Tag Archive: pern


The White Dragon

I’ve been hoping to blog Anne McCaffrey’s sequel to her sequel of Dragonflight for a while now. I finished it over the summer, and then it seemed as though one thing happened after another, including a lengthy move, that did a fine job of sidetracking any writing efforts. I picked up The White Dragon when I bought The Black Gryphon a year ago at a now out of business used book store, one that I happened to be in town to visit on their very last day. Sad. I’m not sure which edition I have of the book, but it cost $7.99 so it must be recent. It’s a paperback with a tough cover.

Tough, but bland.

McCaffrey has such a generous output of stories in her Pernverse that at the time I was unaware of the close relation to Dragonflight. The blurb on the back did little to reveal the truth. The characters mentioned had yet to be born in the first book, so it seemed an isolated story. Thread is also mentioned on the back, but that could be true of most any book in Pern, so to make a long story even longer, I thought I was buying something that I could read on its own. Actually, it did work that way without having read Dragonquest (book 2,) but I did find myself feeling left out in places. It was nothing that made the book hard to understand, but having known right away how Jaxom and his dragon, Ruth, came to be, and having had a proper introduction to some of the other new characters would have made it more enjoyable.

 
Turns out Jaxom is the son of an antagonist from Dragonflight who had been offed early. I do like Jaxom, though his sometimes one track mind for sleeping with women is irritating. Being 18, I can’t fully blame him, but most of the time his exploits feel more like a distraction than anything serving the story. In contrast, Ruth has no interest in mating at all. This causes headaches for everyone, but Ruth fails to see why it’s an issue. The reasons for his problem do get answered eventually, adding some satisfaction to having to put up with Jaxom’s libido.

 
What begins as a “boy and his dog” type story eventually turns into a tale of exploration. Once Jaxom teleports his way to the southern continent, most of his lovely screen time with Ruth is pushed aside. I found this disappointing since it had been so enjoyable to see their bond. One of my complaints about Dragonflight had been that I never saw any genuine love between the human characters and their dragons. Anything that was there felt forced, but Jaxom and Ruth really do click. I began to see why people love McCaffrey’s work so much. It’s just a shame that this aspect of the story went ignored.

 

While I did enjoy this book much more than Dragonflight (her writing isn’t perfect, but it flows so much better,) there are still a few aspects that I don’t care for. I was never a fan of telepathy, but of course that’s how her dragons communicate. I do like how they can transmit pictures and feelings, but when they speak it sounds so emotionless, almost like a computer talking. Ruth is better about this at least, having a shred of personality. The others though lack soul. They come off cold and alien at times, but perhaps that’s what McCaffrey wants considering this is more sci-fi than fantasy. Also, the dragons committing suicide when their parters die has never set well with me. I certainly understand their heartache, but come on, hang in there. Tough it out. There are others around that care for you. I find it hard to believe this would be evolved behavior since the dragons have only been with humans a short while. What did they do before then? Bond with alien squirrels? It’s baffling and upsetting. I don’t care for the apostrophe names either. I wish McCaffrey would at least explain it. I thought it was something done when one partners with a dragon, but I recall at least one rider who had a normal name. Oh, and Lessa is still unlikable.

 
On the plus side, I loved the fire lizards. They’re mini dragons with the excitability of a box of jack russells. They continue to apparate in Ruth’s personal space, bombarding him with pictures and memories that help set off the plot. They’re an enjoyable addition to the series that I hope will stick around.

 
There’s a lull around the middle of the book where Jaxom gets sick from teleporting and has to stay in one place for a while. It’s only near the end that the momentum picks up again. It’s one of those cases where plenty is said without anything happening, and I found that section hard to get through, especially since I was hoping for more Ruth moments. That hope is what kept me reading, but thankfully the lull dies before the end. I found it to be a satisfying ending, and overall an enjoyable story, though it could have been easy to put down at points if I had been less determined to finish something I started. If McCaffrey had cut about 75-100 pages, it would have been a tremendous help to the pacing. I’ll likely read another Pern book sometime, but I have much more I’d like to get to first.

