Singing with the MasterHarper

Masterharper of PernFor my first book for the Sci Fi Experience, I decided to revisit a favorite character on one of my favorite distant planets, and reread The MasterHarper of Pern by Anne McCaffrey.

As the title suggests, this is a novel centered around MasterHarper Robinton, a shining supporting character in many other Pern novels.  Covering some 50 years, the book divides roughly into three parts.  First, Robinton’s childhood and musical training, and his fraught relationship with his perfectionist composer father, Petiron.  Next, Robinton’s romantic relationship with Kasia.  And third, the rising threat of Fax, a greedy and ruthless man intent on conquering more and more of Pern.  In the background, there’s the imminent return of Thread, burning spores falling from space.  It’s a danger ignored by most, which Robinton (and the reader) knows is to their peril.

I enjoyed this read a lot, although it may be for a funny reason.  The plot was satisfactory (I think the family drama in the first part was my favorite of the three plot-threads) and the characters were universally interesting though only a few were extraordinary.  But I really loved visiting Pern.  Since this covers so many years and explores Robinton’s life from birth on, this is an excellent book for just spending time in Pern.

We get a depth and breadth experience of life in the Harper Hall that’s beyond what’s provided in the relatively time-compressed (but excellent!) Harper Hall Trilogy.  Robinton journeys to practically every corner of the continent, giving us little snippets of life in different areas.  Pern has a beautifully rich and complex culture and society, and it always feels so inviting.  I probably wouldn’t actually like living in it, but I love reading about a world where people live in rock-hewn Holds, drink klah, and learn history and lessons through Harper songs.

It occurs to me that this is probably exactly why I lost interest in this series in later books, when people rediscovered certain technology and began to remake society in fundamental ways.  When the society is the appeal, changing it takes away much of what I like about the books!

But this installment is long before any of that happens.  This is in some ways a prequel to Dragonflight, although the angle is different.  Many of the characters from that book (or The Harper Hall Trilogy) appear here in much younger forms, which was a lot of the fun of the book.  Although Robinton is a Harper, Pern’s famous dragons are still very much in evidence.  His love of dragons was a good element, and it felt convincing rather than dragged in.

There were also some drawbacks to this particular book…  After 400 Threadless turns, I found it a little implausible that certain elements of society (like respect for Dragonriders) only began to break down dramatically in the last thirty years (before everything is reshaped by the events of Dragonflight).  I understand McCaffrey wanted to tell that story within Robinton’s lifetime, but it seemed a little unlikely on timing.  More seriously, while Fax is a compelling plot-thread, the climax of the book is tied so closely to events in Dragonflight that Robinton ended up having little to do except observe…which is a somewhat disappointing choice for the ending.

Robinton himself is possibly more charming as a supporting character than as a narrator, but at the same time he has more depth and complexity as the lead.  And he is still charming and eminently likable besides.  I do love the expressive symbolism of the cover, showing him with his harp in one hand, and a glass of Benden white wine in the other!  (And I don’t care if the wine looks a little reddish, it must be Benden white.)

I wouldn’t recommend choosing this book as your starting place for Pern (you’re better off with Dragonflight, Dragonsong or possibly Moreta) but if you’ve already been to the third planet in the Rukbat system, and especially if you enjoyed meeting MasterHarper Robinton while you were there, then I can recommend this one too.

Author’s Site:

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And I’m finding a sad lack of reviews!  Anyone else want to share theirs?

Buy it here: The Masterharper of Pern

What Are You Reading, Sci Fi Edition (sort of)

itsmondayI think it’s about time I checked back in on the What Are You Reading meme from Book Journey…and this is good timing, since I have plans.  We’re launching on the Sci Fi Experience from Stainless Steel Droppings, after all!

I’ll be starting the Experience off today with some Star Trek viewing.  In the book realm, I first want to finish off Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett, third book of the Tiffany Aching subseries of Discworld.  I’ve never felt much concern about finishing Discworld (despite my two-year effort to complete series), but the Tiffany books feel more tightly woven into each other than other Discworld subseries, so I am trying to complete those four.

What Are You Reading Sci FiAfter Wintersmith, I plan to go on to The Masterharper of Pern by Anne McCaffrey, a first read for the Sci Fi Experience.  By the time I finish that, I will most likely have watched all relevant Trek and be ready for the next stage of The Great Khan Adventure, reading The Eugenics Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh, Volume One.

And somewhere in there I plan to finish a collection of essays, The Intimate Life of L. M. Montgomery.  I have officially run out of new-to-me writing by Montgomery herself (including novels, short stories, letters, journals and poetry).  This collection included a comic journal she co-wrote with a friend over several months.  It was, to my knowledge, the last of her writing I hadn’t read–at least until they make available any other currently-unpublished writing!  In the meantime, I’ll probably keep looking for essays and biographies.  I had doubts about this particular collection because I read a previous book by the editor and found her conclusions exceedingly far-fetched, but so far this set of essays has been well-reasoned and engaging.  I’ve got about four left I hope to finish reading soon.

So much for my plans…what are you reading?

Wrapping Up the Sci Fi Experience for 2013

13sfexpIs February over already?  I don’t know about you, but January lasted forever and then I blinked and February was gone.  That means it’s time to bid farewell to another year of the Sci Fi Experience, hosted by Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings.

