Friday, 30 May 2014

The Hound of the Baskervilles / Arthur Conan Doyle

4 out of 5 stars
Holmes and Watson are faced with their most terrifying case yet. The legend of the devil-beast that haunts the moors around the Baskerville families home warns the descendants of that ancient clan never to venture out in those dark hours when the power of evil is exalted. Now, the most recent Baskerville, Sir Charles, is dead and the footprints of a giant hound have been found near his body. Will the new heir meet the same fate?
This was a re-read for me, but after many decades.  I had forgotten the charm of the Holmes stories and I’m glad to revisit one of my favourites.  I just attended a theatrical performance of The Hound of the Baskervilles last weekend and wanted to compare the production to the original.

The roots of the forensic mysteries that I enjoy today are on display in The Hound, as Mr. Holmes uses logic and investigative techniques to catch slippery criminals.  Conan Doyle was the great-grandfather of the genre, introducing components that we still expect in modern crime novels—an expert protagonist (medical examiner,
anthropologist, police detective), an attention to all kinds of details which can work as clues, and a side-kick or partner to create the conversations that allow the reader to know the thought processes that are crucial to solving the crime.

Because I had just seen the play, I’m not a good judge of whether there is still any sense of surprise when reading The Hound—I did enjoy the quality of the writing and the well-structured story, despite knowing the outcome.   Not as elaborate or wordy as many novels from the 19th century, The Hound also displays a more stripped-down language, showing the evolution towards the 21st century crime procedural novel.

Titan / John Varley

3.5 stars out of 5
A scientific expedition to the planet Saturn in 2025, aboard the ship Ringmaster, discovers a strange satellite in orbit around the planet. Commanding the ship is Cirocco Jones, a tall NASA career woman, aided by astronomer Gaby Plauget, the clone twin physicists April and August Polo, pilot Eugene Springfield, physician Calvin Greene and engineer Bill (whose last name is never given).

As they reach the satellite they realize it is a huge hollow torus habitat. Before they can report this the ship is entangled in cables from the object. The crew is rendered unconscious and later wake up inside the habitat. Initially separated, Cirroco and Gaby find each other and travel together through the world inside the torus to find the rest of the crew.

As I got started on Titan, I had two thoughts:  this reminds me of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001, a Space Odyssey as well as Rendezvous with Rama.  A ship from Earth is exploring the outer solar system when they spot something mysterious and as they get closer it is unmistakably an artificial structure.  As they get closer and start to describe it, I thought Ringworld (not one of my favourites).  But Varley manages to distinguish his story from those, even while I think deliberately invoking the comparisons.  He is far and away better at characterization than Clarke or Niven and writes female characters quite well.

I raised an eyebrow when the water seemed to be drinkable and all the berries, animals, etc., seemed to be edible.  How likely is that?  But necessary for the story, I guess (I had the same reaction to C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet).

One of the male characters, Bill, is a reader of sci-fi and Cirocco Jones, the main character, is a film buff, so many pop culture references are made to earlier (pre-1979) works.  They are scattered through the work like so many Easter eggs.

Exploration of a new “world” seems to equal self-exploration for Jones, who discovers that maybe she’s not all that into being the Captain, trying to maintain control/discipline, and generally being responsible for everyone.  [I completely understand—I maintain that it’s all I can do to be responsible for myself, I don’t have what it takes to manage employees or parent children].

Although the book starts as if it is going to be a hard science fiction work, it soon turns into a fantasy and commentary on social issues, primarily the relationship between the sexes and the issues of sexuality which some people today are still struggling with, accepting that each person is individual and that there is a sliding scale from heterosexuality to homosexuality, with each person finding their own spot along that continuum.   

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The Magic Labyrinth / Philip Jose Farmer

2.5 out of 5 stars
WARNING: This review contains spoilers!  Read at your own risk!

This fourth book in the classic Riverworld series continues the adventures of Samuel Clemens and Sir Richard Francis Burton as they travel through Farmer's strange and wonderful Riverworld, a place where everyone who ever lived is simultaneously resurrected along a single river valley that stretches over an entire planet. Famous characters from history abound.

