Young People Read Old SFF

Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand

Vonda N. McIntyre

The second last entry in Phase I of Young People Read Old SFF is Vonda N. McIntyre’s 1973 Nebula award-winning “Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand”, later expanded into the Hugo winning novel, Dreamsnake. I am pretty confident the double win is a good sign, and that McIntyre is modern enough in her sensibilities to appeal to my Young People.

Mind you, I’ve been wrong on that last point before....

“Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand” is available here. Dreamsnake is available here (Amazon) . I was unable to find it at Chapters-Indigo).

I spent a while when reading this one playing the 'is this fantasy, or science fiction that looks like fantasy?' game. I wondered if there was a more high tech society that Snake was from, maybe this was a story about class divides in extraplanetary colonies. I don't think it is. Usually the author is much more excited to reveal that 'it was in space the whole time!' and this story didn't have that.

I'm going to cut Snake some slack because she was young and exhausted and starving throughout the story. If you're going to look down on people for being dumb, panicky, superstitious, and unwilling to even explain their superstitions, the least you can do as the more 'advanced' one is try to explain your own actions. Snake really played up the witch act without any attempt at explaining what the snakes were for. Maybe I'm too optimistic about the power of explaining what you're doing. Maybe explaining that Grass's bites didn't kill, they just caused dreams, would have been enough to prevent what happened.

I enjoyed the story. It didn't spend a lot of time explaining itself, and didn't need to. It had probably just the right amount of exposition for a short story.


—Jamie

One of the interesting things about these stories is that when I start reading, I never know what I'm going to get. Humans or Robots? High Tech or Low Tech? Earth, another planet, or outer space? Actual stories with plot or weird essay about random crap?

To answer my previous questions as they relate to Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand – humans, low tech, not space, and lots of snakes. Snakes that are named Mist, Grass, and Sand, and a human named Snake. Which made orienting myself within the story a bit of a task.

After reading Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand, I looked it up on wikipedia. I liked the story enough, and was intrigued enough by the person named Snake, that I would consider reading Dreamsnake (even with the pulpy title), so that's a win. But two things stuck with me that I'm starting to wonder about the genre:

  1. Is part of the reward of reading SFF figuring out the who, what, when and where of the story? I feel like in many other genres, these things are pretty clear up front. But my enjoyment of these stories after figuring out the planet and species featured in the story is way higher than my relative enjoyment of the stories before figuring that out. Maybe I've started being more positive about the stories because once I figure out what's going on, they're (at the very least) alright, as opposed to frustrating?
  2. Why are people in SFF so reluctant to give their names to strangers, or to anyone at all? I feel like this has come up in other stories before. Does giving someone your name give them power over you? Is this something that has to do with magic, or something else unique to the SFF genre? If anyone could explain that to me, that would be great.


—Lisa

Right off the bat, the writing style reminded me of Ursula Le Guin. In contrast to Le Guin, though, I liked this story more than the Wizard of Earthsea books. This author doesn’t have the slightly condescending? ... tone that ‘simple’ writing has sometimes.

In fact, I wasn’t sure if this story was aimed at younger readers. I would have loved this story when I was 7* – around the same time I started reading The Chronicles of Narnia.

I liked the little indications and discussions of ideas. Three parents for the child are casually mentioned.

Snake briefly critiques this unemotional society for being too repressed. Ahem. I’m looking at you, people who tell others “Get over it. You shouldn’t be mourning for that person anymore.” No. People are allowed to feel things. I still occasionally tear up because I miss my mom, and it’s been seven years. You don’t just stop.

I loved the discussion about friendship. It reminded me of the extreme extrovert vs. the extreme introvert. Extroverts tend to count a lot of people as friends and can spread themselves thin. Introverts are very selective, to the point of having no friends sometimes. I used to be very shy and a bit more introverted: there were a few years as a tween when I didn’t count anyone as a close friend.

After reading the story and writing down my first impressions, I found out this story won a Nebula award. I’m a little surprised. The story was good and solid in my opinion, but it didn’t blow me away. However, it did make me curious to learn more about Snake’s training, the towns and the big city.

I will add Dreamsnake to my long list of “things I would like to read eventually, if I ever get the time”. Somewhere below Jasper Fforde novels. Somewhere above Robinson Crusoe.

*I was a precocious reader. I started reading Beatrix Potter silently around 2 or 3 years old, so age up appropriately for an average or slow reader because of the story’s vocabulary.


—Mel

I enjoyed this story.

I liked Snake as a character. I liked that here we have a woman who’s an expert in her field, and that the story never made her gender an issue. Nobody remarks about her being a woman alone, she’s allowed to get on with the job she needs to do.

I’m a bit uncomfortable about how judgy she was of the culture that she was visiting, but I liked that it gave us the chance to see her values and expectations. I really liked the discussion of friendship. How both characters considered it important, but approached it in very different ways. I’m not sure if the ending was trying to imply that they were romantically interested in each other, but it was left ambiguous enough that it didn’t undermine the discussion of friendship for me.

The snake healing idea had enough of an explanation that I was willing to go along with it. The plot itself with the illness and healing didn’t seem to be the point of the story so much as a platform to examine the character interactions. I liked that the main conflict wasn’t because of bad intent but instead from fear and ignorance.

This was the first story we’ve read that felt to me like it could be a modern story. The pacing of the story and the way the characters were written felt a lot less dated than the other stories we’ve been reading for this project.

—Mikayla

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