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The Dragonriders of Pern - by Anne McCaffrey

Guides to Pern

Dragonriders of Pern is an extensive fantasy/science-fictionseries of novels and short stories primarily written by Anne McCaffrey. Since 2004, McCaffrey's son Todd McCaffrey has also published Pern novels, both in collaboration with Anne and on his own. As of July 2006, the series will consist of eighteen novels or novellas and several short stories, most of which have been collected in two volumes.

The books written earlier have a fantasy slant to them (low levels of technology, firebreathing telepathic dragons, and a feudal society), however McCaffrey prefers to describe them as science fiction and stresses the scientific rationales behind the world she has created. In later written volumes the series moves towards more overt science fiction as the colonists rediscover their links to the past and develop much higher levels of technology.

Contents

Overview

Pern at first glance appears to be a pre-industrial society with lords, holds, harpers, and dragons, with the occasional examples of higher technology (like flamethrowers, telegraph, chemical fertilizers, and powerful microscopes and telescopes).

Pernese people are separated into four basic groups: Weyrfolk (including Dragonriders) who live in the Weyrs, the Holders who live in the Holds (cities, towns and farms), the crafters who live in Crafthalls (or are assigned to work their crafts in certain Holds), and the Holdless who have no permanent home (including traders, displaced Holders, and brigands).

Thread is a mycorrhizoid spore that periodically rains down on the planet due to the orbit of the Red Star. The Red Star is a rogue planet in the Rukbat solar system. The Red Star, a Sedna-class inner Oort cloud object, has a 250 Turn (Pernese year) elliptic orbit around its sun. Thread can reach the planet Pern for about 50 Turns while the Red Star is at perihelion.

Pernites use intelligent firebreathing dragons and their riders to fight Thread. The riders have a telepathic bond with their dragons, formed by Impression at the dragon's hatching. Later books deal with the initial colonization of Pern and the creation of the dragons through genetic manipulation. The lengthy (over two millennia) time period covered by the series as a whole gives room for new stories and characters, as the more recent novels have done.

List of Books

The series has nineteen books and counting, and while characters drop in and out of the stories the major players are repeated in most of them in smaller or lesser roles. This is partly because some of the books feature overlapping timeframes, describing the same events from different viewpoints. Furthermore, McCaffrey has published novels in several different periods of Pern's history, some centuries apart. When reading for the first time it's generally recommended to go in the order the novels were written, as the details change slightly over time. On repeat reads, a chronological order may be preferred.

The series of novels (arranged largely in order of publication) is below. Unless otherwise noted, all works follow Dragonflight chronologically and are written by Anne McCaffrey:

  • Dragonflight (1968; composed in part of McCaffrey's first two Pern stories, "Weyr Search" and "Dragonrider"; takes place immediately before the Ninth Pass)
  • Dragonquest (1970)
  • "The Smallest Dragonboy" (1973; short story later collected in A Gift of Dragons)
  • Dragonsong (1976)
  • Dragonsinger (1977)
  • Dragondrums (1979)
  • The White Dragon (1978; although published prior to Dragondrums, The White Dragon continues the adventures of certain Dragondrums characters; McCaffrey recommends reading Dragondrums first; The White Dragon incorporates McCaffrey's story "A Time When")
  • Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern (1983; both this and Nerilka's Story are set at the end of the Sixth Pass, centuries before the events in Dragonflight)
  • Nerilka's Story (1986)
  • "The Girl Who Heard Dragons" (1986; short story collected in A Gift of Dragons)
  • Dragonsdawn (1988; first in chronological order, depicts the colonization of Pern, the First Fall of Thread, the creation of the dragons, and the colonists' move north.)
  • "The Impression" (1989; short story included in The Dragonlover's Guide to Pern)
  • Renegades of Pern (1989)
  • All the Weyrs of Pern (1991)
  • The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall (1993, anthology set after Dragonsdawn)
    • The Survey: P.E.R.N. (originally published in 1993 as "The P.E.R.N. Survey")
    • The Dolphins' Bell (originally published in 1993)
    • The Ford of Red Hanrahan
    • The Second Weyr
    • Rescue Run (originally published in 1992)
  • The Dolphins of Pern (1994)
  • Red Star Rising (1997) (called Dragon's Eye for US release; set at the beginning of the Second Pass)
  • The Masterharper of Pern (1998; prequel to Dragonflight and the other works of the Ninth Pass)
  • "Runner of Pern" (1998 novella set, like Masterharper of Pern, some time before the events of Dragonflight; collected in A Gift of Dragons)
  • "Beyond Between" (1999 short story in Legends II: Short Novels By the Masters of Modern Fantasy, Robert Silverberg, ed.; presumably set after the events of Moreta)
  • The Skies of Pern (2001)
  • "Ever the Twain" (2002 short story original to A Gift of Dragons; time period unclear)
  • Dragon's Kin (2003, with Todd McCaffrey; set prior to the Third Pass)
  • Dragonsblood (2005, by Todd McCaffrey; primarily set several years after Dragon's Kin)
  • Dragon's Fire (July, 2006, with Todd McCaffrey)