Now Burton and Clemens, who have traveled for more than thirty years on two great ships, are about to reach the end of the River. But there is a religion, The Church of the Second Chance, that has grown up along the River and its adherents, possibly inspired by aliens, are determined to destroy the riverboats. A coming battle may destroy Burton and Clemens, but even if they survive, how can they penetrate the alien tower of the Ethicals, who created this astonishing world? What can humans do against a race capable of creating a world and resurrecting the entire human race on it?

This book takes an awfully long time to get to the point, namely who are the Ethicals and why have they created this world?  There is a LOT of rather pointless fighting, in my opinion, which lends nothing to the plot and includes enough technical detail to send an insomniac into a coma.

When we finally get to hear from an Ethical, Mr. Mysterious X no less, it is underwhelming in the extreme.  They are basically "advanced" human people, working under another race, who in turn were deputized by the "Ancient Ones." And they aren't so ethical that they can't disagree and squabble amongst themselves--plus they guard their computers with death rays.  Still want to call them Ethicals?

One blessing is that Farmer finally committed to one measurement system, so the dimensions of everything aren't repeated in both Imperial and Metric.

Although I'm glad to know a bit more about the Ethicals and what they were up to,  I persist in thinking that so much MORE could have been done with this concept.  I finally realized with this (the fourth) book that religion was one of the issues in play in this series (so I guess its good that Farmer really lambastes the reader with it--I finally caught on).  Its just so swamped in details--what they are eating, what they are wearing, how they produced this or that item, etc., etc.

 And I think he did make an effort to produce some characters that women could relate to in this book (although the women are still very focused on the male characters and don't talk to each other). 

There's only one book left, and what with the abrupt ending of the Magic Labyrinth, I will probably, against my better judgement, read it.  Anyone who can explain the title to me, I would be most obliged.  I'm probably being as thick about that as I was about the religious themes!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Empire Antarctica / Gavin Francis

4.5 out of 5 stars

Gavin Francis fulfilled a lifetime's ambition when he spent fourteen months as the basecamp doctor at Halley, a profoundly isolated British research station on the Caird Coast of Antarctica. So remote, it is said to be easier to evacuate a casualty from the International Space Station than it is to bring someone out of Halley in winter.

I have visited the southern continent twice as a tourist, nibbling around the edges.  I adored my first cruise, the point of which was to cross the Antarctic Circle west of the peninsula that juts northwards towards South America.  I loved the snowy landscape, the lack of people, the remoteness, and the wildlife.  Plus I adored penguins.  When we disembarked in Ushuaia, Argentina, I was reluctant to leave.  If the tour company had said, “We have room for one female passenger, leaving this afternoon,” I would have turned around, got back on the ship, and figured out how to pay for it and how to explain it to my employer later.

That cruise in 2002 started my love affair with the black and white birds that continues to this day.  Since then, I have seen 11 out of the 18-20 species of penguin (depending on who is counting) and the quest continues.  The Emperor Penguin is going to be a hard one to see, so there is a third trip to the Antarctic somewhere in my future to accomplish this.

I have also always haboured a secret dream of living in Northern Canada and experiencing a winter of darkness.  Being able to explore a landscape that isn’t crowded by people and seeing wildlife that most Canadians don’t get to see.

So it was fascinating to read an account of a doctor’s overwintering on a remote Antarctic station, dealing with the weather, the darkness, and the limits of an Antarctic winter.  Francis seems to be an adventurous person, skiing, mountain climbing and visiting remote places before he ever got to the Antarctic, and this quality stood him in good stead. I have no skills that would ever get me to an Antarctic base as an employee, so I was quite envious.

However, as his account progressed, I came to realize that I would have great difficulty surviving the limited society of such a base over the winter and probably have extreme difficulty combining it with 24 hour darkness.  I still may try Northern Canada eventually, but if I do it will be in a northern city with a variety of people to socialize with.  

What I absolutely loved about this memoir was the literary knowledge of the author, the quotes from great literature and from the accounts of Arctic and Antarctic explorations from the heroic age.  He balances the personal memoir, the factual information about over wintering, the accounts of the penguins, and historical and literary history with great skill.  There is not too much of any one ingredient, it is just right.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Riddley Walker / Russell Hoban

4 out of 5 stars

Set in a remote future in a post-nuclear holocaust England (Inland), Hoban has imagined a humanity regressed to an iron-age, semi-literate state--and invented a language to represent it. Riddley is at once the Huck Finn and the Stephen Dedalus of his culture--rebel, change agent, and artist.

