Saturday, March 17, 2012

Vonda McIntyre on the inspiration for Dreamsnake

I was doing a bit of YouTube surfing and stumbled onto this video clip of Vonda McIntyre winning the 1979 Hugo Award for her novel Dreamsnake.  In her acceptance speech McIntyre acknowledges Avram Davidson, which made me curious what role he played in the story's genesis.


Dreamsnake, if you haven't read it (and you should), is set on a future Earth which has been laid to waste by nuclear war. Despite the widespread devastation, future humans have developed advanced biotechnology.  The story follows the adventures of a healer named Snake, who travels from community to community using her genetically engineered snakes to treat the sick and hurt.

Fortunately for my curiosity, McIntyre has explained the story-behind-the-story in an afterword to Dreamsnake posted at the Book View Cafe.  Avram Davidson was the writer in residence at the Clarion West writer's workshop.  In a session he was leading, Davidson wrote words on slips of paper that the workshop participants drew from a cup.  One of the words McIntyre drew was "snake" and one of her fellow students suggested that she create a main character named "Snake".  The other elements of the story eventually fell into place:
Finally, during Terry Carr's week as writer in residence, I realized that a serpent named Grass should have hallucinogenic venom. The idea came from out in the ozone (or maybe the back 40 again), and my only excuse for not realizing it sooner is that during the 1960s I was a science geek.
[. . . ]
The next day the story got a pretty good reception, though the class snake expert and boa constrictor owner said that even genetic engineering would not excuse a venomous python. Never mind, I said, it's too heavy to carry, I'll make it a cobra.
The finished novellette "Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand" won a Nebula award in 1974. The story was later expanded into the novel Dreamsnake which won both Nebula and Hugo awards.

It's cool to see what can develop from a single word and some science geekiness!

You can read "Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand" for free at the Book View Cafe.

You can purchase the Dreamsnake ebook directly from the Book View Cafe. An audiobook version Dreamsnake  is available from Amazon.com, from Barnes&Noble icon or from the iTunes store. icon.

(thanks to Cheryl Morgan posting the video clip on her YouTube channel!)

Photo:Snake 006 by cygnus921, on Flickr

Previously: Vonda McIntyre and "Of Mist and Grass and Sand"

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