The Renegades of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

Renegades of PernThe Renegades of Pern does not neatly fit into the pattern of all of the other books covering the 9th Pass of the Red Star.  It is splintered into lots of little stories and covers the time period just before the beginning of the main Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy, running all the way up to the very beginning of All the Weyrs of Pern.  It contains both vital information regarding the main story line and vast amounts of story that just don’t really matter at all.  It is fragmented.  Telling several semi-coherent stories all at once, it covers a vast amount of time and makes for difficult reading.  It is based around some of the characters from the short story, “The Girl Who Heard Dragons,” contained in the story collection of the same name, most notably the girl Aramina and K’van.

The Prologue jumps around, compressing a full eleven years before the 9th Pass begins.  It sets of the idea of holdless men and women, from Fax’s taking of various holds, driving smaller holder into homelessness, to Toric storming out of his native sea hold to make a fresh start, to the artist Perschar’s travels, all the way up to Fax’s death before the real story begins in Chapter One.  The Prologue also introduces a female villain, the older half-sister of Lord Larad of Telgar Hold.  Lady Thella, a headstrong young woman, was betrothed to a lesser holder by her dying father, but she will have no part of it.  When Larad confines her, she escapes, stealing maps, horses, and supplies.

The Lilcamp trading train is surprised by the first fall of Thread as the 9th Pass begins, suffering many casualties. Kimmage Hold agrees to put them up, but only if they work and tithe. Jayge, son of the head trader, accepts the constriction, but his favorite Uncle Readis leaves them and joins Thella’s band of thieves and murderers.  Twelve Turns pass and Thella develops her gang into a cunning and tough, holdless bunch, fugitives sought by both holders and dragonriders.  Masterharper Robinton, at this point, has recruited the artist Perschar to infiltrate the group and draw portraits of the outlaws.  Thella hears about Aramina, a girl in living in the Igen caverns, who can hear dragons.  She plans to capture Aramina and use her to spy on the weyrs, but Aramina’s family leaves before Thella can pull it off.  Her band then attacks the Lilcamp train and a number of people are killed before Jayge can ride for help.  In the aftermath, he finds a roll of portraits drawn by Perschar, but he removes Readis’ picture before turning them in.  Jayge joins Lord Asgenar’s army in Lemos in hopes of exacting his revenge on Thella.  They discover a deeply covered cave system in Telgar and, with the aid of dragonriders, stage a morning attack, but Thella and several of her leaders escape.  Searching for Thella in the Igen caverns, Jayge meets Aramina and falls in love with her, but she is taken to Benden Weyr where Weyrwoman Lessa intends to match her up with a dragon hatchling.  While waiting, she is housed at Benden Hold where Thella finally manages to capture her and whisk her away.  Jayge finds Readis and the two rescue Aramina, but Readis is killed during their escape.  Jayge then gets them an assignment to transport runner beasts to the Southern Continent.  Lost in a storm, the boat sinks and Jayge and Aramina are carried ashore by shipfish (dolphins) to the Paradise River Hold, where they settle down to raise a family.  Their first son is named Readis.

I’ve read this book a number of times and I am now at the point where I completely disregard the entire “renegade” portion of the book and instead concentrate only on the advancement of the main story line, which I think must include Jayge and Aramina’s Paradise River Hold, but does not include Thella or any of the hundred odd pages dedicated to her story.  If you are reading the book for the first, I’d suggest that it be read, but thereafter, it may be skipped with no loss of story at all.

Although many scenes of that story line take place in the Northern Continent, it is Southern that is the main focus, particularly the story of Toric becoming Lord Holder, Piemer meeting and falling in love with Jancis, and further discoveries at Landing, including the Catherine Caves and, most importantly, AIVAS, the artificial intelligence voice address system that will dominate the next book in the series, All the Weyrs of Pern.  Piemer, during his many travels in the south, meets Jayge and Aramina when he stumbles upon Paradise River.  He is fascinated by the many ancient articles the couple have found and use, most of it plastic.  Afterward, Jayge and Aramina become recurring characters.

Many of the events throughout The Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy and The Harper Hall Trilogy are included in The Renegades of Pern, but shown from other characters’ perspectives.  For instance, when Mardra finds the empty sack that Piemer has escaped from, the entire scene is shown from Toric’s point of view as he puts up with the Weyrwoman berating him in front of his holders and craftsmen.  That alone–showing familiar events from different points of view–makes this book worth reading.  If you are a fan of the entire saga of the 9th Pass and can’t get enough of the story, here is a retelling of familiar events from a different perspective!

