I first read Dragonflight my freshman year in high school, along with the rest of the Dragonriders series. I enjoyed it well enough, and after reading the entire series (there are around twenty books total), I decided I wanted to write some Dragonriders stories. I joined a “fanfic” (fan fiction, stories written in a pre-existing universe) mailing list during my sophomore year, and wrote short stories based on “Pern” (the world the series takes place on) for about six months. I managed to rouse the enmity of the people in charge, and got kicked out. I haven’t written consistently since. This semester’s focus on writing caused me to decide to re-examine my time with the mailing list, and the books that caused me to join in the first place, books I haven’t re-read since being kicked out of the writing club eight years ago.
Dragonflight is the first book in the Dragonriders of Pern series. It establishes the world and main characters for the rest of the series. The world in particular needs some explanation, since it is decidedly alien to the reader. The social structure is broken into three hierarchies, Craft, Hold, and Weyr. Crafts are specialists in a given field (smithing, mining, and farming, for instance), and are autonomous within themselves (a Mining Craftmaster would not have jurisdiction over a Smith, for instance). Holds are the general populace of the planet, operating on a semi-feudal system of Lords. Weyrs make up the dragonriders, who live in extinct volcanoes and are sworn to the protection of Pern against an alien threat known as Thread. Since the Weyrs do not have arable land, the Holds and Crafts tithe to the Weyr that protects them against Thread (there are six Weyrs total, spread across the continent).
Thread is an alien organism that eats through any organic material with ease. It is drawn to Pern by the erratic elliptical orbit of another planet that has become known as the “Red Star”. Because the orbit is erratic, it generally only passes near enough to Pern to drop Thread every two hundred years, or “Turns”, and then does so for roughly 50 Turns. Every once in a while, however, the Red Star’s orbit is sufficiently erratic that an extended period without Thread occurs, known as a “Long Interval”.
Dragonflight opens at the end of one of these Long Intervals. During the extended absence of Thread, the Weyrs have fallen into disrepute with the rest of the population, and their numbers have dwindled to a fraction of their previous numbers. The sole remaining “Queen” dragon laid a new Queen egg before passing on, and the dragonriders are in search of candidates to become linked (to “Impress”) to the new queen once it hatches. They discover a young, driven girl named Lessa, who subsequently Impresses Ramoth, the new queen dragon. This makes her the “Weyrwoman” of the Weyr (the Weyr is lead by the Weyrwoman and the Weyrleader, who is the rider of the dragon that manages to mate with the Queen).
As the story progresses, the remaining dragons attempt to prepare the planet against the imminent return of Thread (which most of the planet now regards as a myth), and face the desperate need to increase their ranks quickly. At great risk of life, Lessa and Ramoth travel back in time (an ability dragons have is teleportation; Lessa discovers they can teleport through time as well as space), to the end of the last Pass of the Red Star. She leads the vast majority of the dragons from that time forward to her own time, explaining the reduction in dragon numbers over the Long Interval, and by doing so repopulates the Weyrs in time to save the planet against Thread.
That’s the book in a nutshell. By and large, it’s reasonably well written, and won several awards when it came out in the late 1960s. That said, I’m not entirely sure what I saw in it the first time I read it. There are some major plot holes, and naming discrepancies within the book (let alone compared to future books). That said, the world itself is well developed, with a clear social structure and culture, and the dialogue in general is well written. It’s an enjoyable read, and worth reading if only as an interesting blending of science fiction and fantasy aspects. I’d recommend it as a good example of that hybrid genre.
McCaffrey, Anne. Dragonflight. New York: Ballantine Books, 1968.