Sunday, May 10, 2009

Review: Dragonflight

Dragon's were once protectors of the sky, saving Pern from the Threads, a worm like bacteria that destroys all life if left unchecked. The Threads would enter Pern's atmosphere every 250 years when the Red Star got too close to Pern. However 450 years have passed without the Threads and in that time Dragon's have diminished and when once there were many Queen Dragons there are now none left, except one huge Golden Egg. 

One of the things about being a relatively new reader to fantasy is having to catch up on classics and old school authors. I have heard many a great things about McCaffrey and seen many of her books in either second hand shops and in bookstores. So when I picked up Dragonflight for $1 I had to immediately read it.

I was in for a shock. The first moment you are plunged into pages of politics without really knowing who or what the characters are. You can work out the "good" and "bad" guys but you don't care for them and therefore care not for their goals. The dragons in this series come in many a variety, green, blue, brown bronze and of course the Queen dragons. However, unlike Naomi Novik, McCaffery doesn't give us much detail about the different 'breeds' except that they come in different sizes. I would have liked it if she gave us a bit more detail on the abilities of different dragons and what those dragons would do normally during combat and non-combat times. 

As I read on, I slowly realised that this book was probably the best disguised fantasy book I have ever read. Dragonflight is a sci-fi book in the guise of a fantasy book. Why is it a sci-fi book in disguise? Well as I have said, the planet Pern is under attack from Threads, an alien worm-like bacteria. Dragon's are not merely dragons. I rolled my eyes when I learnt that dragons had telepathy; gasped when they could teleport and had a stroke when they could time travel.....yes...that's right, telepathic, teleporting, time travelling dragons. 

If this was actually a science fiction book I think I would have liked it because it wouldn't have destroyed my embedded concept of what dragons are and do. I would also have the mind set of reading a sci-fi book. 

The overall storyline of the book is actually very well done but it is the characterizations of the characters and the dragons that I found wanting. So I asked myself why a distinguished author and a well known series could, in my eyes be so bad? Now I know McCaffery doesn't need someone like me to come to her defence; Dragonflight has a Hugo award to do that for her but I think that the evolution of fantasy writing has evolved so much since 1969. Authors and books these days focus more on world building and characterization and yet still find space to make sure these things flow with the storyline.

Perhaps I will give McCaffery another go at a later date with a newish book of hers but if you like the idea of telepathic, teleporting, time travelling dragons then you will probably enjoy this book.


NotNessie said...

I read this book probably thirteen years ago and I ended up reading pretty much the whole series, but it's not for everyone. If you came in expecting high fantasy you were doubtless in for a disappointment.

Thanks for stopping by my blog and for actually leaving a meaningful comment. I tend to focus my reviews more on my reaction to the book rather than a qualitative analysis, but in answer to your question: Card is one of those sci-fi authors who is very concerned with issues, and he spends a lot of time with those, largely through the experiences of Ender. Character is def. his big focus in this series. I look forward to your review if you do end up reading it.

Enchante said...

I wasn't expecting high fantasy but I also wasn't expecting sci-fi in dragon form.

Thanks for giving me a bit more info on Ender's Game. I will definitely let you know how I do with it!

PhoenixFalls said...

I read all the Pern books as an early teenager and loved them dearly; rereading them as an adult I was saddened to see how inadequate the writing was, so I can understand when people who have had them hyped up are disappointed. However, since you mention that you are a new fantasy reader, I thought I'd give you a warning: it was extremely common in the 60s and 70s to blur the lines between science fiction and fantasy. If you read more of the Pern series you will find that books set very early and very late in the chronology fill in a great deal of the science fiction you might be looking for, while books set in the middle (earlier than Dragonflight) read like straight fantasy. Another series like this is Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series; again, the first novel chronologically is obviously science fiction, many in the middle are purely fantasy, and most at the middle to end are science fiction again. (This, by the way, is taking the easy definition of science fiction versus fantasy: sci-fi has computers and spaceships and a wide universe of planets; fantasy has magic or magical creatures and is not necessarily full of humans on Earth.)

There are even some authors doing that same blurring today: Sheri S. Tepper is one whose books I would be unable to classify.

Enchanté said...

Thanks for the insightful comment.
I don't mind the blurring but I was expecting a fantasy book not some bad hybrid.

Guess I'll have to stick to the newish authors =P

FantasyFicFan said...

I read Anne McCaffrey's books when I was around 12 years of age, and while I loved them then, the idea of going back now...well I shudder at the thought..I feel for you man and I'm sorry you had to go through that (lol). I guess as you grow older you are exposed to more and more novels that expand your mind and influence what you consider to be a "good" book and that inevitably includes: strong characters, plausible plot-lines, and a richly detailed universe. And to make it clear I have no problem with the mixing of sci-fi and fantasy. In fact, when it is done properly it is my favorite hybrid genre.

PS: phew! I honestly thought that I was the only one that had this problem with Anne McCaffrey, and because of all her success I figured I must be missing something.

Enchanté said...

Hey Fantasyficfan

I don't mind hybrids. I think there is a lot of sense having the two together but teleporting, time travelling dragons was not it.

I too am glad there are others out there that think Pern is awful.

Cam said...

I am a little bummed you were brought down with her work! I for one enjoy the Character Development even if it is a little backwards. It kept me on my heels as to what those first introduced characters were up to and why or their motives. After reading nearly the entire series I will say that Anne gets into plenty of details and brings you into the world of Pern a lot better than you would think after the first book! I agree with PhoenixFalls that you have to be willing to transition from new authors we love today to older writings of a woman in the late 60's and 70's. I would say give it another go... with an open mind and perhaps read more than the first book?

Happy Readings!

Carin said...

I read the books as a child and am starting to re-read them 20 years later. They definitely hold a special place for me and I enjoyed Dragonflight as much as I did as a child, but I see where you're coming from. I've started reading more science fiction and I consider McCaffrey to be "science fiction lite".

I will say that there is a little glossary at the back of the book that help with the characters (because there are a lot of them). Keep in mind that Pern is somewhat like Middle Earth. It has been a lifetime journey for her and her world is fairly complicated. Minor characters in this book become major characters in later books. I would recommend you give it another go. Dragonsdawn explains a lot of the problems that you had with the dragons and is all about how the dragons came to be. Maybe you won't like her work even if you read another, but I'd give it one more try. I did that with Terry Brooks and enjoy his Shanarra series even though it is pretty young adult (The Sword of Shanarra was horrible, but I enjoyed the rest of the series quite a bit).

Enchanté said...

Thanks for the input guys. I will give her another try a bit later on, as I always given authors two attempts. However, there are many quality books out there that I haven't read and it might take me a while to get back to Pern.