Revisiting Pern, the great McCaffrey reread: The Harper Hall trilogy

Tehani and Marisol bonded over Pern (and Doctor Who) at a science fiction convention, decided that it was time for a reread of the series, and really, they should blog about that. They are reading in Anne McCaffrey’s preferred way, which is basically publication order.  

gl49of4nx3uzug5weu1fPern Series – The Harper Hall Trilogy (Dragonsong, Dragonsinger and Dragondrums)

M: First, I think I should point out this is the only time Tehani and I decided to read out of publication order, because this trilogy has so much to do with the White Dragon and the landscape there-in. It just seemed right. And having read it in this order, I stand by this.

T: To be fair, Wikipedia says Anne recommended reading the Harper Hall books before The White Dragon, so I’m comfortable with our decision!

Harper HallM: Out of all the books, this set is my absolute favourite (can’t wait to see if that still stands come the end of this).

T: They really are very very good. And the first true time (at least in Dragonsong and Dragonsinger) that we have a female protagonist, which is nice.  And I recently remembered that I did a university assignment to design a unit of work around the first book! It definitely made an impact…

menolly2M: Menolly is a fifteen year old girl who is a musical prodigy. She writes catchy songs and is a deeply compassionate, kind person.

So to see the juxtaposition of her being in the abusive, ignorant, and hypocritical family (and hold, which follows the family as they’re the Holders) hurts. I mean, she gets threatened with a beating for asking a question. She gets beaten for having a four second mistake. And her family never has a kind word, or pauses enough in their selfish endeavors to realize their narcissistic reactions to every tiny thing she does.

One good example is when she was banished to take care of Old Uncle by the fire during the new harper’s arrival. It’s clearly outlined that tradition and manners dictate the entire family be there to welcome the harper, and yet, Yanus and Mavi have no qualms ignoring tradition where it suits their selfish whims. Their blind eye to their hypocrisy is maddening.

CQUgGYUVEAAtNLAI have a loving, wonderful family that would never treat me like this, and seeing the void she has in her life because of that gave me a particular ache for for her. Not just on the understanding the need to create, because it’s far more than a want, but this giant hole in her life. She has never had a normal, healthy relationship.

T: It’s so awful. And the worst part of it, for me, was that it was how normalised it all was. It’s a good way through the book before you as the reader truly realise how little Menolly is valued and how very badly she is treated. For me, I think, it wasn’t until she herself figured out her mother had deliberately let Menolly’s hand heal badly to stop her from Harpering that I really got it.

Menolly ClimbingM: Her going Holdless was an almost palpable release in the book, and then, to have her rise to choosing a family of nine(!) fire lizards, and being herself, where she apologized to no one, is just incredible. It’s not like she’d have any technological help to get along while Holdless.

T: That being Holdless (the analogy to being homeless to escape an abusive home life doesn’t escape me) was a better option for her is just awful, particularly given the holders are so conditioned to being indoors during Threadfall. And yet not only does she survive, she damn well thrives, and keeps nine hungry fire lizard babies fed and happy too!







M: Me either. The whole trilogy is a great analogy for being homeless and finding your own personal home.

Also, if I have to hear “No girl can–” one more time in this series, I will scream. Seriously, you’re in a world where it’s all able hands on deck. When did the reproductive bits become so important?!

T: But it’s SO GOOD when she finally gets to Robinton and he’s just, well of COURSE you’re a Harper, what else would you be?

M: Agreed. The unabashed, no holds welcome she receives from Robinton and those who’re at the the forefront of Harper Hall is the part where I always find myself cheering. Aloud, while my cats judge me for shouting.

Getting to watch her grow from this person who is terrified of everything into standing up for herself, to the point where she cries insult on Pona (and oh, how satisfying that is, what a horrible person), to being confident in herself when we transition to Piemur’s story. It is one of the best character growth arcs I’ve ever read, and completely in step with the rest of the world.
















T: Oh yes. And I love that when you look at the arc, you see that it’s always there, waiting to come out. Who she becomes is partly because of what she goes through, but she’s strong and smart and capable in herself.

McCaffrey is so damn good at characters. I sobbed – again – at Jaxom’s Impression of Ruth, even though I just read it in Dragonquest. And then oh my gosh, when the Masterharper and Oharan trick her into singing at Benden when she’s found, it’s just brought on floods of tears – it’s so lovely!

