All the Weyrs of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

All the Weyrs of PernIn what many thought might be the last of the Pern 9th Pass novels, the computer AIVAS (Artificial Intelligence Voice Address System) serves as a major character in the fight to end Thread forever.  At the end of the previous novel, The Renegades of Pern, AIVAS came to life in the old Landing Administration Building after Piemer, Jancis, Jaxom, and his white dragon, Ruth, had unearthed the solar panels that had been intermittently covered by ash and dust over the last 2,500 years since the explosion of the volcano that sent the original colonists scurrying north to take Hold there.

The following review is written with the understanding that readers are already familiar with the novel, so if you haven’t read it yet, beware of plot spoilers!

With technology long lost to the people of Pern, AIVAS recites the history of the founding of the colony as told in Dragonsdawn, complete with movies and stills showing Admiral Paul Benden, Governor Emily Boll, and all of the other colorful figures, including the exploits of Sallah Telgar in thwarting the evil intentions of Avril Bitra.  In a sonorous male voice, AIVAS explains that his last assignment was to find a way to permanently remove Thread from the skies of Pern.  Now–with the help of darned near the whole planet–he’s found a way to do it.  This delights F’lar no end and they set about reconstructing Landing, teaching Jaxom, Piemer, Jancis, and anyone else who is interested how to assemble and use a computer.  Teaching remedial math, physics, medicine, and so on, he gradually elevates the level of education to the point where they can understand sophisticated concepts and manage complicated machinery, bringing them back to the level they were at when the original colonial ships arrived in orbit some 2,500 Turns ago.

This effort is not without the pernicious attempts of villains to thwart it.  Chief among them are Master Norist, head of the Glass Smith Crafthall and Lords Sigomal of Bitra and Begamon of Nerat.  Norist gives AIVAS the nickname of “The Abomination” and blames it for destroying the traditions of Pern.  He refuses to have anything to do with AIVAS and thus one of his subordinates, Master Morilton takes over working with Landing, his work benefiting from a greater knowledge that Norist.  In addition, Toric’s brother, Hamian, who had been sent to receive his Mastery from Fandarel in the Smithcrafthall, decides to take up the production of plastic, leaving Toric to commit himself to Landing.

AIVAS takes on the education of Master Oldive, Sharra, Mirrim, and others to not only study medicine more deeply, but to take apart frozen Thread ovoids and find ways to change parasitical bacteria into predators.  As time passes, Sharra gradually becomes aware that AIVAS has selected Jaxom to lead the dangerous mission.  Gradually, the craftsmen and dragonriders take each step along the road to prepare them for AIVAS’s Master plan, which he will not actually discuss with them: there are trips between to the Yokahama to prepare the ship for human occupation (and to remove Sallah Telgar’s body from the bridge), repairs and maintenance on the old ship, and extra-vehicular activity to familiarize dragons and riders with space.  Hamian is trying to develop enough space suits for the dragonriders.  Eventually, Jaxom, F’lar and Lessa take a trip to the Red Star to familiarize themselves with the landmarks so they can have reference points for the other dragons.

In spite of the best efforts of D’ram, Lytol, Jaxom, and the others, the Abominators hire devious people to drug and kidnap Master Robinton with the notion that they can force the dragonriders to destroy AIVAS to get him back.  They take this action boldly at the Ruatha Gather with Lord Jaxom and Lady Sharra presiding.  Of course, the dragonriders, with the help of fire lizards, locate Robinton and round up all the villains, who are condemned to exile for all their days.

Using a massive number of bronze dragons, the engines of the three space ships that were used to bring the original colonists to Pern are shifted between to the Red Star, where HNO3 canisters administer leaks that will eat through the metal surrounding the antimatter engines and eventually cause an explosion that will move the Red Star enough out of orbit that it will no longer drop Thread on Pern.  In addition, a number of green riders seed the bacteria that will eventually kill all Thread where it exists in the Oort Cloud, thus eliminating the threat of Thread forever.  What the other dragonriders don’t know is that Jaxom and Ruth lead two of the three groups far back in time to create explosions that nudge the Red Star toward its eventual orbit change–thus the two periods of long Intervals.

