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The Skies of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

Published by Del Rey Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

In this novel Anne McCaffrey returns again to the Ninth Pass and the characters who originally made Pern a best-selling series. In All the Weyrs of Pern, she had Lord Jaxom and the other dragonriders permanently end the threat of Thread with the help of AIVAS, the ancient computer that had been left by the original colonists. Strictly speaking, it did not immediately eliminate the threat of Thread -- the current Pass would continue for its usual time, and dragonriders would need to continue to fly and fight thread. But the orbit of the so-called Red Star had been altered sufficiently that the Ninth Pass would be the last ever, and future generations would never again need to fear silvery death raining from the sky.

Wonderful as that promise of freedom might be, it left the dragonriders with a future in which they would never again need to fulfill their traditional duties of protection. A future in which they would have no function, and thus would indeed become the useless parasites they had been accused of being by disgruntled Lords Holder shortly before the beginning of the Pass, when it was believed that the Long Interval meant there was no more Thread.

Thus the dragonriders have been giving serious thought to their continued usefulness in a post-Thread Pern. Obviously a dragon's ability to go between to any place would make them useful as messengers and for carrying small, high-value cargos that need to be delivered rapidly. But would there be enough business to justify the huge Weyrs full of dragons, all eating enormous amounts of prime meat to sustain their hot metabolisms? Not to mention that messenger duties would be far too prosaic to stir the powerful sentiments traditionally given to dragons as protectors of Hold and Hall.

Even as the dragonriders are considering their new place in a changed world, other people are angry that the world has changed at all, and want the change to go away so they can return to the traditional ways. Even in an industrial society, there is a limit to how much social change can be assimilated by a society in a generation, and a traditional society such as Pern had been for so many generations has even less ability to deal with rapid social and economic change. People who expect to die in a world virtually identical to the one in which they were born often find such change disorienting to the point of inducing fear.

And just such a reaction has happened to the social changes introduced by AIVAS, and they have organized into a group calling themselves the Abominators. They had made a terrorist attack upon the AVIAS, but failed to destroy it. Now that it has shut itself down, having fulfilled its mission to see to the ultimate destruction of Thread, the Abominators no longer have a single target upon which to focus their wrath, but they have not given up their determination to return Pern to the old ways in which dragonriders will always be ready to fly against Thread.

This is the situation that faces F'lessan, son of F'lar and Lessa, rider of bronze Golanth. Although he is the son of the two people who started the sequences of changes which turned Pern from a backward and declining society to one that is vibrant and changing, he is not guaranteed to inherit the pinnacle of power F'lar assumed in the desperate days at the beginning of the Pass. Not only does Weyr society not pass authority from father to son, but the very changes that F'lessan's parents have brought about will also mean that the circumstances which might have brought F'lessan to senior leadership will no longer hold.

As a result, he has claimed an island in the south, one with an imposing ruin from the original Settlement that can be restored to habitability and be a treasure for all the people of Pern. In the years since discovering it, he has researched assiduously to learn the story of its original inhabitants (it is of course the former home of the troublesome Stev Kimmer whose misbehavior in "Rescue Run" nearly caused the death of everyone in the shuttle -- see The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall). And when a comet collides with Pern and sends a tsunami racing through the long, narrow ocean between the northern and southern continents, he and his dragon perform heroically to rescue people to whom word could not be gotten fast enough.

In short, he's on the top of the world -- until the day an attack by a wild cat leaves both him and his dragon clinging to life, badly injured. Even when they recover, it is clear that their Thread-fighting days are over. Golanth's wings are so badly injured that he will never be able to fly again. Which leads them to make a discovery about draconic abilities which may provide a key to protection from other dangers beside Thread which fall from the sky.

Quite honestly, this was the part of the story that I liked least. It seemed like it went from pathos to bathos, that the author deliberately gave the character a devestating injury solely to try to punch up the intensity of the story and pull at our heartstrings, rather than for any internal logic of the story. And one of the things that really turns me off on a book is any sense that the author is deliberately manipulating my emotions, punching my buttons -- it makes the author seem more like a bully than a storyteller, and I really, really hate bullies.

Review posted May 10, 2009

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