MenollyM: There’s a small but significant character I want to mention: Camo. Camo was my first introduction to a special needs person in print that wasn’t talked about as malformed, like every other one I’d found at an early age. Camo is treated as a nice person, which he is, and while he doesn’t get much stage time, I really enjoy that he’s part of the team without any fuss.

His story makes me cry in the Masterharper book.

T: McCaffrey was again ahead of her time with Camo.

M: Oh, and Petiron! Man my opinion of him changed greatly after reading that book. It’s interesting going back and reading these books now that I know his entire story. Although it hints at it in these books, Petiron in his own way tries to make up to his son, Robinton, but teaching Menolly and encouraging her gift and to get her to the Crafthall. Bumbling, to be sure, but given how he was before going to Half-Circle, it’s a big concession.

T: It’s been a long time since I read that one so I’m looking forward to rediscovering it!

DragondrumsM: Which leads us to Piemur. Now, I really like Piemur, both as a person and his story, but I still wonder sometimes why we had his story instead of a third Menolly book. The first two were so focused and dense, to move to him feels weird. Like it was tacked on to the trilogy rather than a smooth transition. His story is more like a tie-in back to the rest of the Pern series, so perhaps that was intentional.

T: I agree. In fact, now that I’m almost done with The White Dragon, I think really, the Harper Hall trilogy is in fact a duology (the Menolly books) and Dragondrums (Piemur’s story) is a prequel to The White Dragon.

886236a7f6077039464695dde9773708M: You’re right – that makes far more sense than calling it a trilogy.

Having said all that, I do enjoy seeing Piemur realize he has more skills than he realized, and learning to self-rely on himself. Getting to see another dimension of harpers and far more than singing and creating, they’re influencing, and this sort of secret intelligence work they do is REALLY interesting! I don’t know exactly what you’d call them. They’re not spies, nor thieves, but their effect is far-reaching.

71xsN03+Y9L51s9h5f8fLL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_9d16aca68f481e9dc47c9f8faf62330eT: I think Piemur’s story really shows us the role the harpers play on Pern, and he’s such a great character – he’s so quick witted but intelligently so! It’s also interesting to see how he changes throughout Dragondrums, just as Menolly does in her books. I particularly liked how he was so leery of groups of people after being on his own with just the critters for so long. And it’s where we meet Sharra – I forgot how important she becomes (until I read The White Dragon, which is not what we’re talking about so we probably should move on…).

M: I am in danger of gushing, so I’m going to stop now. Seriously, read this trilogy! It’s great!










Previously, in the Great Pern Reread of 2015:



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Revisiting Pern, the great McCaffrey reread: DRAGONQUEST

Tehani and Marisol bonded over Pern (and Doctor Who) at a science fiction convention, decided that it was time for a reread of the series, and really, they should blog about that. They are reading in Anne McCaffrey’s preferred way, which is basically publication order.  

gl49of4nx3uzug5weu1fPern Series – Book 2 Dragonquest

T: Another story starting out from the male point-of-view. Dearie me, here we go again… Oh, but it’s Robinton, and you know what? I’m okay with that. I love the Masterharper :)

I really like the way McCaffrey gives us a quick recap in the shape of Robinton’s musings here – in fact, I might suggest that people planning to read the series for the first time might like to skip the very problematic Dragonflight and perhaps start here instead? Although this book is not itself problem-free…

51l2fhN2Q7LIn this one, the rampant misogyny is toned down a fair bit, giving over to the occasional off-putting line or two. Robinton’s thoughts in the first pages, for example, include this gem: “Larad, Lord of Telgar, was giving his half-sister, Famira, to Asgenar, Lord of Lemos Hold.” Giving? Is she a plant, to be given? And when the numbweed is being made, a significant event in the Weyr, it is of course “the women” boiling it and doing the awful work to make the salve. Little lines like “This was a matter for men to settle” grate on the modern reader, but again, in the context of the year of publication (1971), and in relation to some of the horrors of Dragonflight, I could deal with it.

