Anne McCaffrey
Dragonflight Cover

Dragonflight - in response


In response to the efforts of jynnantonnyx on his review of Dragonflight by McCaffrey.

While jynnantonnyx’s overall response to this book was hatred, my response was far more moderate. I did not consider Dragonflight to be exceptional, nor was it horrid. It had it’s moments and the rest of the time it was merely competent.

I would ask jynnantonnyx what “cheeky intermingling of science fiction and fantasy” he was referring to? If one disregards the two page intro, there is no SF in this novel. None. This is fantasy. The two page intro provided a wrapping paper of SF to the major theme, namely the retrograde, or cyclic nature of knowledge and technology. Earth and spaceflight were forgotten in the intro, so this theme is the basis of the novel. The dragonriders and the fight against the threads is almost forgotten, dragonriders are scorned, and the knowledge of how to fight the treads is theoretical.

I like the fact jynnantonnyx incorporated Twain’s marvelous review technique but his conclusions seem overwrought and scathing far past the point of usefulness.

Point One: “time-traveling conceit”

So, how would you get Lessa and F’nor out of their difficulties, which seem insurmountable given the amount of men, dragons, and the size of the threat they face?

I think the time travel aspect is the most interesting development in the whole book. This is fantasy and teleporting time-traveling dragons bother you? Stop reading fantasy if such things are bothersome.

It is very clear that Twain’s “accomplish something and arrive somewhere” is accomplished. The novel moves from the social squaller of political infighting and conquest, to a far closer unity in the face of a common foe. The motif of declining relevance and knowledge moves to knowledge reawakening and new knowledge being gained in a time of crisis. Time travel is a means to this end. The characters have to shed their mental ruts and use their new knowledge of time travel to come up with new options, options which ultimately save Pern.

Point Two: jynnantonnyx answer is a cop-out. Lessa’s growth arc drives both the gaining of new knowledge, time travel, and the solution to the outmanned problem. This growth and her ability to take the jump when it becomes known this is what’s needed to save Pern, both stem from her early experiences: the slaughter of her family and her patient plotting for revenge.

Point Three: “We are told that the other dragon weyrs all mysteriously died out hundreds of years ago.” jynnantonnyx does not seem to understand that we’re told this, because this is the only explanation the current people of Pern can come up with. It’s wrong, but it’s all they can imagine. This explanation also sets up the tension of the reader seeing the solution long before the characters see it. We, as readers, are far more comfortable with time travel and it’s possibilities, so naturally it take Lessa and F’nor a bit longer to come up with the solution.

Point Four: “there is absolutely no reason for the inhabitants of the long-"dead" weyrs to be brought from the distant past into the not-so-distant present. Simply don't steal them from their time, and then their descendants will have produced more than enough dragons to meet the present threat.” jynnantonnyx does not seem to realize that if this happened, then there is no reason the overarching theme of degrading ability, decreasing numbers, no respect, and forgotten knowledge would not have spread to all the weyrs and not just the one. This is key. Pern needs warriors, not just numbers but knowledgeable warriors, warriors who have experience fighting the threads. If we take into consideration F’nor’s losses at the first battle, and then extend that over five other weyrs, who would be in the same boat experience wise, the survival of Pern itself seems in doubt. Knowledge and numbers in fighting the threads is key. Both of which exist only in the past.

Point Five: “Let it simply be noted that the characters of Dragonflight—backwards, pseudo-medieval, squallor-dwelling people that they are supposed to be—have little difficulty swallowing the idea of time travel.”

At first glance this seems a valid point until one considers the wider genre level implications. This is fantasy, written in the classic medieval-lite style, with decidedly modern outlooks. This is not Eco’s The Name of the Rose, written with a true medieval mindset. If one can suspend disbelief for talking dragons, why the fuss about mindset over time travel? “Altering the timeline”? Really? And here I thought they were fumbling around for answers, and the fact things were already progressing along certain lines helped them make the decisions they needed to make. There is no discussion of alternative timelines. It’s closer to, since we know we sent a colony to the south continent, then our decision about whether to do that or not has already been decided. So we’ll go with that then, since we’re fumbling around in the dark here.

Point Nine: Methinks thou protests to much. As I’ve said before, this is fantasy, with a wrapping paper thin cover of SF. Why the SF is there, is either because McCaffrey wanted to emphases her theme of the cyclic natural of knowledge and technology, a revolutionary ideas for 1967, or someone else thought a SF wrapping would be a good idea. We don’t need to know how dragons teleport or time travel. That’s suspension of disbelief. One of the hallmarks of Fantasy is the fantastic. Twian’s point of “confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone” is not valid in this genre. Realist fiction yes, but not in fantasy. Now that I think of it, this point is not even valid in some SF since Clarke’s law about sufficiently advanced technology looks like miracles to more primitive peoples, invalidates Twain's point. And jynnantonnyx comments about burning books is distasteful. I thought only the Nazis and religious fanatics burn books these days. I doubt that’s where jynnantonnyx wishes to be considered. This is only fiction.

Point Ten: “one cannot hate a virus as though it were a moral agent.” Really?

jynnantonnyx have you ever been in a field camp in Africa fighting Ebola? No? Or how about an understaffed, underfunded inner city clinic fighting flu? No? Cancer then? If not, then I’m sure you wouldn’t understand that when someone’s life is threatened by the impersonal threats of disease, that one tends to humanize it. It becomes personal. It’s not: “I’m a victim of a biological incursion” It’s “This shit is trying to killing me.”

Now, if the whole novel has been just human villainy, good guys vs. bad guys, now that would’ve been boring. By giving the characters a far larger problem, the novel extends itself to greater heights. The interpolitical strife is just widowdressing to show how unprepared and vulnerable this society is at this moment in their history, to the threat of the threads. This villainy is common. The threads are uncommon and thus far more interesting.

Point Eleven: Twain’s point seems fulfilled. We know Lessa will make the perviously 400 turn jump to the past once it becomes establish that this is the only way to save Pern. F’nor’s reaction and his inability to see that she will do so soon enough, follow through on his character traits. Yes, everyone else is relegated to minor roles, serving as plot dictates, but so what? We can’t expect a masterpiece level characterization from a work which clearly is not one. This is harmless, while away a few hours fantasy. It’s pop fantasy, which is why there’s 15 books worth.

Since this is the first McCaffrey book I’ve read and the first book in the Pern saga, the question for me is this: will I read other McCaffrey books or Pern novels? I think the answer is yes. She held my attention. This novel was a light quick read and Pern is an interesting place. This is not weighty fiction. It’s light and fun: summer escapist reading at it’s best.