Dragonquest by Anne McCaffrey

 

dragonquestThe sequel to Dragonflight and the second book in the Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy, Dragonquest substantially expands the range of featured characters.  Where the first book concentrated almost exclusively on F’lar and Lessa, the second novel spreads its point of view far and wide.  Masterharper Robinton, Menolly, F’nor, queen rider Brekke, and the boy who is to inherit Ruatha Hold, Lord Jaxom, all take center stage at one point or another, while the Weyrleader and Weyrwoman continue to expand their leadership roles.

It begins nearly seven years after the initial events of Dragonflight with Master Robinton writing a ballad for the upcoming wedding of Lord Asgenar of Lemos Hold to Lady Famira, a half-sister to Lord Larad of Telgar Hold.  (Larad’s half-sisters are complete contrasts, as Lady Thella in The Renegades of Pern proves to be quite a formidable villain.)  He wants to include as many of the changes to Pern as possible, but he is bothered at the way the Oldtimers have failed to integrate into the new culture.  Coming from 400 turns back and skipping the entire last Interval, they expect privileges that Benden and Southern Weyrs do not and they object to the forestation of the planet that requires them to work harder.  This new world view that has blossomed during the last Interval–and championed by F’lar and Less–has disaffected them greatly.  They are more clearly out of time and Robinton laments that F’lar did not take over leadership at the time they came forward.  The old rule that each weyr be independent and separate is not really appropriate in this new time.  As he write, Robinton hears a drum message notifying Fort Weyr that Thread is falling out of pattern.

F’lar’s half brother F’nor, on a visit to the Smithcraft Hall, interrupts two Fort Hold dragonriders who are attempting to pilfer a knife from Fandarel’s assistant, Terry–a knife that was made on commission as Lord Larad’s wedding gift to Lord Asgenar.  One of the men, T’reb, upset because his green dragon is ready to mate, assaults F’nor, stabbing him with his belt knife.  F’nor is sent to the Southern Weyr to recover and F’lar confronts the Oldtimer weyrleaders with this crime, but T’ron cites the independence of the weyrs and frustrates F’lar.  When they discover that Thread has been falling out of pattern and that the Oldtimers failed to inform them, their frustration grows as the Lord Holders worry about possible damage to their property.

Recovering in the Southern Weyr, F’nor gets to know Brekke, who is the secondary weyrwoman there, rider of queen Wirenth, subordinate to Weyrwoman Kylara, whose queen dragon is Prideth.  However, Kylara is vain and wanton.  She has delegated almost all of her duties to Brekke, who also serves as the chief nurse at Southern and is fostering a teenage girl, Mirrim.  Gradually, F’nor falls in love with Brekke and worries about the prudishness of her Farmcraft upbringing, just as she worries that she will inhibit Wirenth when her queen rises to mate.  F’nor begins to wonder if Canth might possibly fly Wirenth.  Even though he is only a brown dragon, he is as big as many bronzes.  Sleeping on the beach one day, Canth informs him that a newly hatched queen fire lizard is hovering about seeking food.  He speaks softly to her and gives her a meat roll from his pouch, Impressing Grall.  He has Canth call back to Southern Weyr for other riders to come Impress the other hatching fire lizards who are turning cannibal with the lack of food on the beach.  Brekke impresses a bronze, Berd, and Mirrim Impresses two greens, Reppa and Lok, and a brown, Tolly.  Kylara was absent during the Impressions, as she was bedding the evil Lord Maron of Nabol, and she is furious that she doesn’t have one.  She decides to haunt the Southern beaches and find her own clutch.

When F’lar is visiting F’nor, Thread falls and he and Mnementh join the fighting.  Afterward, he discovers that there is no sign of Thread infestation and investigates.  He discovers that Southern has a kind of grub that eats Thread.

Four major events occur in Dragonquest that alter the future of the planet.

The first event occurs when Lord Warder Lytol and young Jaxom come to visit Benden Weyr.  Felessen, the son of F’lar and Lessa, takes Jaxom back into the long abandoned caves of the weyr to a secret place where boys go to view Ramoth’s eggs.  Finding a small one all by itself, Jaxom touches the egg.  Fearing discovery, they head back, but their glows wink out and they are lost in the darkness.  Jaxom accidentally pushes a button that opens a door.  The trapped gas knocks the two boys out, but the adults are all extremely excited by the stuff that the original colonists left behind in the room.  They find a microscope and begin to wonder if there might be a way to alter it so that one could see the Red Star close up.  Later, T’ron discovers a telescope at Fort Weyr.

The second major event happens at the wedding of Asgenar and Famira.  F’lar and Lessa arrive with fire lizard eggs to give to the happy couple as gifts.  They arrive just before Meron and Kylara who now both have their own fire lizards.  Fandarel has developed a “distance writer,” a kind of primitive telegraph and it reports the news that Thread is falling, so F’lar decides to join the other Oldtimers in fighting it.  When T’ron learns this, he grows angry at F’lar for interfering in another weyr’s affairs and they duel.  F’lar severely injures T’ron and gives a passionate speech asking for the weyrleaders, lords, and craftmasters to swear their allegiance to him and they do wholeheartedly.  He banishes the Oldtimers to Southern where they can do little damage and decides to move the current dragon folk from Southern to High Reaches Weyr.  Even though he is injured, he goes to fight Thread anyway.

In High Reaches Weyr, Wirenth rises to mate, but Kylara’s Prideth is at Nabol while she is bedding Meron.  In high heat, Prideth challenges Wirenth’s mating flight and the two dragons fight in mid-air.  Both severely injured, Wirenth takes Prideth into between and they both die.  Brekke goes into a deep depression and Kylara goes mad.

The third major event occurs at the hatching of Ramoth’s new clutch of eggs.  Lessa has put Brekke into the pool of girls hoping that she will Impress the new queen and recover from her severe shock and depression.  This is the point at which Dragonsong, the first novel in the Harper Hall Trilogy interconnects with the main trilogy.  There are two accounts of the hatching, one primarily from Jaxom’s point of view in Dragonquest and one from Menolly’s point of view in Dragonsong.  Although Brekke does not re-Impress, her little fire lizard, Berd, challenges Ramoth by entering the hatching grounds chittering at Brekke.  This breaks her out of her depression and she does not Impress the new queen.  However, once the hatching is over, Jaxom watches the little egg he had touched earlier rocking and shaking as if the dragon was trying to break out.  When no one responds, he jumps into the hatching ground and breaks the shell, cutting the sac with his belt knife.  A little white dragon falls out and Jaxom impresses Ruth.