Less easy to handle are some other aspects. Lessa’s subservience to F’lar irritated me. She stands up to him, she holds her own in a righteous argument, then suddenly caves, pressing up against him with: “I’ve no right to say such things to you,” Lessa was whispering in soft remorse. WHY? You certainly DO have the right, Lessa! You were making him see the truth of a situation! Continue reading

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Revisiting Pern, the great McCaffrey reread: DRAGONFLIGHT

Tehani and Marisol bonded over Pern (and Doctor Who) at a science fiction convention, decided that it was time for a reread of the series, and really, they should blog about that. They are reading in Anne McCaffrey’s preferred way, which is basically publication order.

gl49of4nx3uzug5weu1fPern Series – Book 1 Dragonflight

M: As a quick aside, can I say how surprised I was that this book had a prologue, and how incredibly info-dumpy it was? I’ve read Dragonflight probably a dozen times since I was 10, and I never once remembered the prologue, which seems to be a point in the “Prologues are useless or should be a chapter” box I always see espoused.

T: Yes! And the prologue sets it up as explicitly science fictional – do you suppose that’s the point, given how many readers think of it as fantasy because dragons? What’s even more interesting though is how that prologue CHANGED! I started reading an early edition of Dragonflight and then switched to a new (omnibus) version and the whole thing was different, reflecting the evolving world-building that had grown (and superceded) the early details as the series went on.

Genre Bender

51M6GYpJt8LM: Pern always gets marked as a fantasy, but I’ve always read it as a sci-fi with fantasy elements due to technology loss, and the way this story goes, I felt this was reinforced the whole time. It’s clear through sense of loss, not only with the dragons and the decay in weyrs/life/etc, but in the struggle to fight Thread on the ground with what they had on hand.

And considering this book was written in 1968, I’m amazed how well it stands the genre test of time. Still a great story.

DragonflightT: It certainly holds up in terms of genre, handwavy time-travel aside (I read it as fantasy for several volumes, even though I originally first read The White Dragon…), but the same can’t be said for gender – some of the gender stereotypes are, hmmm, problematic, to say the least! Continue reading

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First in a series FREE!

For less than 24 hours, we still have SPLASHDANCE SILVER by Tansy Rayner Roberts and THE AWARE by Glenda Larke absolutely free on all ebook platforms – don’t miss out!

Splashdance Silver




The Aware




9780992553456And don’t forget, there are only a few days left to enter to win a FREE copy (one of two) of CRANKY LADIES OF HISTORY on Goodreads – just in time to be a fabulous Christmas gift!

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Coming soon: Revisiting Pern, the great McCaffrey reread

A few weeks ago, at Conflux, I happened into a conversation with the delightful Marisol and we discovered a mutual passion for Pern (among other things, like Doctor Who — Marisol is good people… :) ). When she mentioned she really thought it was time she reread the series, I realised that although McCaffrey and Pern were definitely formative in my early years of reading speculative fiction (I talk about that in the SF Signal post on “The books that made us love science fiction and fantasy”), I hadn’t revisited the world for a really long time. So I suggested that not only should we both reread the books, but we totally needed to blog about that!

In the weeks ahead, Marisol and I will be chatting about our discoveries in the world of Pern as we work our way through the series once more. We’ve chosen to read only the novels (although we may have to take a look at one or two of the short stories, just because…), only the books written by Anne herself, and we’re going basically in publication order (as opposed to internal chronological order), as Anne preferred them to be read.

First up will be Dragonflight — join us so that you, like me, can be stunned by the fact this book was published almost fifty years ago…


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We need your help to choose a title!

It’s very quick and anonymous, one question only. We’d love to hear your thoughts (if you do a write in response, please let me know who you are in case we use it!).

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New bits and bobs

Striking Fire cover-1Author of the new short story collection Striking Fire, Dirk Flinthart, has been diving into his archives and posting some free fiction on his website. Highly recommended if you would like a taste of his work!

Dirk has also been posting some musings on the dimensions of storytelling:

Part 1: Telling Stories

Part 2: The Nifty Idea

Part 3: Make It Bleed

He says some pretty interesting things about writing and stories, and I recommend the posts highly!

ITH CoverAlso around the traps, Matthew Morrison has reviewed Insert Title Here, saying: “There are some amazing, even must read, short stories within.”

Thanks to everyone who takes the time to review our books — it’s hugely appreciated!

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Looking for the perfect gift? Cranky Ladies in hardcover!

