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Dreamsnake is a 1978 Science Fiction novel written by Vonda N. McIntyre.
Snake is a traveling healer, using the chemically-altered venom of her pet vipers to treat various ills in a somewhat undefined postapocalyptic setting. And early in the story, a well-meaning but paranoid and misinformed individual kills the titular animal... which just so happens to be both important to her job and incredibly rare. As the only alternative is to come back to her teachers and almost certainly end her healer's career, Snake decides to try to find out something which no one had been able to discover: the natural source of dreamsnakes. During her travel she is forced to make difficult ethical decisions, which subtly introduce an element of An Aesop and comment on some problems brought to light in The Seventies.
Contains examples of:
- After the End, although we never find out if it's set on Earth in the far future or on some other planet.
- Annoying Patient: The mayor.
- Author Appeal: Group or at least triad marriages and biocontrol.
- Automaton Horses: Averted.
- Awesome McCoolname: The heroine goes by "Snake." There's a blatantly obvious explanation, but even so.
- Beauty Equals Goodness: Subverted. Mountainside is a fucked-up place, and the burn-scarred Melissa is by far its most impressive scion.
- Bizarre Alien Biology: Dreamsnakes, as it turns out.
- But I Know My Biocontrol: The reason for Gabriel's self-imposed chastity.
- Childhood Marriage Promise: Gabriel and Leah had one. Then, shit happened.
- Cool Pet: Snake has a diamondback rattlesnake and an albino king cobra. At the beginning of the book, she's also got the title creature (an alien reptile whose venom acts as an anesthetic and mild hallucinogen).
- Cool Horse: Swift's just big and pretty, but Squirrel is tiger-striped.
- Dead Little Sister: Arevin has a quite literal one. Jesse ends up playing such a role for Snake.
- Death World
- Everyone Is Bi: Well, at least most characters.
- Fantasy Contraception: By way of something similar to biofeedback, no less. Everyone is taught it at a young age. Gabriel learned it wrong, and fail ensued.
- Feminist Fantasy
- Frontier Doctor: Snake effectively is one.
- Gender Neutral Writing: Merideth's gender is deliberately never revealed.
- Older Than They Look: Snake thinks that twelve-year-old Melissa is around eight or nine when they first meet.
- Polyamory: It's the monogamous characters like Arevin who stand out. And then, it turns out that dreamsnakes are three-sexed.
- Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Especially when committed upon an undersized and burn-scarred twelve-year-old by her psychotic surrogate father.
- Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Subverted by the fact that Snake's eponymous animals effectively serve as her medical kit. Invoked by the fact that someone's violent ophiophobia is what gets Snake into trouble in the first place. Reconstructed with sand vipers; not even Snake can find much that she likes about the damn things.
- Town with a Dark Secret
- We Will Have Euthanasia in the Future.
- What Measure Is a Non-Cute?: Mountainside is made of this trope. Melissa's burn scars—earned in an act of heroism, at the age of eight—make so much of a social outcast out of her that when her foster father verbally abuses her in front of the mayor, the mayor argues that it's for her own good. It takes the revelation that he's been molesting her for him to be declared unfit.