The fourth major even of the novel happens because the lords are all anxious for the dragonriders to go to the Red Star and eradicate Thread at its source.  Not understanding the breadth of space or how big the Red Star actually is, they continue to press for this venture.  F’lar himself would like to go if he could only see it well enough in the telescope at Fort Weyr to be able to jump between.  Lord Meron is at the viewer night after night trying to give coordinates to his little bronze fire lizard, but the creature is so scared it just jumps between.  Watching, F’nor discovers a could formation on the Red Star that is easy to visualize.  He gives the coordinates to Canth and they jump.  The atmosphere of the Red Star is hot and poisonous.  Canth broadcasts their distress back to Pern and every fire lizard in the world picks it up.  Through Ramoth, the word is broadcast to all of the dragons who come to Benden Weyr to form a living bridge to ease the battered bodies of F’nor and Canth back to earth.  At the Harper Hall, in Dragonsinger, Menolly’s nine fire lizards all go berserk and wake everyone up.

The book ends with F’lar conducting a successful experiment with relocating grubs from the southern continent into the Lord Asgenar’s forests at Lemos.  When the lords express discomfort that dragons may be no longer needed, F’lar intimates that dragonriders may use their time exploring the southern continent or even the other planets in their system.

Obviously, from the above brief plot summary, a great deal happens in the novel.  The simplicity of F’lar and Lessa’s relationship in Dragonflight has been replaced by a much deeper and broader story line.  The introduction of Masterharper Robinton and Mastersmith Fandarel in the first book is expanded out to include many other craftsmen and the push toward innovation dominates the society.  There is an obvious need to have not just the weyrs, but the rest of the planet under one leadership and F’lar and Lessa, with their farsightedness and liberality are clearly the ones to do it.  Although F’lar respects the Oldtimers for their contribution to saving Pern, they are clearly out of step with a society that is moving forward.  The economy is now thriving, especially with the additional forestation, and Fandarel is moving technology ahead with both his own inventions and by using the discovery of material the original colonists had carefully packed away for future use.

Both the discovery and seeding of the Thread-eating grubs and F’nor’s trip to the Red Star move the plot along in the direction of ending the menace of Thread forever.

Most important of all, the book moves the story from borderline fantasy firmly into the realm of science fiction.  A planet was colonized by humans, dragons were genetically engineered from the fire lizards, and, following the collapse of the society into a medieval technological state, the humans are beginning to discover their roots and the level of technology that their ancestors brought to Pern.

The broadening of the characters to include Robinton, Fandarel, Menolly, Jaxom, F’nor, Brekke, Mirrim, as well as the Lord Holders Larad, Asgenar, Groghe, Corman, and the personalities of the dragons and fire lizards gives the book–the whole saga–a depth that sets it apart from most other science fiction franchises.  The third book of the trilogy, The White Dragon, dovetailing with the third book of the Harper Hall Trilogy, Dragondrums, expands the story to such a level that it begins to reach a nearly mythological level.

I find it utterly confounding that no high level film or animation has–to this point, at least–been shot and released.  I think that the story would have great appeal and not just to the Young Adult market.  In addition, there would be a whole market for products based on the Pern dragons, fire lizards, and the deeply appealing characters.

Hopefully, something good in the cinema will eventually come from this terrific saga!

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The Lady Vanishes

The Lady Vanishes (1938)Set in the fictitious European country of Bandrika, this 1938 British comedy-mystery  remains one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best movies.  Based on the 1936 novel The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White, the script by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder is truly funny, even the suspenseful parts.  Enhanced by Hitchcock’s own wit, it emerges as a truly entertaining popular film that reaches well beyond his normal confines of mystery and suspense.

A group of English tourists and businessmen is trapped at an inn in Bandrika by an avalanche that has covered the railroad tracks.  Young, beautiful Iris Henderson (Margaret Lockwood) has been visiting her friends, Blanche (Googie Withers) and Julie (Sally Stewart) before returning to England to marry a blueblood with lots of money.  She isn’t terribly excited about the prospect, but at the same time she can’t really find anything to get excited about.  Two apparently gay British businessmen, Charters (Basil Radford) and Caldicott (Naunton Wayne) are desperately trying to get back to England to see a cricket match.

Upstairs from Iris, a young English folk music enthusiast, Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) has several Bandrikans clogging a folk dance.  Along with her neighbor, Miss Froy (Dame May Whitty), a governess also returning to England, Iris complains about the noise and has Gilbert evicted from his room.  In retaliation, he comes to her room with his things and announces he’s moving in.  Forced to capitulate, she calls the manager and gets his room back.  In the meantime, Charters and Caldicott can’t get a regular room, so the manager has to put them up in the maid’s room, with the lewd suggestion that the maid will have to change her clothes there.  The two men are appalled and go out of their way to avoid seeing the young woman naked.

The next day on the train, Miss Froy befriends Iris who has been hit on the head by an object falling from a window.  The coach they are sitting in includes a Baroness and a magician.  After Iris takes a nap, she wakes up to discover that Miss Froy has disappeared.  The others seated in the coach deny having ever seen Miss Froy at all, so Iris begins to canvas the train trying to find anyone who remembers seeing the woman.  Along the way, she meets back up with Gilbert, who is determined to help her, even if he isn’t convinced that such a woman existed.  She meets Dr. Hartz (Paul Lukas), a Bandrikan neurosurgeon who tries to convince her that she’s been hallucinating, but she can’t let herself believe that Miss Froy wasn’t real.  When Gilbert sees a porter throwing out the trash and notices the brand of tea that Iris told him Miss Froy gave to them, he becomes convinced and helps her to turn the train upside down looking for her friend.  The trains stops to pick up a special patient for Dr. Hartz and Gilbert begins to suspect that Miss Froy has been substituted for the patient.

Part of what makes the movie special is the terrific chemistry between Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave.  A noted actor on the British stage, this was Redgrave’s first starring role and he definitely made the most of it.  His offbeat humor teamed so well with Lockwood that the two are completely engaging throughout the movie.  The rest of the cast is also quite good, but Radford and Wayne as Charters and Caldicott practically steal the show.  Their stiff British correctness, combined with their obviously gay relationship and obsession with cricket, despite the hijinks going on around them is hilarious.  In fact, the two went on to reprise their characters in other British movies after The Lady Vanishes.

