Del Rey, $22.00, ISBN 0-345-34024-8
Fantasy, 1988 (Reissue)
I am not a fanboy, never have been, and so I find it is difficult for me at times to review books or series that I have loved from my childhood. Not because I cannot tell you what attracted me to them originally, but mostly because I find myself extremely bias if not out right critical of what the author eventually said or did or wrote that added – or in this case, seriously detracted from my personal enjoyment of the series after I got older.
Here in The Dragonriders of Pern, I have found unfortunately a prime example of a writer that should have quit while she was ahead, and not tried to act like she had some brilliant, well reasoned, and scientifically researched plan to begin with long, long ago. In my opinion most of her work is just this side of a Harlequin romance with space ships and soft porn.
The Dragonriders of Pern is a compendium of the first three novels of the well known Dragonrider series: Dragonflight published in 1968, Dragonquest published in 1971, and finally The White Dragon published in 1978. If you only read these first three books, as I had in 1978, you would find an exciting if somewhat flawed science fiction/fantasy world with dark yet strong willed adult characters bent on survival and some added alternative sexuality (rough sex, homosexuality, rape) explored in the subtext. In this regard this particular book is an excellent purchase, giving you all the juicy Pern goodness you would ever want or need to read in one easily obtainable format.
The first book of Pern-lishiousness eva! Here we meet the sleek sensuous, oops! I mean, orphaned rag covered and dirty smelly Lessa plotting and plying her vengeful way to the tippy-top of Ruatha Hold. She is willing to do, say, or kill whatever and whomever it takes to get back her rightful property from the evil Big Daddy Fax, I mean Lord Fax. Lessa is originally portrayed here as anything but a dumb blonde, she admits to killing or overcoming at least 8 guys whom Fax had sent over the years to run Ruatha Hold. Anyway, the pesky Dragonriders show up one day looking for some of that old blood, super human, Ruatha womanhood to provide a right and proper candidate for the freshly laid Gold dragon egg back at Benden Weyr. So after years of finagling and plotting and finally getting rid once and for all that nasty evil vicious Big Daddy Fax, poor Lessa’s big chance in local politics gets cut short and she gets immediately whisked off to be the next Weyrwoman of Benden Weyr.
If all this goes a little too quickly and comes across slightly disjointed just wait till you check out the book, we’re talking slap dash action all the way, its quite clear chapter one here of the story was written much earlier, less thought out time, and then tacked on to the rest of the book without a rewrite. Editing is one of Anne McCaffrey’s major issues. I do not think she believes in it or something.
Dragonflight proceeds on with an introduction of Lessa learning about those wild and wicked Dragonrider ways of life at the Weyr.
Dragons and their riders are the only fighting force that can save Pern from the deadly Thread (evil parasites) that fall from a star that rotates by every so many turns (years). It’s been hundreds of years since the last time this happened and the Holds are questioning if the Weyrs are useful anymore. They want a tax audit! Plucky Bronze Dragonrider F’lar KNOWS, he just knows, that the Thread will be coming soon (because he is old school and down with the knowledge of the ancients) and Benden Weyr on its own is not prepared for the coming planet wide catastrophe.
Lessa our sleek sensuous heroine gets thrown into a ceremony to impress the mighty Gold dragon Ramoth at the hatching. The riders of the dragons we learn are psychically, telepathically, emotionally and I guess financially bound (Impressed) to their dragons for life much like a yuppie and a BMW.
You then find out that there are Green, Blue, Brown, Bronze and Gold dragons (but no Purple, oh lordy not that!), with Gold dragons being biggest female queens of the bunch – it’s on them to lay all the eggs for more dragons, and they in turn are basically loved and cherished by all of dragon kind. Not to mention they are bonded to the only “real women” who ride dragons.
