Dragonriders of Pern

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The Dragonriders of Pern books are written by Anne McCaffrey. 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

In the books written earlier, Pern is a medieval society with lords, swords, duels, bards and serfs. Dragonriders are an elite class, chosen for their ability to communicate with the giant sentient dragons, bred by the early Earth-colonizers of Pern to chew firestone and burn in the air the deadly mycorrhizoid spore Thread that periodically rain down on the planet. The riders have a telepathic bond with their dragons, formed by impression at the dragon's hatching. Later books deal with the initial colonisation of Pern and the creation of the dragons through genetic manipulation. The lengthy (over two milennia) time period covered by the series as a whole gives room for new stories and characters, as the more recent novels have done.

The series has fourteen 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, while most of the others are closely chronological. When reading for the first time it's generally recommended to go in the order they were written, as the details change slightly over time. On repeat reads, a chronological order may be preferred.

The series of novels (arranged in chronological order) is:

First Pass

  • Dragonsdawn (1988)
  • The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall (1993, anthology)
    • The Survey: P.E.R.N.
    • The Dolphins' Bell
    • The Ford of Red Hanrahan
    • The Second Weyr
    • Rescue Run
  • Dragonsblood (2005, by Todd McCaffrey) (some events)

Second Pass

  • Red Star Rising (1996) (called Dragon's Eye for US release)
  • Dragon's Kin (2004, with Todd McCaffrey)

Second Interval/Third Pass

  • Dragonsblood (2005, by Todd McCaffrey) (majority of events)

Sixth Pass

  • Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern (1983)
  • Nerilka's Story (1986)

Ninth Pass

  • Masterharper of Pern (1998)
  • Dragonflight (1968, first novel written)
  • Dragonquest (1970)
  • Dragonsong (1976)
  • Dragonsinger (1977)
  • Dragondrums (1979)
  • The White Dragon (1978)
  • Renegades of Pern (1989)
  • All the Weyrs of Pern (1991)
  • The Dolphins of Pern (1994)
  • The Skies of Pern (2001)

Chronology is inexact, as some books take place at the same time. For example, Dragonsong, Dragonsinger and Dragondrums occupy roughly the same timeframe as Dragonquest and all are continued in The White Dragon. Similarly, Moreta, Nerilka's Story and the short story Beyond Between all take place concurrently or overlap. As well, Dragonsblood describes events in two separate time periods: the end of the first pass and the beginning of the third pass.

Short stories include:

  • The Smallest Dragonboy (1973)
  • The Girl Who Heard Dragons (1994)
  • Runner of Pern (1999)
  • Ever the Twain (2002)
  • Beyond Between (2003)

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. 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.

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.

Societal 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 Hall, Hold, and Weyr--broadly comparable to the medieval triune of Church, Nobility, and Guild--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 societal 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. Societal change is both portrayed as 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 societal 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 look down upon them for being detrimental to the spread of human life across the planet.

Economic Considerations

Dragons are very large creatures; the largest on record, the gold queen dragon Ramoth, has been measured as at least forty-two meters in length, and possibly considerably larger. 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 the dragon and population of Pern each consuming a single 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.

According to anecdotal evidence from the Dragonlover's Guide to Pern, by Jody Lynn Nye with Anne McCaffrey, 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.

Important Characters

From the Weyrs

(Rider first, dragon second)

  • F'lar and bronze Mnementh - Benden Weyrleader
  • Lessa and gold Ramoth - Benden Weyrwoman, Ruathan-blood, turned over Ruatha Hold to Jaxom
  • D'ram and bronze Tiroth - Oldtimer Ista, then Southern, Weyrleader
  • N'ton and bronze Lioth - Fort Weyrleader; weyrmate of Margatta and Ludeth
  • R'mart and bronze Branth - Telgar Weyrleader
  • G'narish and bronze Gyarmath - Igen Weyrleader
  • T'bor and bronze Orth - Southern, then High Reaches, Weyrleader
  • Kylara and gold Prideth - Southern Weyrwoman; weyrmate of T'bor
  • F'nor and brown Canth - Wingsecond at Benden Weyr
  • Brekke and gold Wirenth - Junior weyrwoman at Southern Weyr
  • Mirrim and green Path - Benden Weyr; weyrmate of T'gellan and Monarth; Brekke's fosterling, later greenrider
  • Manora - Weyr housekeeper and F'nor's mother and F'lar's foster mother
  • F'lessan and bronze Golanth - Benden Weyr; formerly Felessan, Lessa and F'lar's son
  • Moreta and gold Orlith - Fort Weyr; famous Weyrwoman of history, and lead character in the 'Moreta' book
  • Tai and green Zaranth-rider at Monaco Bay weyr; weyrmate of F'lessan
  • Leri and gold Holth-former Weyrwoman at Fort Weyr before Moreta
  • Oklina and gold Hannath; sister of Alessan at Ruatha Hold; Impressed the queen Hannath at Orlith's last hatching; weyrmate of B'lerion and bronze Nabeth of High Reaches
  • Torene and gold Alaranth-first Weyrwoman at Benden Weyr
  • M'hall and bronze Brianth-Torene's weyrmate; first Benden Weyrleader
  • Sorka and gold Faranth-Leader of the original queenriders and eventual Weyrwoman of Fort Weyr; Faranth was the first fertile queen on Pern
  • Sean and bronze Carenath-Leader of the original dragonriders, eventual Weyrleader at Fort Weyr. His dragon flew Faranth
  • T'lion and bronze Gadareth-Monaco Bay Weyr. T'lion re-established contact with the Monaco dolphins.
  • M'barak and blue Arith - Fort weyrling who helps Moreta transport serum
  • T'gellan and bronze Monarth - Weyrleader of Monaco Bay Weyr; weyrmate of Mirrim and Talina
  • C'gan and blue Tagath - Weyrsinger at Benden Weyr
  • F'lon and bronze Simanith - Weyrleader at Benden Weyr; father of F'lar and F'nor; friend of Robinton
  • Lorana and gold Arith(deceased)- Queenrider at Benden Weyr, 3rd Pass. Cured the illness decimating the dragons of her time, but lost Arith in the process.