Some may find the invented language that comprises this novel difficult, but I liked it.  Having studied just enough linguistics to be dangerous, it has often been one of my pet peeves that fictional people from the far-distant future are able to easily communicate with whoever they choose to.  Language just doesn’t work that way—it changes and evolves.  If you don’t believe me, try to read Beowulf in its original form—it’s hard to believe that it is English, and that’s only a bit over 1000 years.  We use scores of words to describe our reality that people from the 1800s would find incomprehensible.

That said, an author can’t really change the language all that much, or the work becomes as confusing as the original Beowulf is to modern readers.  Hence the chowdered and changed English that Riddley Walker is written in.  As it is copyrighted in 1980, I am assuming that it was written either long hand, i.e. pen & paper, or on a typewriter.  Certainly it would be murder to try to compose it with a word processing program—the text would be a distracting tangle of red and green lines, attempting to herd the author back to standard spellings and forms.  And if one reads it aloud (oh yes I did, at least some of the more vexing passages), it really isn’t all that far from contemporary English.  But the written form, with its strange spellings, bastardized words, and odd punctuation all work together to slow the reader down to the speed of the people who remain and make it seem more different from 21st century English that it actually is.

It might be an interesting experiment to read this and Burgess’ Clockwork Orange together, despite the fact that Burgess uses just a smattering of slang in comparison with Hoban’s entire novel in dialect.  I really enjoyed the language aspects of both novels.

I loved the greeting that Riddley used at the gates to towns:  “Trubba not.”  It contains overtones of the King James Bible—Let not your heart be troubled—plus a promise that he was not bringing trouble into the community.  I also loved that a medieval wall painting was the driving force behind this new society—the first Dark Ages informing the new one.  The mish-mash of old religious imagery, nuclear science, previous hierarchies, all of it rather divorced from its original meaning—that’s exactly what could happen centuries after a nuclear bomb blast that reduces civilization right back to the Stone Age.  I also found it moving that 2000 years after the bombs dropped, when dogs were more likely to attack people than to help them, the bond between man and dog could still be resurrected, that dogs could still recognize that “first understanding” that they had made with humans probably 2000 years before the war.  [Probably not all that surprising, given how dogs and people have evolved together—dogs understand human body language better than chimpanzees do.  Dogs readily understand that pointing indicates something to pay attention to, while chimps don’t seem to “get” that gesture.]

I also thought the use of itinerant puppeteers to spread “government” messages was an inspired choice, especially since Punch and Judy shows are still a part of traditional English culture.  The contrast of the Eusa shows (the propaganda) and Punch & Pooty (the mutated form of the traditional), plus their ability to inspire community discussion—perfect!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden / Stephen Reid

4 out of 5 stars
Stephen Reid has grown old in prison and seen more than his share of its solitude, its vicious cycles, and its subculture relationships.  He has participated in the economics of contraband, the incredible escapes, the miscarriages of justice, and witnessed innocent souls doomed by their childhood destinies to prison life.  He has learned that everything—the painful separation of family, children, and friends—is bearable, and that sorrow must be kept close, buried in a secret garden of the self, if one is to survive.  Within his writing runs the motif that his prison life has never been far from his drug addictions, but the junkie who has some straight time and means to stay that way knows a lot about the way we really live, think, feel, hope, and desire in this country.  A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden is a recognition of how Reid’s imprisonment has shaped his life.

Brutally beautiful.

The memoir of a career criminal, drug addict and prison inmate.  Reid has such perspective on his situation—how he got there, how he got out and changed his life, and how things unravelled once again, pitching him back into the penal system.  I heard on CBC radio that he has emerged once again, to try to resume a “normal” life, if there is such a thing.

My sister, during work on her psychology degree, attended a Narcotics Anonymous evening and left it amazed—amazed that anyone ever escapes from addiction, that anyone manages to change the destructive path that they are on.  They generally have NO ONE who can give them loving support, who can offer a safe place to choose another life.  Their family has tired of them long ago and the only friends they have left are the people who are invested in keeping them down and out.  Reid certainly has one advantage over them—a wife and daughters, friends, who love him and want him out in the world with them.