Those who have already read All the Weyrs of Pern may have been a bit surprised by the sudden intimacy of Piemer and Mastersmith Jancis (granddaughter of Mastersmith Fandarel), but she plays a significant role in The Renegades of Pern.   Piemer meets her after the discovery of the Catherine Caves and she is only a Journeywoman at that point.  In fact, McCaffrey seems to have deliberately created an error in Jancis’ rank.  The end of The Renegades of Pern seamlessly dovetails into the beginning of All the Weyrs of Pern with no time at all allowed for her to suddenly attain her mastery.  Be that as it may, she is a terrific character and a perfect tonic for Piemur’s acidic character.

The Renegades portion of the book comes a conclusion when Thella puts together one final band of thugs and sails south to find Aramina and try to kill her, blaming her for all that has gone wrong in her life.  Piemer, Jancis, Jayge, and Aramina fight the band and win.  Jayge gets the pleasure of killing Thella and exacting his revenge at last.  During this trip, Jancis discovers a map at Paradise River, detailing the plan for Landing.  She is intrigued by two sites that haven’t yet been uncovered: Amin Annex and AIVAS.

With Piemur’s help, she begins to unearth them, coming to the solar panels that allow AIVAS to power up.  Jaxom and Ruth join them, then the others and at the end of the book, they find a way in and discover the long abandoned computer that drives the story forward into All the Weyrs of Pern.

In this sense, it is a vital connecting book in the main story line.  The central flaw in the book is the character of Thella.

In my opinion, Anne McCaffrey, for all the wonderful characters and situations that she has created in this saga, has one fatal flaw and that is her villains.  They all come across as one-dimensional characters.  You can see it in Avril Bitra in Dragonsdawn, Fax in Dragonflight, Meron and Kylara in Dragonquest, and fatally in Thella in The Renegades of Pern.  To be effective, readers must understand the central driving force that makes villains perform their evil acts.  If there is not sufficient believable motivation, the character is flat and unbelievable.  I have this problem with all of the above-referenced characters and that is the main flaw in The Renegades of Pern and it is why I always skip over Thella’s scenes when I re-read the book.

Nevertheless, this book is a key connecting the end of The White Dragon with the latter two books in the series and it contains many wonderful scenes and the development of Piemer and the introduction of Jancis.

That part of the novel is wonderful and can be joyfully read and re-read many times.

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!

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.

Dragondrums by Anne McCaffrey

dragon-drums-det_0This review is written with the express understanding that the reader is familiar with the entire saga of The Dragonriders of Pern. It contains quite a few plot spoilers, so it is not intended for a reader unfamiliar with the story.  The Harper Hall trilogy is an offshoot of the Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy and takes place at the same time as the events in those major three books.  Since the stories dovetail and overlap, Anne McCaffrey assumed that the two trilogies be read either at the same time or back to back.

The first two books of this series, Dragonsong and Dragonsinger, tell the story of Menolly, a brilliant fourteen year old musician and songwriter escaping the confines of her brutal and ignorant family at Half Circle Sea Hold on the far eastern peninsula of the northern continent of Pern. Dragondrums, the third installment, is a distinct departure from the smooth relationship of the first two books, which occur right around the time that Brekke loses her queen dragon, Prideth, and her lover, F’nor, rider of brown dragon Canth, takes his dreadful trip to the Red Star.  They dovetail perfectly, with Dragonsinger beginning right where Dragonsong ends, but Dragondrums skips ahead three full turns, much in the same way that The White Dragon skips ahead several turns in the main trilogy.  And just as the main trilogy shifted focus from Lessa to Jaxom, this book changes the focus of character from Menolly to Piemur, the young rascal with the soprano voice who befriends her.

In the very beginning, Piemer’s voice breaks just as he is preparing to sing the role of Lessa in a new composition by Domick and Menolly, written especially for Lord Groghe’s Spring Festival. Without his voice, the boy’s world is turned upside down.  Fearing for his future he visits his voice master, Shonagar, only to find that he will be replaced as the man’s apprentice.  Shonagar sends him to the Masterharper of Pern, Robinton, for reassignment.  His depression over his change of circumstances changes to elation as he finds that he will become Robinton’s apprentice now, but there are, of course, complications.

Robinton plans to use Piemer as a kind of clandestine agent, so no one, except Menolly and Sebell will actually know that he’s working for the Masterharper. To cover his real role and to enlarge his education, he is reassigned to the Drum Master, Olodkey, to learn drum messages.  Only Olodkey will know that he is really working for the Masterharper.

His apprenticeship in Drum makes him the newest apprentice there, so he gets the worst jobs and is put upon by Dirzan, the senior journeyman under Olodkey. To make matters worse, he makes enemies of the other apprentices by learning too quickly.  Dirzan is quite familiar with Piemer’s reputation as a troublemaker, so he assumes that every little slip of information is Piemer’s fault.  In addition, Menolly frequently calls for Piemer’s assistance as a “messenger” in which he makes his clandestine trips.