At the time of Impression, male dragonriders' names are shortened with an apostrophe. This follows an old tradition of shortening names, as it's easier for Wingleaders to shout the shortened names of their riders when commanding them as they fly threadfall. As an example, Felessan became F'lessan at his impression. Most girls will only Impress gold queens, with the exception of a few female greenriders, such as Mirrim, and queens fly in a wing of their own, with agenothree tanks to sear Thread from the skies. Thus, female dragonriders do not shorten their names as a rule.

When asked why so many dragons have th in their names, Anne McCaffrey facetiously replied, "Dragons have forked tongues. They lisp"; Pernese dragons have no vocal cords, and speak only telepathically.

Craftmasters/Harpers

  • Robinton - MasterHarper; recruiter of Menolly
  • Sebell - Harper; husband of Menolly/Robinton's successor
  • Piemur - Harper; companion of Stupid and Farli; husband of Jancis; father of Pierjan
  • Menolly - Harper; wife of Sebell
  • Master Fandarel - MasterSmith; uncle of Jancis
  • Master Oldive - MasterHealer
  • Master Nicat - MasterMiner
  • Master Andemon-MasterFarmer
  • Master Zurg-MasterWeaver
  • Master Idarolan-MasterFisher(retires)
  • Master Kurran-MasterFisher
  • Readis- The Dolphineer.
  • Master Capiam-MasterHealer during the time of Moreta
  • Master Belesdan - MasterTanner; located at Ista Weyr
  • Master Domick - Harper Craftmaster of Song Composition
  • Master Shonagar - Harper Craftmaster of Voice
  • Master Petiron - Harper; teacher of Menolly; husband of Merelan; father of Robinton; composer of many difficult and complex songs
  • Master Morshall - Harper Craftmaster of Theory
  • Master Sograny - MasterHerder
  • Tagetarl - Journeyman Harper/MasterPrinter
  • Wansor - Master Starsmith

Holders/Lordholders

  • Lord Jaxom and white Ruth - Ruatha Hold. Jaxom is an exception in that he Impressed the white dragon Ruth, yet retained his status as a Lord Holder.
  • Lord Warder Lytol (formerly L'tol, rider of Brown Larth.) - Ruatha Hold; caretaker of Jaxom during his minority
  • Lord Groghe - Fort Hold; son of Lord Grogellan; friend of Robinton; advocate for AIVAS and Benden
  • Fax - High Reaches, Nabol, Crom, and Ruatha Holds; tyrant relative of Bargen of High Reaches
  • Lord Toric-Lord Holder of Southern Hold
  • Lord Meron - Nabol Hold; succeeded by his grand-nephew Deckter
  • Sharra (Toric's sister and Jaxom's wife)
  • Jayge and Aramina- Paradise River Holders. Aramina can hear the mental speech of any dragon. Their son is Readis.
  • Lady Gemma - Fax's lady; mother of Jaxom
  • Yanus and Mavi - Holders of Half-Circle Sea Hold; parents of Menolly and Alemi who discouraged Menolly's musical talents

Oldtimers

This is the term used for those from 400 Turns past called by Lessa and Ramoth into the present Turn. Some of them were exiled to the Southern Continent because they were unable to accept the leadership of the current-day Riders.

  • T'ron and bronze Fidranth - former Weyrleader of Fort Weyr; also called T'ton; weyrmate of Mardra and Loranth; exiled
  • Mardra and gold Loranth - former Weyrwoman of Fort Weyr; weyrmate of T'ron and Fidranth; exiled
  • T'kul and bronze Salth - former Weyrleader of High Reaches; a conservative who kills his bronze Salth when he sends him to fly after the young Ista queen Caylith in a mating flight, he was killed shortly after by F'lar, during this time Robinton had a heart attack; exiled

Fandom

Text-based online virtual reality games have modeled Pern since the early 1990s. These games, run on MUD chat servers (primarily MUSH and MUCK variants, such as PernMUSH), 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. Open Pern-themed MUSHes and MOOs are listed at The All the Weyrs List (http://www.atwl.org) and the PernMU Discussion Forum (http://www.pernmu.com), which also contains discussion on the same.

Pern fandom also takes the form of PBeM games and fanzines of short stories distributed both by email and in hardcopy. Information on these can be found at Anne McCaffrey's website (http://www.annemccaffrey.org).de:Drachenreiter von Pern

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