Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern novels are among the most celebrated novels in Science Fiction and Fantasy. I must admit that before now, I only ever read her YA Harper Hall Series (Dragonsong, Dragonsinder, & Dragondrums), that takes place on Pern, when I was in high school. I remember loving the books, but I never continued to the more adult stories about Pern; I’m not sure why. I remember hearing my friends complain that Pern was ruined for them when they found out that it was really science fiction and not fantasy. Apparently, one of the novels was about the timeframe when Pern was first colonized, I don’t know which one, but I remember distinctly thinking to myself “Who cares if it’s science fiction or fantasy? If the stories are great, what does it matter?” Who’s to say dragons can’t really exist on another planet? I’m not counting this as a spoiler because now that I’ve finally read Dragonflight (the very first Pern novel that was published) the first thing stated in the story is that this was a planet colonized by humans who eventually forgot that they ever came from a place called Earth. Expectation is a funny thing isn’t it?
Even though I still give Dragonflight a 4 star rating, I have mixed feelings when I finished the book. I loved the world building and strong characters that were portrayed in this book, but I also felt that the story itself lacked spark at the end. Don’t get me wrong everything ends as it should and totally leaves you wanting more and knowing that there will be more Dragonriders of Pern stories in the future and that felt good, but the abruptness of the ending felt a little cheating.
My favorite aspects of the novel was the world building and characterization. I was gripped by the complicated world that was created. It’s so obvious that a lot of thought was put into the setting, the culture, the mythology of Pern and its people and creatures. Especially when you consider how unique the world is for when the first stories were conceived it’s truly remarkable. The writing style is a bit telling, but you still get a lot of characterization through action and dialogue. Their is a great distinction between the characters you’re supposed to root for and the ones you are not, though most of the characters seem very headstrong, an aspect of being a dragonrider perhaps. One of the world building aspects that I found interesting was the strong reinforcement of male and female roles in life. Again, one must remember that these novels were started in the 1960s, when women were fighting very aggressively for equal treatment in all things. So the seeds of the struggle for equality is strong in the novel.
As a result of my mixture of awe and disappointment, I had to look into the origins of Dragonflight. Come to find out that the book is actually 3 novellas in one. The first two were published in the magazine Analog in 1967 and then were compiled to create the eventual novel Dragonflight, which was published in 1968. So, that explained why there was a distinct parts of the book. My disappointment primarily fell upon the last part of the book, when the stakes are highest and doom felt imminent. Perhaps McCaffrey felt rushed to finish the novel or to keep it to a specific word count, but there were many juicy conflicts that were too easily resolved which made the story simply end. I’m glad that the main characters felt like they had gained new knowledge but did the story have to end so abruptly and easily? It was disconcerting and off-putting. Perhaps I’m too used to modern fiction to have any other reaction. Needless to say I was surprised to even have such a reaction, but at the same time this was McCaffrey’s first published novel.
All in all this is an excellent piece of classic science fiction and fantasy, totally worth the time for story reasons and writing reasons. The best reason to read this novel is to have fun reading about humans interacting, living with, and riding dragons. Come on? Who wouldn’t want to be a dragonrider of Pern?