The first leave of absence occurs when Menolly has him join her riding down to the seaside to meet Sebell, who has been journeying in the Southern Continent and for the first time he sees that Sebell has fallen in love with Menolly, although she appears to be oblivious. They treat his saddle sores and take care of him, but his absence only makes the other Drum apprentices meaner to him.  His second leave of absence is to make a trip to a Miner hold some distance away in the mountains.  While there, he witnesses T’ron, who had been banished to the Southern Continent, forcing the Miner to give him precious sapphires, reserved generally for new Harper Masters.  Hiding the jewels he was sent to pick up, he plays the ignorant stable boy and returns to the Harper Hall the next day with his treasure.  Every time he goes away, the other boys in the Drum heights become meaner to him and Dirzan keeps giving him more and more difficult measures to learn.

The third leave of absence is huge because he is taken by Menolly and Sebell to a Gather at Igen, on the southern shores of the Northern Continent with the assignment of gathering information by playing ignorant. Although he doesn’t learn much, Menolly and Sebell take him by dragon to Benden Weyr to witness a hatching.  There he meets Menolly’s friend, Mirrim, who appeared in the first of this trilogy.  She is fostered to Brekke and made friends with Menolly when she was picked up in Dragonsong trying to outrun thread.  Piemer is put off by her haughty attitude, but Menolly cautions him that he shouldn’t judge her too harshly because of everything she had been through with Brekke and F’nor.  Trying to keep an open mind, he witnesses the hatching with a great deal of envy.  Three years earlier, Menolly had promised him that when her queen fire lizard, Beauty, clutched, he could have a fire lizard of his own.  Apparently, fire lizards mature slowly because three turns have passed and Beauty still has not risen to mate.  The main feature of the hatching is that Felesson, the only child of Weyrleaders, F’lar and Lessa, impresses a bronze dragon, Golanth.  Things go a bit off plan, though, when a newly hatched green dragon rejects all of the remaining candidates and flounders toward the viewing tiers, seeking Mirrim.  Although the girl protests that she wasn’t supposed to have a dragon, F’lar and Lessa encourage her to go ahead an impress Path.  She is the first female green dragon rider in known history.

When Piemer returns to the Drum heights, he finds that all of his clothes have been soiled by the jealous apprentices, led by a big dummy named Clell. And even though he has kept his mouth shut about drum messages, several are leaked and Piemer is suspected as the cause, being well known as a rascal and scamp.  He doesn’t even tell Menolly about the abuse from the other apprentices, but that all comes to a head when Lord Meron of Nabol gets seriously ill and sends for Masterhealer Oldive.  Piemer is given the message to deliver and Oldive gives him a reply with instructions to have a dragon waiting for him to fly to Nabol.  On the way back to the drum heights, Piemer slips on the stairs and bashes in his head.  As he passes out, he is certain that the steps and railing were greased.  It turns out that they were.  Annoyed, Silvina, the headwoman, nurses him back to life, then he joins Sebell on a trip to a Nabol Gather, pretending to be a stupid herder boy.  As Meron is close to death, Piemer manages to steal a queen fire lizard egg from his hearth and escapes by hiding in a supply room, then he’s secreted to the Southern Continent in a bag of merchandise illegally traded by Meron to the Southern Oldtimers.

Escaping, he lives in the wild, waiting for his queen fire lizard, Farli, to hatch.

There are two considerable plot advances in Dragondrums.  First, there is the maturation and freedom of Piemer with his escape from the Harper Hall and acquisition of Farli, and second, when Menolly and Sebell travel to the Southern Continent in search of him, Sebell’s queen fire lizard, Kimi, rises to mate and Menolly’s bronzes, Rocky and Diver, fly to mate with her.  Diver is the successful male to mate with her, but the mating leads to Menolly and Sebell consummating their own relationship.

As the entire saga of the Dragonriders of Pern develops, these two major plot advances figure prominently.  For one thing, Piemer is permanently relocated to the south, where he will be instrumental in later books in the discovery of the original settlements of the colonization of Pern (as written in the prequel Dragonsdawn) and will find his own mate, Jancis.  For another, Sebell and Menolly will themselves be elevated from Journeyman and Journeywoman into becoming Masters of their craft and eventually running the entire Harper Hall, all the while having and nurturing their own children.

Even though this story is pretty well divorced from the first two books of the trilogy, it is very well placed alongside them because it tells of the major players in the Harper Hall’s future. Piemer was already a very well developed character in the second of the three books, so it is natural, once Menolly has found her place in the saga, that Piemer’s story would take over.  I can never get enough of Menolly, as I think she is probably the best character in the entire saga, and even though she is a secondary character in Dragondrums, she does appear in abundance and it is great to see her relationship with Sebell grow and mature to consummation.

