Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern Saga
At first glance, one might assume that the Dragonriders of Pern story is fantasy, not science fiction, but Anne McCaffrey has moved the fantastic concept of fire-breathing dragons onto a firm scientific basis. Granted, it is far from hard science fiction, but even such devices as faster than light travel and telepathy have some science fiction traction. There is no magic in the series, nor mythical creatures come to life. It must be considered science fiction.
The planet Pern exists somewhere in the Sagittarius arm of our spiral galaxy. It was originally colonized by members of the Federation who were looking to establish a society based on agrarian ideals. Pern, devoid of the rich metals that were much sought after by the Federation was deemed a perfect spot for such a colony. The survey team noted that the system of the star named Rukbat had one wandering planet (the “Red Star”) that didn’t follow a normal orbit, but it was not deemed a threat. However, the early colonists discovered that when it passed too close to Pern, some kind of ovoid life form was cast off from the planet and traveled the distance between the two bodies, turning from hard spheres into vibrant, life eating “threads” when they entered Pern’s atmosphere.
To fight thread, the colonists genetically altered a unique indigenous life form, the “fire lizard” (a small, winged, telepathic creature who chews firestone to breath flames) into a much larger creature: a dragon. When these creatures hatch from eggs, they bond telepathically with a human who is destined to be their rider. These dragons and their riders fly high and fast to char thread from the sky and keep it from devouring all of the biological life on Pern. The fire they belch comes from eating firestone, which ignites when the gasses come into contact with the air. Dragons can also teleport, traveling into a realm called between, a cold, dark, airless, and sensationless place between one location and another.
McCaffrey has written a number of prequels, including Dragonsdawn, which tells the story of Admiral Paul Benden, Governor Emily Boll, and the other valiant colonists who had to fight thread, Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern, and The Masterharper of Pern, but the Saga officially begins with the first novel of the Dragonriders of Pern trilogy, Dragonflight.
The dragonriders and their beasts are normally housed in gigantic structures of caves, called “weyrs.” There are six weyrs (Fort, High Reaches, Ista, Igen, Telgar, and Benden) placed at various distances around the northern continent of Pern, but for some unknown reason five are vacant when Dragonflight begins and only one weyr, Benden Weyr, remains to protect the planet. Later on, a Southern Weyr is established on the Southern continent.
There are five colors of dragons. From the largest to the smallest, they are:
Gold (queens, female, always bonded with a human female, a weyrwoman)
Bronze (male, always bonded to male riders, they are the only dragons who can mate with the queens)
Brown (male, always bonded to male riders, they mate with greens)
Green (female, always bonded to a male rider, they mate with all male dragons)
Blue (male, always bonded to male riders, they mate with greens).
When a queen dragon mates with a bronze, she first bloods her kill then flies high as the bronze dragons chase her. The bronze riders assemble around the queen’s rider and when a bronze dragon finally “flies the queen,” mating with her, the bronze rider also mates with the queen’s rider. The leaders of a weyr are determined by senior queen, whose rider is the Weyrwoman, and the bronze who flies her, whose rider becomes the Weyr Leader.
Although these heterosexual relationships are the norm, the level of homosexuality or bisexuality among riders is extremely high, due to the fact that female green dragons are bonded with male riders and when they mate with a male dragon, the riders also mate. This loose sexuality makes the weyr a social unit distinct from the rest of Pern.
Over 2,500 years have passed since the original colonization and humans have lost their memories and records of the past. They have descended into a feudal state, residing exclusively on the northern continent, where individual political units are called Holds, each governed by a Lord Holder, and most of the skilled occupations are called the Crafts, each governed by a Master.
Major Holds, governed by a Lord Holder.
Tillek, High Reaches
Mountainous Area West:
Crom, Nabol, Ruatha, Fort, Southern Boll
Moutainous Area East:
Telgar, Lemos, Igen
Map of Pern
Bitra, Benden, Keroon, Nerat
The Major Crafts, governed by a Craft Master
Harper, Smith, Miner, Weaver, Tanner, Herds, Farmer, Forest, Healer
Other crafts are created as needed, including study of the Stars, Printing, and Wood crafts.
