Friday, January 18, 2013

Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey Read Along: Week 2

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

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

I would like to thank Carl for organizing this Read Along and everyone else who has taken part: I have really enjoyed returning to the world of Pern.

1.  The Threads are further explored and become very much the focal point in parts 3 and 4 of Dragonflight.  What are your thoughts on the Threads in general and how do you feel these worked as an enemy vs. the traditional enemies you see in SFF novels?

Putting on my biologist head, I find the whole idea rather daft. Firstly, we are told that the cold weather kills the Thread at the beginning of this Pass, and yet it travels through the vacuum of space to reach Pern and the temperature there is absolute zero, much colder than any areas of a planet with an atmosphere. Even if we could account for their survival through space, as the Thread is presented as a very primitive organism it would seem that the Red Planet is constantly releasing a stream of these spores and that Pern sometimes moves into this ‘tail’, just as the Earth has meteor showers at certain times. Unfortunately, this requires the ecosystem on the Red Planet to be constantly losing vast amounts of energy with no obvious way in which it could be replenished. This does not seem likely.

Removing my biologist head, I can appreciate the choice of an environmental ‘enemy’. I am sure that this choice was influenced by Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, a book published in 1962 that really kick-started the environmental movement of the 60s. Although Carson’s book deals with mankind’s self-created problems, I can see parallels between her call for action and F’Lar’s worries about the need to prepare for Threadfall. The air of complacency that we see in the Lord Holders is still something that we see in those who refuse to accept that Global Warming is a reality and that we should act to try to reverse our effects on the planet’s atmosphere.

I also feel like a non-sentient enemy provides a very different obstacle, one that cannot be reasoned with or bombed out of existence. I like the fact that this removes the necessity for aggressive, war-like confrontations and an easy solution to the problem. It also places all the emphasis on how the whole society deals with the threat, showing that it is an entire people that fight a ‘war’ and not just the few individuals using weapons. It also removes the need to create a very convenient ‘weakness’ in the technologically advanced attackers that leads to their eventual downfall, as in H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.

2. The science fictional concept of time travel becomes an important device in the later half of Dragonflight, how do you feel McCaffrey did in working time travel into the plot?

I liked the way that it was discovered by accident. However, my scientist head did then wonder how they ever managed to arrive at the correct time anywhere, because the target ‘picture’ would be different for day or night, time of the year or changing weather conditions. Perhaps the dragons actually do most of the ‘driving’ and naturally make adjustments for this. I guess their intuitive feel for how to move between also explains why they don’t tend to materialize inside one another by accident.

I thought that she incorporated the idea of the ‘disappearing’ Weyrs rather well, with lots of nice little hints and even a good explanation for why they could not leave a message about where they were going. I did think that they were a little too easily persuaded to abandon their extended families and friends outside the Weyrs, but it still worked well.

3.  Of the new characters introduced in this second half of Dragonflight, who did you like/not like and why? 

Robinton is one of my most favorite of all the Pern characters, and you can see why from his introduction here. I love that scene where he scolds the Lord Holders into submission. He is a wonderful character: a lovable rogue with a huge heart and a great sense of humor. I can totally understand why the second of the Pern trilogies was based upon the Harpers and gave us more time with him.

My least favorite is most definitely Kylara, and we do not actually even meet the woman! She seems completely unsuitable as a Weyrwoman and a leader amongst the riders. I think it was a mistake to offer her to the eggs as the woman most likely to Impress Prideth because her own personality is so awful. I find it strange that F’Lar would chose to keep her as a candidate, especially as we know how much he detested Jora.

4.  We talked about it in the first discussion and there is no way we can get away from it in Part 2: What are your feelings on the progression of the relationship between F'lar and Lessa throughout this second half of the book?

Considering the way in which they are forced together by their dragon’s mating, I like the way that their relationship develops slowly rather than in a massive leap of insta-love. They move closer over a gradual process, which seems much more realistic to me, and the romantic in me appreciates the fact that they both discover deep feelings for each other by the end of the book.

However, I have one huge issue with their relationship and that is the physical abuse that F’Lar regularly inflicts upon Lessa. I was getting progressively angrier every time he grabbed her and gave her a good shaking. As with the not quite consensual sex during the mating flight, I can understand that mores were a little different when the book was written, but I did find that this made F’Lar far less sympathetic and attractive as a man. It also made me think that he treated her like a child sometimes, which made me wonder if he found her so attractive because she was small and made him feel more powerful. Again, these are not good thoughts to have about the male lead in a story. 

5.  And finally, what is your overall assessment of Dragonflight?  How does it measure up against other classic science fiction you've read?  Would you recommend it to modern readers, why or why not?