Coming as it did, after several unsuccessful films, this major box office hit was what convinced American producer David O. Selzni,k to sign Hitchcock to a contract that would bring him to America and lead him to become one of the most respected directors in film history.

The Lady Vanishes contains many of the elements that were staples of Hitchcock’s movies: the uncertainty of relationships, a long train ride, slanted camera angles to emphasize important objects in the frame, long takes contrasted with fast montage, his fascination with spies, his fear of the police, and, of course, the humor that colored many of his later American films.  This film also carries more political weight than most of his movies, as it was made during the period of time that Chamberlain was capitulating Czechoslovakia to Hitler and the situation is alluded to obliquely throughout the film, but especially near the end when the English on board the train must make a decision to either capitulate to the Bandrikian government or to make a stand.  The one man who decides to capitulate is shot dead holding his white flag, while those who hold fast persevere.

The film showcases many of the great filmmaking techniques that Hitchcock had learned and mastered.  It was given a low budget and restricted to a very small studio at Islington.  No matter.  Hitchcock built one train car in the studio and shot virtually the entire train footage, which takes up most of the film, on his one set, using superb rear projection, camera angles, and masterful dissolves to keep the film moving and make it realistic.

With its great humor, charismatic cast, fine script, and showcasing most of the plot elements and camera techniques that were Hitchcock staples, this stands out among the best of his British films and one of his best films over all.

I highly recommend this movie for all audiences!

Dial M for Murder

Dial_M_For_Murder_Grace KellyIt might be easy to plan the perfect murder, but actually doing it is something else entirely.  That is the theme of Dial M for Murder, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 movie adapted by Frederick Knott from his own successful stage play of the same name.

The film opens by showing us the double life led by Margot (Grace Kelly).  We see her first with her husband, Tony (Ray Milland), as she reads a Times article announcing arrival of American crime novelist Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings) on the Queen Mary, then segue to a steamy kiss between her and Mark in the same flat that she shares with her husband.  Through their dialogue, we learn that after meeting Margot and Mark exchanged letters, all of which she burned but one, which she kept with her.  She decided to break it off with him after Tony gave up his professional tennis career to spend more time with her, but then one day her purse was stolen.  She received a blackmail letter from the thief demanding money in exchange for the evidence of her unfaithfulness, but the culprit never returned the letter.

Mark comes home and tells them that he can’t go to the theater with them as he’d planned because of a business meeting, so he sends them off together.  After they leave, he calls a man about buying a car and asks the man to stop over to see him.  When the man, Mr. Swann (Anthony Dawson) arrives, Mark reveals that he’d known him back at Cambridge and was aware that he’d stolen some funds at the time.  In fact, Mark has been following him closely and has substantial information on the man’s criminal career, including a few current schemes.  He explains that when his tennis career was over, he was not well off financially, but that Margot is independently wealthy and that she’s named him in her will as the benefactor of her fortune.  He tells Swann about noticing his wife’s letter, then stealing her purse himself and sending her the blackmail requests.  Removing the letter, he casually drops it to the floor and Swann picks it up.  He then tells Swann that he wants him to murder Margot or he will reveal all he knows about the man’s criminal activities.  When Swann threatens to take the matter to the police, Mark tells him that since his fingerprints are now on the letter, he can claim that Swann was the blackmailer and was trying to extort money from him.  When Mark offers to pay him a thousand pounds for the deed and then explains his foolproof plan, Swann agrees to commit the murder the next evening when Tony will take Mark to his club for men-only party.

Things immediately begin to fall apart the next night as Tony tries to maneuver Margot into following his plan, then Swann bungles the murder.  He is not a professional killer and uses a clumsy scarf to try to strangle her.  She fights back and plunges her scissors into his back.  He falls on the scissors driving them further into his body and dies.  Then the movie becomes all about Tony trying to salvage himself and establish that Margot murdered Swann when he threatened her with the letter.  Unfortunately, for him, Chief Inspector Hubbard (John Williams) is suspicious when the clues just don’t add up.

This is one of Hitchcock’s best suspense films and stands out from the rest because the audience is placed in the murderer’s shoes almost from the beginning.  The suspense is generated from our misplaced sympathy for Tony’s attempts to cover his tracks and we both fear and hope that he will be caught.  It is a masterpiece of suspense filmmaking.

Ray Milland is perfect as Tony.  His suave and compliant demeanor covers his cold-blooded plan for murder and we feel his tension as the plan unravels and then changes, as he works to cover his tracks and convince everyone of a different reality.  Grace Kelly is her usual beautiful self, so easily winning the audience that we hate and regret our sympathy for Tony.  Robert Cummings is fine in his supporting role.

The color, in the restored print used for the DVD, is excellent and allows Hitchcock to weave his spell beautifully with Robert Burks’ stunning cinematography.

Dial M for Murder is a classic of the suspense genre and must be ranked among Hitchcock’s greatest achievements.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith

 

mr and mrs smithThis 1941 “screwball comedy” was the first of two comedies that Alfred Hitchcock directed during his long and distinguished career, the other being the black comedy, “The Trouble with Harry.”  The script, by Academy Award winning screenwriter Norman Krasna, found its way to Carole Lombard, the actress who actually gave the name “screwball” to this kind of comedy, and she backed the project.  Before leaving England, Hitchcock had expressed a desire to work with Lombard and he got his wish in this film.

David (Robert Montgomery) and Ann (Carole Lombard) are a devil-may-care married couple in New York City.  He is a partner in a law firm with Jeff (Gene Raymond), but is sometimes absent for days as the couple holes up in their bedroom trying to make up after an argument.  It’s one of Ann’s rules that they have to stay in the bedroom until they make up.  When the film opens, they have been there for three days and they finally reconcile.   Over breakfast, she asks him if he would marry her if he had it all to do over.  Following her rule of complete honesty, he tells her that he wouldn’t.

However, when David goes to work, an official from Idaho, Harry Deever (Charles Halton) informs him that because the county they got married in is actually in Nevada, their marriage is null and void.  David calls Ann and asks her to dinner at Momma Lucy’s, a restaurant they used to eat at before they were married.  Mr. Deever, an old family friend of Ann’s stops by their apartment and tells her what he’s told David.  Certain that David will ask her to marry him again at the restaurant, she meets him full of expectation.  When they arrive at the restaurant, they find that Momma Lucy has gone back to the old country and it is now a seedy dive.  They arrive back home and David gets ready for bed, putting champagne on ice.  Upset that he still hasn’t asked her to marry him, she throws him out of the apartment and he has to go sleep at his club, the Beefeater.