Reid is one of nine children, with a largely absent father and an overworked, overwhelmed mother.  When he was approached by a pedophile as a boy of 11, he had no defenses and was soon addicted to the morphine that was, as he puts it, a “prelude.”  He remembers his first high:  “The top is down on his Thunderbird, the pale autumn sun warm on my skin.  The blood running down my arm is like spilled roses.  We are hidden from the road, partway down an old tractor trail in the grass.  I am pressed into the rich red leather.  Not ten feet away, yellow waxy leaves make their death rattle in the late afternoon breeze.  I am in profound awe of the ordinary—the pale sky, the blue spruce trees, the rusty barbed wire fence, those dying yellow leaves. I am high.  I am eleven years old and in communion with this world.  Wholly innocent, I enter the heart of the unknown.”

“Paul unzipped my childhood, but it’s never been as singular or as uncomplicated as blame.  Mine is more than the story of a boy interrupted.  It is not what Paul took from me, it is what I kept: the lie that the key to the gates of paradise was a filled syringe.  In all the thousands of syringes I’ve emptied into my arm since then, the only gates that ever opened led to the penitentiary.”

Imagine having two sets of people that you know—those who are familiar with your straight life call you Stephen, those intimate with your past call you Stevie.  One day, when already pensive, someone from the second group called his name:  “Hey, Stevie!”  In record time, he is high again and planning how to stay that way.  Because he is an author, well known in his community, it is big news when he robs a bank, leads a dangerous police pursuit and hijacks an elderly couple as he tries to escape.  Needless to say, his return to jail is a disappointment to his family and himself.

It’s obvious from this memoir that Reid is a well-read, thoughtful man with a good sense of humour.  On a fifteen minute break:  “I go to the library, not for a reading break, but just to be amongst books…The library here, fittingly, used to be the chapel….In the old days a prison library was more likely to resemble a second-hand bookstore after a crowd of shoplifters had passed through.” (p. 101-102)  However, none of these qualities can protect him from his past.  I was sad to realize what a struggle it was for him to stay straight, how easy it is to subvert decades’ worth of effort.

Mr. Reid, I cannot imagine the difficulties that you have faced, lived through, and documented in this poetically written book.  Blessings on you.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

The Trip to Echo Spring / Olivia Laing

3.5 stars out of 5
Why is it that some of the greatest works of literature have been produced by writers in the grip of alcoholism, an addiction that cost them personal happiness and caused harm to those who loved them? In The Trip to Echo Spring, Olivia Laing examines the link between creativity and alcohol through the work and lives of six extraordinary men: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever and Raymond Carver.

All six of these writers were alcoholics, and the subject of drinking surfaces in some of their finest work, from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to A Moveable Feast. Often they did their drinking together - Hemingway and Fitzgerald ricocheting through the caf├ęs of 1920s Paris; Carver and Cheever speeding to the liquor store in Iowa in the icy winter of 1973.

I’ve often wondered why there seems to be a connection of some kind between being a writer and having problems with addiction.  Olivia Laing explores this connection in this very readable book.  She explores the nature of alcoholism—probably as a result of coming from an alcoholic family herself—and relates rather harrowing stories from the lives of all six men.  The title, incidentally, is taken from Tennessee William’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, where one character, when headed for the liquor cabinet, calls it “a trip to Echo Spring” (a brand of bourbon, apparently).

I must confess that I have not read anything by any of these authors.  I am much more inspired to try their works after reading this one.  Laing certainly seems to have immersed herself in the writing, the archives and even in the ocean where a couple of her subjects fished or swam.  Her own travelogue, as she travels by train from place to place on her pilgrimage, was less interesting to me but was obviously meaningful to her.  Every now and then there was a sentence in Echo that took my breath away, good writing transformed to exceptional writing for a second or two.  This is still early in her career and I think there will be more good stuff to come from this writer.

The question of why writers drink is never (and probably can never be) answered.  It would be the same reason that farmers or fishermen or librarians drink—a combination of genetics and environment.  I think the alcoholism of writers has been romanticized to go along with the romantic ideal of “the artist,” but from this work I could clearly see that there is NOTHING redeeming about the condition.  Each man seems to have ripped & torn the lives of those about him.  The alcoholic himself ends up sick, addled and barely able to write as the disease progresses.

