s short stories became a regular occurrence in Analog over the next few years. Moon has other talents in addition to writing. She sings and plays the accordion. She is also a fencer, and is captain of the Science Fiction Writer’s Association Musketeers, a group of authors that enjoy fencing as a hobby.

Her first published novel is Sheepfarmer’s Daughter, which won the Compton Crook Award in 1989. It was the start of the Paksennarrion series and based on her real life experience as a soldier, but set in a fantasy world of swords and magic. Moon is known for her military fiction, both in fantasy and in science fiction, giving her character’s relationships, and what they experience as soldiers, a realistic edge. All of her soldiers exist in armies where men and women fight side by side and where this is considered the norm.

In 2003, Elizabeth Moon won a Nebula Award for her novel The Speed of Dark, which is inspired by her own autistic son Michael. In 2007, Moon was awarded the Robert A. Heinlein Award which honors “outstanding published works in hard science fiction or technical writings that inspire the human exploration of space.” Elizabeth Moon continues writing novels to this day. She is currently expanding on her Paksennarrion series, with more novels to come from Del Rey.

Sheepfarmer’s Daughter is about a girl named Paksennarrion, shortened to Paks, that runs away from home to avoid marrying a pig herder and instead enlists in a mercenary company, intending to make a career as a soldier. In Duke Phelan’s Company, she undergoes basic training, learning to wield a short sword and how to march. The Company travels to the south, to a land known as Aerenis, to do battle for the Duke. During the campaign, her cohort is captured by a villain known as the Honeycat. Paks and her friends Canna and Seban, flee from the scene, to bring word to the Duke. During the time that they take to reach the Company, the prisoners are killed. Duke Phelan is outraged. He vows revenge on the Honeycat.

The Duke calls in many favors to replace the losses to his Company after their defeat. He hires southern free blades, pulls soldiers out of retirement and makes less than favorable alliances in order to gain the manpower he needs to defeat his enemy. During this time, Paks begins to experience signs that the gods might be favoring her. While she is a good soldier, it becomes clear that she might be destined for more. These experiences bring her to the attention of the Duke and they begin to develop a closer relationship, more like father and daughter or mentor and student. In the end, it is Paks that helps to capture the villain and it is she that helps the Duke overcome the rage that his quest for revenge has made of him.

I first read Elizabeth Moon via the novel she co-authored with Anne McCaffery, Sassenak. I was intrigued by the military themes in her writing because of the way she had men and women as soldiers together, each facing battle as equals, and by her well versed attention to the details of science in her settings. I thought at first that the author was male, with a female pen name, because her writing is so focused on what it is like to be a soldier, instead of personal relationships. When I learned that Moon had been an officer in the Marines, it explained much. She writes more about the professional relationships between military soldiers than relationships between civilians. A woman writing in the style of hard science fiction is somewhat rare, but Elizabeth Moon accomplishes it with aplomb. I had put off reading her fantasy series for a number of years simply because it was difficult to find in ebook form. Many people had recommended Sheepfarmer’s Daughter to me and I was happy to find an omnibus edition of The Deed of Paksennarrion with all three books of the trilogy in one available online. I dived right in.

I can tell that this is an author’s first novel. Sheepfarmer’s Daughter does meander in its plot here and there, objects disappear without a reference. The relationships between the characters and character development could be better. However, the unfolding of this magical world from the eyes of a simple foot soldier is compelling. I found the author’s attention to detail of Paks training to be fascinating; how to fight with a pike, how to wield a sword, how to ride a warhorse. Paks relationship with Duke Phelan changes from that of a simple recruit to that of trusted friend in a natural progression. As Paksennarrion earns her paladin rank, we come to realize where her inner strength, and her loyalties come from, and perhaps why the gods of this world chose her to be their paladin.

The Deed of Paksennarrion is a long story, each volume of the trilogy will take time to read. For those with less patience, it might be difficult at first to get through the first book, Sheepfarmer’s Daughter. It details Paks training in Duke Phelan’s Company, her interactions with the other soldiers, and her initial battle experience. For those that are looking for romantic entanglements in their books, they will find it somewhat lacking and may wish to read something else. However, once you get beyond this point, the story picks up with plenty of action and more relationship development. Personally, I enjoyed reading about the basic training of the foot soldiers, but I realize that not everyone would find this as interesting as I would. I do recommend Sheepfarmer’s Daughter as a good place to start reading works from this accomplished military themed science fiction and fantasy author.

Deed of Paksenarrion Book CoverDeed of Paksenarrion Trilogy:

    Sheepfarmer’s Daughter (June 1988)
    Divided Allegiance (October 1988)
    Oath of Gold (January 1989)

The Legacy of Gird novels:

    Surrender None (June 1990)—prequel to The Deed of Paksenarrion
    Liar’s Oath (May 1992)—sequel to Surrender None

Paladin’s Legacy novels:

    Oath of Fealty (March 2010)—sequel to Oath of Gold
    Kings of the North (March 2011)
    Echoes of Betrayal (February 2012)
    Limits of Power (June 2013)
    Crown of Renewal (May 2014)