Without Ann’s rule in place to keep them in the bedroom, they cannot make up.  David, regretting his earlier statement that he wouldn’t marry her if he had it all to do over, begins to follow her around begging her to forgive him and remarry, but perversely, it is Ann who likes her new freedom.  She takes a job, which David gets her fired from.  He tries to get Jeff to talk to her, hoping they can work something out, but Ann simply hires Jeff to be her attorney and then accedes when he asks her to go out with him.

At the Beefeater, David makes friends with Chuck (Jack Carson), who has also been thrown out of his home.  Chuck sets him up on a double date with a couple of low end dames and when they appear at the restaurant, David sees Ann with Jeff and tries to make her jealous.  Desperate, he follows them to Lake Placid and begins a series of machinations designed to pull the couple apart and bring him back together with Ann.

In spite of Hitchcock’s very capable direction, there are several things in the movie that are bothersome and I believe the issues belong to the script.  For one thing, it seems very cold of Ann to simply turn away from David the way she does.  I expected to see her plotting to intentionally wound him with the objective of getting him back eventually, yet it isn’t until the very end of the movie that she capitulates and realizes that she really does love him.  If she had, for example, discussed with Jeff her plan for getting him to apologize and re-marry her, it would have made perfect sense.  Krasna (or Hitchcock) leaves us to guess at her motivation for wanting to marry Jeff.  Toward the end, we see that she is fighting against her instinct to love him, but it is actually Jeff who pushes her back toward David.  It seems a little weird to me.

Another problem is that aside from a very few moments, I didn’t find the movie to be particularly funny.  At times, it goes begging for laughs.  Carole Lombard’s superb comic timing is never really used to great effect in the script and Robert Montgomery actually mugs at times looking for laughs.  This was Lombard’s next to last movie before her life ended in a plane crash while on a War Bond tour.  It’s really too bad, because Hitchcock and Lombard would have made a terrific combination.

I guess it says something that Hitchcock himself was disappointed in Mr. and Mrs. Smith in spite of its big box office success.

It’s not a bad movie, but I was hoping for a lot more than I got.

Divergent

shailene_woodley_divergent-wideAdapted by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor from the novel of the same name by Veronica Roth, this 2014 movie is remarkably faithful to the original book, which is both good and bad.  See my review of the novel.

At an unspecified time in a dystopian future, the city of Chicago has been walled in to protect its citizens from the chaos outside.  Their society has been divided into five sects, supposedly to emulate traits that are desirable in this new society, Abnegation (selfless), Erudite (wise), Dauntless (brave), Candor (honest), and Amity (friendly).  Teenagers Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) and her brother, Caleb (Ansel Elgort), must be tested before they make their declaration of which faction they will choose for life.  Their mother, Natalie (Ashley Judd), and father, Andrew (Tony Goldwyn), who serves on the ruling council, are both Abnegation and want them to choose their own faction.  Beatrice, however, shows a strong regard for Dauntless and looks ready to take risks.

During the test, which consists of the administration of a hallucinogenic drug that simulates a series of choices, Beatrice tests out positive for more than one faction (Abnegation, Dauntless, and Erudite).  The woman administering the test, Dauntless Tori (Maggie Q) tells her that she is Divergent, but that she must keep this a secret, claiming only that she tested out as Abnegation.  The next day, Caleb declares himself Erudite.  Caught in a dilemma as to which faction to choose, Beatrice takes Dauntless and is immediately thrown into a new life of daring exploits.  Jumping off the train at Dauntless headquarters, she volunteers to be the first to make a three story leap into a gaping hole in a roof and she does so effortlessly.  Although she is obviously quite brave, her physical training falls short and she is near the bottom of her class.  Putting in extra hours, her training leader, Four (Theo James), gives her extra instruction and she quickly rises in the ranks.  During a field exercise, she demonstrates that she can use her mind to help overcome obstacles, then, when she is again administered a hallucinogenic in order to face her worst fears, she finishes in record time.  Four grows close to her and protects her.

The Erudite are in the process of planning the overthrow of Abnegation and have developed a serum that will place all of the Dauntless soldiers under their mind control, but Four and Beatrice (who goes by the Dauntless name Tris) are immune to the serum and must find a way to defeat the evil Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet).

If all this sounds a bit far-fetched, it’s because it is quite unbelievable.  The book has the same problem in that the factions with their self-important purposes just doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny.  Although it’s true that Americans are definitely prone to conformity, I find the concept of their adherence, especially among the young, to a single faction to be pretty ludicrous.  The very idea that dividing your society in such a way will lead to peace and prosperity is laughable.

That being said, once a reader or a viewing audience buys into the concept and becomes willing to suspend their disbelief, the story becomes quite compelling, especially the first half where Tris is fighting to be accepted into the Dauntless faction.  We love to see an underdog growing and changing, developing, and showing the big bad bullies that she can hold her own.  We also delight in her ability to be divergent and to live more than one faction.  The direction by Neil Burger is really tight and the movie is smartly edited, but the movie owes most of its success to the two performances by Shailene Woodley and Theo James.  Each of them, in their own way, possess a kind of offbeat beauty that is terrifically attractive, but their acting talents are undoubtedly very strong and they carry the film through its absurd premise.

It’s beautiful to watch.  The cinematography, art direction, and music are all superb and the editing carries the viewer along at a fantastic clip.  Although it runs an astounding two hours and 19 minutes, no time is wasted.  It might have been a better movie if 30 minutes had been cut, but it is fine at its current length.

A very entertaining film, quite well done, if based on a patently absurd premise.

Wallander

 

?????????????????????????This BBC mystery series is actually a chain of films based on the novels by Swedish writer Henning Mankell featuring Ystad police detective Kurt Wallander, a middle aged man coping with the deterioration of Sweden’s utopian ideals as the country wades into the 21st Century.  The Wallander novels have attained a world-wide popularity based as much on the character’s accessibility as the gripping nature of the crimes he solves.

