Friday, August 31, 2007

The Dragonriders of Pern

The Dragonriders of Pern: Dragonflight, Dragonquest, the White Dragon

Anne McCaffrey

Date: October, 1999   —   $28.00   —   Book

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Fiction, Science Fiction

Sometimes the classics are best, and when it comes to Anne McCaffrey, her first Pern novels are indeed classics. They're actually pretty spare in the beginning; a lot happens without much text describing the event.

Dragonflight, the first, always seemed to me to be an overcast book. Everything seems tinged with that high cloud cover that even makes hot days seem oddly dark. I'm not sure why certain books have a weather overlay, but hey, I'lll take the impressions that I get. It's the struggle of a group that is important but which has lost all of the privileges associated with that importance as time has wiped away the memory of why the group is needed.

In short, the dragonriders, who are bonded with their dragons, are important because they are needed to clear the periodic deadly menace of Thread from the skies. It's been over four hundred Turns since Thread was seen, and most people think the dragons are no longer necessary. Their view is buttressed by the fact that where there used to be six Weyrs and thousand of dragons, there is now only one Weyr— and one breeding queen.

That queen's rider wants to find out the mystery of where the other Weyrs disappeared to, before Thread brings the menace that both she and the Weyrleader knows is coming.

Now, here's an interesting point— sometimes I read the back of the book and think the story is going to be entirely different from the one that is in the book. This is one of them. I misread the phrase "from humans who had long ago ceased to exist" as "from humans— who had long ago ceased to exist!" That story would have been from a dragon queenling's point of view, and quite possibly very interesting in its own right.

Dragonquest, the second book, was more than a bit over my head the first time I read it. It's about the problem of "future shock," a topic dealt with very nicely by Spider Robinson's short story "The Time-Traveler", which is about a man thrown in a Central American prison for over two decades. By the time he gets out, the world has changed to the point that he doesn't recognize it anymore.

So you have people reacting in ways that seem just plain stupid to me, mainly because they can't accept the fact that the world has changed.

And another thing— Anne McCaffrey has sometimes seemed to me to need a continuity editor. There are a few changes made from the first book. One— the changing of Fort's Weyrleader from T'ton to T'ron is quite plausible given how Weyrleaders change, except that it's never quite made clear if they are actually supposed to be two different men. The second is more interesting, given how McCaffrey started differentiating dragon types. In the first book, Lytol's dead dragon was said to have been a green. By the second book, with no explanation, that's changed to a brown, which gives Lytol more retrospective status.

It also deals with a picky little problem that McCaffrey must have seen the moment she started the second book— and this is a reason that went straight over my head at that age. You see, the green dragons are female, and since dragonriders are very powerfully affected by the sexual experiences of their dragons, McCaffrey eventually developed (very circumspectly) that many green riders prefer the company of males. This would never have done for Lytol's backstory, as he married, had a family, and became a strong influence in a Crafthall— which are not as tolerant as dragonriders in that regard.

But as I said, it's very circumspect, and went straight over my head as a child. Even in the later Pern books, McCaffrey doesn't make a big deal about it.

The White Dragon is the misfit story, about a young Lord Holder and his runt of a dragon. It's very much a coming-of-age story, and Jaxom is a very likeable central character. That's not hard to imagine, since Jaxom was modelled, to a certain extent, on McCaffrey's son Todd (who is now publishing Pern books of his own, though I'm going to have to look up his actual last name for his earlier work.)

Actually, I saw a recent picture of him, and mentally aged the picture Robin Wood painted of him for People of Pern, and damned if she didn't use him as a model.

At any rate, Jaxom burns to prove himself, but since he's a very nice boy, and has been very well raised, it's interesting to see him try to come out of his shell. This is a big contrast to McCaffrey's female characters, who also have to come out of their shell but who are aggressive instead of shy.

I was again surprised at how much happens in these books. The only unfortunate bit is how the sparse descriptions occasionally make you miss something— I never quite get a handle on Mirrim the way I do in the Harper Hall books, and even then I don't quite see her annoying aspects.

Oh, well. First three books in the Pern series, depending on how you count them.

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