Last updated
Cover of first edition (hardcover)
Author Vonda N. McIntyre
CountryUnited States
Genre Science fiction
Publisher Houghton Mifflin
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
ISBN 0-395-26470-7
OCLC 3558965
LC Class PZ4.M1526 Dr PS3563.A3125

Dreamsnake is a 1978 science fiction novel by American writer Vonda N. McIntyre. It was well-received, winning the 1979 Hugo Award, [1] the 1978 Nebula Award, [2] and the 1979 Locus Award. [1] The novel follows a healer on her quest to replace her "dreamsnake", a small snake whose venom is capable of inducing torpor and hallucinations in humans, akin to effects produced by drugs such as LSD or heroin. According to the author, [3] the world is Earth, but in the post-apocalyptic future and thus scientifically and socially much different from the present: a nuclear war has left vast swathes of the planet too radioactive to support human life, biotechnology is far more advanced than in today's Earth—genetic manipulation of plants and animals is routine—and alternate sex patterns and other-worldly tribalism appear.

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1978.

Science fiction Genre of speculative fiction

Science fiction is a genre of speculative fiction, typically dealing with imaginative and futuristic concepts such as advanced science and technology, space exploration, time travel, and extraterrestrial life. Science fiction often explores the potential consequences of scientific and other innovations, and has been called a "literature of ideas."

Vonda Neel McIntyre was an American science fiction author.


The novel is based upon McIntyre's 1973 novelette Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand, for which she won her first Nebula Award.

Nebula Award literature prize for science fiction and fantasy works from the United States

The Nebula Awards annually recognize the best works of science fiction or fantasy published in the United States. The awards are organized and awarded by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), a nonprofit association of professional science fiction and fantasy writers. They were first given in 1966 at a ceremony created for the awards, and are given in four categories for different lengths of literary works. A fifth category for film and television episode scripts was given 1974–78 and 2000–09, and a sixth category for video game writing was begun in 2018. The rules governing the Nebula Awards have changed several times during the awards' history, most recently in 2010. The SFWA Nebula Conference, at which the awards are announced and presented, is held each spring in the United States. Locations vary from year to year.


The story opens with Snake, a healer, having been brought into a desert tribe to assist in the healing of a very sick little boy named Stavin. She is dependent upon her snakes for healing purposes and has three: Grass, a small and rare dreamsnake that is used for calming the patient and taking away their pain, Sand, a rattlesnake whose venom is used in making vaccines and healing potions, and Mist, a cobra with the same purpose as Sand but whose venom makes stronger potions.

The desert people are afraid of the snakes and of Snake herself. Snake leaves Grass to keep Stavin's dreams sweet through the night while she guards Mist as the snake creates the antidote. When Snake returns to the boy, the villagers show her Grass, which they have attempted to kill out of fear; she breaks its neck to put it out of its misery. Snake blames herself for the loss of her dreamsnake and loathes having to tell her fellow healers of her mistake. It is doubtful she will be able to get another dreamsnake, as they are from another world and the healers can only occasionally clone, and never breed them.

Stavin takes the potion and survives, and Snake travels until the next request for her aid comes. Jesse, a horsewoman, has broken her back in a fall from a horse. Snake fears Jesse's request for assistance in a painless death, because Grass is gone. Jesse is eventually convinced by her two companions to try going back to the Central city, where she is from, to get help from the ruling family that she was a part of before she shunned them. They have more contact with the Otherworlders and perhaps more technology that can help her recover.

The four start toward the city when Jesse suddenly grows worse. Snake realizes, seeing the dead carcass of Jesse's horse in a crater, that Jesse had lain in one of the radioactive areas long enough to have developed radiation poisoning. It is unclear whether Jesse dies of this or from Mist's strike (Snake's only remaining form of assistance) but her final bequest a horse, Swift, to Snake. She also urges the healer to tell Jesse's family of her death and Snake's assistance, putting them in her debt and possibly an opening to speak with the Otherworlders about more dreamsnakes from the Otherworlders. Before setting off, Snake collects her pony at the Oasis, where friends of hers have been watching her other things and finds all her belongings have been ruined. The natives of Oasis apologize for not guarding her things better and say that a crazy came down from the hills and must have done it. Her journal is missing.

Arevin, the desert dweller, finds himself wanting to go after Snake, because he has fallen in love with her and believes that she is too hard on herself in the issue of Grass' death. He travels to the healers and tells two trustworthy ones the story of what had happened, but is surprised to find that Snake is not already there. He heads south in an attempt to find her.

Snake arrives at a village along her way and is invited to the governor's mansion by the governor's son Gabriel, an extremely handsome young man who always goes cloaked out in public. She is also asked to heal the leg of his father, who had a spear go through it. It is infected and Gabriel's father is a difficult man to treat, but Snake manages to cure him without taking the leg. She also invites Gabriel into her bed in the casual way that is done in this time. He is horrified by this, having failed in biocontrol when he was a teenager and gotten a friend pregnant. She soothes him, saying that the protections all healers receive against their snakes' venom usually renders them sterile. Snake also figures out that he was incorrectly instructed in biocontrol, and suggests another town where he might better learn and make a fresh start.