Normally, the planet goes through a 250 year cycle with the Red Star; the threads appear every two hundred years, then the pass lasts fifty years, but at the beginning of Dragonflight, the erratic orbit of the Red Star has missed one pass so four hundred years have passed since the last thread incursion. This has led the people to believe that there will be no more threads. Many of them have stopped giving their tithes to the weyrs and dragonriders have fallen into disrepute.
The normal rule is one hold to one holder, but a greedy warrior, Lord Fax of the High Reaches, has taken over a number of holds when the saga begins, including the historically rich Ruatha Hold. In a surprise attack, he killed every member of the Ruathan bloodline, except for one, a girl named Lessa. When F’lar, a virile young dragonrider from Benden comes in search of a rider for the new queen about to be hatched, he must confront Fax in order to get to Lessa.
CHRONILOGICAL ORDER OF STORIES
The following chronological order of the story only lists the books in the main series as written by Anne McCaffrey. A second series of books, written by Anne McCaffrey and Todd McCaffrey cover the period of time after the first Thread incursion.
“Survey: PERN” a short story included in The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall. This story details the original Federation survey of the planet.
Dragonsdawn, the story of the original colonization of Pern.
“The Dolphin’s Bell,” a short story about the evacuation of the Southern Continent, included in The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall.
“The Ford of Red Hanrahan,” a short story about the creation of Ruatha Hold, included in The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall.
“The Second Weyr,” a short story about the founding of Benden Weyr, included in The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall.
“Rescue Run,” a short story about a Federation ship that responded to the call for help issued by rebellious colonists, included in The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall.
“Ever the Twain,” a short story from A Gift of Dragons.
Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern, the story of “Moreta’s Ride,” the ballad that is frequently cited by harpers and plays a major role in Dragonsinger.
Nerilka’s Story, a novella that occurs sometime during the Moreta tale.
The Masterharper of Pern, the story of Petiron and his son Robinton, both Masterharpers of Pern.
“Runner of Pern,” a short story from A Gift of Dragons.
THE DRAGONRIDERS OF PERN TRILOGY
Dragonflight, the story of how Lessa and F’lar came together to unite Pern and bring the five lost weyrs forward in time to fight Thread after the four hundred year interval before the 9th Pass of the Red Star.
Dragonquest, the story of how F’lar and Lessa united the weyrs, how F’nor went between to investigate the Red Star, and how they opened the Southern Continent.
The White Dragon, the story of how Jaxom became both a dragonrider and the Lord of Ruatha Hold and how he courted and won Sharra. It also tells the story of how the Oldtimers were ultimately defeated and the Southern Continent retaken. Jaxom discovers the site of the original colonial landing.
THE HARPER HALL OF PERN TRILOGY
The first two novels of this trilogy occur during Dragonquest, the second novel of the first trilogy. The third novel begins before and then overlaps The White Dragon.
Dragonsong, the story of how Menolly escaped her abusive father and mother at Half Circle Sea Hold, how she impressed her nine fire lizards, and ended up at the Harper Hall.
Dragonsinger, the story of how Menolly became a Journeywoman of the Harper Hall.
Dragondrums, the story of how Piemer got himself a gold fire lizard and permanent became a part of the Southern Continent.
OTHER STORIES IN THE TIMELINE
“The Smallest Dragonboy,” a short story included in A Gift of Dragons.
“The Girl Who Heard Dragons,” a short story included in A Gift of Dragons.
Another novel overlaps the entire time period of the two trilogies:
Renegades of Pern, the story of Holdless Thella and her attempts to kill the girl who heard dragons. This novel also dovetails with the end of The White Dragon and contains important information about the relationship of Piemer and Jancis.
All the Weyrs of Pern tells the story of the intelligent computer, AIVAS, who helps the people of Pern finally defeat the Red Star.
The Dolphins of Pern.
The Skies of Pern, the story of F’lessan, son of F’lar and Lessa and his love for Tai, the Green Rider, this book also explains what the dragonriders will do now that there will no longer be Thread for them to fight.