Just in time for the forthcoming gift-giving season (if that’s your thing), we have now released the hardcover of Cranky Ladies of History for general purchase! Gorgeous art by Kathleen Jennings, complemented by the stunning design from Amanda Rainey, encloses the very excellent selection of astonishing stories. The book has received rave reviews and is being read by people all over the world. 9780992553456

Whether it is for yourself or for someone special (or, you know, that fond acquaintance you buy gifts for… or your child’s teacher… or the delivery guy you like…), the hardcover book makes a fantastic present.

Available to order from the FableCroft website, your favourite bookstore, or grab it at Amazon, Booktopia, Book Depository and more. (Paperback also available)

We recommend shopping around, because prices vary at different sites and unfortunately we can’t control that. US folks might be best at Amazon, but for Aussies, our shop may be cheapest for you!

The ebook is also available from your preferred etailer.

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News and reviews

Editor Tehani is in very excellent company in the SF Mind Meld asking the question “The books that made us love science fiction and fantasy” (and is super excited to be part of her first Mind Meld!).

ITH CoverStephanie Gunn reviewed Insert Title Here for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015 (not all the contributors are women, or Australian, but we appreciate her including it!). Stephanie says she “loved the darkness of this anthology … and all of the stories were worthwhile reading” and “…this is an extremely strong collection.  The stories are varied, and I suspect that most readers will find at least one or two which speaks to them.  Highly recommended.” Cheers Stephanie!


Ju at The Conversationalist comprehensively reviewed Cranky Ladies of History and notes: This book is both a pleasure to read, and gives you some small insight into the historical significance of several women, mostly those who are forgotten by modern history. It’s not that the book is educational exactly, but it does make you want to learn more, to study these women and their lives.

Speaking of Cranky Ladies, we currently have a Goodreads giveaway open internationally for two copies! Even if you already have one, they make excellent gifts, and Christmas is coming…

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Cranky Ladies of History by Tehani Wessely

Cranky Ladies of History

by Tehani Wessely

Giveaway ends November 15, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

A different Stephanie reviewed Phantazein a while ago, over at the No Award blog, noting that it “expands beyond Western fairytales” and is a “fun read”. Thanks Steph!

Delighted to see stories from Phantazein in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year Recommended Reading list, including Faith Mudge’s “Twelve” and Suzanne J Willis’s “Rag and Bone Heart”. Several other Aussies and plenty of great company on that list too!

Focus2014CoverSMAngela Slatter is interviewing the contributors to Focus 2014 over at her blog. Check them out here.

Alex Pierce includes some FableCroft news in her latest Aurora Australis column at

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Focus 2014: highlights of Australian short fiction

It’s that time of year again, and the new Focus anthology is now out in the world! Just AU$3.99 in ebook (mostly US$2.99 hopefully!) on all platforms, including Kindle, Kobo, and everything else at Smashwords (which will filter through to iBooks, hopefully soon).


Looking for a taste of the very best science fiction, fantasy and horror short stories around? The third of an annual series, Focus 2014 collects an elite selection of work which has received acclaim via national and international Awards commendations.

Focus 2014: highlights of Australian short fiction features work by…
Alan Baxter – Shadows of the Lonely Dead
Deborah Biancotti – The Executioner Goes Home
Thoraiya Dyer – Wine, Women and Stars”
Dirk Flinthart – Vanilla
Faith Mudge – Signature
Charlotte Nash – The Ghost of Hephaestus
Tansy Rayner Roberts – Cookie Cutter Superhero
Angela Slatter – St Dymphna’s School for Poison Girls
Cat Sparks – The Seventh Relic
Kaaron Warren – Death’s Door Café
Sean Williams – The Legend Trap
Kathleen Jennings – Illustrations and cover art

Focus2012-Cover2To celebrate, we’ve made the very first volume of the series, Focus 2012: highlights of Australian short fiction, absolutely FREE for a very limited time! Featuring award-winning and commended work from 2012, the book is an excellent taster of the very best Australian speculative fiction. Get it free on Kindle / Kobo / Smashwords or search at your preferred etailer…

Focus2013-CoverFocus 2013, the second volume, is also now reduced to US$2.99 on all platforms. (Kindle / Kobo / Smashwords)

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