I’ve had an excellent time in sci fi reading over the last two months.  I started out with a big stack, and have read my way through nearly all of it.  I dropped a couple of titles from my plans (one Trek book, after looking more closely at the writing, and one Pellucidar book when I realized it was later in the series than I thought) and I have one unread Star Trek book still sitting on my shelf and patiently waiting its turn.  But other than that…  Well, here’s the full list with links to reviews:

P1020254Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey (reread) – Group Read, Week One and Week Two

At the Earth’s Core and Pellucidar by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

Star Trek
Federation by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens (reread)
The Abode of Life by Lee Corey

Star Wars: The Callista Trilogy
Children of the Jedi by Barbara Hambly
Darksaber by Kevin J. Anderson
Planet of Twilight by Barbara Hambly

I also got some Sci Fi on Screen viewing in.

I’m a bit sad to wrap up the Sci Fi…but mostly I’m looking forward to diving into some fantasy!  And I have no doubt I’ll be continuing to read more science fiction anyway…if only because I added so many titles to my To Be Read list throughout the Experience. 🙂

A Concert from the Harper Hall’s funny the things you can find once it occurs to you to look for them.  I’ve loved Anne McCaffrey’s Pern poetry for years and years, the snatches of verses that, in context, are the songs of the Harper Hall.  In the course of the January Dragonflight group-read, it occurred to me to do a search on Amazon to see if Masterharper Robinton’s harpers have put out any CDs–and they have!

Well, not exactly.  🙂  But Tania Opland and Mike Freeman worked directly with Anne McCaffrey to put together two CDs of music inspired by Pern, much of it using the lyrics described in the book.

Can I just pause for a moment here to say how completely amazing that is?  I mean, Harper Hall songs!  Really!

I admit I was a little nervous on purchasing…this could, after all, go very badly if I didn’t like how the songs were done.  Fortunately, I like the music quite a bit overall.  It has a very acoustic, folk-song style that feels eminently appropriate to the context.  You couldn’t possibly play Menolly’s or Robinton’s songs on an electric guitar.  They need pipes and strings and though I have no musical expertise to recognize exactly what instruments are being used, this feels right.  Amazon tells me it draws from a variety of musical traditions, and I can most clearly hear the Celtic.

Most exciting, unquestionably, is that we get to hear songs I recognize from within the novels. I had to buy both albums because favorite poems/songs were split between them.  The Masterharper of Pern has more of the traditional ballads and, obviously, Robinton-related songs.  Sunset’s Gold has songs from Menolly, heroine and songster of the Harper Hall Trilogy.

Some of the tracks are instrumental, and I must admit those were not as interesting to me, though some do relate to book events.  But that’s me–I almost always prefer words in my music.

The Masterharper of Pern has a number of the songs that figure in Dragonflight.  I particularly love “The Duty Song,” which runs through all the key roles within Pernese society, and how all must come together to serve their unique purpose.  “Fighting Thread” is also excellent, about the dragonmen rising to fight their ancient enemy.  That one sticks in my head somehow.  Most exciting here is “The Question Song” which is suitably spooky, if maybe not quite the soul-capturing mystery described in the book (but what could be?)  I have mixed feelings about “Lessa’s Ride.”  Parts of it are lovely, but I would have liked a melody that was more epic and heroic, considering the subject.  On the other hand, “March of the Wings” gives me that more stirring melody I was looking for.  You can just feel the dragons soaring up in formation.’s Gold has many of my favorites from the Harper Hall Trilogy, brought to life very satisfactorily.  Menolly’s “Run!” song is suitably toe-tapping, and “Brekke’s Cry” is eerie.  I would have liked “The Little Queen” to be catchier somehow, but it’s been growing on me.  I really enjoy “Gather Day,” which very much captures the festive atmosphere (and the lyrics refer to bubbly pies!)  “Sunset’s Gold” and “Sweet Sea” aren’t ones I particularly remember from the books, but they’re beautiful songs in their own right, and would be even if they weren’t part of the larger context.

So, all my friends who read Dragonflight and especially those who liked the poetry…you really, really have to explore these CDs! 🙂

Musician’s Site:

Buy it here: The Masterharper of Pern and Sunset’s Gold

What Are You Reading…in January?

itsmondayIt’s been a few weeks since I posted for the What Are You Reading meme from Book Journey, so now seems like a good time for a new installment.

I’ve been making all sorts of headway with my science fiction reading.  I’ve managed to dip into just about every type of sci fi I was planning: Pern, Star Wars, Star Trek and two Burroughs books.  I also finally finished Reflections by Diana Wynne Jones, a wonderful collection of essays about storytelling.

On audio, I’m about halfway through Walden by Henry David Thoreau.  It’s a funny thing–sometimes he seems to just drop brilliant gems every two sentences.  Other times he loses me for five minutes at a time.  But overall I’m enjoying listening.

Pat BooksIt turns out to be a good thing after all that I decided to join the L. M. Montgomery reading challenge…after three weeks of sci fi, my excitement was flagging.  So I was all set to jump into Pat of Silver Bush, which is a completely different world.  I’m midway through now, and may or may not (but probably will) go straight on to Mistress Pat.

After that, I expect to  have renewed eagerness for sci fi, so it’ll be back to Star Wars for Darksaber, the next volume of the Callista Trilogy.  And then…more Star Trek or else Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card.

Still lots of good books in the stack!