THE SKIES OF PERN
Anne McCaffrey


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Ballantine, 2001
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Science Fiction

The inhabitants of the planet Pern have been told there will be no more life-devouring Thread after the end of this fifty-year pass. Using information recovered from an ancient, long-buried computer, the dragonriders of Pern have been able to eliminate the threat that once made life on Pern such a challenge. Now a whole society is dislocated, in its effort to redirect its goals from self-defense to improving their quality of life. Technology stored in the computer by Pern’s first settlers is now being applied to medicine, communication, and manufacturing, sending some folk on the fringes frantic with culture shock.

What will the dragonriders do in the coming age, with their traditional enemy gone? This question dominates the first few chapters, as we become acquainted, or reacquainted, with the characters and the social themes. Then catalysis in the form of a comet strikes Pern, and its people must become a community focused on rescuing and recovering their spreading colonies. We see much of this through the eyes of dragonrider F’lessan, son of long-time favorite Pern characters Lessa and F’lar. F’lessan and his friends save lives, help with the rebuilding, and then look again at the question of their future in a new light. How can they keep this new threat from returning? The time has come to develop previously neglected skills in both humans and dragons.

It is author Anne McCaffrey’s storytelling skills that rescue this rather cerebral theme. THE SKIES OF PERN, like other Pern books that focus on the theme of societal change, occasionally bogs down in technical detail. But McCaffrey is an expert crafter of stories. It is impossible not to want to know what will happen to her people and what they are going to do about it. The world of Pern that she created over thirty years ago is still colorful and exotic. Our friendships with the characters are eternal. And who among Pern’s many long-time readers has not wanted to share a telepathic partnership with one of the imposing and endearing dragons who have protected Pern for so long?

Anne McCaffrey’s international popularity makes her a very busy woman and it is disappointing but not surprising that a number of her recent books have shown a lack of concentration. The you-are-there experience that made DRAGONFLIGHT, THE SHIP WHO SANG and others such unforgettable and emotional reads has gradually faded over the years; and I had finished several chapters of THE SKIES OF PERN before the book suddenly took hold of me. When the comet struck, it was exhilarating to feel the plot take off like an ignition of nitrous oxide. The stunned shock, the frenzied attempt to rescue as much as possible from a wide portion of their world, the personal tales of pettiness and heroism, all had my nerves buzzing and my adrenaline rushing. F’lessan’s determined confrontation with an unexpected personal challenge, with his mate Tia repaying all he has done to help her blossom, is moving and involving.

Don’t be mislead by the opening chapters of THE SKIES OF PERN into thinking that it will be flat in the way, say, that the same author’s Rowan series is flat. The characters of the Rowan series merely move about a storyboard instead of experiencing their adventures. Yes, THE SKIES OF PERN could have gone that way. However, once our dragonrider friends have something concrete to play against, they come to bustling, caring life. You will care, too.

July 2001 Review Originally Published on the Independent Reviews Site

 

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