Dragons fight and fly
When Threads are in the sky
A brief history
P.E.R.N. : Parallel Earth, Resources Negligibles
That short description's initials became the name of a planet that would see the birth of legendary characters and epic tales told by Anne McCaffrey.
Because its resources were negligibles despite its resemblance to Earth, and it was far from commercial space routes, Pern was chosen by colonists who wanted to build a society free of the wars, pollution and invading technology of the Earthian Empire that they came from. They were all willing to start a brand new life in a heavenly planet, and in the first few years Pern seemed to fulfill their hopes.
Until threads began to fall.
A lethal rain consuming everything organic, growing and multiplying wildly as long as fed by plants or animals, threads could ravage a forest or a field in a few days, and kill a man in seconds. They can only be destroyed by fire, cold, water - or when they have consumed any 'food' around.
Soon the new people of Pern found out that threads were coming from the Red Star, a planetoid with a comet-like orbit around Pern's sun, Rukbat, that brought it close to the planet every 250 years. When the Red Star got too close from Pern, threads seeds were torn from its surface by Pern's gravity and crossed the void to fall eagerly on its ground.
Stories on Pern are mostly divided in 3 eras :
The colonists no longer had the technology to fight it in the sky, let alone in space. However, in order to create a flying army that would self-reproduce, they could still modify a local species of Pern, a little winged lizard, spitting fire and eating threads, that they had adopted as pets. They made it bigger, stronger, more clever, and able to mentally link to a human being in a life-long partnership (the Impression).
The Dragons of Pern were born.
And Dragonmen would soon become the first line of defence of Pern.
There are actually five 'colors' of dragons, e.g., from the biggest to the smallest : gold, bronze, brown, green and blue (I always have a doubt about the last two). Gold and green dragons are females, the other ones are males. Maybe the most distinctive trait of Pern Dragons (and fire-lizards as well) is their ability to teleport from a point to another by transfering in *between* (a lightless, gravityless, warmless non-place).
- The Arrival and first Pass : described in "Dragonsdawn", it explains how colonists settled on Pern, discovered the threat of Threads and struggled to find remedies to it.
- The Sixth Pass : near the end of this Pass, Pern was ravaged by a terrible epidemic killing men as well as animals originally imported from Earth. Through the stories of Moreta, Weyrwoman of Fort, and Nerilka, daughter of Lord Tolocamp, we read how the people of Pern faced the tragedy.
- The Ninth Pass : this is the most known era so far, and the one it all started from with the publishing of "Flight of the dragon". After a Long Interval, Weyrs have to face the disdain of people, then threads coming back when nobody's ready to face it, and eventually they will have to unite all the people of Pern to discard the threat for good.
Green dragons are fighting dragons, unlike Queens, and are thus (talk about that with Kitty Ping, the genius genetician, who gave them these characteristics...) Impressed by men, like bronzes, browns and blues. Only gold dragons (Queen dragons) are Impressed by women. They do fight during threadfalls, but only with flamethrowers manipulated by their riders, to burn threads having passed through the rest of the flying defence.
Also, they are the only ones who can reproduce, as green dragons are made sterile by the firestone they chew to produce their flames (male dragons don't have that side-effect). Queen dragons hatch with bronzes, most browns being unable to even follow them. They produce clutches of 10 to 40 eggs, sometimes with a queen egg. Greens also hatch, with blues and browns.
One point about the link between Dragons and their Riders is that their emotions diffuse to each other - and dragons have a lot wilder emotions than human beings. So I leave to your imagination what happens when two dragons hatch between their human companions. It was apparently one of the appeals to the story.
It is divided in three organizations, each of them independant of the others and equally important.
Holds make for the exploitation of natural resources in general. Farmers, breeders. Most people live in houses built or caved in stone called "holds", since it's the only natural material that is not consumed by Threads. Lords Holders are in charge of the biggest, most influent Holds of Pern, and have the responsability to organize all the minor holds in their area. A new Lord Holder is chosen by the other Lord Holders among possible heirs of the Lineage.