The first appearance of the Dragonriders was in a novella entitled Weyr Search, published in 1967. This story later became the first part of Dragonflight, the first novel published. Another novella, Dragonrider was published later the same year and was also included in Dragonflight. Weyr Search won a Hugo Award and Dragonrider won a Nebula Award. Dragonquest,The White Dragon, Moreta:Dragonlady of Pern and All the Weyrs of Pern were all nominated for Hugos.

Pern in the Comics

In 1991 Dragonflight, the first Pern book published, was released as a graphic novel by Eclipse Books of Forestville, CA. The first two graphic novels were illustrated by Lela Dowling and Fred Von Tobel, the third was by Lela Dowling and Cynthia Martin. The story was adapted by Brynne Stevens.

Pern on TV and the Big Screen

There have been several efforts to bring Pern to television or to the "big screen."

The first effort for a Dragonriders of Pern movie was by Alliance Atlantis. While Alliance Atlantis produced some spectacular concept art there was never any serious effort to make the step towards actually making the movie. Alliance Atlantis eventually sold their rights.

  • In 2002 WB Network and Ron Moore of Battlestar Galactica had completed sets and casting and was within a few days of filming. Moore had sent the pilot episode to WB for final approval. When it was returned, it was returned with so many changes to the basic structure of Pern (making it more like Buffy: The Vampire Slayer) that it no longer much resembled the world created by Anne McCaffrey. As a fan of the Pern series Moore refused to continue under the changes made and filming was cancelled and rights were returned to Anne McCaffrey.
  • In May of 2006 it was announced that the rights to the entire Dragonriders of Pern series was optioned by Oscar winning production company Copperheart Entertainment. Copperheart announced their intention to bring Pern to the big screen.

Games

There have been several games released based on the Pern series.

In 1983 Mayfair Games created a board game featuring cards with Pern characters and locations. This game is now rare and valuable to Pern collectors.

In the early 1980s an early Atari style video game was released in which the player could battle Thread and other menaces on Pern.

In 2001 a video game "Dragon Riders: Chronicles of Pern" was created by Ubisoft Entertainment for the PC and Dreamcast. This game followes a dragonrider as he Searches for girls to be candidates for Impressing a new young gold dragon and battles the "bad guys" on an adventure across Pern.

Pernese Worldview and Society

General

In the Pern series McCaffrey attempts to portray a society caught between its attempt to build a utopian dream and a grim and inescapable reality, which from the start forced exceptionally hard choices. The creation of the Dragons such that they were bound, without true free will, to aid humanity, was certainly morally questionable--but they were also created from non-sentient beings, to preserve the lives of the sentient, and we cannot presume another solution existed. Pragmatism can forgive many things, and this reality is one that we often learn on Pern, where proclaimed utopian traditions fall against the reality of simple day-to-day survival.

McCaffrey does allow a more utopian and progressive outlook to win out in the end, though at current the future of this society could be considered somewhat in doubt. Before this occurs, however, Pernese society was largely static and many of its functions and features are open to review as an interesting case of a utopia trying to survive in conditions where it cannot thrive.

Another repeated theme is the preservation of ideas and the generation of myths. On Pern, knowledge and cultural practices regarding Thread must persist for 200 year Intervals (see below) -- a period of time nearly as long as the United States has existed -- without the immediate presence of the organism to prompt remembrance. In that time, facts can become legends and societal practices can appear to be meaningless tradition. As McCaffrey herself asks to open the first story 'Weyr Search' (see below): "When is a legend legend? Why is a myth a myth? How old and disused must a fact be for it to be relegated to the category: Fairy tale?"

Social Considerations

Pernese society exhibits the usual organizational characteristics of feudalism, but shows a certain specific leaning towards utopianism which is worthy of some review to understand the series' context. The social structure on Pern is strictly divided between Hold, Hall and Weyr--broadly comparable to the medieval triune of Nobility, Guild and Church (in that order)--and is considered by the Pernese themselves to be an ideal organization specifically meant to avoid the violence and excess of their Terran ancestors. In this there is perhaps a similar Platonic foundation for both societal influences. One remarkable feature of Pernese society is its stability, having lasted approximately 2,500 years with little change.