While checking in on her horses, Snake meets Melissa, a twelve-year-old, severely burned girl who hides out in the stables and assists the stablemaster, who takes credit for all her work. Her burn scars render her self-conscious in a town with such beautiful people. Melissa has been severely abused by the stablemaster, physically, mentally, and sexually, and Snake uses this knowledge to convince the mayor to free her. When she leaves for the Central city, Melissa accompanies her as her adopted child.

The pair make it to the city and are turned away, despite bringing news of Jesse, because of Snake's mention of cloning. They attempt to head back toward the healers, but must shelter in a cave to wait out the desert storms. The crazy attacks them after the storms end, and Snake captures him. He is addicted to dreamsnake venom. Snake knows of no place where so many dreamsnakes could be found together, and makes him take her to the 'broken dome', a relic of the Otherworlders' arrival ages ago, the gangleader North, and his colony of dreamsnakes.

North bears a grudge against all healers, who could have treated his gigantism if treatment had been available. He puts them both in a large, cold pit filled with dreamsnakes. At first, Snake holds Melissa above the snakes, herself immune after her medical training.

While in the pit, Snake realizes that the intense cold brings dreamsnakes to maturity, and they breed in triplets, rather than the paired sexes of Earth. She escapes the pit, with a small sack of dreamsnakes on her belt, only to find all North's associates in dreamsnake venom-induced comas, and Melissa in a basket of dreamsnakes, similarly comatose. Snake escapes back to the horses, where they are met by Arevin, who helps Melissa recover.


Ursula K. Le Guin praised the book, saying "Dreamsnake is written in a clear, quick-moving prose, with brief, lyrically intense landscape passages that take the reader straight into its half-familiar, half-strange desert world, and fine descriptions of the characters’ emotional states and moods and changes." [4]

Ursula K. Le Guin American author

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin was an American author. She was best known for her works of speculative fiction, including the science fiction works set in the Hainish Universe and the fantasy series of Earthsea. First published in 1959, she had a literary career spanning nearly sixty years, during which she released more than twenty novels and over a hundred short stories, in addition to many volumes of poetry, literary criticism, translations, and children's books. Frequently described as author of science fiction, Le Guin said she would prefer to be known as an "American novelist", and has been called a "major voice in American Letters".


Dreamsnake won multiple awards, including the 1978 Nebula Award for Best Novel [5] and the 1979 Hugo Award for Best Novel. [6] It was also the winner of the 1979 Locus Poll Award for Best Novel [7] and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers' Awards [8] and was nominated for the 1979 Ditmar Award in International Fiction, [9] which was won by The White Dragon by Anne McCaffrey. In 1995, Dreamsnake was put on the Shortlist for the Retrospective James Tiptree, Jr. Award. [10]

<i>The White Dragon</i> (novel) novel by Anne McCaffrey

The White Dragon is a science fantasy novel by American-Irish author Anne McCaffrey. It completes the original Dragonriders trilogy in the Dragonriders of Pern series, seven years after the second book. It was first published by Del Rey Books in June 1978, one year before the young adult Harper Hall trilogy.

Anne McCaffrey American-Irish novelist

Anne Inez McCaffrey was an American-born writer who emigrated to Ireland and was best known for the Dragonriders of Pern science fiction series. Early in McCaffrey's 46-year career as a writer, she became the first woman to win a Hugo Award for fiction and the first to win a Nebula Award. Her 1978 novel The White Dragon became one of the first science-fiction books to appear on the New York Times Best Seller list.

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This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1979.

Jo Walton Welsh Canadian writer

Jo Walton is a Welsh-Canadian fantasy and science fiction writer and poet. She won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2002 and the World Fantasy award for her novel Tooth and Claw in 2004. Her novel Ha'penny was a co-winner of the 2008 Prometheus Award. Her novel Lifelode won the 2010 Mythopoeic Award. Her novel Among Others won the 2011 Nebula Award for Best Novel, and the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Novel, and is one of only seven novels to have been nominated for the Hugo Award, Nebula Award, and World Fantasy Award.

Kate Wilhelm American science fiction writer

Kate Wilhelm was an American author. She wrote novels and stories in the science fiction, mystery, and suspense genres, including the Hugo Award–winning Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, and she established the Clarion Workshop with her husband Damon Knight and writer Robin Scott Wilson.

Kij Johnson American writer

Kij Johnson is an American writer of fantasy. She is a faculty member at the University of Kansas.

Nina Kiriki Hoffman American writer

Nina Kiriki Hoffman is an American fantasy, science fiction and horror writer.

<i>Star Songs of an Old Primate</i> book by James Tiptree

Star Songs of an Old Primate is the third short story collection by Alice Sheldon. It was published by Del Rey Books in 1978. It was the first of Tiptree's books published after the revelation that Tiptree was a female, rather than male, writer.