The book ends with Master Robinton expiring in the AIVAS chamber as the computer himself, his job done, shuts down to leave the Pernese to solve their future problems themselves.  “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven” is his final message to everyone.

Dragonsdawn and All the Weyrs of Pern are the only genuinely science fiction novels in the Pern series.  Of course, the entire premise is based on a science fiction concept, but that is difficult to tell early in the series.  Indeed, just hearing the title “Dragonriders of Pern” makes most people automatically assume that the series is Fantasy.  Not so and these two books provide the groundwork.  And they are both very fun reads.

This book moves along quickly and it invests serious time in all of the major characters that readers have come to know and love: F’lar and Lessa, Jaxom and Sharra, Piemer and Jancis, Sebell and Menolly.  There is Robinton, D’ram, and Lytol, as well as the sympathetic Lord Holders, most notably Groghe, Larad, and Asgenar.  As the book takes place over four years–and the entire chronicle takes place over thirty Turns–we see the characters aging.  The Weyrleaders are over fifty years old now and we are seeing the decline and eventual surrender of Robinton, moved along by the actions of their enemies.

The villains are, as usual, shallow and one dimensional, while the major, positive characters are much more well-rounded.  And again, I can make the arguments that the villains are nearly unnecessary, given the difficulty of the overall problems to be overcome.  One thing that struck me in the last reading is the great depth of stupidity of McCaffrey’s bad people.  It is almost as if she’s making a point that there will always be shallow, stupid people.  On one level, that seems painfully obvious, but on another level, it seems to run counter to her ideal that most people are good and strive to improve themselves.  Humans are basically generous, fun-loving, inquisitive souls that strive to improve the world around them and also to enjoy the wonders of sexual fulfillment and of having and raising children.  These things are basic to Anne McCaffrey’s view of humanity, yet nearly every book contains a few people that are just stupid and shallow, with no inkling of what living is all about.  I guess the good thing here is that these characters are minor, as opposed Thella in The Renegades of Pern or Avril Bitra in Dragonsdawn.

Overall, this is one of the best books in the series.  If you are a fan of Pern and read the books in order, this is one of the most fun and quick to read.  If there is some sadness that the series is coming to an end, there is also much to delight in here: all of your favorites characters, plus the addition of AIVAS, the great, heroic deeds to be accomplished, the funeral of Sallah Telgar, which is something really special, and, of course, the moving of the Red Star.

It is truly a fun and well-written Dragonriders of Pern novel!

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.

The White Dragon by Anne McCaffrey

White DragonBeginning several more Turns after the end of Dragonquest, The White Dragon shifts character perspective slightly away from Benden Weyr to concentrate on the maturing of Jaxom, the rider of the white dragon, Ruth and itinerant Lord Holder of Ruatha Hold. A number of stories are intertwined around the Renaissance of the planet Pern and The White Dragon is both a tremendously compelling story on its own and it sets up the events to occur in the final three books of main saga, The Renegades of Pern, All the Weyrs of Pern, and The Skies of Pern

The emphasis on youth is not accidental and Anne McCaffrey develops both of her young men, Jaxom and Piemur, extensively in the final novels, adding strong, bright young women as their mates, in the form of Sharra and Jancis. But The White Dragon is almost exclusively about Jaxom, beginning in his adolescence as a ward under the guidance of Lord Warder Lytol.  He is frustrated about a number of things.  His milk brother, Dorse, teases him mercilessly about his “runt” dragon.  He has not been allowed to fly Ruth while the white dragon matures.  Ruth shows no interest in mating.  Neither a Lord Holder, because of his age, nor a dragon rider, because he is a Lord Holder, Jaxom is caught between everything.  Gradually, he gets to fly Ruth, so he can escape Dorse, he cultivates his own relationship with a farm girl named Corana, and he teaches Ruth to chew firestone so he can fly with Fort Weyr against Thread.

