Andreea Daia's Reviews > Dreamsnake

Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre
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Apr 27, 12

bookshelves: hugo-award, locus-award, nebula-award, science-fiction, post-apocalyptic, read-2012
Read from April 05 to 06, 2012

Quick and dirty reading notes and (i)relevant thoughts
(I read this novel a while ago, but I decided to go back and write a review, since is so little known. And what a pity that is. )

✐ This is a very different kind of science-fiction and I read that the author had trouble finding a publisher since most folks took it for fantasy. In fact Dreamsnake reads like a classic western, and it's only the brief details (mentions of genetic engineering, craters of atomic bombs, collapsed domes of alien spacecrafts, etc) that set this novel in a extremely-far post-apocalyptic future.

✐ The society presented ranges from the archaic tribal communities to a segregated super-developed city (the Center). In between these, there are the healers, leaving outside the Center but versed in genetic engineering. Over the last hundred of years, they altered the snakes such that, under catalytic drugs, the composition of their venom changes into useful drugs. Without the snakes, the healers are crippled and can do little for the sick. It is because of this that when the main character loses a very rare specimen, she finds herself at an impasse: return home in disgrace, or try to convince the Center to give her a new one.

✐ I read some reviews complaining that the novel has some scientifically obsolete facts. I disagree: the pure scientific details are so scarce, that I can hardly see how this book can ever become antiquated. I know little about DNA modification, but everything that is described in Dreamsnake seemed at least possible. Definitely much more scientifically attainable than the inescapable but 100% unfeasible faster-than-light travel that abounds in nearly every space-opera. Yet no one complains about FTL travel, even if the only possible way to accomplish it is to induce the space-time continuum itself to move faster than light and ride its wave, so to speak. Or no one complains when very recent novels mention having targets in the effective range of a laser ツ, or (my personal favorite) hitting a camouflaged target with a laser ツ ツ.

✐ But I digress. What I liked most about this book was that it has overall an upbeat vibe. In fact unlike most novels which start from a relative high point and progress toward a low one, Dreamsnake begins at the nadir and advances toward apex.
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Andreea Daia Well, well, well, it looks as if I'm being "punished" for daring to attack science-fiction's love child: fast-than-light travel. I was not attacking people's right to dream since I'm a dreamer myself. I was simply defending Dreamsnake from statements like "it didn't age well." As long as we are willing to accept that fast-than-light travel is a plausibility, then so are genetically engineered snakes.

As about the three SF themes I was smiling about, it all gets down to two facts that prevent them from happening: 1) light has no mass; 2) a laser is light.

For the FTL travel topic, of course there are tons of websites one can refer to for more info, but I'll go to the mother of them all, NASA's official page. And when reading this remember what I said two lines above: light has no mass...
"One of the consequences of this Special Relativity is the light speed barrier. [...] To move faster, you add energy. But when you get going near the speed of light, the amount of energy you need to go faster balloons to infinity! To move a mass at the speed of light would take infinite energy. [...]
Is there any way around Special Relativity? Maybe.
Worm Hole transportation
Alcubierre’s 'Warp Drive'"

It was the Alcubierre’s 'Warp Drive' that I was referring as "riding the wave" (I was simply using the analogy of surfing instead of that of a moving sidewalks from the second NASA link):
Here’s the premise behind the Alcubierre "warp drive": Although Special Relativity forbids objects to move faster than light within spacetime, it is unknown how fast spacetime itself can move. To use an analogy, imagine you are on one of those moving sidewalks that can be found in some airports. The Alcubierre warp drive is like one of those moving sidewalks. Although there may be a limit to how fast one can walk across the floor (analogous to the light speed limit), what about if you are on a moving section of floor that moves faster than you can walk (analogous to a moving section of spacetime)?
About the camouflage issue, there is one episode from History Channel's The Universe that tacks it (and destroys it) so you don't have to take my word for true. By camouflage I mean a cloaking device which "warps light around the user and projects a hologram of the wall behind it over top of the bent light, rendering the user invisible" (I found this definition on a Wiki website and I think it's a good one). I would maybe add that there can be a combination of light warping and light reflecting. Did I mention before that a laser is light (and not a bullet as some people seem to believe)? You can't hit/illuminate an object that is designed to reject light.

And of course there is the issue of a laser not having a range, or better said having an infinite range barring obstacles. But that is homework for good kids. Hint: why do we see today stars that have exploded billions of light-years ago? ツ

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