Monday, September 11, 2006

Book 79: Dragon's Fire

Anne McCaffrey and her son Todd McCaffrey have collaborated a second time to write a novel of Pern's earlier days. Dragon's Fire takes place during the same time period as their first collaboration Dragon's Kin, which would be the end of the Second Interval after Landing (the settlement of Pern) before the Fall of Thread. This novel has to do with discovering new sources for firestone, the material needed by the dragons to breathe fire. Pellar, a young mute boy is apprenticed to Masterharper Zist and they work together to search for Moran, another Harper who has gone missing trying to help The Shunned. The Shunned are a segment of Pernese society which have been outcast for various crimes but also at the whim of a Lord Holder. Pellar's story intertwines with Halla, a homeless girl, and Cristov, the son of a miner. There are references to the characters of Dragon's Kin, but this serves more to place the story in a time period rather than illuminate the story here.

While Dragon's Fire is, at its core, about finding a safe way to mine firestone, most of the novel focuses on the various adventures of Pellar as well as Tenim's (a villain) desire to gain power and money. Dragon's Fire does not seem to tell the story it claims to tell, and the issue with firestone is almost an afterthought except for discussions on the challenges of mining firestone because of how volatile the material is. Midway through the novel the story picks up and the McCaffreys start driving towards a conclusion, but the first half of the novel meanders around without accomplishing much. By the end Dragon's Fire is a better novel than Dragon's Kin, but it does not hold up nearly as well against Anne's classic Dragonriders of Pern novels. Interestingly enough, Todd McCaffrey's solo Pern novel, Dragonsblood, is also a stronger novel. The fact that the stakes do not feel very high or important has to do with the reasons why this novel is not as effective as other Pern stories. This is a problem in telling stories set early in a long chronology because we know that the dragons have firestone and no previous mention of the danger of firestone has been seen in prior novels, it is difficult to feel that there is a chance that the story will not end well for Pern.

Somehow I wish that Pern would start to go the way of Darkover (Marion Zimmer Bradley) in that the lost colony will eventually become re-discovered by Earth and the culture conflicts. Anne already set this up in All the Weyrs of Pern with the discovery of working technology and the old space ships. There are stories to tell in this direction, but I fear that Todd will continue to write in the older days of Pern and do little to expand our understanding of the world.

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