Truth be told, I should have read Dragonflight a long, long time ago. Originally published in 1968, this book has been around since, well, as long as I’ve been alive. Longer, even. It’s one of those books, the ones that anyone purporting to have any semblance of “geek cred” is assumed to have read—and cherished deeply—lo, the many years ago, as part of an assumed formative pre/adolescence. Probably in a small room that served as a place of personal refuge that sported generic flying saucer wallpaper and an R2-D2 desk lamp.
Hello, welcome to Cliché Island. I’m Puddin and I’ll be your host today.
Anyway, somehow, with all the science fiction/fantasy I’ve read through the years, I’ve never read any of McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series. I’m pretty sure that makes me either a bad person or wholly lacking in the aforementioned “geek cred”.
Then again, I’m of the opinion that the concept of “geek cred” is as much utter bullshit as theories that we never actually landed on the moon or that the government is actually in secret negotiations with the aliens from the Pegasus galaxy to provide human samples for experimental study.
Clearly the Pegasans don’t need any governmental cooperation—as if that such a thing even existed. If nothing else, I’m pretty sure the collective governments of Earth couldn’t cooperate to find a men’s room.
But, uh, “geek cred” is another post.
Anyway, so, uh, Dragonflight.
I would like to tell you that I devoured this novel and then spent hours lamenting how my life to date has been somehow vacant because it took me so long to read it. But. I just can’t. I found Dragonflight uneven, at best, and not captivating enough to carry me into the next book in the Pern series, Dragonquest.
Honestly, I’m surprised I feel this way about it, based on the early part of the novel. Things started off well enough, and I truly did tear through the first two-thirds of it in little more than a day. The characters seemed a bit thin, sure, but at least their respective motivations were clear and made sense in the early going. But as the story wore on, it became clear to me that the plot, not the characters, was the driving force here, even as it became more convoluted. In the end, the protagonists seemed wooden and, well, opaque, for lack of a better word. They leapt from one extreme behavior to another—even, or maybe I should say, especially, when reacting to each other—and I could never get a firm feel for their motivation(s).
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that they felt more like set pieces than actual characters. Machines through which the plot moved.
Holy passive voice, there, Batman.
Having read plot-driven novels before, that didn’t have to mean terrible things. Unfortunately, the primary conflict in Dragonflight never really got my knickers all kinked up, either. The stakes just didn’t feel all that high. There’s no real antagonist, but rather this sort of faceless, conceptual one. I mean, sure, the situation is looking grave for these people and Pern in general, but I never felt as if Doom-with-a-capital-‘D’ was waiting behind door number one to pop out like a jack-in-the-box at any second. Things, stuff—they call them Threads, I guess, some kind of spore ejected from the nefarious Red Star—were going to fall from the sky and ruin the whole planet. But, you know, eventually, in this kind of Little Shop of Horrors-veggie-takeover-sort-of-long-drawn-out-process.
That is, unless, of course, the dragons and their riders could stop it. Meh.
Granted, if you lived when Dragonflight was published, during the Cold War, this could, potentially give you a bit more pause. But, let’s the honest, the upcoming zombie apocalypse, the threat of invasion by Oompa Loompas, the prospect of your local Starbucks running out of espresso at 10 AM, and MTV’s fall lineup this year are more immediately terrifying concepts.
Admittedly, given this book’s age, I might be applying my own modern critical prejudices. And you could argue that younger me perhaps wouldn’t have been so bothered by what I deem cardboard characterization. Then again, maybe not. After all, the books that I do hold dear from those formative years are generally strongly characterized. I just didn’t realize that was important for me at the time. I liked them but didn’t really consider why.
Regardless, Dragonflight just didn’t have what I’m looking for. I was glad when I finished, not sad there wasn’t more. Two stars out of five, which in my book equals “meh.”
Of course, that’s just my opinion. I’d love to hear yours. Please leave a comment, or join us over at The Sword and Laser to discuss it further.
In the meantime, go read a book. Then we’ll talk about it.