||I was surprised to find that this book
did not deliver anything really new to the Pern galaxy. The story was
run-of-the-mill, and was disappointing for that reason. However, the
book was still an enjoyable read, and was only disappointing because of
what came before it.
complaint came within the first few pages. There were way too many
characters, all introduced in the first chapter, and all at once.
Although annoying, I
am used to that, especially after reading the first chapter of
Silmarillion. I get around it by ignoring most of the character names,
and only concentrating on the important ones. We can tell right away who
are likely to be the most important characters by their names: Emily
Boll, Admiral Paul Benden (Benden Weyr), Sallah Telgar (of Telgar Weyr),
and so on.
The story is a typical one that covers
many people over the course of many years. There are many broad
generalized accounts of what went on, much of it impersonal, so that the
author can get the message across. This author is better than that, and
we've seen it in the previous novels. This book was supposed to be about
discovering Pern, but it wasn't as interesting as it should have been.
The most exciting parts of this book can easily be discerned: first
Impression of the fire-lizards, first Fall of Thread, evacuation of the
main colony as the volcano erupts, the first riding of a dragon, first
trip between and arrival of the dragonriders at Fort Hold. Each of those
items, however, only take a few pages at a time. It it nice to see the
daily life of Landing, including all the stresses, but I didn't feel
that it should have been the main story.
It may be surprising that the first
Impression of the Dragons is not on that list. I found it to be quite
lacking, in most of everything.
The first part of the book deals with
the colony arriving at Pern, and establishing a colony. Most of the
characters are dull as they go about their daily routines. Of course,
most life is dull, anyway. The only characters who really show any kind
of passion or emotion, or anything really exciting in their lives, are
Sean and Sorka. Next in line comes Sallah Telgar, who tries to get close
to a shy and withdrawn geologist. She notices all of the people who are
doing things that are out of the ordinary, such as Tenjo, who pilfered
all that fuel (we later learn that he built himself an airplane), or
cruel Avril (who I will get to later).
Sean and Sorka met briefly on the
spaceship before landing. Sorka was social youngster, while Sean was from a
wandering Irish culture that didn't mix with others. But once on the
ground, Sorka introduces Sean to the new colonial ways, with supplies
for all, and the big nightly bonfire, of promises kept, and the benefits
of an education. The people on the three ships were moving to a more
rural way of life, abandoning their technological society to start anew.
Earth had been involved in a recent war, and there was all sorts of
politics and other restricting values. There were aggressive and passive
alien species, some of which gave humanity the tools to genetically
engineer dolphins and other species. There was a True Life movement that
prohibited genetic engineering, and so on.
Sean and Sorka, of course, are the
first to find a fire-lizard nest, and the first to bond with the
creatures. Eventually, many of the colonists bond with the fire-lizards,
so the creatures become part of their daily life. They are able to warn
of attacks by wherries, and drive them away. They also announce all
impending births, something they never miss.
When Thread is impending, the
fire-lizards go crazy, almost attacking their human counterparts to try
and get them to safety. Apparently water kills Thread, as rock starves
it. Their fire-lizards drive Sean and Sorka into water with a rock
overhang, and protect them by breathing fire and disintegrating Thread.
A mass of fire-lizards covered the house where a woman was ready to give
birth, protecting the baby by becoming a huge net of fire to destroy the
Thread landing all around. A good percentage of the colony was destroyed
by the first Fall of Thread.
There is a lot of speculation about the
nature of Thread. Is it an attack by an intelligent species? Where does
it come from? None of these questions are answered, unfortunately. I
don't know if the author wanted to keep it from us deliberately, or
didn't want to think of an answer. They decide Thread comes from the
elliptically-orbiting red Oort cloud planet, which trails a lot of
material as it passes into the solar system. However, all the advanced
probes they send out are destroyed. The ones that Sallah sent out from
the bridge of the ship seemed to give better information, but we never
heard about it. The one manned trip they sent out to the actual planet
to collect material crashed on reentry. There was no reason for all
those failures, when everybody was a professional. On the planet,
everybody was very professional, and never made a real mistake. In
orbit, everybody became an idiot.
