Occasionally I pick up a Nebula Award-winning novel that for some reason I've never read. Often it's a kind of offtrail winner. This time it was Dreamsnake (1978) by Vonda N. McIntyre. It won the Nebula Award in 1979. The first chapter of the book had also won a Nebula Award for novelette after it appeared in the October 1973 issue of Analog.
Basically, the novel tells the story of an itinerant healer called Snake, who has been trained to use snakes, three kinds in particular, to heal people. One of the snakes is the rare dreamsnake, a remnant of alien contact many years in the past. After her dreamsnake is killed by ignorant desert people, Snake hopes to find a way to get another dreamsnake and in the meanwhile comes upon the the truth about the alien dreamsnakes.
This is an engaging story, a serious and compassionate tale that might have slipped under the radar of history had it not received a Nebula. There are many aspects in the world-building of this tale that work well, but there are also a few that are puzzling, like the young man Gabriel, who has been shamed publicly for his inability to self-regulate his own fertility, the details of which (socially and conceptually) are left too murky. Still, despite a few flaws, this is a worthwhile read.