Although many of the novels had already been adapted into Swedish films, in 2006 Mankell formed a production company called Yellow Bird for the express purpose of bringing the novels to the English speaking part of the world.  Producers Anne Mensah of BBC Scotland and Andy Harries and Francis Hopkinson of Left Bank Pictures were brought in to shepherd the project.  Although many distinguished British actors were considered for the series, Kenneth Branagh was a fan of the books and directly interceded the process.  He met with Mankell at an Ingmar Bergman film festival and literally talked the author into hiring him to play the role.  Various locations were considered for the movie including Scotland and the state of Maine in the United States, but the importance of the country the books were set in, Sweden, ultimately won out.  The country is so important that it is like a co-starring character.

The first three books to be filmed were Sidetracked, Firewall, and One Step Behind, although eventually the other novels would also be filmed.  This article deals exclusively with the first three movies.

Sidetracked introduces us to the character of Kurt Wallander by immediately dousing us in the beauty of a Swedish field abloom with rapeseed (a bright-yellow flowering member of the mustard family–see the photo) that dominates the camera.  Wallender has been called in because a young woman is hiding in the field.  He tries to approach her, declaring himself as a policeman, but she pours a can of gas over herself and sets herself afire.  Wallander is appalled and perplexed.  “What’s our country coming to,” he asks, “when fifteen year old girls set themselves on fire?”  In this first movie we discover that he is recently separated from his wife and that his grown daughter Linda (Jeany Spark) who is deeply concerned about his lifestyle, especially his hideous eating habits and his devotion to his job that frequently leaves him burned out and exhausted.  He has a very difficult relationship with his father (David Warner), but Linda eventually brings them back together and Kurt discovers that his father now has Alzheimer’s.  We also meet Wallander’s co-workers, most of whom are as devoted their work as he is.  Anne-Britt Hoglund (Sarah Smart) works most closely with him, but the group of detectives also includes Kalle Svedberg (Tom Beard) and Magnus Martinsson (Tom Hiddleston)  His investigation of the self-immolation eventually leads to a former police executive who is running a forced prostitution ring, supplying young girls, many foreign, to provide as virgins to wealthy businessmen.

Firewall begins with the murder of a cab driver by two young women who calmly turn themselves in and then wallow in a fatalist state that reveals nothing of why they did it.  In this movie, Linda sets up her father to participate in an internet dating site and he eventually dates the first woman to respond, but his faith that he might actually be able to start over is severely shaken by developments in the story.  His investigation of the murder uncovers a plot to bring down the European banking system by way of computer hacking.

The third film, One Step Behind, is a much more personal story as Wallander investigates a serial killer who is so random that no pattern can be discerned, even though they bring in a professional profiler to help them.  He forms a close bond with a girl who might lead them to the killer, but she is murdered practically before his eyes.  This leads him to a much deeper love for his own daughter, Linda.  He also meets a very interesting woman who seems to understand what he is going through.  Ultimately, the killer becomes more daring and brings his carnage to Wallander’s front door.

The directing, under the guidance of Philip Martin, is very smart, combining both documentary and drama film techniques to bring alive the landscape of Sweden.  The films capture the modern architecture and the nearly surreal beauty of the countryside by using a very lightweight, high resolution digital camera.  They create a kind of stark beauty that makes the movies each stand out as a visual delight, a rare and extraordinary imagery that doesn’t just bring the stories to life, but brings the landscape front and center.  The use of color in the imagery consistently keeps the viewer in a state of hyper-realism that is bold and addictive.

Branagh is perfect as Wallander, creating a character that is completely believable and engaging, so personally involved in his work that the viewer is allowed to see a fully realized person, with all of his faults as well as his good points.  He is very easy to identify with and that is part of what makes the movies so special.  All of the supporting actors are also well cast and believable.

If there is any fault to find with the movies, it is that the first two mysteries are pretty easy to solve and there are points where you wonder why Wallander hasn’t put it all together.  In those first two films, I knew who committed the murders long before the detective did, even though the directors did not tip it off.  At a certain point, I realized that even though I knew who committed the crimes, the films concentrate so well on the personal aspects, Wallander’s character, and the nature of the landscape that it just wasn’t important.  The third movie, however, works both as a mystery and as a great real-life drama and it makes me eager to see more.

I confess that I’m not a great fan of crime drama or murder mystery, but Wallander goes far beyond simple genre filmmaking, into a depth of character and landscape that makes each movie very special.  I look forward to seeing more of the Wallander movies in the future!

Alfred Hitchcock

alfred-hitchcock

I am endeavoring to review as many Alfred Hitchcock films as I can, so please be patient as the bodies pile up.

Hitchcock The Birds 02The Birds

I was thirteen years old in 1963 when I went to a movie theater to Alfred Hitchcock’s latest move, The Birds, and I can still remember the effect it had, the tension it engendered, the thrill of fright, and my jangled nerves when I left the theater and stepped out into the sunlight.


Dial_M_For_Murder_Grace KellyDial M for Murder

It might be easy to plan the perfect murder, but actually doing it is something else entirely.  That is the theme of Dial M for Murder, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 movie starring Ray Milland and Grace Kelly as a husband who has the perfect murder on his mind and the wife who seems to be the intended victim.


The Lady Vanishes (1938)The Lady Vanishes

Set in the fictitious European country of Bandrika, this 1938 British comedy-mystery  remains one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best movies.  Based on the 1936 novel The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White, the script by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder is truly funny, even the suspenseful parts.


Man Who Knew Too Much Stewart and DayThe Man Who Knew Too Much

Never endanger an American’s children.  That is the advice given by a foreign minister to his English lackey when it is already too late for the villains in this remake of a film that Alfred Hitchcock originally directed in England before he crossed the pond.  Wishing to enlarge and improve on his earlier film, he teamed up with his signature actor and composer to produce this widescreen thriller in 1956. 


Marne 01Marnie

Marnie is undoubtedly Alfred Hitchcock’s most unusual film.  There’s no murder, no spies, no sabotage, and practically no suspense.  It is a straight up psychological drama.


 mr and mrs smithMr. and Mrs. Smith

This 1941 “screwball comedy” was the first of two comedies that Alfred Hitchcock directed during his long and distinguished career, the other being the black comedy, “The Trouble with Harry.”  The script, by Academy Award winning screenwriter Norman Krasna, found its way to Carole Lombard, the actress who actually gave the name “screwball” to this kind of comedy, and she backed the project.


 North by Northwest - Saint on RushmoreNorth by Northwest

Mistaken identity, an innocent man, bloodthirsty spies, a long train trip, a beautiful, sexy blond, and suspense building to a nail-biting conclusion—all these staples of legendary director Alfred Hitchcock drive his epic 1959 film, North by Northwest.


