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.
M: This is the book I always think of as “The Gypsy Book”. I always forget all the OTHER stuff that happens in it.
T: The events of The White Dragon, The Renegades of Pern and All the Weyrs of Pern are apparently just one big jumble in my head, because I really had no idea which events took place in what book (or sometimes, short story…), so it was wonderful fun revisiting these to find out!
M: Given the ridiculously wide timeframe this book covers, it’s no surprise. I mean, we see Fax before he’s been killed. That’s ages ago!
T: At first I felt like we really *should* have skipped Moreta/Nerilka and Dragonsdawn to come back to later, because Renegades runs concurrently in the chronology to Dragonflight, Dragonquest, the Harper books and The White Dragon (as well as a couple of short stories!) for a big chunk! However, as I read on, I realised that it probably would have been a bit irritating to read the book in too close a proximity, and in fact the break really made this a better read. It also helps one gloss over the little continuity errors…
M: Too much dipping in the same pot, I agree. Even if Dragonsdawn is my least favorite story (so far as I remember). This book is like the book that shouldn’t be. It’s vignettes sliced up over an enormously long time.
T: Renegades certainly has the most ensemble cast of any of the books so far, I think. We get multiple widely varied points of view, with the dragonriders and harpers interesting quite sidelined for most of the story. Quite a fascinating choice McCaffrey made there!
M: You’d think given the sheer number of POVs that this would feel dull. It’s a rare used storytelling form that, for whatever reason, works. Although if you read this as the first book ever in the Pern series, you’d probably think the series was terrible.
T: Does this feel to you a little like this was two distinct stories kind of mashed together and finessed to have some links? The first half has a really scattershot approach, with lots of little vignettes of different characters and hopping about in time and place, while the last part of the book simply runs chronologically and mainly follows the usual beloved characters from earlier books, who barely appear in the first half! McCaffrey has certainly pulled two shorter works together into one novel before (Dragonquest was partly – mostly? – comprised of two separate novellas, “Weyr Search” and “Dragonrider”, both published by Analog in 1967, the year before the novel came out), so it would not surprise me to discover that elements of Renegades were originally separate works, or at least, had it had its origins as separate books.
M: I’d take it a step further and say it feels like snippets that got cut from her previous books and combined into a book that shouldn’t work, but totally does. I mean, from Fax’s time on to AIVAS’s discovery – that’s at least 30 years. That’s nuts! I mean, this book is basically flavor – it explains a lot of details behind the big things that happened, but at least a third was unnecessary to drive the stories forward.
Maybe this was a case of “No, we need a minimum wordcount”?
T: Not sure we’ll ever know, now, but yes, it definitely feels like a novel made up of bits and pieces, particularly in the first half.
I was interested to see how thoroughly awful the self-styled “Lady Holder” Thella became in the novel, especially considering that in some ways, McCaffrey sets her up quite sympathetically. Thella has reason to be pretty cranky about having no opportunity to take “hold” of Telgar – she is the eldest, she clearly has the training, and she was a favourite. It’s institutionalised sexism at work, and I kind of didn’t blame her for being upset! McCaffrey seemed to be making a comment about that sort of thing but that dissipated as the novel went on and Thella stopped being likeable and started being cruel and horrible.
M: Thella lost any sympathy for me when she threw a mug at people just to hurt them. She’s a sadist who, had she led, would have hurt her people. I don’t think she would have ended up that way, however, if she hadn’t been put in the position she’d been cornered into. A dog who’s taught to fight its way out of the corner will do so, and Thella’s never known anything else. I completely agree about the underlying statement about sexism. She could have been a great leader, but was doomed from the start to go down the other path, sadly.
T: This is one book where having the “side story” (in this case, Aramina’s story “The Girl Who Heard Dragons”) separate to the novel is a real detriment. I mean, without reading “The Smallest Dragonboy”, the sudden featuring of K’van and Heth doesn’t really make sense to the reader, but there are plenty of dragon and rider characters coming and going, so it doesn’t have much impact. Aramina, though, is crucial to Thella’s story, and important blocks of action shown in “The Girl Who Heard Dragons” are only glimpsed at in Renegades, and the novel suffers a bit for that.
M: I didn’t even think about K’van’s sudden appearance. I mean, it seems to happen enough it didn’t register as sudden to me. I’ve never actually read those short stories, so I’m looking forward to reading them as we head along and see if I feel the same way as you.
T: Ooh, I didn’t know you hadn’t read them! This ought to be fun 🙂 I wonder if anyone has fan-made an omnibus edition of the Pern books and stories that intercuts every part of them into the chronological sequence of events…
M: You could basically splice all those shorts in with this anyways, and it wouldn’t even change the tone of the book. It really is that broad!
T: Too true. I think I liked the second half more than the first, but mostly because that all fits in with the bigger story arc better. And as we move on to All The Weyrs of Pern, the events of that last part become pretty important…
The Harper Hall trilogy (Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, Dragondrums)