Pern is a world where telepathically bonded humans and dragons battle with a mindless spore that has an insatiable appetite for all organic life. The first few books of the series introduce the readers to the centuries old conflict amid the trappings of a feudal society through the lives of the planet’s leaders. The books fit nicely inside the Fantasy Fiction genre.
But then things get a little more sciency. It happens slowly, a hint here or there as a few of the main characters, contrary to non-curious previous generations, decide to dig a bit, sometimes literally into their planet’s past. The readers trail along as one discovery after another reveals the forgotten origins of Pern.
And then we come to this book, Dragonsdawn, one of my favorites of the series. It can easily be read as a standalone novel, but a large part of its charm is the way the author ties the present era of the previous books to the 2000 year past of this one.
Turns out Pern was settled by a bunch of humans from earth who arrived in huge colony ships that are still orbiting the planet. Turns out they didn’t know about the life eating spore when they picked the planet to move to. Turns out the dragons are totally bio-engineered from a native species of flying lizard to help the humans combat the deadly spore when it arrived and killed off a bunch of the settlers. Bam! – take that fantasy genre! Now the books are classified as sci-fi.
The so amazing part of this genre transformation is that it very clear that when the lovely and talented Anne McCaffrey sat down at her kitchen table back in the late sixties to write the first Pern book, she had no thoughts of sci-fi at all. Well, I don’t really know that – she might have had an idea way back in her mind, but the first three books at least read as straight fantasy.
I love Anne McCaffrey for many reasons. Her greatest skill as an author is in her ability to create characters that you really care about. In a way similar to Dave Duncan, who I wrote about last week, I re-read her books to reunite with old friends. (Their writing styles are different, McCaffrey summarizes parts of narrative to move the story along which can feel jumpy, whereas Duncan’s stories flow at a smoother pace. McCaffrey’s female characters are more believable at times, and she has more of them in heroic roles.)
I highly recommend this book. It is a fast read and there is something exciting happening on every page. Although you would enjoy it more if you read the six books that precede it first, it works well enough on its own.