Notorious 02Notorious

The sexiest and most mature of all Alfred Hitchcock’s films, Notorious is also one of his most suspenseful movies.  It’s a torchy love story set among dangerous ex-Nazis in Rio de Janeiro, with Ingrid Bergman putting her life in danger to prove to the American agent she loves that she has become an honest woman.  Beautifully shot in black and white, all of Hitchcock’s mastery drives a story that is thrilling right up to the end.


Psycho 1Psycho

The line between suspense and horror is blurred anyway, but when director Alfred Hitchcock and screen writer Joseph Stefano adapted master horror writer Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel Psycho for the screen, and composer Bernard Herrmann was brought on board, they changed the horror film genre forever, creating ripples that are still felt by filmmakers today.


Rear-Window-pic-2Rear Window

A nation of Peeping Toms.  That’s us, according to home care nurse Stella in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 masterpiece Rear Window.  She’s complaining to photographer James Stewart as he sits in his wheelchair staring out the rear window of his apartment in Greenwich Village.  His left leg is encased in a great white cast bearing the inscription, “Here lie the broken bones of L. B. Jefferies.”


To Catch a Thief 01To Catch a Thief

This is Alfred Hitchcock’s most visually beautiful movie.  Filmed on the French Riviera, the gorgeous hills, dotted with old mansions overlooking the Mediterranean Sea vie with the stark beauty of Grace Kelly and chiseled features of Cary Grant to provide enough eye candy to last a lifetime.


 Torn Curtain 3Torn Curtain

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1966 cold war thriller is unique among his films because it contains some of the best filmmaking since he moved to America and also some of the worst.  The film as a whole has too many problems to be considered one of his best: a flabby script, lenient editing, and way too much time at the end.  


Vertigo_1958_trailer_Kim_Novak_at_Golden_Gate_Bridge_Fort_PointVertigo

Acrophobia is a perfect psychological ploy for a Hitchcock movie.  Always fascinated with little psychological motivations, Hitchcock used fear of heights as the guiding principle of his 1958 movie Vertigo.  The plot, so detailed and involving, has become nearly iconic as the film has worked its way into the American psyche.

Torn Curtain

Torn Curtain 3Alfred Hitchcock’s 1966 cold war thriller is unique among his films because it contains some of the best filmmaking since he moved to America and also some of the worst.  I will discuss the plot in detail, so there will be spoilers.

American physicist Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman) arrives in Copenhagen with his fiancée, colleague Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews) to attend a conference.  Receiving a call that a book is waiting for him at a local book store, she picks it up for him.  Taking it into a toilet at the hotel, he reads a secret message telling him to “Contact π.”  His behavior disturbs Sarah and when she discovers he has changed his plans and will be flying to Stockholm, she decides to follow him, but he isn’t going to Stockholm, he’s actually boarding a plane for East Germany.  In a state of shock, she watches as he defects, stating to the press that he was disappointed that the United States shut down his missile program and he plans to develop an anti-missile system in Leipzig with Professor Gustav Lindt (Ludwig Donath) that will end the threat of nuclear war.  They have been shadowed by Professor Karl Manfred (Günter Strack) who arranged the defection.

Michael is angry that Sarah has followed him and repeatedly tells her that she should go back home while she can, but the East German government asks her to stay and work as Michael’s assistant.  Despite her disillusionment, Sarah decides that she loves Michael enough to stay and support his work.  At the time of the interview, he is informed by East German Security that he has been assigned a security watchdog, Hermann Gromek (Wolfgang Kieling) who is to follow him around and watch his actions.

The next morning, Michael leaves the hotel and hops a bus.  Gromek follows him on his motorcycle to a museum where Michael tries to lose him.  Going out the back, he hails a cab and gives the driver an address.  At a farm outside Berlin, Michael has the cab wait while he meets an American agent (Mort Mills) who is under cover as a farmer.  It turns out that π is an escape network and Michael is going to attempt to get information from Professor Lindt that will aid the United States in their own anti-missile system.  Before he can leave, Gromek shows up.  Seeing the π symbol in the dirt where Michael had drawn it for the farmer’s wife (Carolyn Conwell), Gromek interrogates him.  As Gromek attempts to call the authorities, the farmer’s wife throws a pot at him and Michael attacks him.  As they fight, she stabs Gromek with a knife and they wrestle his head into an oven.  She turns on the gas and he dies.  Indicating that she will bury both Gromek and his motorcycle, Michael leaves.

In Leipzig, Michael is about to be debriefed for Professor Lindt when state security bursts in with the news that Gromek is missing, so they decide to debrief Sarah first, but when confronted with revealing American secrets, she can’t go through with it.  Speaking to her alone, Michael finally reveals to her that he is on a spy mission and gets her cooperation.  The cab driver (Peter Lorre, Jr.) sees the missing Gromek’s picture in the paper and comes forward, telling the police that he drove Michael to the farm.  When they arrive, the farmers are gone, so they commence digging and find the motorcycle 

After Michael gets the formula he is looking for, he and Sarah begin a convoluted escape route that includes assistance from a university clinic physician Dr. Koska (Gisela Fischer) and another man from π (David Opatoshu), eventually landing them back in East Berlin.  Their instructions call for them to go to a  post office and along the way the meet exiled Polish countess Kuchinska (Lila Kedrova) who wants them to sponsor her to the United States.  Their escape plan calls for them to go the ballet where state security hunts them down.  Michael’s only resort is to yell “Fire!”  During the ensuing chaos, they are taken backstage and put in ballet trunks for shipment to Sweden, the ballet’s next stop.  As the trunks are about to be offloaded, the lead ballerina (Tamara Toumanova) blows the whistle and a guard shoots up the trunks, but they are the wrong trunks.  Michael, Sarah, and their rescuer have jumped into the water and swim safely to shore.

Normally, Hitchcock’s scripts have been worked over for many months, if not years in advance of shooting.  In this case, the script by Brian Moore was not ready.  Both Hitchcock and Newman knew it and Hitch sought additional help with the dialogue, but the studio had foisted Julie Andrews on him as his leading lady and she had a very short window to film the movie, so they went ahead with a faulty script.  It did not help that longtime Hitchcock collaborators Robert Burks (cinematography) and George Tomasini (editing) had both passed away, so he was working with people he wasn’t completely certain of.  He also had a falling out with his longtime musical director, Bernard Herrmann, and even though Herrmann scored part of the film, Hitch fired him and had John Addison complete the work.

