Vonda McIntyre, Dreamsnake (1978)

Cover of the book Dreamsnake. It features an image of a face surrounded by coiling green snakes.

Dreamsnake sat on my bookshelf for years. I just never seemed to get around to reading it. Then Vonda McIntyre died last year and I thought I should make the effort in her honour.

The novel won the 1979 Hugo, 1978 Nebula and 1979 Locus awards and is still regarded as a classic work of feminist science fiction.

Set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, Dreamsnake is the story of a young healer named Snake. While travelling through the desert with her medicinal snakes, Grass, Mist and Sand, Snake is asked to try and heal the sick child of a group of desert dwellers. In a tragic misunderstanding, the dreamsnake, Grass, is killed by the frightened family of the child.

Snake is devastated. Not only has she lost her beloved Grass, she is no longer able to carry out her work effectively. Worse still, she has little chance of getting another Dreamsnake because they are alien creatures, brought to Earth by mysterious ‘Other Worlders’ and are very difficult to breed. But then a chance encounter with a dying woman provides an opportunity to visit the Central City, a closed society of humans who have access to advanced technology and still communicate with the Other Worlders. They may be able to give her another dreamsnake.

Snake begins her journey towards Central City, stopping on the way to help the people of a town, where she adopts an abused and scarred young girl who she hopes to train as a healer. But Snake is also being followed by two people, Arevin, one of the desert dwellers who has fallen in love with her, and a more threatening presence, someone who destroys her camp in the night.

Turned away empty-handed from Central City, Snake discovers there is another possibility when she hears of a dangerous man who may have possession of dreamsnakes. Should she risk everything to try and take some from him, for herself and her people?

And will she ever meet Arvein again?

I loved Dreamsnake. It was one of my favourite books last year. It’s a beautifully written story with an engaging heroine and an interesting world to explore. Snake is perhaps an overly perfect protagonist (everyone loves her; she’s the BEST healer etc.), which is usually a narrative bugbear for me, but I think that by taking away her dream snake, McIntyre gives the character enough internal conflict to make her relatable.

Dreamsnake is committed to anti-patriarchal, anti-capitalist values. The “good” people are the ones who live outside the supposedly civilised city. They are mostly kind and generous, live in tune with nature and are generally non-monogamous in their relationships. The people inside the city are isolationist, selfish and small-minded.  They aren’t worth McIntyre’s time. She doesn’t bother to take us into the city, or to meet the Other Worlders. Dreamsnake is a book about people building a new society and leaving the past behind.

A lovely read, which I’m sure I’ll revisit again. Recommended if you’re interested in women’s writing and science fiction.

CN: While not graphic, there are references to child sexual abuse and rape in relation to one character.

A Week of Films & Feelings

Life

This week, sadness was replaced by anxiety. I had one full-blown panic attack (about a mysterious noise, seriously!), and several unpleasant anxiety spikes. I’m definitely in one of my periodic mental health “dips” at the moment, but I knew that could happen, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

My anxiety was not helped by a trip to the doctors for what I thought was a minor issue, only to end up being referred to a specialist for further examination and told I might need surgery. It’s still not a very serious health problem, but it may need more treatment than I anticipated and that threw me a bit.

I’ve been using the Calm app which I find helpful for managing anxiety. I went to my yoga class and kept caffeine intake to a maximum of two cups of tea a day.

The weather finally improved enough for some birdwatching. I saw a stonechat, sedge warblers and greenfinches at our local nature reserve, along with plenty of tufted ducks.

Films

We watched Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows which is an absolute delight. Highly recommended if, like me, you grew up watching 1980s vampire movies.

Yesterday we went to see Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. It’s a wonderful film, but I started crying ten minutes in and didn’t stop until the end. A constant stream of tears running down my face and two complete breakdowns. I feel a lot better today though, so maybe I needed the catharsis!

Books

I ditched most of my other reading this week for book five in Elly Griffiths’s Ruth Galloway series, A Dying Fall. I find this series a little silly, but it’s good bedtime reading.

Music

The soundtrack to the week has been Blackbirds by Gretchen Peters, which is a gorgeous album of tuneful, yearning country songs.

