It doesn’t help that whenever I read the word dragon, the theme song to Dragon Tales immediately pops into my head. Dragonflight was published in 1968, and the only other science fiction and/or fantasy book I have read in that same time period is Dune, published in 1965. Truly, I don’t have much to compare it to, time-wise when it was published, and it would be unfair to compare to today’s novel.
I had a difficult time understanding the world of Pern. The backstory is certainly intriguing: humans have migrated from Earth into outerspace and settled Pern. Sometime after the initial settlement, Threads descend from the Red Star, a planet which orbits closely to Pern, and destroys everything. Threads are defined in the glossary as “mycorrhizoid spores from the Red Star, which descend on Pern and burrow into it, devouring all organic material they encounter.”
I assume all the technology was destroyed by the Threads? I would think if humans had developed space travel we would be able to defeat spores, considering the invention of fire was one of the first things we did along the road of evolution. Also, did all humans settle on Pern? If not, where did everyone else go?
There isn’t any real description about these sorts of questions. So-called dragons have been found to fight the Threads and burn them down, but the dragons have to chew on special stones to shoot fire.
The story opens with two dragonmen F’lar and F’nor looking for a Weyrwoman, essentially the dragon queen. They find her, Lessa, who has the ability to control others with her mind (not explained or explored too much) and the rare ability to communicate with all dragons, not just the one that partners with her. On goes the story, and Lessa and F’lar try to figure out how to defeat the Threads that are due to descend on Pern again.
The Threads didn’t seem too scary. Really, I imagined giant spiderwebs coming out of the sky and the dragons shooting it down like a mini-game. No real strategy on the Threads’ part to counterattack or anything. They’re just dropping like silly string apparently.
Lessa and F’lar’s relationship was weird. I take it with a grain salt since of the time period in which it was written. All of the sex is implied, and it definitely makes it seem like rape. I thought it was ridiculous how Lessa “gets shaken” by F’lar all the time when he’s mad. It is somewhat amusing that she is shook all the time because you would think it would be an epithet for a punch or a beatdown, but no, she gets shook. At one point she expresses fear that she will get shook by F’lar by disobeying him. What is even stranger is that she is a defiant, arrogant, determined individual who is always doing things her way. It is contrasted with this sexual domination by F’lar because of the culture of the dragons and whatnot. However, it is all subtle in the story, and I would think most kids would miss the implications, although they may pick up on the relationship as not a normal, modern one. It is like a soap opera fantasy romance.
It took me awhile to get into the story, but there is action and the second half kept me entertained. The time travel deus ex machina was unexpected. It does seem there are limitations to how far back on can travel, but the implications of bringing people to the future wasn’t explored. It was interesting that no one resisted the time travel, they just went along with it. Time travel is a confusing concept and can make your head spin, but McCaffrey never got into the details about it, which is probably for the best because this wasn’t a heavy story that could handle such philosophical dealings.
So, is the solution for any further Thread attack to travel back in time to gather more fighters? Will this be something they are going to use again and again? What about for situations not relating to Threads? Who will regulate it?
The characters are never developed well. F’lar is pretty much a macho man who shakes Lessa and looks at her tenderly when she’s asleep. Lessa yells and stomps to get her way but saves the day because she takes action. She gets a point for that because she really is the opposite of a damsel in distress, she is an out of control damsel. The other characters are not too interesting. The dragons could have gotten more page time. They seem like they are rolling their eyes all the time at all the humans.
I liked the story but in weird wringing my hands hemming and hawing about it. An epic battle is always fun, but we never get there! The story moves rapidly and doesn’t linger too long. And the story is certainly original. The world-building is meager. Dragonflight could have been helped by some more exposition and character insight.