Crafthalls are in charge of forming people to specialized crafts. Some important Crafthalls are : Smith, Weaver, Miner, Fisher and Tanner, among others. But one especially influent Crafthall is the Harpercraft : Harpers are not merely entertainers and musicians, but also in charge of teaching songs to educate children (and adults as well...), to spread the news from any place to others, and in occasions be advisors in diplomatic concerns.
All these characteristics are inherited from their little cousins fire-lizards, but some traits are specific to dragons. When they're born, dragons are Impressed by an individual that becomes their companion/rider, in a fusional relationships. Fire-lizards can be Impressed too, but the link is weaker, they are less selective, and they can live without a human companion, while dragons apparently can't. When a dragonman dies, his dragon jumps *between* - and never comes back. Dragonmen also happen to commit suicide when their dragon dies, but it is less systematical, though they never fully recover of their loss.
A French cover for Dragonsinger
Some Pern Characters
Characterization is a definite highlight of Anne McCaffrey's writing. She can make so many characters alive, different and interesting in all the times of Pern and all the parts of its society, that you really feel like there are people out there, each having his or her place, or struggling to find it. She also masters, especially in the Ninth Pass, all the interactions of the different powers and persons, and all the causes and consequences of anything that happens. So the following list is only a very limited list of characters who changed Pern's history during that important Pass.
Lessa is the one who started it all, heroine of the first Pern novel, "Dragonflight". Born from the Lineage of Ruatha, she's the only survivor of her family massacre by Lord Fax, who would rule seven holds by himself soon. She hid as a kid and grew up as an anonymous servant, waiting for her revenge. It happened when dragonman F'lar came in Quest looking for a strong candidate to Impress the new Queen. Strengthened by her past, she managed to push him into a duel with Fax, over the destiny of Ruatha. Once Fax dead, she followed F'lar to Benden Weyr where she Impressed Ramoth, who would become the biggest dragon on Pern - ironic if you consider that Lessa is a petite woman. She was no docile WeyrWoman to accept the Dragonmen's disgrace after the Long Interval, for she can be bad-tempered and manipulative. But she eventually puts the qualities of her flaws to the service of the Weyr, or Pern. Her strong will and daring helped her accomplishing wonders, like trying a long jump *between* 400 years in the past, to bring the 5 lost Weyrs forth to her time when they were needed.
Weyrs are the Dragonmen homes. Six Weyrs across the Northern Continent protect the people : Benden, Fort (the most ancient), High Reaches, Igen, Ista and Telgar. Weyrs are usually carved in old volcanos craters or cliffs. Since there is no fertile ground around Weyrs, and because taking care of the Dragons takes a lot of time, Dragonmen mostly depend on the tithes of Holders and Crafthalls to get food and furnitures. Low caverns of Weyrs are also inhabited by a population of women, Dragonmen kids and Craftmen.
The three "orders" usually work together quite well, but don't interfere or meddle too much. The most common exception is that Weyrs recruit candidates for the Impression in any hold or craft, especially as Queen dragons are preferably Impressed by young women who are *not* born in the Weyr. The rider of the eldest Queen dragon still hatching is the Weyrwoman - note the use of caps -, and in charge of the Weyr's organization. The Weyrleader is the man whose dragon flied the Weyrwoman's queen. He's in charge of the fight against thread, and during a threadfall he's in command of the Weyr, Queen included.
Lessa, rider of Ramoth
F'lar has a half-brother, F'nor, rider of brown Canth, who assists him faithfully in all his ambitious plans for Pern. F'nor is a main character of "Dragonquest", where he helps keeping unity between holds, crafts and Weyrs, finds out that fire-lizards are not a legend, and solves a mystery about the Red Star, among other things. He's a man with a busy schedule...
