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Anne McCaffrey – Dragonflight

July 30, 2014

59. Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey (1968)
Dragonriders of Pern, Book 1

Read By: Dick Hill
Length: 9h 14min (320 pages)

Genre: Fantasy (It’s set in our future, so it’s teccccchnically science fiction. But it’s basically fantasy.)

Started: 05 July 2014
Finished: 15 July 2014

Where did it come from? Downloaded from Audible.
Why do I have it? I’d just finished Among Others, which mentions it several times, when it was the Audible deal of the day.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 05 July 2014.

Dragons and Riders
protect Pern, but what if there’s
not enough of them?

Summary: The Dragonriders of Pern protect their planet from the ecological disaster of invading Threads, whose coming is predicted by the red star. But there hasn’t been a Threadfall in centuries, and the dragonweyrs are mostly empty, with most common people believing that the Threads are gone for good. Only the riders of Benden Weyr keep the old traditions, and that includes a search for a girl to become Weyrwoman, and form a psychic bond with the newly-hatched queen dragon. Rider F’lar believes he has found a suitable candidate in Lessa, a serving girl who bears the last of a noble bloodline. Once Lessa Impresses the queen dragon, and her dragon mates with F’lar’s dragon, he becomes Weyrleader, but Lessa has a mind of her own… and both of them will be needed in order to face the threat of imminent Threadfall.

Review: Errrrm, I dunno, you guys. I mean, yes, this is a classic, and yes, it is referenced all the time, and yes, it’s a product of its times and shouldn’t necessarily be judged by today’s social norms and all, but: damn. This is a prime example of an otherwise interesting world and engaging story being almost ruined for me by the super-gross gender politics involved.

I mean, okay. The dragons? Are awesome. And I totally see the seeds of later telepathic and vaguely snarky dragons being planted by this story. I totally get why Mori from Among Others spends so much time wanting to Impress a dragon. The world is also interesting. I found bits of it vaguely cliché (probably unfairly, since this came before most of what I’m comparing it to), and McCaffrey’s method of leaving some details of her worldbuilding unexplained didn’t always sit entirely well with me, but it eventually all made sense, and it all worked in service of the story, which was cool, internally consistent, and went in some directions that I wasn’t expecting.

But. BUT. The gender politics. Like, there’s this whole system in which girls are basically kidnapped from their homes to try to Impress the Queen, and then not really allowed to do anything once they do become Weyrwoman, and then it’s assumed that whichever male dragon their dragon mates with, they will have sex with that dragon’s rider, (ostensibly because their telepathically-linked dragon sexy-time emotions are too strong to be resisted?) and essentially become his concubine. Gross! And worse, this is the way it is, with no indication that anybody sees anything much wrong with the system. I honestly didn’t realize until almost halfway through that we were supposed to see F’lar as a protagonist and not a villain. He is arrogant, he’s rude, he’s calculating, and he’s not particularly nice to Lessa most of the time, alternating between condescending to her, ignoring her, and shaking her senseless for disobeying his orders. Well, all that, plus this:

“He caught her arm and felt her body tense. He set his teeth, and wishing, as he had a hundred times since Remoth rose in her first mating flight, that Lessa had not been virgin too. He had not thought to control his dragon-incited emotions, and Lessa’s first sexual experience had been violent. It had surprised him to be first, considering that her adolescent years had been spent drudging for lascivious warders and soldier types. Evidently, no one had bothered to penetrate the curtain of rags and the coat of filth she had carefully maintained as a disguise. He had been a considerate and gentle bedmate ever since, but, unless Remoth and Nementh were involved, he might as well call it rape. Yet he knew, someday, somehow, he would coax her into responding wholeheartedly to his lovemaking. He had a certain pride in his skill, and he was in a position to persevere.” –from time point 5:00:15

(My notes from this point say: SUPER GROSS AND RAPEY, DUDE. Which: yeah. And this is the hero! We’re supposed to be rooting for him!)

Lessa herself is pretty awesome, except when she’s anxiously trying to win F’lar’s approval (or not get shaken.) I would have liked the book a lot better if the backbone she clearly has was on display the whole time. The story itself is quite good, and there are times when the gross gender issues are pushed to the background, but they were never entirely out of my head, which didn’t exactly ruin the book, but did definitely make it less enjoyable than it could have been. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: I understand why it’s considered a classic of SF/F, and there are a lot of really good elements to the world and the story and some of the characters. I found the gender politics pretty off-putting, but if you’re able to treat them as a regrettable product of their time, there’s a good story underneath. I’m not in a big hurry to read the next book in the series, though.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: At Home With Books, Jules’ Book Reviews, The Literary Omnivore, Memoirs of a Teenage Bibliophile and more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: When is a legend legend?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Carol permalink
    June 26, 2015 12:44 pm

    I just finished listening to this, recently downloaded from Audible when it was on sale and for pretty much the same reasons you chose it–I keep seeing and hearing it referred to as a classic, and so many people (particularly women) seem to love it. Your review clarified for me why I couldn’t really embrace the book, even though I enjoyed most of the characters (even not disliking F’lal quite as much as you do–which may be a function of age, I’m guessing I’m a generation older than you) and found the story generally interesting. Thanks for your (as always) good input! LIke you, I see the book’s strong points but am in no hurry (if ever) to download the sequel — too many good books out there, and so little time.

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