It is a very well written novel, fun and fast to read, and absolutely essential to the overall development of the Dragonriders of Pern.

Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey

The following review contains spoilers, so if you’re looking for a surprise in the book, please read thisImage after you finish!  Thanks!

I first came onto Dragonsong after I had read The Dragonriders of Pern trilogy (which sets up the entire series of Pern books). I read the trilogy in a gulp, as the world of Pern and the life of the Weyr totally fascinated me. I immediately went looking for anything more about Pern and I encountered Dragonsong.

Menolly was a minor supporting character in the third volume of the Dragonriders trilogy, The White Dragon, and I was surprised to find a complete novel built around the character, but I jumped in with no preconceptions.

Menolly is the youngest daughter of Yanus, Holder of Half-Circle Sea Hold on the wild Eastern part of the northern continent on Pern and she is 15 years old at the beginning of the novel. Petiron, the Hold Harper, had found her to have an exceptional musical talent when she was very young. Even though girls were not allowed to be Harpers, he taught her how to play all of the instruments, to sing the traditional songs and eventually to write music. He even sent some of her music to Robinton, the Masterharper of Pern, for evaluation.

The novel begins with Petiron’s death and the subsequent abuse of Menolly by her family, who believe a musical daughter is disgraceful. Her father forbids her to write music and even beats her when she disobeys. When the replacement Harper arrives, Menolly is hidden from him, even though he is seeking the composer of the wonderful music sent to the Masterharper. After she badly cuts her hand, her mother intentionally mistreats the wound so that Menolly believes she will never play music again. Menolly falls into a deep depression.

Caught out during threadfall and stuck in a cave, Menolly witnesses the hatching of wild fire-lizards (miniature dragons). To prevent them from dying, she feeds the small creatures and bonds (or imprints with) nine of them, who will then be her friends for life, linked telepathically. Deciding that she will not return to the hold, Menolly makes a life for herself on the coast, living in the fire-lizard cave, spending most of her time just finding food for the ravenous creatures. She makes herself a set of pipes and the fire-lizards learn to sing with her. During a later threadfall, she is caught away from the cave and must run for cover in her worn boots, tearing her feet to ribbons in the process. Fortunately, she is rescued by a dragonrider, who brings her to Benden Weyr.

For the first time in her life, Menolly begins to understand what it is like to be treated with respect and affection. Her nurse is Mirrim, one of the most enigmatic characters throughout the saga. They are about the same age and quickly become friends. Afraid that she will be sent home, Menolly hides her fire-lizards until she is found out by Weyrwoman Lessa. Breaking down, she begs not to be returned home and is asked to stay in the weyr.  Once accepted, she becomes overwhelmed by all of the attention.

It is at this point that events from the novel Dragonquest become interwoven into Dragonsong, most notably, Brekke’s recovery from the death of her dragon and Jaxom’s impression of the little white dragon, Ruth. For those familiar with the earlier novel, it is really great to see the same events from a very different point of view.

The book ends with Masterharper Robinton’s discovery of Menolly as the composer of the songs that Petiron had sent him. Overjoyed, he asks her join the Harper Hall. At last, she will be able to pursue her love of music and to begin her new life as a musician.

McCaffrey tells the story of a hero overcoming adversity extremely well. It is completely believable that Menolly suffers unbearably in order to pursue her dream. Her suffering is even more poignant in that it is at the hands of her own family, those who should love and support her. McCaffrey takes the time to detail these familial characters, so that they do not feel two-dimensional and so that their mistreatment of Menolly is understandable, if not agreeable.

Menolly’s love of music is treated in such a way that the reader develops an amazing sympathy for her plight. Everyone should have such a love of something that it would be the whole purpose of his or her life. This is a terrific foundation for the rest of the novel and also for the sequel, Dragonsinger.

When she realizes that she has left her hold for good, there is a miraculous sense of freedom, which is punctuated by the miracle of the fire-lizard hatching. Menolly literally saves their lives, as she has saved her own, and both she and her fire lizards may live free. This freedom is referenced again several times in Dragonsinger when, under the pressures of life in the Harper Hall, she remembers the complete freedom of living in the cave.

After her rescue, Menolly can scarcely believe her luck – she almost always worries that what she is doing is wrong or that someone will come down on her for her actions. This is the result of her mistreatment at the hands of her family. She has been conditioned into believing that she is always in the wrong. Part of the poignancy of the story is that the weyrfolk and harpers have to convince her of her own worth. And when she realizes that she can both play and write music to her heart’s content and to the joy of others, she feels an amazement and gratitude that the reader can share in completely. It is cathartic.

For me, Dragonsong is a perfect little novel.