mediocre books get mediocerely written reviews
Posted April 6, 2011on:
published in 1971
where I got it: husband came with it
why I read it: this is one of my husband’s favorite series, so I wanted to give it a try.
Picking up seven years after Dragonflight (reviewed here), Lessa has come into her own as Weyrwoman, F’lar is a respected Weyrleader, and the “oldtimers” that Lessa brought from four hundred turns ago are having trouble adapting to their new world. The oldtimers who were once revered above all Pernians are having trouble swallowing that they are no longer seen as demigods by the populace.
The politics between the oldtimers and the contemporary Pernians are my favorite part of this book. I interpreted it as an interesting little political commentary, how the oldtimers (conservatives) react to the contemporary dragonriders (the progessives). The way the oldtimers see it, everything the progessives do is wrong and to the detriment of society. But the contemporary dragonriders don’t see why they shouldn’t use every tool and every new technology they discover to make life easier for everyone? When developing new methods and drastically moving away from tradition, how far is too far?
Since we already know the characters and the world, McCaffrey is able to develop other characters besides the heroic Lessa and F’lar. F’lar’s halfbrother F’nor gets a lot more screen (page?) time, which is much appreciated, as his sense of humor and lighter personality is a nice change from F’lar’s serious manner. And since Lessa’s Dragon Ramoth has had so many queen eggs, there are a lot more weyrwomen as well, most importantly Kylara who continues to be a vicious and dangerous woman, and Brekke who starts out under Kylara’s thumb but quickly proves her worth and importance.
When two children get lost in caves and find old rooms that have been untouched for centuries, the craftmasters are beside themselves with the joys of rediscovering old technologies, including telescopes and microscopes. It’s not long after that a craftmaster develops a telegraph to send messages. Pern, once pastoral and feudal, is developing technologies faster than it’s people can adapt to them. It doesn’t help when the new Southern Weyr starts discovering clutches of fire-lizards that can be Impressed by just about anyone.
Suddenly, F’lar not only has to worry about unscheduled Thread falls, now he has to worry about the oldtimers who resent his methods and a general populace whose long-time resentment of the uppity dragonriders is now boiling to the surface. Perhaps these little fire-lizards who can be Impressed by anyone will make fine enough pets to appease the feudal lords enough that they keep paying their tithes to the Dragonweyrs.
Pern may be a generally low tech civilization, but they have telepathic dragons who can teleport AND travel through time. Who needs computers or cell phones with you’ve got time travelling dragons? McCaffrey has some fun with how the Pernians misinterpret old information and newly discovered technologies. This really is a lovely fusing of fantasy and science fiction.
it’s really too bad McCaffrey’s writing style did absolutely nothing for me. the dialog is fine, if stilted, but sadly, I struggled to finish Dragonquest and found myself skimming towards the end. I might have no attention span, or maybe I’ve just been really spoiled lately with prose that doesn’t waste a word, that gives valueable information in each and every sentence. This didn’t read like that kind of prose. Dragonflight read like a debut, and I was forgiving of the clunky writing and the one dimensional characters. With Dragonquest, my expectations were higher, and although I did get characters that were far more fleshed out, I also got too large on an ensemble cast for me to keep track of, a society dealing with social upheaval and new technologies, romance, melodrama, power vacuums, and just plain too many people telling their viewpoints of the story. Every other page felt like “meanwhile, back at the Ranch. . . “. It’s a personal preference of mine to have focused stories with smaller casts. Had McCaffrey pulled back on even just one thing out of many, I think I would have enjoyed reading the book more.
On the other hand, the scifi concepts and the politics of the story were excellent. This is a feudal style civilization, with Hold (village) Lords and tithes and low technology, but at the same time, we are far in humanity’s future, with this fledgling planet having simply lost so much knowledge through mass die off and or bad communication. It’s staggering to think about how the Pernians got where they did. Unless we find a perfect way to pass information to future generations, flying dragons aside, is this the kind of future we can look forward to, even here on Earth? It really is fascinating to think about.
The end of Dragonquest leaves many questions unanswered along with a deftly designed cliffhanger, but I was so put off by McCaffrey’s writing style that I’m not sure if I will continue reading this series.