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Dragonflight

My first exposure to Anne McCaffrey’s world of Pern came in the mid 90s when I bought The Dragon Lover’s Guide to Pern from a bookstore that likely no longer exists. I wasn’t a Pern fan at the time. Knew nothing about it really, but I wanted another collection of dragon art. This was before I could hop on the internet and find thousands of  pictures in seconds (or minutes in those dial up days.) On the way home from the store I skimmed through the book in the back of my parents’ old Dodge and enjoyed the pictures, though I did find the dragons’ eyes a bit strange. I grew interested in reading this series until I saw something shocking.

The dragons communicate with people through telepathy.

That was enough to turn me off from reading the series. Petty, yes, especially coming from someone who saw nothing wrong with magic in a story, but it did. Maybe because it’s something I couldn’t see myself doing and so I couldn’t connect with the characters speaking through their minds. In retrospect, I’m sure that it would have gone over better if telepathy was part of the games I played as a kid instead of shooting fireballs and cure spells. By the time I made it home with the book–it was a good hour ride through the boonies to the nearest decent bookstore–I was ready to shelve it. That I did. My only exposure to the series for the next fifteen years came from seeing the books in stores. It turns out there were quite a few. From time to time I’d see even more. McCaffrey must have been a good writer to have so many works out.

I kept this in mind. After years of maturing I decided to give Pern another chance. To lessen my risk, I bought a copy at a used bookstore. I have an 80’s edition of this:

My copy has a corner taken out the cover and plenty of spine creasing. The edges of the pages all look slightly warmed, if not burnt.

The series has more of a sci-fi feel to it than fantasy, dealing with planets, stars, time travel and teleportation. Wizards and standard magic are absent and the setting takes place in an alien world instead of the usual old European influenced landscape. No Jar Jar Binks. Don’t worry. Technically the dragons aren’t even dragons, called so by the humans as they’re similar in appearance. These dragons grow very attached to their riders, to the point where they give up on life if the partner dies. Losing a friend is hard enough, but breaking that telepathic bond must be worse. I’m sure you could get a similar effect by taking a World of War Craft junkie from his account.

The book is made up of several published short stories  from the 60s. Fortunately it all flows together as a cohesive whole. However, McCaffrey uses new terms without explanation. It can be frustrating trying to understand what is happening or what some ideas mean. Yes, the book has a glossary in the back, but a simple description when appropriate would have saved needless flipping back and forth.

The story centers around a young woman named Lessa who bonds with a new queen dragon, but most of the interactions with her are with the human characters, most of which have apostrophe names: F’lar, R’gul, L’tol, and so on. It’s exciting that we have intelligent dragons that can communicate with people (or only their riders, unless you’re Lessa. Then you can talk to any of them) but McCaffrey denies the reader much from them. I grew to like Mnementh in particular, but we rarely hear what he has to say. Despite the bonds, it feels the dragons are more tools than characters we can get to know. Maybe this changes in later books. I hope so. It is a novel idea to have dragons who are more than just evil beasts at least. I’m sure this concept inspired future authors like Naomi Novik.

The main threat comes from an orbiting star that every few hundred years, called turns, drops spores onto the planet that destroy everything they touch. It’s about to happen again and only dragon fire can stop them. Convenient.

McCaffrey’s innovative world and treatment of dragons makes this an important work from a historical perspective. However, a good story is weakened by human characters who have a knack for being unpleasant. F’lar in particular comes of self serving and how he doesn’t explain himself to Lessa is frustrating. That can work, but here it frustrates the reader too because he or she is left in the dark when something needs to be understood to make sense of the world. His romance with Lessa is hard to swallow, though misery loves company. I understand their dragons had an impact on the union, but that doesn’t excuse an unlikable character we need to sympathize with. The underdeveloped dragons weaken the story too.

Still, it’s worth checking out if you’re a fantasy or sci-fi fan. There isn’t much, if anything else like it. It’ll stick with you long after reading.

***1/2 of *****