Tehani and Marisol bonded over Pern (and Doctor Who) at a science fiction convention, decided that it was time for a reread of the series, and really, they should blog about that. They are reading in Anne McCaffrey’s preferred way, which is basically publication order.
M: This was one of my favorite Pern books growing up, and after reading it, I’d still say it’s in the top 5. I really enjoy seeing the fallout AIVAS caused on all of Pern, and this is a special subset affected – those who love dolphins and want to reestablish a working relationship with them.
(I was raised on a steady diet of Flipper and The Little Mermaid, so it’s no surprise I enjoyed a story about dolphins. Which, like other sea mammals, seem horribly underrepresented in sci-fi/fantasy until recently. I guess I’m not the only one who finds them fascinating.)
T: Flipper? You watched FLIPPER? Woah. (I didn’t really get to watch that show, as our television access was spotty, to say the least, when I was a kid!). I’ve always loved dolphins too, so yes, having a book ostensibly about a society revolving around dragons being about dolphins was pretty much going to hit about a million of my “yes please” buttons!
M: Hell yeah! Flipper was on Nickelodeon, I loved all of its cheesy glory.
In what has become an unfortunate theme in this series, though, I’m really unimpressed with the showcasing of women in this book. In particular, I find the portrayal of Readis’s mother, Aramina, who has previously been this strong, confident woman, into a shrinking fearful for my baaaaaby mother, infuriating. The woman goes through kidnapping, betrayal, holdessness, survives the trip to the Southern Continent, but loses her brain over one of her four kids? She doesn’t do anything to her other kids at all to back up the big shift in her attitude, and overall just found it to be disappointing.
T: *sigh* Yes. That characterisation was really off. McCaffrey seemed to work really hard to explain Aramina’s attitude but it just didn’t fly. I could get it to a certain point, because in her own short story and in Renegades, there were some aspects of her personality that could lend themselves to her becoming overprotective and handling things in a way that might seem strange, but she really does go over the top, and it makes no sense in the context of the life they lead. It makes less sense that Jayge never addresses it with her and Readis, or that Alemi doesn’t prod him to do so!
M: Exactly! Where is the changeover? It’s like she goes from zero to ninety in no space. It makes her come off a bit crazy. And the fact everyone else either never acknowledges it or handwaves it away is so out of character.
And other than that, we get short bits with Menolly and Mirrim, and stand-in characters for sisters, etc. We’ve hit this point where women are becoming equal, at least that’s what we’re being fed, so where are they?
T: Well, as you know Marisol, the perception of women as equal is really at about 15%, right? 😛 I think I forgave this one a little more than I should have, reading your comments now, because it didn’t bother me while I read it. Possibly that was a little in part due to the fact I really like Alemi as a character, and he plays a significant role. I fear I may have done that thing where you think there are more female characters than there are when a few a randomly mentioned by name and have a bit to do (such as Temma, for example). But you are definitely right. Like, why couldn’t Persellan, the healer, have been a woman, to give us another reasonably important character?
M: I’ve wondered if one of the girls had been the eldest and the planned holder if we could have had the exact same story, and I don’t see why not, other than she’d be the first female Holder. Which would have made for a better story/angle, far more believable than a sudden fear of Readis and a watery grave simply because he was in one storm.
T: That would have been much more interesting!
M: By comparison, I found Lord Toric’s shift from adventurous to greedy Holder, to a southern-esque Lord Fax completely realistic. We’ve watched this shift over several books, and he doesn’t take any of the warnings or foiled attempts to heart. Given his abusive past, it was interesting to see the manipulation and abuse cycle continue, but in a different form, through his actions. Toric left home to have a better life free of it, and ended up still doing what his father did, but to a larger number of people.
T: I was really sad about that, although it worked well. In the earlier books, Toric can be quite likeable, and I have to wonder if McCaffrey was using him to make a point. I might be reading too much into it, but the fact is, he was a generally well-liked fellow who achieved a position of power, which made it difficult for others (including, in earlier books, his sister) to stand up to him.
M: The way Lessa and F’lar turned it around on him gave me a long, delighted chuckle. You know what’s coming simply from the context, and his comeuppance was delicious.
T: I had forgotten that the book wasn’t always focused on Readis and his story, probably because the ending is all about him. But Alemi, T’lion (and Gadareth) and of course the dolphins all play a big part in the eventual outcome of the creation of a dolpineer crafthall.
M: I forgot as well for the same reasons. Readis is such a great person that I can forgive a lot in the book for sheer enjoyability factor with him. Anne had a real gift for giving us the personal struggles for young people, and their self growth.
One of the best scenes underscoring this was watching the death of Masterharper Robinton through Readis’s eyes. One of Anne’s most brilliant abilities is her storytelling through perspective, and this section nails it. I remember how it felt as a young kid experience my first serious family death, and the emotions all surrounding it – including being the eldest who looked after their siblings while watching your parental heroes stumble around, lost. It’s one of those moments in life where your childhood assumptions change, and you can never go back. Well done.
T: And that’s why we keep reading these books again and again. McCaffrey was a master, that’s for sure!
The Harper Hall trilogy (Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, Dragondrums)