Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Merciless and dismissive review of Dragonriders of Pern Vol. 1, Dragonflight

As a kid I read some Anne McCaffery dragonrider books, and recall enjoying them.  The idea of having a best buddy with whom you can speak telepathically and who is a fire breathing monster is pretty cool.  In some ways it is similar to the appeal of the relationships you see in some of the Heinlein juveniles, in which there are siblings who can communicate telepathically (e.g. Time for the Stars) and people have adorable alien pets that save the day (e.g. Star Beast and Red Planet.)

I decided in my late 30s to try McCaffery's dragon books again, and I was amazed at how terrible the first part of the first volume was.  I abandoned Dragonflight at page 120 and went to Amazon to write a ruthless assault on this world famous, widely-beloved and award-winning book.  I posted my merciless screed on Amazon on April 15, 2010, and since then it has garnered 7 "helpful" votes and 22 "not helpful" votes.  Below I paste my Amazon review, which was rejected by the voters in a horrible landslide.  Michael Dukakis and John McCain, I feel your pain!

The dragon riders of Pern are an arrogant aristocracy, set apart from the rest of the people on Pern by their psychic powers and their telepathic relationships with colossal fire breathing dragons who can teleport through space and time. They are too busy playing with their dragons to do any work, so they exact tithes of food from the Pernese commoners, and if the commoners don't pay up, the dragon riders just swoop down on them and take what they want. The dragon riders' rule is justified because every 200 or so years some animals from outer space attack Pern, and since the Pernese haven't yet invented gunpowder or the internal combustion engine, only the dragons can defend the planet.

The Pern books are very popular, and this one's individual segments won some Nebulas, and I suppose they are good wish fulfillment for young women who daydream about being princesses and wish they could talk to their cats, in the same way that the James Bond movies are good wish fulfillment for young men who love gadgets and daydream about running around shooting foreigners and seducing women. Personally, I found the style weak, the characters unengaging, the plot predictable, and the politics (I'm supposed to cheer on the Pernese IRS?) hard to take, and I stopped reading after the dragon sex scene around page 120.


  1. I'm glad you linked to this from the Half Price Books list. I also reread this a year-or-so ago and had a similar reaction. Then, when Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings hosted a read along, I posted mine at the end. Everybody disagreed forcefully with me.
    I tried to read book two, but got stymied when the privileged and obnoxious princess battles with the gay dragon riders that are still flushed from their tryst.

  2. I wonder if when I read those Pern books as a kid I didn't "get" or just ignored the things I found so irritating when I tried to read Dragonflight as an adult. Probably I just thought dragons and telepathy and Thread were so cool that I didn't even think through how the dragonriders were treating other people or if the Pern society was admirable or made sense.

    I'm sure as a kid I had zero consciousness of some of the things I care about now, like "writing style" and "economy." I was also at the mercy of what the local library and the school library had, so I read those McCaffery books long before I read Edgar Rice Burroughs or Robert Howard, who have exciting styles and write about big, bold characters, or authors who cultivate a literary style like Jack Vance or Gene Wolfe, whom I didn't read until I was an adult. I think the library also had Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, whose writing I now find weak; maybe compared to Clarke and Asimov, McCaffery was thrilling.