OK I’ll do my Anne McCaffrey impersonation here, stomp my feet and demand repeatedly “Only women are ever allowed to ride the precious and fertile female Gold dragons, nasty smelly manly men ride the rest!” Well, almost, but we will talk of those Green riders later. Bronze dragons are second in size to Gold dragons and the only male dragons allowed to mate with the picky Gold girly-girl dragons. Only one Bronze dragon and rider can logistically mate with the queen at any given mating flight, and that Bronze dude (in Lessa’s case the studly, heterosexual, Bronze rider, and man about town, F’lar) is the Weyrleader till the next mating flight where the contest for Weyrleader and a chance to get some raunchy rough passionate hetero sex with a real live female rider begins anew. Well, at least in theory, maybe sometime I’ll go over how the author relies on the constant contrivances in this series to pad the big romances that eventually undercut the functional logic of the world she created.
Everyone else (including the rest of the heterosexual manly men, Bronze and Brown riders) has to make do with a quickie from the infertile small Green dragons and their prancing male riders otherwise noted as “those prissy whores”.
Besides the fact I have not gone into the whole “Must Save Pern!” story presented in Dragonflight, because well the whole story is not half as interesting sex-wise, the saving grace of Dragonflight is Lessa and her no holds barred character. Here is a strong willed woman striving to survive in a world where women are thought of no more than trophies for the enjoyment of the men who rule.
Lessa’s relationship with F’lar is evolved as an equal in cunning and manipulation. They both come to realize that they need each other in order to succeed in their individual goals of saving Pern and earning the respect of those around them. Not to mention F’lar finds out that Lessa is gifted with the unique ability to talk to any dragon she wants and has the useful if limited ability to control men’s minds. And then, there’s that having sex with the Weyrwoman keeps you in the Weyrleader position thing.
By the end of this book she is happily married to F’lar and so from now on Anne McCaffrey will simply ignore and marginalize her to make F’lar the more important and heroic of the pair.
The second book in our Pern-astic tales presents us with F’nor a Brown rider and F’lar’s second in command (The biggest Brown dragon eva! This is after Ramoth is the biggest Gold dragon eva! and Mnementh is the biggest Bronze dragon eva! etc etc etc) and Brekke a new Gold rider (with the biggest sexual hangups eva!) and their romance and subsequent tragedy.
Oh yes, and let’s not forget the Oldtimers otherwise known as the Deus Ex Machina from the last book which Lessa valiantly brings with her from the past to help Benden Weyr fight the onslaught of deadly falling Thread the Dragonriders now face. Anyhow the Oldtimers and their Weyrs expect a little more loving from the Holds they protect and thus cause more political problems – and a whole lotta whining and gnashing of collective teeth – while Pern faces certain death again from the Thread that decided suddenly to show up on a different time schedule.
Then we have that problem with EVIL NASTY Kylara. Why is Kylara EVIL and NASTY? Maybe because she decided to have an abortion, not that these women have access to “the pill” or anything like that and not because she did not already have two kids from before becoming a Gold rider and not that any of the Dragonriders are great parents to begin with. She just decided to be responsible and figured out a way to do something about it. Oh, boo hiss!
Maybe because she admits she enjoys rough raw nasty dragon sex and plots to see if she can lure F’lar away from Lessa by accidentally having him around when her dragon rises to mate thus trapping him in a evil scheme for at least a night of fun F’lar lovin.
Maybe because she like the rest of the men on this planet are plotting and scheming with their friendly neighborhood Lord Holders to position themselves and consolidate power. Who knows anyway she is EVIL and NASTY! Anne McCaffrey said so.
Kylara comes across as the strongest and most solidly interesting character in this book, someone who definitely could give Lessa a run for her money. When she has a sudden and nasty head on collision that involves her Gold dragon and Brekke’s Gold dragon killing each other during a unplanned for mating flight of two Gold dragons rising in the same close vicinity and all the dragon men blame evil nasty Kylara for being slack in her duties…
RANT MODE ON: WTF? Mating flights are shown in both these books so far as being unplanned and out of the control of the rider down to the point that the Gold and Bronze riders can all be caught unaware and involved. Remember that is the necessary ingredient of Kylara’s scheme for F’lar? If the Dragonriders knew enough to blame Kylara for not taking some type of precaution or responsibility here, then where were they to advise both women to get their precious Gold dragons away from each other? Tsk tsk tsk.