The agrarian idealism of Pern, however, is marred by the constant reality of the Thread. Fighting the Thread requires a considerable concentration of social resources. Suspending disbelief and focusing on the necessary supply of material to the Weyrs to sustain the dragons, and the populations (a Weyr, exceeding two thousand persons, compares to some medieval cities) leads one to conclude that a principle part of the available agricultural and industrial productions of the planet would be devoted to this quasi-War Effort during the Pass, and a considerable fraction during the Interval.

This has created interesting possibilities in the development of Pernese society, both in how it is developed in the series and how it is popularized in the online fandom. A constant repetition of Passes and Intervals leads to the tantalizing prospect that Pernese outlook in general may be cyclical rather than progressive; this similarity with Egypt under the Pharaohs would go some ways to explaining the extreme duration and rigidity of Pernese culture which is seen in the series. However, the end of the Thread and rapid technological progress at the end of the Ninth pass has thus been speculated by some fans to possibly result in severe social disruption. McCaffrey's later novels of Pern tend to explore the growing rift between traditionalism and modernism. Socal change is portrayed as both wanted and despised. The ultimate goal of the destruction of Thread, a goal sought after by the Dragonriders and the peoples of Pern, forces a radical rethinking of the role of dragons in a post-Thread world.

Religious Considerations

Pern created an interesting example in that it is an agrarian society portrayed without a considerable organized religion. However, the latest short-story, Beyond Between, showed that the Pernese do in fact have a highly developed belief in the afterlife, generally firming up the science fiction aspects of Pern in establishing Pernese society as a fleshed-out and agrarian construct where religion has been shown through history to provide the central social fabric. This also provides important support for the incredible exertions of the Pernese in supporting the Weyrs economically: one could speculate on the defense against the Thread being cast in a holy light by the Harpers, providing a greater cohesive bond for the society. Religious considerations may explain the disdain that Pernese women have for contraceptives; however, it is also possible that the colonists of Pern, as a growing population, would discourage them as they slow the spread of human life across the planet.

Economic Considerations

The Dragons are very large creatures; the largest on record, the gold queen dragon Ramoth, has been measured at forty-five feet (as large as the largest Tyrannosaurus rex ever found) in length. She would be the largest flying being, and among the largest predators, ever known. The massive amount of food which must be consumed by several thousand such creatures is staggering, particularly at the height of a Pass, when they fly against Thread at close interval. The area of grazing land required to support nearly 4000 dragons (and the human population of Pern) each consuming three to four cattle (or herdbeast) a week has been compared to the whole Mississippi basin, albeit with a sustainable herd.

The economic strain on an agrarian society by the dragons is thus nearly unsustainable and can only grow worse when the requirements of the sedentary and usually luxuriously sustained Weyrfolk are included. However, Pern has been able to meet this strain during each Pass successfully, though the Ninth Pass saw considerable discontent, and a full record of all passes is not provided.

During the Long Interval before the Ninth Pass, however, unpopularity with the only remaining inhabited Weyr, Benden Weyr, had grown to such a point that the Holders were willing to risk combat on highly disadvantageous terms to end the tithe of materials which traditionally supported the Weyrs. This is a further suggestion of the general strain and potential unpopularity of the severe burden inflicted by the Weyrs--a burden that ultimately remains entirely necessary until the end of the Ninth Pass.

The Pernese economy, based upon the Mark, appears to be a command economy. The Mark is made of wood, a fiat currency, and has no inherent value; prices across Pern are fixed by a yearly meeting of Traders, Craftmasters, and Lords Holder, suggesting an attempt to either maximize economic gain with slim margins from the tithe, or direct price-fixing in support of the quasi-War Effort which the Pernese economy might generally be said to resemble during the Pass. Unsurprisingly, many Pernese individuals resort to barter in the face of such economic tactics.

Characters

Main article: Characters in Dragonriders of Pern

Fandom

Text-based online virtual reality games have modeled Pern since the early 1990s. These games allow people to roleplay characters and situations in Pern society, though characters from the books are generally disallowed to avoid copyright issues, and McCaffrey's lawyers have intervened a few times to demand that specific locations from the books not be used either. In Mid-August 2005, after 38 years, McCaffrey allowed Pernese fanfiction to be written and posted freely throughout the Internet, although there still are a few restrictions which are still being ironed out.

The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

Cannon Characters of Pern
Dragonflight | Dragonquest | The White Dragon
Dragonsong | Dragonsinger | Dragondrums
Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern | Nerilka's Story | Dragonsdawn | Renegades of Pern | All The Weyrs of Pern| The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall | The Dolphins of Pern | Dragonseye |
The Masterharper of Pern | The Skies of Pern
Dragon's Kin | Dragonsblood | Dragon's Fire