4 out of 5
The Dragonriders of Pern actually contains all three of the first Pern novels, Dragonflight, Dragonquest, and The White Dragon. It’s been years since I originally read the Pern novels so a re-read was in order and I’m glad I did. The series is a fun mixture of fantasy and sci-fi, it is actually marked as sci-fi by my library. The basic story is that the planet of Pern is attacked on a regular basis by Thread, a filament that falls from the sky, burrows into the ground and destroys it. The people of Pern use dragons and dragon riders to fight the thread with the dragons flaming the Thread from the sky before it can do any damage. Dragons are able to go “between” allowing them to move through space and time. When the story begins Thread has not fallen in 400 years and only one Dragon Weyr remains. Almost everyone from Dragon Riders to Lord Holders believe that the threat has ended and Thread will never fall again. One Dragon Rider, F’lar, is convinced that such spaces are normal and that another Thread fall is imminent. The last Queen dragon and her rider have died leaving one last clutch of eggs that contains a Queen egg. F’lar and the other riders are sent out on a search for women to find one who will bond with the Queen, always a gold dragon. Bronze dragons are the largest and the only ones allowed to mate with a Queen. Browns and Green are smaller dragons with Green being females that can’t lay eggs because they chew the firestone that allows them to fight Thread. Woven throughout the story are the mysteries of Pern’s past. It is obvious that their ancestors were technologically ahead of them. Also there are a large number of empty Weyrs and no record of what happened to them. The first two novels follow the story of F’lar and Lessa, the woman found by F’lar who bonds with the Queen. The third novel follows Jaxom, a young Lord Holder who accidently bonds with the white Dragon Ruth.
McCaffery has created an interesting world on Pern. A major theme is people following traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation until the reason for them is lost. It is only when Thread begins to fall again that the reasons become obvious. There is also an interesting twist when the main characters come face to face with the changes that have occurred within their society during the 400 years of no Thread. Despite the fact that little seems to have changed, the lack of Thread has placed more emphasis on Holders and Crafters and less on Dragon Riders. The world has changed and no one from the present wants to see it change back. Another interesting theme is one of discovery, of people finding their past and using their own creativity to take what they find and use it in the present. In the first two novels this is limited to the discovery of several artifacts and the livability of the southern continent. The third novel delves much more deeply into the southern continent and the ancestors who colonized this world.
One problem many find with the world of Pern is it’s very medieval treatment of women. On the Holds and in the Craftholds, women are second class citizens and even rank doesn’t change this as can be seen in the treatment of Lady Gemma by Lord Fax. While the Crafts allow women in, none ever actually leads a Crafthold as can be seen in the fact that Menolly is never mentioned as a possible replacement for the Master Harper despite her obvious abilities. The Weyr’s have a more complicated situation. The bonding between a dragon and it’s rider is extremely intimate creating an interesting issue when a Queen flies to mate. In order to mate with her the bronze dragons must catch her and which ever does becomes her mate, each time she flies it could be a different bronze but generally she allows the same one to catch her each flight. The intense bond means that her rider, the Wyerwoman, is with her even if still on the ground and this ends with the the Wyerwoman also mating with the bronze’s rider who then becomes Wyerleader. Counteracting this lack of choice for the Weyrwoman is the freedom all women living in the Wyer have to sleep with whomever they want at any other time. Bastards are not penalized, instead they are encouraged because they tend to become dragon riders. Many women prefer living in the Weyr because of the freedom it gives them. It is also believed at the beginning of the story that women can’t fight thread but they later learn that in the past there were Queen’s formations that fought using hand held flame throwers. It is not uncommon to find such treatment of women in Fantasy novels because they tend to be set in patriarchal societies and have female main characters who fight to break out of the stereotypes. That can be seen here with Lessa who fights for her right to actually fly her Queen and go “between”. What concerned me more that the dragon matings was Jaxom’s attitude toward women. He is a young Lord Holder and very progressive in much of his thinking yet he sees nothing wrong with using the daughter of one of his holders to release his own sexual tension. While it is used to show how different his dragon Ruth is since Ruth has no interest in flying any of the female dragons and is happy living the experience through his rider, it is concerning that Jaxom would use his privileges this way. He rationalizes his affair with excuses such as she is willing, and holders encourage such behavior in the hopes of adding a Lord Holders bastard to their household. Well she is willing because she is in no position not to be. When Jaxom finds his true love, a woman of the right social standing, he gives no thought at all to the holder woman he has left. Considering these novels were written in the late 1960’s Jaxom should have been a more progressive character when dealing with this issue.
Despite these concerns I definitely recommend this series and plan on reading more McCaffery in the near future.