The rest of the book has F’nor doing something heroic and Brekke tragically coming to terms with the loss of her Gold dragon. Boo-friggin-hoo Brekke, snap out of it already!
The White Dragon
Oh yes Pern-acious ones! Here is the third and last of the core Dragonrider tales. Introducing Jaxom Lord Holder of Ruatha Hold and his dragon Ruth. (The Biggest White dragon Eva! Well ok, the ONLY White dragon Eva!)
Jaxom is The Wesley Crusher of Pern. Oh yeah baby! This guy makes me blow chunks I tell ya.
Now Lessa, poor girl, had to give up her dream of being Lord Holder of Ruatha Hold due to impressing Ramoth and becoming Weyrwoman of Benden Weyr but not our boy Wesley, I mean Jaxom. Nope he gets to keep the dragon and play Lord Holder of Ruatha Hold too. Not to mention a few other things that will come about later in the series. This guy has more cake and eats it too than anyone else in the entire Dragonrider series. Unfortunately, unlike the other Wesley Crusher, he never disappears – which would have made him more palatable in my mind.
Oh my friends, that ain’t all she wrote oh no siree bob. Anne McCaffrey in this volume finally addresses the underlying homosexuality of the Dragonriders by seeing it in all its sick and twisted perversion through the eyes of our little straight boy Jaxom and man what a mess that is. About halfway through the book Jaxom catches the mating rise of the dragons and after observing a Green dragon rider and his fellows gettin’ it on, and might I point out turning Wesley, I mean Jaxom, on in the process, He immediately runs off to see his little girlfriend Corana and proceeds to rape her. Yep, now there’s some wholesome family entertainment I tell you.
I am not making this up folks. We have so far allowed for the fact that Lessa and F’lar had the rough and tumble of the mating flight of a Bronze and Gold dragon going one on one, we have even lived through F’nor doing the nasty with Brekke when he barely knew her name. Now in hindsight, it is also apparent to me that while Anne McCaffrey meant to show their sex was passionate, unfortunately violent seems a better word to describe how these various scenes actually come across.
Yes my friends, right here in this handy dandy edition you get a main character raping his girlfriend forcibly, and then to top off the whole precious moment he proceeds to chat about it with his dragon gettin’ all guilty and deciding to never ever, ever, see Corana again, ever! Because she… she… she… let him do it! Oh man! Bummer dude! It’s like reading the life and trials of a drunken frat boy.
Anyway Jaxom goes on to do something even more heroic but by this point I start getting nauseous and stop reading.
Homosexual relations do not take place openly in these writings and not by any of the main characters of note, because obviously homosexuals and most females have no power on Pern – they hold no high ranking, decision making, offices. Homosexuality is simply presented, as the way things are because of the way the Dragonriders respond to the sexual needs of their dragons. Brown riders and Bronze riders are continually presented as “fully male” and Gold riders are “fully female” (and the rest well you get the picture, they get snickered at) even when it is apparent from the number of Bronze and Brown riders not paired with the precious few Gold riders that they must be using the services of a Green dragon and her MALE rider. Anne McCaffrey has obviously meant to present these “fully male” Browns and Bronze, as finding any Green pairing distasteful, like Marines after the fifth beer – just don’t kiss me! Bisexuals and Lesbians apparently don’t exist on Pern at all.
So much for a forward thinking fantasy as Anne McCaffrey tends to want to present it because, well in my estimate at least, it falls way short of that. I think there are some good stories here and I do find it interesting and I have spent many years rereading the series. I really enjoy the dark characterizations and the imperfect heroes even when it drips with sexism and so on, much like watching some old anachronistic James Bond flick.
What really bothers me is when Anne McCaffrey promotes eight-year-olds coming to her website to talk about reading these very same books. When I hear her change her tune about The Harper Hall trilogy being specifically written for children and the rest of the series for adults, and starts promoting the whole damn series as somehow being safe for children to read… WHAT THE HELL IS SHE THINKING?!?
Please do me a favor and read these books for yourself before giving them to young kids.