As part of the fun for the Sci Fi Experience, I’m participating in the group-read of DragonFlight by Anne McCaffrey. This was just the push I needed to revisit Pern…which I’ve been meaning to do for far too long.
First, a little context for those not reading along: DragonFlight is set on the planet Pern, where society is centered around small holds, traditionally guarded by the Weyrs, where the dragonriders live. The dragonriders are a race apart, each one bound for life to his or her dragon. The dragons’ mission is to protect Pern from deadly Threads, parasites which fall from the neighboring planet of the Red Star and burn everything in their path. They’ve fallen at regular intervals for millenia, but 400 years ago the last pass of the Red Star ended, leading to a Long Interval; five Weyrs of dragonriders mysteriously disappeared, leaving only Benden Weyr to survive to the present. Now the Red Star is looming in the sky again, and F’lar of Benden is looking for a woman to Impress the new queen dragon about to hatch. Meanwhile, Lessa of Ruatha has been hiding in her ancestral hold, the only one of her family to survive slaughter ten years before when Fax invaded and took control–and her long quest for revenge is coming to a head.
DragonFlight is one of those books that I read several times as a kid or young teenager, but somehow haven’t touched in the last ten years. It was very interesting coming back to it again. Like my experience with The Giver, there’s a lot more to be disturbed by than I remember… There are some undertones and details that are more worrying than my younger self perceived. On the other hand, it’s still an exciting adventure on a fascinating world, with deeply engaging characters.
But perhaps I ought to get into Carl’s questions for the discussion…
1. What are your thoughts on McCaffrey’s handling of the male and female characters in Dragonflight?
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)?
I want to take these first two questions together, because they feel very interrelated–and related to my complex feelings mentioned above. It’s an odd thing about women in this book. There’s a definite feeling that women don’t have much power in society, that there’s a clear delineation between the genders, and that women cook and have babies.
In the Weyrs, the Weyrleader is the man whose dragon mates with the queen dragon. First, that is a strange way to choose a leader for society. Second, it is a far more disturbing prospect to consider that the queen rider’s mate is based on which dragon flies the fastest. I’ve read many other Pern books and I know others end up suggesting that the rider’s preference has a lot to do with which dragon has a successful flight. But that’s not in this book, so I’m not sure it’s a valid defense…
So all in all…not really liking the treatment of women.
But on the other hand–Lessa is amazing! The one major female character is certainly as smart as any of the men, and stronger and more determined too. But–she also spends a lot of the book trapped in a role, and when she breaks out there’s some sense that she’s declaring her independence…but there’s also a sense that she’s an impetuous child who’s rebelling.
In some ways F’lar acknowledges Lessa’s intellect and strength–he certainly sees it. But he doesn’t treat her as an equal, and there are some very troubling aspects to their relationship. I feel like if I really wrap my head around some of it, I’m going to end up hating F’lar and I don’t want to do that–so I am very curious to see how other people respond to this question!
3. How do you feel about Pern to this point in the story? What are your thoughts on McCaffrey’s world-building?
I already covered some disturbing aspects of Pernese society, but really I’m fascinated by it. I actually don’t feel like this is a very good book to analyze Pern and McCaffrey’s world-building, because in large ways Pern here is in a crisis of society. They’re going to figure things out in subsequent books. I find Pern a more interesting place when it’s thriving, because then you get to find out more about different craft halls, how the Holds interrelate, how dragons fit into the mix…and women don’t seem quite as marginalized in other books. All in all, a picture emerges of a society that is quite different from our own, marvelously intricate, and just seems to work and fit together in a wonderful fashion.
4. For those who have already read Dragonflight how do you feel about your return to Pern? What stands out in your revisit?
I felt SO nostalgic when I opened to the Introduction and found “Rukbat, in the Sagittarian sector, was a golden G-type star.” I think every Pern book has the paragraph that follows, and at the height of my Pern-fandom, I could have recited it.
It’s true that sometimes we can go back to books and find them different–although we’re the ones who changed. I already touched on some of the parts that disturb me, that went right past me before.
But on the other hand, some parts are still the same. Lessa is such a strong figure. Dragons–I mean, they’re awesome. That goes without saying. I’m fascinated by…I guess I have to call it the shape of the world. Pern is just an interesting place.
I think that wraps up a discussion of the first half of the book. More to come next week! In the meantime, read everyone else’s thoughts.