The second problem in the film is that the climax occurs when Michael finally gets the formula from Professor Lindt, but the film continues on for nearly forty-five minutes after that as the elaborate escape, done with Hitchcock’s usual sense of suspense, plays out.  It simply goes on too long and it should have been edited down to fifteen or twenty minutes tops.  It makes the movie drag exactly where you don’t want a movie to drag.  At two hours and eight minutes, the film feels like it goes on forever.

That being said, the movie also contains the best scene Hitchcock ever filmed: the killing of Wolfgang Kieling by Paul Newman and Carolyn Conwell. 

Although both Herrmann and Addison had written music to accompany the gritty scene, in the end Hitchcock opted to only use the natural sound of the three people in their life and death struggle.  We hear grunts, scuffling, and very little dialogue as the two men struggle with each other.  Hitchcock intercut the scene as montage, so the viewer gets glimpses of arms and hands, short close-ups of faces, and two-shots of the struggle.  Almost forgotten is Conwell’s terrific contribution to the scene.  They can’t make any loud noises because the cab driver is still waiting outside, so they can’t shoot him.  She tries to stab him, but in the struggle the knife only goes into his shoulder, the blade breaking off and blood soaking his shirt.  She takes a shovel and bangs his knees to make him go to the floor.  Kieling gets both of his hands around Newman’s neck and tries to choke him, but Conwell begins to drag them across the floor, her face sweaty and creased with the exertion.  In the final moments, Hitchcock shoots the scene from above the oven and we see Newman and Conwell gasping for air as Kieling’s hands go through the paroxysm of death, fighting against the gas and gradually giving in, eventually resting with no movement at all.  If feels like an absolutely real death.

The reactions of Newman and Conwell afterward is just as important. As they regain their breath, the viewer can see the emotional scars of the act of killing: the trembling, the sweat, the redness of their faces, the disbelief that they have just taken a man’s life. 

It is overpowering cinema. 

When I first saw this movie in a theater in 1966, that scene haunted me and I have never forgotten it.  I think it has a much greater impact than the shower killing in Psycho, which is generally considered Hitchcock’s best murder scene.

There are other wonderful things in the movie to delight film students and Hitchcock fans.  The scene in the museum, for example, where Hitchcock never shows Gromek following Michael, but we hear the echo of the pursuer’s footsteps.  The tension on the bus on the escape back to East Berlin is almost unbearable.

However, even with all of the wonderful techniques of Hitchcock at his best, the film as a whole has too many problems to be considered one of his best.  A flabby script, lenient editing, and way too much time at the end all work together to sink this movie.  In fact, in the canon of films that Hitchcock made in America, it must be considered one of his least successful.

Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey

DragonflightThis first book of The Dragonriders of Pern saga began as two novellas, “Weyr Search,” which won the 1968 Hugo Award for Best Novella and “Dragonrider,” which won the Nebula Award for Best Novella in 1969, making author Anne McCaffrey the first woman to ever win either one of the prestigious science fiction writing awards.  Both of the short works were originally published in Analog magazine and they became the basis for the entire Dragonriders saga.

This is the only Dragonrider novel that focuses exclusively on the relationship between F’lar and Lessa and is noteworthy because it defines their feisty characters and the relationship that develops because of they are the two strongest people on Pern and the two whose strength must carry the planet in the 9th Pass of the Red Star.  Please see my Introduction to the World of Pern for background.

  Dragonflight is broken out into four parts with no chapters, although individuals scenes are separated by excerpts from Harper songs.

 I.  Weyr Search

Before the beginning of the 9th Pass of the Red Star to drop deadly threads on Pern, the power of the dragonriders has ebbed, the power of the Lords and their lands increased, and the Crafts have lost most of their knowledge to decaying record skins.  In the long interval, 400 years have passed and the people of Pern have all but forgotten the ravages of thread.

Of the six dragon weyrs on Pern, five stand empty with no explanation as to why, leaving Benden Weyr as the only active home of dragons and their riders.  The Weyrleader, R’gul, has led the weyr into isolation and allowed it to grow weak.  The Weyrwoman, Jora, grew fat and lazy, dying when her queen laid her last clutch of eggs.  There is one queen egg on the hatching grounds and riders have gone in Search of girls as candidates to be the new queen’s rider.

Lord Fax of High Reaches now runs six Holds, where each Lord should be entitled to only one.  He took the second oldest and most powerful Hold, Ruatha, by deception, then slaughtered everyone of pure Ruathan blood and married a woman who only was only distantly related, so that he could lay legitimate claim on it.  But one Ruathan of the true blood line has escaped, an eleven old girl, Lessa, with telepathic powers.

Ten Turns later, she is awakened at dawn by an unusual premonition that something is wrong.  Since Fax killed her family, she has disguised herself as a filthy kitchen drudge and used her telepathic abilities to bring the hold to economic ruin.  If Ruatha has no profit, she thinks, Fax might renounce it.  Her dreadful feeling echoes a similar feeling ten turns earlier on the morning of Fax’s invasion.  She watches the Red Star as it burns in the morning sky. 

Several days later, F’lar, a wing leader of Benden Weyr arrives on his huge bronze dragon Mnementh at High Reaches Hold with his wing-second and half-brother, F’nor, on his brown dragon Canth, on the Search for a new Weyrwoman.  Fax holds the dragonriders in contempt, but F’lar avoids a fight with him.  He and F’nor go to see a former dragonrider, Lytol, who has turned to the Weaver Craft to suffer silently.

Moving on to Ruatha Hold, the dragonmen immediately sense a power at work, but they can’t trace it.  Lessa has created havoc in the hold and Fax is disgusted, proclaiming that when the hold cannot support its Lord, he will renounce it.  F’lar and the dragonriders witness his statement.  He goes even further by proclaiming that if his wife, Lady Gemma, should give birth to a male, he would renounce the hold in favor of the baby.  When she goes into labor, Lessa fetches a midwife, but Gemma dies giving birth.  Thinking this is her opportunity force a duel between Fax and F’lar, she announces that the child is male.  F’lar is finally able to identify the source of power as Lessa, but Fax gives her a severe blow for her announcement.  The duel between Fax and F’lar ensues and F’lar kills the lord.