Catherynne M. Valente American writer

Catherynne M. Valente is an American fiction writer, poet, and literary critic. For her speculative fiction novels she has won the annual James Tiptree, Andre Norton, and Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards. Her short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld Magazine, the World Fantasy Award–winning anthologies Salon Fantastique and Paper Cities, along with numerous Year's Best volumes. Her critical work has appeared in the International Journal of the Humanities as well as in numerous essay collections.

<i>The Moon and the Sun</i> novel by Vonda McIntyre

The Moon and the Sun is a novel by American writer Vonda N. McIntyre, published in 1997. The book combines two major genres: science fiction and historical romance. It won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1997, beating out A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. The novel was inspired by the short story "The Natural History and Extinction of the People of the Sea", also by McIntyre, which was illustrated by fellow author Ursula K. Le Guin.

<i>Nebula Winners Twelve</i> book by Gordon R. Dickson

Nebula Winners Twelve is an anthology of science fiction short stories edited by Gordon R. Dickson. It was first published in hardcover by Harper & Row in February 1978, and reprinted in December of the same year. A paperback edition followed from Bantam Books in April 1979.

<i>The Best Science Fiction of the Year 3</i>

The Best Science Fiction of the Year #3 is an anthology of science fiction short stories edited by Terry Carr, the third volume in a series of sixteen. It was first published in paperback by Ballantine Books in July 1974, and reissued in July 1976.

<i>The Best Science Fiction of the Year 7</i> book by Terry Carr

The Best Science Fiction of the Year #7 is an anthology of science fiction short stories edited by Terry Carr, the seventh volume in a series of sixteen. It was first published in paperback by Del Rey Books in July 1978, and in hardcover under the slightly variant title Best Science Fiction of the Year 7 by Gollancz in November 1978.

<i>The Best Science Fiction of the Year 9</i> book by Terry Carr

The Best Science Fiction of the Year #9 is an anthology of science fiction short stories edited by Terry Carr, the ninth volume in a series of sixteen. It was first published in paperback by Del Rey Books in August 1980, and in hardcover by Gollancz in October of the same year.

N. K. Jemisin American writer

Nora K. Jemisin is an American science fiction and fantasy writer and a psychologist. Her fiction explores a wide variety of themes, including cultural conflict and oppression. She has won several awards for her work, including the Locus Award. As of her August 2018 win, the three books of her Broken Earth series have made her the only author to have won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in three consecutive years.

Rachel Swirsky is an American literary, speculative fiction and fantasy writer, poet, and editor living in California. She was the founding editor of the PodCastle podcast and served as editor from 2008 to 2010. She served as vice president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2013.

<i>Fireflood and Other Stories</i> book by Vonda N. McIntyre

Fireflood and Other Stories is the first collection of short work by Vonda N. McIntyre, published in hardcover by Houghton Mifflin in 1979 and reprinted in paperback by Timescape Books in 1981. UK editions were issued by Gollancz in 1980 and by Pan Books in 1982; it was also issued by the Science Fiction Book Club. Fireflood placed fifth in the annual Locus Poll for best collection.

<i>The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queens Window</i> book by Rachel Swirsky

"The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen's Window" is a fantasy novella by American writer Rachel Swirsky. It explores the conjunction of invocation, deep time, and culture shock. It was originally published in Subterranean Magazine, in the summer of 2010, and subsequently republished in The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2011 and "The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Vol. 5".

<i>Ancillary Justice</i> science-fiction novel by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice is a science fiction novel by the American writer Ann Leckie, published in 2013. It is Leckie's debut novel and the first in her "Imperial Radch" space opera trilogy, followed by Ancillary Sword (2014) and Ancillary Mercy (2015). The novel follows Breq, the sole survivor of a starship destroyed by treachery and the vessel of that ship's artificial consciousness, as she seeks revenge against the ruler of her civilization.

Sarah Pinsker is a science fiction and fantasy short fiction author whose stories have appeared in publications such as Asimov's Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Lightspeed, along with multiple "year's best" collections. A four-time finalist for the Nebula Award, Pinsker won the 2016 Nebula Award for Best Novelette. Her fiction has also won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award and been on the shortlist for the Tiptree Award.


  1. 1 2 "1979 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2010-03-11.
  2. "1978 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2010-03-11.
  3. Blogging the Hugos Interview with Vonda McIntyre
  4. Ursula Le Guin Review Dreamsnake
  5. "Keith Stokes, Vonda N. McIntyre honored with SFWA Service Award". Nebula Award . March 11, 2010. Retrieved June 17, 2010.
  6. "1979 Hugo Award". Hugo Award . August 26, 1979. Archived from the original on May 7, 2011. Retrieved June 17, 2010.
  7. "The Locus Index". Locus Magazine . July 8, 1979. Archived from the original on August 6, 2010. Retrieved June 17, 2010.
  8. "Dreamsnake". Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award . 1978. Retrieved June 17, 2010.
  9. "Ditmar Award Winners". Locus Magazine . 1979. Archived from the original on January 18, 2010. Retrieved June 17, 2010.
  10. "James Tiptree, Jr. Award Retrospective Short List". James Tiptree, Jr. Award . 1995. Retrieved June 17, 2010.