Revisiting Pern, the great McCaffrey reread: DRAGONSDAWN

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.  

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Pern Series – Dragonsdawn

T: In my memory, Dragonsdawn was one of my very favourite books. Revisiting it, I realised that actually, I didn’t love it quite as much anymore. Part of that may have been that I just wasn’t as invested in the characters (although Sean and Sorka remain favourites). But a lot of it came down to, I think, the pacing. There were sections I really skimmed over, and I don’t think it was because it was a reread – it was because they were a bit overlong and kind of dull…

asiandragonsdawnM: This is the first book, chronologically speaking, and after reading it I’m reminded why I firmly believe one should NOT read this book first. I’d pick just about any other book before it. It’s a good book overall, but it’s not Pern. It’s Pern Easter Eggs, or the Silmarillion for Pern. The backdrop of how it all began is interesting, but not as interesting as if you know WHY these stories are important in modern day Pern.

T: Heh, good comparison!

M: Especially with what’s coming up. Wiggling in my seat thinking about it.

If you’re trying to decide what order to read them in, I seriously recommend NOT chronological order, like one of my friends keeps trying to do (you know who you are, heed my words. There’s a reason you can’t get past the first third of this book).

T: Stupidly, I had suggested to some people that they COULD start here – I won’t make that mistake any more! That said, someone who was a science fiction reader may find Dragonsdawn more to their liking because it’s more overtly SFnal, so who knows…

M: You missed an A in there, haha. But seriously, while the science fiction is pretty much the entirety of the book, I feel like some of the significance of what they’re doing is lost, ironically, by not knowing the far end result. Which is strange, because you’d think it’d be the other way around!

michael whelan_anne mccaffrey_pern_dragonsdawn_sketchT: While many of the Pern books have several point of view characters, in Dragonsdawn the focus seemed really scattered. And I was surprised and disappointed by some of the sexist aspects – I thought we were past that by now, and given the societal advancement of the far flung, space travelling future we were in, these parts made me even more sad. I mean, yes, McCaffrey was great about offering a respectable gender balance – Emily Boll as a planetary governor, Sallah and Avril as important crew members, those sorts of things. But so many of the characters in control were still men. Women were still responsible for the childcare. Paul Benden is often quite awful (for example: “He wished now he hadn’t been quite so involved with the sultry brunette but she was quite the most stunning creature.” Or, you know, also an intelligent (if manipulative) PERSON…). I think if you added up the characters, a much bigger proportion (and to use a Hollywood examination, proportion of speaking parts) would be male. And even commentary on Kitti Ping gendering the dragons in an old-fashioned way didn’t really feel deep enough. And that added a little to my being a little less engaged this time.

M: This among other reasons is actually why this is my least favorite book from the series (which I find quite funny we’re on the opposite spectrum with this book). It suffers from the future without forward thinking problem that quite a few sci-fi/fantasy books fail to think about. If the entire world is different, why can’t the social structure be different? It’s like people can’t imagine that, which I find really bizarre, and a big pet peeve of mine. Pern was supposed to be this idealist world. So why were the ideals only extended to an environmentally free world where it hadn’t been ravaged by men? Especially after all the hoopla about how the women and men were such war heroes.

Women, though, were again given more typified villain responses. Look at how Avril is all but compared to a snake with the adjectives ascribed to her. And yet, the men who’re just as evil aren’t painted as manipulative and subversive so much as Avril was. It’s been exhausted, let’s move on to other bad guys. Who are preferably guys.

51tgdHVBOIL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_T: I had entirely misremembered the Sallah story – I thought there was a whole big chunk more of her story told, but it was much less extensive than I had in my head. And I realised, towards the end, that some of the stories I thought were in this book are actually not! They are out of The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall!

M: Sallah’s story is one of my favorites; she’s my favorite character followed closely by Sean and Sorka. I thought there was more of her in here, too, so I was really disappointed when I realized, like you, a chunk was missing.

Her story also has one of the best relationships that I felt didn’t get nearly enough development – her and her husband, Tarvi. That was one of those “Why does she like him so much?” to understanding why, to thinking he’s a pompous ass, to realizing he was emotionally damaged, but it was so behind the scenes! I would have loved to have more of their story and kept other stuff out. The problem with this book being so chockful of information is that it glosses over everything and gives hardly any depth to anyone.

T: I have to make comment on “Ossie” and “Cobber” – such absurd names, meant to represent an Australian heritage!

M: And you can’t miss the accent – hilarious! But at least she gave Aussies a nod!

T: Also interesting that McCaffrey has deliberately made a point about the non-inclusion of religion in this book – it’s brought up a couple of times, but in one case, Emily Boll says particularly “We left that behind on Earth along with war!” And later, of course the mention that Pern has no armies. And you know, that had not really occurred to me until then! I mean, the Lord Holders have armed guards, and the dragonriders could be seen as a dangerous force, but there really aren’t armies, nor the need for them, generally. Quite utopic of McCaffrey.

dragonriders-optionedM: I think it was to underline the point she’s inferred so far in the series for people who ‘don’t get it’. This was meant to be a place unravaged by war. They all escaped for a reason.

Another thing I picked up from that was the swearing. Fardles has made it all the way from first landing to current Pern time. But even in the beginning you didn’t get much in the way of ‘religious’ swearing – damn, etc.

Although ironically, I LOVE that they used the Quaker method of shunning to sort out a terrible problem person. Much worse than prison or physical punishment.

T: This is the one book in which the Impression doesn’t make me cry (I think it’s too drawn out to have the usual impact) but the death of Sallah Telgar (or, more specifically, Tarvi’s reaction to it, including his renaming of himself and their children in her honour at the bonfire) had me in floods. So very sad!

M: One of my favorite scenes. I soaked it all up. Ironically this goes back to where McCaffrey is such a powerful storyteller, and ability to evoke a story’s power in such a short section. Which is why I wanted more!

T: I still enjoyed the book, and I still think it’s a really important story in the Pern milieu, but it’s dropped down a bit on my list of favourites after this reading.

M: I think I feel a top faces list coming on once we finish!

Previously, in the Great Pern Reread of 2015:

Dragonflight

Dragonquest

The Harper Hall trilogy (Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, Dragondrums)

The White Dragon

Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern / Nerilka’s Story

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