Friday, May 05, 2006

DUST JACKETS: Dragonflight

I’ve made more than one mention within my blog about Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight. This was the book that hooked me on reading for good, and I’m not sure I could have picked a better book to start with than this one.

Even in 1990-91 (I can’t say for certain which year I read it), this book was already a classic. McCaffrey does such a great job of introducing this complex world with warriors who ride on dragons to protect their world from thread, a mindless alien organism that falls from the sky and destroys everything it touches. The thread doesn’t constantly fall, though. It only lasts a few decades, coming every two hundred years. The society has built itself around supplying the dragonriders with whatever they need, but with a somewhat unprecedented period of four hundred years without thread, the people of Pern are questioning the need for the dragonriders. Worse, when the thread does start to fall, the years of neglect have left the dragonriders without enough dragons to fight the thread.

McCaffrey deftly introduces this world through the eyes of Lessa. A dragonrider named F’lar recruits/abducts/drafts her as part of a plan to make himself the Weyrleader of Pern’s dragonriders. Lessa gives readers a strong, female character for whom to root. F’lar also proves an incredibly heroic figure whose drive to save Pern comes dangerously close to the idea of the ends justifying the means. Both of them come with plenty of flaws, including a dislike for each other which is made all the more difficult when their dragons mate, an act that forces them into a sexual relationship of their own.

One of the elements McCaffrey uses in this book is time travel. Time travel is such a difficult element to employ within a story, but she pulls it off perfectly. I’ve always preferred time travel stories that follow the rule, “You can’t change the past.” McCaffrey follows this rule to perfection.

Of course, you can’t really discuss a book about McCaffrey’s dragonriders and not talk about the dragons. These aren’t simple beasts of burden that burn thread out of the sky. They’re intelligent creatures that can communicate telepathically with their riders, and indeed, they are characters within the book in their own right.

Other Books by Anne McCaffrey:

McCaffrey just gets so many things right in this book. Even almost forty years after first being published, it remains a satisfying read. The credit goes to her attention to detail in crafting this world and the characters. In some ways, Lessa was ahead of her time for such a strong female character. I wish more fantasy and sci-fi novels offered characters like her.

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