Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Review - Dreamsnake

by Vonda McIntyre
1979 Hugo Winner for Best Novel
1978 Nebula Winner for Best Novel

Another double winner so it's clearly another high quality bit of science fiction.

That statement could not be more wrong.

Dreamsnake is on my shortlist of the worst novels to win the Hugo award. The fact that it somehow managed to get a Nebula as well makes me suspect that there was a lot of good cocaine going around at science fiction conventions in 1979. That's the only way that this piece of tripe could have won both awards.

Snake is a shamanistic healer in a post-apocalyptic world who makes people better by having her trained snakes bite them. One of the snakes is an alien species which does vague magic things which she requires to be a good healer and at the beginning of the novel it is killed by a group of tribesmen who you know are bad people because they don't have the same enlightened 1970's attitude that Snake does.

One of the tribesmen is immediately converted over to her point of view after some hot sex and follows her around for the rest of the book. Snake wanders the world looking for another magic snake making things better for the people she meets with no effort in short vignettes. Eventually she fixes everything in the world by learning where babies come from, something a society of genetic engineers haven't been able to figure out after centuries of observation.

That's a bit more information than I normally like to give but the key plot twist that drives the story is so monumentally stupid that I was disgusted. Husbandry is Animal Breeding 101; you should understand the mating habits of a creature under constant observation before you try tinkering with its genes. On top of that the people who were this insultingly stupid couldn't tell that they were dealing with a type of genetic material that was different from DNA despite being genetic engineers. (Shockingly another Hugo and Nebula winner a few years from now has the exact same situation where people who are doing genetic manipulation of a species don't understand how it reproduces or the fact that its genetic material is radically different from earth norms.) The whole book hinges on this and it took my suspension of disbelief which it beat to death with a snake.

Oh but one plot point isn't enough to hate a book even if it's one that someone who had some vague idea of how to raise animals could see through so let's get to other things. Snake is perfect. She's a flawless, modern thinking person who's idealism inspires everyone around her. People who actual act like they're living in a post-apocalyptic society where most people have to get by on sustenance farming are not nearly as smart, clever, or good looking as Snake and those she can immediately convert to modern liberal thinking (in the classical sense, not the current political stances).

Dreamsnake is packed solid with stock characters. There's the little girl who has suffered abuse at the hands of wicked people who immediate attaches herself to Snake so that Snake can put the abusive parent figure in their place with no effort. There's the good looking kid with sexual hang-ups and father issues that Snake fixes with a half page of dialog and some quick sex.

I hated this book. I found the stories to be terrible, the characters to be terrible, and the world building to be terrible. It reminded me a lot of those painfully awful fantasy novels that are pumped out by the hundreds with its technology that might as well be magic, lack of technology elsewhere, and "plot" that revolved around set pieces that seemed to exist only for the reader to be impressed at how enlightened and wonderful Snake was. Just keep away from this one.