By Anne McCaffrey
Published by Brilliance Audio
Read by Dick Hill
Dragonflight is the first volume in Anne McCaffrey’s series, “The Dragonriders of Pern,” and was published in 1968. Since then there have been many sequels and prequels and it might be tempting to want to read it all in the series’ chronological order, but I really think this is the best starting place when reading these books.
This is the story of a young woman, Lessa of Ruatha, who was the daughter of the deposed Lord Holder of Ruatha forced to live in hiding as a scullery maid while plotting her revenge on Lord Fax, who killed her entire family. She achieves her revenge by tricking, F’lar, rider of the bronze dragon, Mnementh into fighting a duel and killing Fax. It is only then she learns that F’lar and his men were there searching for a woman to serve as the next Weyrwoman, or rider of a soon to be hatched gold dragon. I will not go into all the details, but she agrees to go with him and does, indeed impress the young hatchling dragon – joining in companionship, love and spirit for life with the great beast. It is then that her troubles just begin.
Lessa must deal with the hide-bound traditions of the Weyr, the intransigence of the Lords Holder and, in time solve the mystery of the other five Weyrs that had been left empty over four hundred years earlier before the world of Pern could be destroyed for lack of those missing dragons.
Pern, we learn from other books in the series was colonized by humans looking to establish a low-technology and agrarian lifestyle. It was only after the colony was established that they discovered that the world was attacked every two hundred years by a biological menace called Thread, capable of devouring any form of organic matter. The dragons were bred (the originals were biologically altered) to fight that Thread in the skies, burning it before it could fall to the ground. The dragons are telepathic, as are their riders (some more than others) which is how they communicate with each other and their riders, although some very rare individuals can talk to all dragons, not just their own. Lessa turns out to be one such person.
The novel is somewhat episodic because it started out as a pair of novellas with a third story added on to complete it when published as a novel and as the stories progress there is an understandable progression in the language as the author got the story in line. The most notable is the tern “Turn” which is the Pernese word for “year.” In the first part of the book the word year is used most, if not all of the time. Then, for a while, year and turn are used interchangeably. By the end of the book we only hear about turns. There are a few other similar progressions to words and phrases that Ms McCaffrey used as distinctively Pernese, but to tell the absolute truth, I never really noticed them until I went back to reread the first book years after reading most of the others, so it is an exceedingly small nit to pick.
The story is one of Science Fiction’s greats and that is not just my opinion. The two novellas that comprise most of the book won Anne McCaffrey the Hugo and Nebula Awards, making her the first female author to win either of the highest awards in SF and Fantasy publishing. Make no mistake about it, this is excellent story-telling by a master (or Mistress) of the art.
Dick Hill does a good job of reading this book. His grasp of emotion was good, although while I often complain about readers who use funny voices to differentiate the characters, Mister Hill does not make the voices different enough, at least not for a professional reader. Had this been a Librivox recording and by a non-professional volunteer, I might have thought it was very good, but for a pro, this was a bit flat and it could have been enhanced by some vocal variance from one character to the next. However, it was easy to listen to and not annoying in the least, so good but not excellent.
So all told, this is justifiably one of the classics of Science Fiction and while I think it could have been read better, this recording was okay.