F’lar convinces Lessa that she must return to Benden Weyr and be presented as a candidate for the new queen, to renounce her claim to Ruatha in favor of the baby boy, so she reluctantly agrees.  The watchwher, seeing that she is leaving makes an attempt to kill F’lar, but when Lessa warns him not to, the watchwher contorts its body to keep from striking, breaks its back and dies.  The dragons all keen, giving the ugly beast a hero’s death.  Lytol is appointed Warder to the new heir, Jaxom.

Back at Benden Weyr, F’lar gives Lessa the bathing room while he takes Mnementh to feast on some of the stringy bucks kept in the pens for dragon food.  She washes all of the filth away and when he sees her again, her hair flows down to her waist.  She has a small body and is beautiful.  With no fear at all, she impresses the new queen, whose name is Ramoth.

II.  Dragonflight

Two Turns later, Lessa hates her lessons with R’gul and wants to fly Ramoth.  She fumes because F’lar does nothing, but when Ramoth finally rises to mate, Mnementh catches her and Lessa ends up bedding F’lar.  As the new Weyrleader, he takes command of the weyr.  When a united army of Lords marches against Benden, he sends riders to abduct their women, then he confronts the army, proclaiming that the Red Star is approaching and thread will fall soon.  He gives them orders to clean their Holds of greenery, to restock their fire heights, and to begin full tithing to the weyr.  To punctuate his demand, he shows them their ladies on dragonback and then Lessa shows up flying her great golden queen.

III.  Dust Fall

When F’lar teaches Lessa to fly Ramoth between, she turns rebellious and decides to go back to Ruatha, but she gives Ramoth the coordinates of the old Ruatha from when she was only 11 years old and she passes between back in time and watches herself hiding during Fax’s invasion.  She tries to go back home, but returns to the day at the beginning of novel when she awoke with her premonition.  Both F’lar and Lessa think that at some time the ability to time travel may come in handy.

In an attempt to figure out when the thread will begin to drop, F’lar and Lessa begin to go back over their old records, which have faded with the passage of time.  Ramoth lays a gigantic clutch of 41 eggs, which take as proof that the threads will be falling soon, but they worry about their ability to fight it, since they are only one weyr and there were six to fight it in the past.  Lessa worries over the Question Song, a weird teaching ballad that says the missing weyrs had “gone ahead.”

When the clutch is hatched, F’lar brings in family members of the candidates and begins to open up the hatchings to the public.  The one new queen, Prideth, is impressed by Kylara, one of the women who had previously been a candidate for Ramoth.  After a patrol, F’nor returns covered in dust and F’lar realizes that it is thread that has been killed by the cold.  The wing fights their first thread and many dragons and riders are wounded because they are all just learning the skill.  Worried about how to handle the situation, F’lar decides to send F’nor, Kylara, and other riders back ten Turns and put them in the south, where they can rear more dragons and riders.  Later that night, F’nor comes to see him to report that his plan is working, before he’d even started it.

IV.  The Cold Between

F’lar puts his plan into action, even though F’nor has hinted that things don’t go all that well in the past.  The next day, he holds a meeting with Lords and Craftmasters to see if anyone has any ideas on how they can get through the crisis.  For the first time, we meet Masterharper Robinton, Weavermaster Zurg, and Smithcraftmaster Fandarel.  Zurg remembers having seen a tapestry that showed not only dragons fighting thread, but men on the ground with machines that threw fire.  Fandarel wants to get his hands on it and when it is finally produced, he studies the machines and plans to use Agenothree to fight thread on the ground.

Studying the tapestry, Lessa sees that the depiction of Ruatha Hold is as it was 400 turns ago.  Using this as a time coordinate, she decides to jump Ramoth between 400 turns to bring the missing weyrs forward in time to help them fight thread.  When she disappears, F’lar is beside himself with worry.  Although she makes it through, the trip destroys her physically and she takes months to recover.  However, the old Fort Weyrleader, T’ton, and his Weyrwoman, Mardra decide to follow her forward in time and they talk the other five weyrs into coming with them.  Lessa instructs the oldtime Masterharper that he must write the Question Song, so that Lessa can later use it to realize that the she must go retrieve the weyrs.

Using the position of the Red Star to guide them, the weyrs jump ahead twenty turns at a time until they are back in present day, the beginning of the 9th Pass.  F’lar is incredibly relieved.  Pern has been saved and Lessa realizes how much he loves her and returns that love.  They are now weyrmates for life.

Thoughts on Dragonflight

As the first book in the series, Dragonflight has a different feel to it than all of the rest.  Writing it, from the two novellas, must have been a terrific learning experience for Anne McCaffrey because she was setting up—and would later change her mind on some things—the basis of the entire series.  There are a lot of little things that she changed as the series developed.  To name just a few:  T’ton is changed to T’ron immediately in the sequel, Dragonquest, and in Dragonflight, bronze dragons blood their kill before the queen does when she mates.  That was dropped entirely in all future books.

We don’t meet Robinton and Fandarel until fairly late in the novel and even then they do not appear to have the significance that they would develop almost immediately in the second novel and which would develop immensely throughout the entire main timeline of the 9th Pass..

The first time I sat down with Dragonflight, I thought I was reading a fantasy and I was ready at any moment to put the book down, but McCaffrey lays all of the groundwork in a scientific or pseudo-scientific manner.  The planet was colonized.  The dragons were genetically engineered.  There is a scientific rationale for the dragons breathing fire.  The medieval society is the result of a more erudite society breaking down in times of crisis.  Everything is set up scrupulously as a science fiction based novel.

Even with all of the groundbreaking, the book remains mostly the love story of F’lar and Lessa and it is told very well.  Both of the characters have extremely strong personalities that uniquely suit them to be the leaders of Pern and bring it back from the brink of feudalism.  Although the sex that occurs when dragons mate is certainly not lovemaking in the purest sense, it leads to lovemaking.  It is a physical act, but that act alone draws the people closer to love.  F’lar states at one point that his lovemaking with Lessa is just one step short of rape, but her mutual concern for Pern, her care for him as Weyrleader, brings her to love him deeply and passionately.

Much of that simple relationship is present in the later books, but they more deeply concerned with the weyr and the planet as a whole.  Different characters take the main stage as the series progresses and F’lar and Lessa, although clearly remaining strong and powerful leaders, are superceded by the stories of F’nor and Brekke, Robinton, Menolly, Piemer, and ultimately Jaxom and F’lesson.  The interplay between crafts, the discovery of the original landing, all play a part in moving F’lar and Lessa to the back shelf.

This book is their love story and that will always make it special.