Short works

Books : reviews

Vonda N. McIntyre.
Fireflood and other stories.

(read but not reviewed)


Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand. 1973
[expanded as Dreamsnake]
Fireflood. 1981
Wings. 1981
The Mountains of Sunset, The Mountains of Dawn. 1981
The End's Beginning. 1981
Screwtop. 1981
Only at Night. 1981
Recourse, Inc.. 1981
The Genius Freaks. 1981
Aztecs. 1981

Vonda N. McIntyre.

rating : 2 : great stuff
review : 11 July 1999

Snake is a healer in a post-apocalypse world. She has that name because of her three serpents, genetically modified to produce medicines and vaccines. Early on, she loses Grass, her Dreamsnake, due to a tragic misunderstanding. Dreamsnakes are alien creatures, and in desperately short supply, and Snake can't continue to be a full healer without one. So the rest of the book follows her attempts to solve this problem.

The first chapter, where Snake loses Grass, is the much-anthologised short story "Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand". That short story is very good, but the novel is even better. We get to see more of the varied post-apocalyptic world as Snake travels through it. Snake is a great protagonist -- it would have been easy to make her a super-competent saint, but instead she feels solidly real: competent in her profession, caring in a pragmatic way, but also often tired, dirty, depressed, angry, or scared. The minor characters are equally well-drawn and distinguishable. And the background world, with its strange mix of low and high-tech, and different cultures, feels like a real world, not just a hotchpotch of scenes for Snake to travel through.

[One feature of the book I never noticed until a discussion on the newsgroup rec.arts.sf.written concerns the character Meredith. When I first read the book, I assumed Meredith to be male, because I think of Meredith as a male name. However, I discovered that Meredith can also be a female name. And there are no gender references to Meredith at all. It is a fascinating exercise to read assuming one gender, then re-read assuming the other.]

All too often a travel story can seem episodic; the protagonist travels from scene to scene, and the past scenes seem to evaporate from the world. Here, however, there is a second parallel strand to the story, which manages to link the scenes together cleverly, so that you see a place continuing to exist after Snake has left it. This technique helps to make the world feel real.

Dreamsnake is one of the books I periodically re-read; it is also one I dearly wish I could read again for the first time.

Starfarers (series)

The Starfarers series originated in a quite successfully silly set of panels mostly done at Pacific NW cons in the Eighties; Vonda started the panels as a hoax discussing "that well-known and beloved tv series, Starfarers" after getting a bit tired of so frequently being put on Star Trek discussion panels; the ideas she came up with were so popular that she started the actual novel series.

-- Gary Farber, rec.arts.sf.written, 1999