I guess it's time to talk about Avril,
the one person who was being used in this story to create a bit of
conflict. She came on the colony because her grandmother was part of the
original expedition, and found hoards of precious gemstones. Being an
astrogator, Avril plotted to get as many gems as she could, steal a
shuttle, and make her way into the next solar system, hoping to be
picked up and brought back to civilization -rich. After Sallah notices
her plotting, she disappears until after the first Threadfall. By then,
she has double-crossed her co-conspirators, and left them. I liked the
way she returned to Landing to find it in an uproar about Thread, which
she knew nothing of. She bides her time, and finally steals a shuttle
when several people, including Kenjo, are getting ready to go up to the
spaceship to inspect some probes. Avril kills Kenjo, seriously injures
Ongola, and makes her way into orbit -with Sallah Telgar, who tries to
stop her. Avril gets the better of Sallah, who is forced to help Avril
dock and make repairs. Still, Ongola had taken the navigation cards out
of the shuttle, so Avril plummets into the red planet, leaving Sallah to
die on the spaceship.
I didn't see the point of any of it.
The side story of Avril was not interesting at all, and her dissent
seemed petty compared to what it could have been. Sallah was hailed as a
hero, afterwards, but her death meant absolutely nothing. If Sallah
hadn't gone, if Avril had
been alone, she would have been unable to do anything, including replace
one of the faulty navigation cards. She would have been forced to land
again, or try to fix a problem she didn't understand, or stay on board
the spaceship for the rest of her life. Benden's glee at her death
seemed uncharacteristic. Their agony at Sallah's death was
understandable, but not calling her a hero.
I found the first part of the book
interesting, but less than engaging. The second part started with a
bang, eight years later, but degenerated again into a story that didn't
exhibit any passion. My main complaint here is that everything is too
easy, too well planned. Everybody notices how well the fire-lizards
fight Thread, and Benden overhears a comment that they just aren't big
enough. So he gets an idea and approaches the renound geneticist to
engineer dragons from fire-lizards. There are setbacks, but everything
they intended to do was easily accomplished. The dragons hatch and are
Impressed, while Sorka and Sean get a gold and bronze, respectively. I
kept wondering how they would discover that firestone made female
dragons infertile, but they simply threw up the stone, instead. Maybe
The third part of the novel started out
ho-hum, and became more exciting as the volcano blew and they had to
evacuate Landing. Even that was well-prepared, and went off without any
real problems -at least no problems that were personal. By that time,
fortunately, we are following Sean and Sorka as they train their
dragons, and as they learn to skip between, to fly properly, and to
breathe fire. By the time they arrive at Fort Hold, they are ready to
fight Thread. But they already have all the terms needed for dragons,
like between, firestone, and so on. There was no discovery.
Avril's display turned me sour on
dissent within the colony, which is why it took the second incident
involving Ted Tubberman to make me like the man. After dissenting in the
vote to launch a probe to Earth (denied by the majority), he goes ahead
and launches it anyway, so he is shunned, which means nobody can even
notice him -which means what when he tries to steal something? They
would have to notice him then, wouldn't they? Instead, he uses his
isolation as secrecy, and develops grubs that can protect vegetation
from Thread. He also develops some sort of lethal feline creature based
on a cheetah, which kill him, but that I don't recall from any of the
books I've read so far.
This is not a character-based book,
which would have made everything more personal by depicting, for
example, the collapse of a flotilla of essential supplies firsthand.
Sean and Sorka are the closest we get to real characters, but their
story is scattered around so much, at least until the end, that it
doesn't seem like much of one. The story is more of a history, which I
can appreciate, but which is by its nature somewhat detached. When
compared to the first trilogy about Pern, this one has little
originality, and doesn't give us much insight into past events. By
design, we know what has to happen. The fun should be, as Babylon 5
showed us once upon a time, in figuring out how it occurs.
According to this book, it was all planned, and even when plans went
awry (when Thread fell, and when the volcano blew), they all coped
better than most would.
My last complaint about this book is a
general one from the original trilogy as well, especially
-the book ends much too quickly. There is no denouement at all.
Fortunately, I know there is another book, a set of novelas that follows
soon after this.