To read – ‘Celebrating the fourth age: mapping menopause with curiosity and love’

This book sounds fascinating. I’ll be forty-three soon and I’ve definitely started to notice some signs of perimenopause.

Time to start preparing myself, so I’m looking for some good books on the subject.

Darcey Steinke, Celebrating the fourth age: mapping menopause with curiosity and love

January Bites!

Life

Difficult week. My partner continued to be quite unwell. I had a weird rash on my skin and an emotional meltdown. I felt awful during the second half of the week and spent most of Wednesday and Friday evenings crying. When I get like this, I feel like I’ve got a desperately unhappy child inside me who is completely inconsolable. There’s nothing I can do to comfort her.

I think its emotional stress about some things catching up with me. I also failed to protect myself from the internet over the holidays, despite knowing full well that I would be feeling sensitive and there would be a lot of upsetting stuff out there. I had planned to take a complete social media break for a few weeks, and I did step back a bit, but the proper break never really happened.  My desire for connection apparently trumped my boundaries.

But otherwise, I’ve been doing quite well. I exercised and went to yoga and have reduced my caffeine intake significantly. I upgraded my phone, something I’ve been avoiding for ages because it stresses me out. I also bought myself a pair of binoculars to improve the quality of my birdwatching.

Today is the 9th anniversary of our civil partnership. We’re not really the kind of people who bother with anniversaries, but we try and do a little something for this one. We went out for lunch at one of our favourite cafes anyway.

TV

It’s definitely been a week for comfort TV. We watched some old episodes of Poirot, Murder in Mesopotamia, Sad Cypress and The Hollow, all of which were very good.

Then we watched our favourite adaptation of Jane Eyre, the 2006 one with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens. It’s the only adaptation that really gets me to buy into the romance between Jane and Rochester.

Reading

I finished Semiosis by Sue Burke, a science fiction novel about a human colony and first contact with alien species. I really liked it and will hopefully write a post about it at some point. I also finished my re-read of The Hobbit, which was fun, but I felt I should be reading it out loud to a child. Now those are done, I’ll carry on with Melmoth by Sarah Perry.

I’m also working on Burnout: The Secret to Solving the Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagoski which I’m finding very helpful. Recommended if you’re looking for a feminist and intersectional book about burnout.

Photograph of the book 'Burnout'. It has a plain light blue cover with the title and author's names.

I’m going to make a vat of dahl to keep us fed for next couple of days and I hope next week will be a little kinder.

Start of the Year

I hope the beginning of the year is treating you gently. Our first few days of 2020 have already had some highs and lows.

My partner has been ill all week with a flu-like bug. She hasn’t been able to leave the flat, sleep or eat very much. She’s slowly recovering now, but is exhausted and has a very bad cough. Meanwhile, I had an attack of hives. I’ve no idea what caused it, but anti-histamines seem to be working.

The only thing my partner fancies to eat is spicy food, so I’ve cooked the carrot dal from Anna Jones’s The Modern Cook’s Year, the hot and sour lentil soup from Ruby Tandoh’s Flavour and the chickpea and tomato stew from my old Good Housekeeping Book of Vegetarian Cookery. It’s chicken curry tonight, based on a Nigel Slater recipe.

On Friday, I met up with two of my oldest friends, and the little boy who belongs to one of them, so that’s a good start towards my ‘friendship’ intention for 2020. My friend is a very good parent and her little boy is thriving. It’s lovely to spend time with such a happy, confident child. I also made arrangements to see another old friend in April.

We bought a new laptop. Big purchase. Makes me anxious. But our poor old PC is on its last legs and running extremely slowly now. It’s an investment that will make life a lot easier.

I’ve been binge-watching Schitt’s Creek, along with my sick partner. I love this show and was actually happy-crying last night at the episode with Patrick’s parents. Recommended if you want something sweet and comforting to watch.

I’m reading and loving Semiosis by Sue Burke and enjoying Melmoth by Sarah Perry. I’m also re-reading The Hobbit and Jane Eyre.

The soundtrack to the start of the year is Blood by Alison Moorer, a beautiful, haunting and somehow uplifting album about the impact of horrific family violence (Moorer’s father murdered her mother and then killed himself when she and her sister were teenagers). It was recommended on The Old Grey Cat and I think will become a favourite.