Thursday, January 10, 2013

Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey Read Along: Week 1

You can find links to everyone else’s thoughts at Stainless Steel Droppings.

This week we read through to the end of Part II.

1.  I have hosted SFF-related group reads for books by Asimov, Herbert, Sanderson and Gaiman.  This is our first group read by a female author.  What are your thoughts on McCaffrey's handling of the male and female characters in Dragonflight?  Feel free to compare and contrast male and female characters and/or discuss various male and female characters in relations to others in the book of the same sex.

Wow: that’s a nice, gentle first question, Carl! :D

Unfortunately, we have not met many women, although the three most significant ones (Lessa, Lady Gemma and Manora) are shown to be strong-willed and powerful. However, plenty of Fax’s chosen women are shown to be weak and ineffectual and the dead Weyrwoman, Jora, is universally despised due to her inability to successfully control her dragon and her own personal sloth. As for the men, we are shown quite a range of personalities, so it is very difficult to draw any general conclusions about the two groups.

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)?

They are both very strong-willed and unafraid to be different, but F’Lar is far more politically astute than Lessa. However, I suspect that this is more a product of her earlier life than a personality trait. It also explains her fierce independence and unwillingness to seek other peoples’ opinions. It will be interesting to see how she changes as she matures and becomes used to her role within the Weyr. 

One thing I have always found distasteful about Pern is the way that the dragon riders mate because of their dragons’ mating behavior. Although I can assume that the dragons respond to some emotional input from their riders, so that Lessa’s admiration for F’Lar would make Ramoth more likely to accept Mnementh, it does make me concerned about non-consensual sex.

3.  How do you feel about Pern to this point in the story?  For those new to Pern, you may want to discuss your speculations/thoughts on the Red Star and on the between here.  What are your thoughts on McCaffrey's world-building?

I like the mix of the familiar with the new and alien aspects of this world. The whole idea of the alien life form that they call Thread travelling from one planet to another seems a bit bizarre, but no more so than the dragons. I think the short introduction was very intriguing, showing us that Pern was actually a colony, presumably human, that had lost contact with its home planet so many years ago that the populace had forgotten their origins. This idea of placing a society so far into the distant future, whilst presenting it at a medieval level of technology, is interesting and suggests that the Thread has effectively “bombed them back into the Stone Age” and been such an overwhelming threat that they have remained a fairly small population and have not had the leisure time to redevelop more advanced technology.

As for the concept of ‘Between’ . . . I have no idea what it is or how the dragons do it, but it is certainly a neat way of reducing travel time, much like the transporters on Star Trek.

I like the decision to reveal the world of the Pern, the Thread and the role of the dragons slowly. This helps to avoid the dreaded info dumping of some titles, but also helps to build tension as we start to piece together how much of a threat the Thread will pose to the population. It makes us suspect that it will be truly catastrophic when it arrives. 

4.  For those new to Dragonflight, was their anything that particularly surprised you with the narrative choices, etc. thus far?  For those who have already read Dragonflight, how do you feel about your return to Pern?  What stands out in your revisit?

I first read this title over twenty years ago, and I have read quite a few of the other Pern titles. I was a little concerned that my tastes might have changed and that I would be a little disappointed by the book this time through. However, I have been pleasantly surprised at how well it has stood up over the decades. I guess that I should have not been surprised about this as I had the same reaction to reading Ms McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang last year. I think that her choice of setting has made it age much more successfully than many other Science Fiction titles, as there is so little technology described and so very little to seem wrong or out of place.

For me, what stands out is the choice of a female protagonist who is actually more powerful than her mate, which is still rare enough in titles published forty years after this one. I also wish that Ms McCaffrey had not had her writer’s tick of her obsession with the color of the dragons. If I have to read “F’Lar, bronze Mnementh’s rider” more often I will start throwing things . . . I vividly remember this annoying me on my first time through the book and it isn’t any easier now! :D

5.  Discuss anything else that you feel passionate to discuss that wasn't included in your responses to the above questions.

I am almost eager for the Thread to arrive so that we can see the dragons in action, although I worry that the empty Weyrs suggest that Benden Weyr is going to have a really tough time protecting everyone . . .

I am also massively grateful that there is so little of the typical Romance genre on display in the relationship between Lessa and F’Lar. No insta-love or doe-eyed gazing . . . it is such a relief! :D


  1. Thank you, I'm glad someone else is finding the dragon mating situation disturbing! Later books (as you probably know from other reading) put more emphasis on the rider's preference influencing the flight...but it's still a very troubling set-up, exactly as you've said.

    Between as transporters...yes, it really is!

    I was also glad to find that I still enjoyed the book, coming back to it many years later...although I definitely am aware of some aspects that went right past me when I was much younger. It's different--but still an excellent book.

  2. I also applaud McCaffrey for avoiding the Insta-Love trap as is so common in the genre, then and now. Even with the dragon influence, there still isn't romance at this point. I am glad you brought up the potential non-consensual sex, as I remember this standing out for me in my teens, as it did again for this read along. While my impression is that the riders involved are overcome with the dragon passion at the time, there is still the fact that no one told Lessa the full extent of what to expect. Without that knowledge, how can she consent?

  3. Plus, I assume that she was a virgin, because she has no thoughts of either sexual assault or a lover back at Ruatha, which makes it even more unpleasant.

  4. I still can't work out why Ms McCaffrey decided to handle the mating this way, although I suppose it emphasizes the overwhelming connection between rider and dragon. No wonder the non-Weyr folk think they are all a bit odd! :D

  5. I also like the idea of between. It's a really great idea - wonder if it spawned other ideas like the travel flues in Harry Potter. It's like a portal or something. Step in and choose a door to exit on the other side.
    Lynn :D

  6. Sue, the between is a fascinating idea that I hope to understand fully by the end of this book. I was relieved that McCaffrey didn't go there with a gooey romance between Lessa and F'lar, although it is obvious that they are attracted to each other in an antagonistic sort of way. The non-consensual "mating" scene was a doozy! I was really taken aback by that one! However, I was NOT surprised that it was not explained to Lessa... nothing is explained to Lessa at this point in the story. That scene was kind of blurry too... It's no wonder I'm still not "in love" with F'lar's character.


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