F'lar, rider of bronze Mnementh, is a Weyrleader's son, a dragonman like most would be. By the time he finds Lessa, though, he is rather powerless in the Weyr. Like her, he's been waiting for his time, knowing that the Threads were going to fall again, when nobody else believed it. When that time comes, his clever plans help saving thousands, despite the obvious lack of dragons - a half-empty Weyr - to defend more surface than 6 full Weyrs covered in the last Pass. After the arrival of the Weyrs from the past, he'll have yet to face problems between them and the rest of Pern. His ultimate goal is to discard threads from the Red Star, forever. His only flaw, or so it seems, is to try to do everything by himself and to keep things (problems and plans) for himself. Something he learned not to do too much with someone like Lessa.
Why reading the Pern Chronicles?
Robinton is the MasterHarper of Pern. Even though it may not appear initially, he may well be the most important character of Pern (the planet and the novels). Of course, he's an extremely gifted musician. But most of all, and without a doubt, he's the best informed person about everything that's going on, and the one most likely to find a solution to each problem, or the right person to find that solution if he can't do it himself, because he's as unbiased as clever. Like Dragonmen, Harpers have been disdained during the Long Interval since, and he's happy enough to help F'lar and Lessa changing the world as they knew it. Everybody loves Robinton, even the dragons, that says enough of the character.
His apprentices, Sebell - who is to become the next MasterHarper - and Menolly - who has a true talent to write pretty songs and to impress fire-lizards -, are equally gifted with multiple talents.
Robinton, dressed in Harper's blue
Because the world described here is as rich as it is complex, like a finely chiseled jewel, yet unlike some other masterpieces who have the same qualities, "Pern" catches you as well by your guts than by your mind.
I've tried to read her other books, but though still enjoyable, it lacks a depth compared to Pern, for me. It's not as tightly weaved.
What to read of that long Cycle?
This is only my humble opinion, of course. By order of preference :
The Thread War, the Ninth Pass cycle, epic and concentrated, can be resumed to 4 books :
The whole Ninth Pass events are ever so logical in their chronology, are never boring or dull, leading to a surprising final. The various demarcation disputes in and between Weyrs, Crafthalls and Holds are well developed and fascinating. We pass from people's stories to History, all tightly related. Anyway, everything that happens matters.
Novels settled in others Passes are filling the history of that world, explaining some points that were left in the dark by the initial plot. We can share the exhilaration of discovering that new world, or the pain and fear to face the big tragedies that changed the face of Pern.
Because Anne McCaffrey has an exceptional talent to create characters who are moving, irritating, exciting, amusing, in one word : alive. Because it's very difficult to let down one of these novels once you open it.
And because I always end up crying of joy or sadness when I read it, which is not an habit of mine. Anne McCaffrey's writing is extremely emotional (not cheesy, not sentimental, but strongly emotional).
- The White Dragon
- All the Weyrs of Pern
The Epidemic (Sixth Pass) :
Some events of this cycle find an explanation and developments in the Harper's Ballad, funny and moving :
- Dragonsong : Menolly runs away from her hold
- Dragonsinger : Menolly finds her place in the Harperscraft
- Dragondrums : Piemur's adventures
The Arrival :
- Moreta : Dragonlady of Pern : the legendary Moreta's story
- Nerilka's story : Nerilka is the lady you vaguely read about in the book above, and you said to yourself : "Hey, who's that? It'd be nice to know more about her". Well, obviously I wasn't the only one thinking that...
- Dragonsdawn : the Settlers arrival and the birth of Dragons and Dragonmen
Links checked / revised in December 2002
Note about the pictures on this page : most of these pics are taken from the comic books adaptation of "Dragonflight" published by Eclipse Books, illustrated by Lela Dowling, Cynthia Martin and Fred Von Tobel. I can't say I like their dragonmen "US Air Force flying jackets" look, but apart from that it's better than the French covers's design... One exception being the other pic on this page, which is from an early French publication of the Harper's trilogy by Albin Michel, illustrated by Marie-Christine Robert-Forest. Though not looking much like Menolly's description, I find her pictures original and interesting.
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