Alcoholism hasn’t touched my life very deeply, so I knew very little about it—I feel I know a bit more now, although this certainly isn’t a substitute for AA or Alanon if you are looking for serious information.  But it does give me an impression of how the disease has bent and twisted these men and shaped their lives and deaths.  I can’t help but wonder what they could have produced if they could have escaped the clutches of alcohol and dealt with their problems in a more productive way.  Alcohol in no way improved their writing and definitely impeded both their creativity and their lives.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Midwinterblood / Marcus Sedgwick

Have you ever had the feeling that you've lived another life? Been somewhere that has felt totally familiar even when you've never been there before, or felt that you've known someone even though you are meeting them for the first time? In a novel comprising seven short stories each of them influenced by a moon - flower moon, harvest moon, hunter's moon, blood moon - and travelling from 2073 back in time to the dark of the moon and the days of Viking saga, this is the story of Eric and Merle who have loved and lost one another and who have been searching for each other ever since. In the different stories the two appear as lovers, mother and son, brother and sister, artist and child as they come close to finding each other before facing the ultimate sacrifice.

This was one of my choices for book club this year, during our “Year of Reading Fluff.”  Unfortunately, I was out of the country when the book was discussed and I just got around to reading it last night.  I enjoyed the structure of the book, it being essentially seven short stories which weave together to provide the whole tale.

I liked the otherworldly feel of the book, beginning, as it does, in the far future.  I hadn’t re-read the blurb on the dust jacket and hadn’t recently read reviews on the work, as I prefer to go in blind and discover what a book is all about.  I was glad that I took that approach, as it allowed me to gradually piece together what was going on, as I think the author intended the reader to do.  I know that I did re-assess at the beginning of the second chapter/story, going back to read the previous chapter heading and to get my bearings.  The reincarnation aspect reminded me strongly of H. Rider Haggard’s She, a treasured book of my childhood [I think I was the only one to sign it out of our school’s library and I signed it out so many times that when it was withdrawn, the librarian offered it to me.  I accepted].  Add to that some archaeology and a Viking story line, and this book was right up my alley.  As a teen or young adult, I would have been smitten.  And it took me until the next morning to realize the significance of the first protagonist’s name, Eric Seven.

There is, necessarily, at least one death in each chapter, sometimes bloody—but it’s rather necessary if reincarnation is to take place.  If you are squeamish about that sort of thing, this is not your book.

I vacillate between 3 and 4 four stars--make it 3.5 out of 5!

Monday, 12 May 2014

Scaly, Spotted, Feathered, Frilled

No human being has ever seen a triceratops or velociraptor or even the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex. They left behind only their impressive bones. So how can scientists know what color dinosaurs were? Or if their flesh was scaly or feathered? Could that fierce T.rex have been born with spots? In a first for young readers, the Sibert medalist Catherine Thimmesh introduces the incredible talents of the paleoartist, whose work reanimates gone-but-never-forgotten dinosaurs in giant full-color paintings that are as strikingly beautiful as they aim to be scientifically accurate, down to the smallest detail. Follow a paleoartist through the scientific process of ascertaining the appearance of various dinosaurs from millions of years ago to learn how science, art, and imagination combine to bring us face-to-face with the past.

I have often found it useful to read children's books on subjects that interest me--the authors usually boil down the subject to its basics and present it very clearly.  For the person-on-the-street, this is usually the most about a subject that they are interested in.  I spent 17 years as a natural history educator and I have used kids' books effectively to prepare myself on a number of subjects.

Having said that, I was somewhat disappointed in this book.  The art is all lovely, but some of it has been around for a while and used in other books.  In my opinion, photos of the fossils, showing what it was that the artist observed that led to a certain depiction, would have been a great improvement.  Perhaps I was expecting too much.

Having said that, if you have a budding dino artist in your family, you could do worse than to buy this book for him/her as an encouragement.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Mistborn, the Final Empire / Brandon Sanderson

4 out of 5 stars

In a world where ash falls from the sky, and mist dominates the night, an evil cloaks the land and stifles all life. The future of the empire rests on the shoulders of a troublemaker and his young apprentice. Together, can they fill the world with color once more?
In Brandon Sanderson's intriguing tale of love, loss, despair and hope, a new kind of magic enters the stage - Allomancy, a magic of the metals.

