The enjoyable 1979 Hugo and 1978 Nebula award winning novel Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre is post-apocalyptic science fiction written in a style I associate with fantasy. It has a strong, benevolent, somewhat mysterious heroine who goes on a quest to find something that has been lost.
Snake is a healer who has decided to go out among the desert people in her proving year—a time near the end of a student’s regular training. The primary tools of the healing profession are live snakes, whose venom provides the basis for vaccines, helps with infection, shrinks tumors, and performs various other functions. The most vital and rare snake is the dreamsnake, which provides a type of narcotic. Early in the story Snake’s dreamsnake is killed. The rest of the plot centers on her attempt to deal with the loss and possibly find a replacement. Of course, she meets interesting people along the way. The novel is not for those squeamish about snakes!!!
Near the last hundred pages, the story took a stronger science fiction turn, but until that point I thought it could well have been a storyline that would go on for several novels. Snake is likable. While she describes herself as arrogant, she seems to be only slightly more risk taking than her fellow healers and has a touch of naiveté to her. I forgot that I was on my mission to read Hugo award winning novels and felt more like I was reading a current novel. I was sad to see the story end.