I was surprised by how much I still enjoyed reading this title, even after so many years . . . ok, decades! :D

One of the things that I like about the Pern books is that they do not really deal with the standard science fiction setting of resistance against an invader and so it avoids all the usual war-based storylines. I also appreciate that the romance is kept to a minimum, so that is more an exploration of how a society deals with adversity and the politics of managing a crisis. They also offers a nice balance of science fiction and fantasy, so that there is not a lot of futuristic technology to deal with and get in the way of the character work.

I would recommend it to modern readers, although I would have to add a caveat about the mating system and F’Lar’s physical roughness towards Lessa. I have female friends who would be very angry about reading that if they were not forewarned and reminded of when the book was published.


  1. I'm so glad you brought Rachel Carson into the discussion and the whole enviro awareness. I like the idea that her work, even tangently, affected McCaffrey's writing or world building. Your comments about the Threads made me smile. Of course we can go on with whatifs, and I'll do just one. Perhaps the spore phase of Threads can withstand the cold and vacuum of space, but once they hit a certain O2 level, they open into the next phase, which can be destroyed with freezing temps or by flame. Like shucking a protective shell. But, yeah, the biomass of the red 'star' is not being replenished, so that presents some problems.

  2. Sorry, the dork has another comment. Yes, why does F'Lar have to shake Lessa all the time? I don't see F'Lar shaking anyone else, nor anyone shaking him. While I didn't like such behavior, it also added to the complexity of the people - there are no absolute shining heroes in this story, and I still really enjoyed it.

  3. I see what you mean about it being a negative aspect of his character and it doesn't make me really dislike the character, especially as I can ascribe it to a sign of when the book was written. I would probably find it much less acceptable in a book written today, though.

  4. I had this same discussion with my hubby (the science Professor) and he made the same point as you about how the spores survive their interplanetary travel . . . he came up with this rather neat idea that the Red Planet was actually a huge bio-weapon and that it only released Thread spores when it detected a planet within a certain distance, which would certainly reduce the biomass wasted by endlessly spewing spores into space.

    I love a book that makes me think and discuss how the world works! :D

  5. 1) I LOVE the scientific discussion on Threads, although I'm not sure it's a good idea to think too hard about them... Great analogies to environmental threats (particularly the large-scale societal indifference) and to war. They both seem so clear--now that you pointed them out!

    2) As to the time travel, maybe the "default" is to go to Now, unless the rider specifically pictures a different time? So if you picture, say, the Standing Stones on Benden Weyr without giving any attention to time, then you'll end up there in the present. Or we have to assume the dragons have a clearer idea of what they're doing than their riders necessarily do...

    3) It's odd--I hadn't thought about it but really *don't* see hardly any of Kylara directly. They talk about her so much, I felt like we must have met her!

    4) Completely agree regarding F'lar's physical roughness towards Lessa. Much of what I find troubling comes down to that, maybe especially because she's so frequently described as small and delicate. I think I would have far fewer qualms if Lessa would just haul off and slap him one of these times--and have him learn something from it! The funny thing is, her character seems completely capable of doing it...but she never does.

  6. For some reason that I don't understand, whenever I read about F'Lar shaking Lessa I get a mental image of that film exert that ET watches of John Wayne manhandling some poor woman and then kissing her (It's the one that he telepathically transmits to Elliot during the frog dissection class). I would also like Lessa to give him a good slap in return . . . or Ramoth could do it, which would be even better! :)

  7. I love your husband's thoughts on the whole planet being a bio weapon - nice thinking! Makes me think of Star Wars and the Death Star - not bio I realise but manufactured for a purpose. I also just thought that the threads would have some sort of protective outer that allowed them to travel between the planets that maybe was shed once they hit a warmer atmosphere?
    But - I'm definitely not a scientist and pretty obviously don't know what the heck I'm talking about! Doesn't stop me wanting to discuss it though :D

  8. It's like a knee jerk reaction isn't it! Like he's worried about her so he gives her a good shaking. All this discussion about shaking did make me smile for some reason - actually one of the things I did find annoying about F'Lar or at least McCaffrey's description of him, more to the point, was his constant grinning! That word seemed a bit overused to me.
    Lynn :D

  9. Sue, I think you said everything I wanted to say about F'lar. I'm also glad that the "romance" is kept to a minimum and doesn't intrude more on the rest. I enjoyed the rest of the story.

    I love the point you make about the Threads. I thought of them as an environmental threat to the planet, but now you have me thinking more about them! And Kylara? You make an excellent point about her too! I personally think F'lar offered Kylara the egg hoping to eventually get rid of the woman by sending her to another Weyr. Remember he slept with her before beginning his relationship with Lessa, and Kylara had the hots for him. Hmmm...


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