When D’ram, Weyrleader of Ista, retires, he disappears and no one knows where to find him.  Jaxom, on a hunch that D’ram may have returned to a certain cove on the Southern Continent where Robinton and Menolly had been shipwrecked, goes with Menolly to the cove to get the impressions of the fire lizards there.  On another hunch, Jaxom goes back 25 Turns to find D’ram, so that F’lar can bring him back to usefulness.  Through this experience, Jaxom learns that Ruth always knows when he is in time, a remarkable and important talent.  The Oldtimers, exiled to the Southern Continent, are all getting old and their queens no longer rise to mate, so they pull off a clandestine operation to steal Ramoth’s hardening golden egg and hide it somewhere in time.  Coating Ruth in black river mud, Jaxom goes back through time to find the egg, steal it back, and successfully return it to Benden Weyr without anyone realizing he was the one who did it. 

War between the weyrs is averted due to Jaxom’s bravery and Ruth’s cunning, but both he and the dragon run into Thread during their jumps between times to return the egg. Seeing the damage to Jaxom and Ruth, N’ton finally agrees to let him train at Fort Weyr to fight Thread.  Even though he has the symptoms of a cold, he is so excited that he and Ruth go ahead and fly their first Fall together, but the cold gets worse.  He remembers the warm cove and decides to go there because he thinks it will make him feel better, but he utterly collapses once he gets there.  Concerned, Ruth alerts everyone and when Jaxom awakes, his eyes are covered and he is being tended by Brekke and a girl with a wonderful voice.  This turns out to be Sharra, Southern Holder Toric’s sister, whom we met in Dragondrums.

As he recuperates, a mating flight takes place at Ista to determine who the next Weyrleader will be, but two Oldtimer bronze riders show up, T’kul and B’zon.  When T’kul’s dragon Salth dies trying to mate with the new queen, he goes mad and attacks F’lar.  During the duel, F’lar kills the Oldtimer and Robinton has a major heart attack.  Robinton collapses and only the voices of the dragons keep him alive until Master Oldive arrives to treat him.  They decide to move Robinton south for his recovery with Jaxom at what will be called Cove Hold.  Jaxom, Sharra, and Piemer have had the place all to themselves, but now they must deal with hordes from the north coming in to build the new hall for the Harper. 

Jaxom falls in love with Sharra and is determined that she will soon become his lady. Once Robinton is installed in Cove Hold, he recruits the young people to continue to chart the Southern Continent.  On impulse, Jaxom goes to investigate the gigantic mountain that dominates the view.  Sharra, Piemer, and Menolly go with him and they discover the site of the original landing of the planetary colonists, their ancestors.  When Toric objects to a match between Jaxom and Sharra, Robinton and the Weyrleaders intervene and distract Toric while discussing what Southern lands should be his.  Jaxom, meanwhile, goes to Southern Hold and rescues Sharra from Toric’s men, bringing her back to Landing, where Toric has no option but to approve.  Jaxom reveals that it was he who returned Ramoth’s egg after the Oldtimers had stolen it and, in an afterward, Jaxom is confirmed as Lord Holder and Lytol will move south to work with Robinton.

This is easily best novel of the three that make up the Dragonriders of Pern trilogy.  It reflects a maturity in Anne McCaffrey’s writing that was missing in Dragonflight and merely growing in Dragonquest.  Part of this maturity comes from the depth of the characters and the evolution of the entire planet of Pern as a completely and faithfully realized world.  The love for her characters that reflected a big step forward in Dragonquest blooms in The White Dragon and finally explodes in The Harper Hall Trilogy that followed hard on the heels of this great novel.

The White Dragon, together with The Harper Hall Trilogy and All the Weyrs of Pern, represents the best writing about Pern that Anne McCaffrey was to accomplish in a long and distinguished career as a science fiction writer.

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.