Friday, January 18, 2013

Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey

Title:  Dragonflight
Author:  Anne McCaffrey
First Publication:  1968
Cover Artist:  Michael Whelan
Series:  The Dragonriders of Pern

"Dragonflight" has been sitting on my to be read shelf since the first time I spotted the Michael Whelan cover back in 1979.  I loved the cover but never got around to reading the book until Carl (of Stainless Steel Droppings) picked it for a group read. I missed getting my comments posted the first week so here are both week one and week two.








 Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact October 1967

Cover by John Schoenherr

Week One Questions

1.       I (Carl) have hosted SFF-related group reads for books by Asimov, Herbert, Sanderson and Gaiman. This is our first group read by a female author. What are your thoughts on McCaffrey’s handling of the male and female characters in Dragonflight? Feel free to compare and contrast male and female characters and/or discuss various male and female characters in relations to others in the book of the same sex.

”Dragonflight” was the first time I am read McCaffrey’s work so I was curious as to how McCaffrey would handle the characters. My early impression was that Lessa was going to be the infallible protagonist who would do not wrong.  Fortunately, McCaffrey proved to be a better writer than that.  At times, Lessa seemed to be perfect but then the author would showcase her character flaws.  It made Lessa seem more like a real person.  It did not take long to see that McCaffrey knows how to develop characters.


2. F’Lar and Lessa are an interesting pair of protagonists. What do you like and/or dislike about their interactions thus far? What things stand out for you as particularly engaging about each character (if anything)?

The classic love/hate relationship.  It was frustrating to see the way F’Lar and Lessa seemed drawn to each other but would keep the other in the dark as to their intentions.  But isn’t this the way it happens in real life?  Especially when you have a character who suffered the abuse that Lessa had to endure.  It would be hard for that person to open up to someone they barely know.  In some respects it reminded me of the David and Maddie relationship in the television show “Moonlighting”.  Selling this relationship can make or break a story.  I thought McCaffrey did a good job with it.

3. How do you feel about Pern to this point in the story? For those new to Pern, you may want to discuss your speculations/thoughts on the Red Star and on the between here. What are your thoughts on McCaffrey’s world-building?

This is a point of controversy with readers through the years.  Is it a fantasy or science fiction story?  Before reading it, I labeled it as science fiction.  One of the reasons was the first half appeared in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact.  I don’t think of Analog as a fantasy publisher.  After reading it I can see why fans are divided.  The trappings are those of fantasy but I would still think of it as science fiction.  McCaffrey’s inclusion of a wandering planet that passes near Pern helps to convince me that she thought of it as science fiction.  My impression is that she spent a lot of time developing the ecology of a world in this type of system.  I thought it helped the story that she did not include the traditional info-dump.  The story would have been much longer and the pacing would have slowed down if she had gone that route.  I am used to reading different series where I started in the middle.  A good example is the order I read the original Amber series by Roger Zelazny.  I started with the third book, then went back and picked up the first and second.  The story entranced me enough that I was willing to go with it and piece together the background as I went along. 

4. For those new to Dragonflight, was their anything that particularly surprised you with the narrative choices, etc. thus far? For those who have already read Dragonflight, how do you feel about your return to Pern? What stands out in your revisit?

This was my first “visit” to Pern.  I liked the way McCaffrey switched between and balanced the mixture of different viewpoints.  The other refreshing choice she made was the amount of the story told from the female viewpoint.  At the time this was written even most of the female authors told stories from the male point of view.  Fortunately we live in a time where this is not unusual.  The other point that she did a good job of developing was the dragons.  We were given enough to see that they are an alien species with a different way of looking at things.

5. Discuss anything else that you feel passionate to discuss that wasn’t included in your responses to the above questions.

Two other items stood out for me.  First was the use of poetry to introduce the chapters.  McCaffrey dropped hints at the what was to come and what happened in the past through the poems/songs.  The second item that really jumped out at me was the violence connected to the dragons.  She shows the “good” side of the dragons first so the impact of the violent act of choosing a human startles the reader.  The other part, that I should have seen coming, was the way the dragons fed on the herd.  It is logical but still caught me off guard.



Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact December 1967 
Cover by John Schoenherr


Week Two Questions

1.  The Threads are further explored and become very much the focal point in parts 3 and 4 of Dragonflight.  What are your thoughts on the Threads in general and how do you feel these worked as an enemy vs. the traditional enemies you see in SFF novels?

McCaffrey killing Fax early in the story was an interesting twist to the traditional tale.  In many stories, Fax would have survived, gathered his forces, and returned to threaten the heroes.  McCaffrey wanted to break with the expected and take the story in a different direction.  The switch to the threat of the Threads was an excellent move.  The Threads seem more threatening because no one is certain about them.

2. The science fictional concept of time travel becomes an important device in the later half of Dragonflight, how do you feel McCaffrey did in working time travel into the plot?

Time travel was an excellent addition to the story.  I never anticipated how it would be used before it was revealed that Lessa was behind the weyrs that disappeared.  I thought McCaffrey really worked through the abilities of the dragons and knew more than she could put in the book.  Another sign of an excellent author.

3.  Of the new characters introduced in this second half of Dragonflight, who did you like/not like and why?

I am going to cheat a little and list F’Nor as my favorite new character.  I know he was introduced in the first section but the reader did not get to know him until the second half.  In my mind he became a much better developed and stronger character in this section.

4.  We talked about it in the first discussion and there is no way we can get away from it in Part 2: What are your feelings on the progression of the relationship between F'lar and Lessa throughout this second half of the book?

This is where their relationship came alive.  McCaffrey showed us how their love grew into a relationship instead of just a physical infatuation.  Once again it reminded me of “Moonlighting”.  The interesting part about that is that Carl referred to the similarities to “The Taming of the Shrew”.  “Moonlighting” did their version of the Shakespeare classic and the characters of David and Maddie seemed the same as they were in the regular series. 

5.  And finally, what is your overall assessment of Dragonflight?  How does it measure up against other classic science fiction you've read?  Would you recommend it to modern readers, why or why not?

I will be reading more Pern novels in the future.  After reading this one, I am mad at myself for letting it sit on my bookshelf since the late 70s.  I always kept it because I loved the classic Michael Whelan cover but it should not have taken this long to get around to reading.  Also on my “to be read” shelf since that time are “Dragonquest” and “The White Dragon”.  This will be my incentive to get around to reading them.  Treasures like this one is one of the reasons that I mostly read the older science fiction books.  I have many more amazing adventures waiting to be read.

Challenges:


5 comments:

Cath said...

I so agree about the Moonlighting analogy. It's been a while since I read Dragonflight, 5 or 6 years, but that and Taming of the Shrew are spot on. You have a real treat in store if you decide to read more. I stalled at All the Weyrs of Pern but now plan to pick that one up again after reading and enjoying all the various Pern posts around.

DesLily said...

ahhh Fax may be gone and the threads certainly keep theatening... but that doesn't mean there aren't more villians around!.. maybe. *smirk* and you have a real treat when you get to meet Ruth the white dragon...I don't think the books will disappoint you since you liked book one.. they just get better.

marveloustales said...

The Science Fiction or Fantasy question is an intriguing one here. I feel like the series is somewhere right smack in the middle. Technically it's Sci Fi, because there isn't actually magic (not even the dragons), but it certainly FEELS like Fantasy much of the time! But that's part of the fun, the way it seamlessly blends those elements. If it was an easy answer, the book would lose a lot in subtlety and mystery.

nrlymrtl said...

Thank you for digging up the Analog pics of the novel when it was 2 novellas. I always enjoy seeing the different cover art (depending on year or location). F'Nor was also one of my favorite characters. I look forward to reading more about him and Lessa and F'Lar in the rest of the trilogy.

Lynn said...

Wow, you have all the books already sat waiting on your shelves!
A bit like you I was surprised by the almost violence of the newborn dragons when they were impressing. Especially with the Queen and the girls! I suppose the dragons were probably a bit clumsy as they were newborn after all but it was still a shock. I couldn't understand at first why all the females were so scared - we pretty soon found out why!
I must admit that for the first half I strongly felt that the book was fantasy and couldn't understand where the science fiction element came in. The second part brought more of that element into the picture - I actually like the fact that the book seamlessly blends the two.
Lynn :D