Look to Pern’s Past With Dragonseye

The end story of the dragonriders of Pern, who guide their magnificent beasts into battle against the menacing, life-devouring Thread, has been told.

The saga that began with the first novel, Dragonflight, ended in epic fashion in All the Weyrs of Pern. But while we may know how the story ends, we’re just learning how it began.

We’ve known the story of this science fiction/fantasy classic for years. The first settlers of Pern found it to be a remarkable, remote planet with few mineral resources that seemed custom made for their planned agricultural, low-tech lifestyle.

What they didn’t plan for – or even know about until too late – was that a dangerous rouge planet intersects the orbit of their new home every two centuries. And as that planet, known by future generations as the Red Star, draws closer, its native lifeforms launch an invasion of Pern.

Mindless, soulless and pitiless, the strange spores cross space to land on the planet, burrowing into the ground and destroying whatever organic life it touched. After the first Threadfall the colonists, realizing their very existence was in danger, turned to a native lifeform for protection: dragonets.

These strange little creatures, which looked like Earth’s mythical dragons, could fly, breath fire after chewing a phosphorous-laden rock, and teleport from one place to another. While far too small for a human rider, these “fire lizards” provided a template for a genetic engineering project of magnificent proportions. With time and resources running out, the colonists were able to create full-sized dragons with all the powers of their smaller cousins but with the added advantages of limited telepathy and intelligence.

These proud, faithful creatures, when bonded to a rider through an Impression (like chickens), served to protect the colonists from the ravages of Thread.

This knowledge was told to us in passing at the opening of every one of McCaffrey’s books, which told the stories of those living generations after the initial landing. But with the ending of those stories, McCaffrey has brought us back to the beginning, telling us the full story of Pern’s colonization in Dragonsdawn.

Dragonseyepicks up 200 years after the that novel. The first fall of Thread is fading into myth and no one alive remembers it. A few holdouts refuse to believe that the menace will even return. But the dragonriders, who have been practicing and drilling for two centuries, believe, as do their allies.

Dragonseye┬átakes its name from the Eye and the Finger, Stonehenge-like devices used to predict the return of the Red Star. In McCaffrey’s end story novels, the Eye is a relic of a mythical time but inDragonseye, they haven’t been invented yet. In fact many of Pern’s conventions – most notably the teaching ballads and the story-telling tapestries – also haven’t been created.

As the story opens, there hasn’t been a need for such low-tech approaches. However, as their technology fades, the leaders of this era realize that these rudimentary mechanisms are exactly what is needed to pass on the most important facts about Thread and life on Pern.

An Uneven Past

Fans of McCaffrey will take any excuse to return to Pern, and Dragonseye provides an excellent one. The emerald-eyed author spins a capable and satisfying tale that is nonetheless a shadow of her greatest works. As has been the case with many of her more recent stories, McCaffrey seems to have lost some of her willpower when it comes to the climaxes of her stories. She sets up a compelling, well-written story, but then ruins it by letting her characters take the easy way out. The unusual mix of tragedy and triumph that dominated McCaffrey’s early works is strangely missing here.

The possibilities are still there. McCaffrey sketches some characters with excellent potential: K’vin, leader of Telgar Weyr, has the capacity to equal his descendent, F’lar, as a memorable character. Iantine, naive yet intelligent, has the makings of a great harper. And Debera has all the fire of a young Jaxom. The story crackles with ideas – McCaffrey takes on homosexuality in the Weyrs, and issue most science fiction writers never touch. Romance between tradesmen and weyr-folk – in the form of Iantine and Debera is also shown in a new light.

Final Analysis

McCaffrey still has a good deal of Pern’s history to tell us, and Dragonseye is a perfect place to begin telling it. The story may be a little strained, but the ideas are as compelling as ever.

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