I chose this book because the author will be at a conference that I'm attending in August and I wanted to be semi-conversant with his writing beforehand.  It was the perfect book to read while travelling—lots of action, easy to remember what had happened before the last plane flight ended, nothing too complex—taking place in a well-realized fantasy world.  I could easily see the surroundings in my mind’s eye.  

In so many ways, this was typical fantasy.  The evil Lord Ruler who has been in control for 1000 years, enforcing a cruel system.  The down-trodden skaa, so persecuted that they barely dare to raise their heads.  The nobles, trotting about in horse-drawn carriages from fancy luncheon to evening ball, considering their skaa servants to rank somewhere just above horses, but well below themselves.  And the conspiracy of “good people” that decides to change all of that.

Thankfully, the whole good vs. evil situation gets a little more complex, shades of gray appropriate to an ash-covered world.  It turns out that not all of the nobility are thoughtless dilettantes who are more concerned with their purses and entertainments than with justice.  The crew of “good people” who are plotting to overthrow the empire have been involved in crime for many years and some of them are actually focused solely on the money.  And the main female character, Vin, seems to be constantly on the edge of abandoning ship and fleeing with the financial resources that she has accumulated.

Vin was a bit of a problem for me.  I liked her, but she annoyed the snot out of me.  Yes, she had a difficult childhood and had been betrayed by her brother—not likely to produce a trusting soul—but at what point do you say to yourself, this is a different situation?  She was a bit angst-y to me, over thinking everything and agonizing about it all.  None of the male characters exhibited the same pattern, making me feel like Vin was a comment on all women somehow, and not in the most flattering way.  The only other women we meet are noble women that Vin interacts with at various balls and events—and they seem to be complete bitches, also not a flattering stereotype of women.  [Bechdel test failure, BTW].  By contrast, I loved her focus on learning Allomancy plus her competence at it and her fearlessness and determination to do the best job she possibly could.  [Allomancy, to me, feels less like a magical system and more like a skill set—the rules are so cut-and-dried that it’s not very mysterious, it consists of talents that improve with practice].

Although I was delighted with the Vin & Elend romance, I could see it coming far too soon and far too obviously.  A little more subtlety would have been preferable, for me at least.  And poor old Elend ended up being a stereotypical absent-minded professor sort, charming in a completely predictable way.  Vin’s semi-obsession with ball gowns, once they finally got her changed into one, was also a bit out of character, in my opinion.  However, despite these quibbles, I did enjoy the story enough to finish it fairly quickly.

I very much enjoyed the whole caper being like a rather intricate heist—a transfer of criminal skills to a new kind of project.  It put me in mind of bank robbery or great escape tales, rather than many of the fantasy novels that I have read in the past.  And Sanderson left just enough unanswered questions and situations with potential to ensure that I will definitely read the sequel. 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Dreamsnake / Vonda McIntyre

4 out of 5 stars

They called the healer Snake, and she bore the name proudly, for the medicine she distilled from the venom of the viper she carried with her was a potent cure; and the soothing power of her other companion, the alien dreamsnake, banished fear. But the primitive ignorance of those she served killed her dreamsnake and wrecked her career - for dreamsnakes were dreadfully rare, and Center would not grant her another.  Snake's only hope was to find a new dreamsnake - and on her quest, she was pursued by two implacable followers, one driven by love, one by fear and need.

I enjoyed this short little tale of a healer trying to find her place in the world, making mistakes as we all do and struggling to find a way out of a bad situation.  Finding companionship, love and an adopted daughter.  A strong female main character, solving problems competently yet accepting help when it is offered.  A book which passes the Bechdel test with flying colours [there is more than one female character and they talk to each other about something besides men].

My only complaint was that it was too short—there were several interesting items which tickled my curiosity and made me wish that there was a sequel or that the original was a bit thicker, with more detail.  For example, how did Earth get to this post-apocalyptic state?  Who are the aliens who created the domes and brought the strange plants and dreamsnakes to Earth?  Have they stuck around or who exactly is in the intact city dome?  

In a world where there are still so many books in which the female characters are stiff as cardboard or stereotypical caricatures , this book from the 1970s really shines as a book where I felt real affection for Snake.  She is a realistic woman, with emotions and dilemmas that I can relate to.  I must read more of McIntyre’s work.