Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Index

CHRONICLES OF PERN: FIRST FALL

A short story collection by Anne McCaffrey (1993, Ballantine Del Rey)

Short stories detailing the first PERN survey, the evacuation of Landing, the establishment of the second northern Hold and Weyr, and a rescue of a disillusioned settler.

 

 

Read November 7th to 17th, 2009  
    This book is made up of two short stories and three novellas, all of which were interesting. I especially liked the alternative point of view of Landing's evacuation, from the dolphin riders and Jim Tillek.

The Survey short story takes place way before anybody settles on Pern. The actual name of the planet came from the acronym for Parallel Earth, Resources Negligible. Although it was interesting, I did find it lacking. Like most short stories, I found it to be too short. There were a few characters, who had a little development in that they were a survey group, and they had previous traumatic encounters on the last couple of planets they surveyed. They find Pern, with its strange circles where Thread (unknown at this point) had delved deep into the soil before starving. All through and around the circles, there is new growth. They wonder about it, take some samples, and can't offer any explanations. Sleeping over, they catalogue some animals, taste some local tea, and see a fire dragon. It's interesting in that we see Pern for the first time, and because we know more about the planet than the characters do.

The second story was far more interesting, and was far longer. It takes place during the evacuation of Landing, when the ships and dolphins were called to help move supplies away from the volcanoes and then across the sea to the north highlands. The story centers around Jim Tillek, captain of his own boat, and Theo, a younger woman who is bonded with a dolphin, and spends her time working with them. As with the much larger story arc in Dragonsdawn, the story was littered with names of people we only meet once, making the story a little unwieldy. In a way, it gives the story a good sense of depth, that there is a larger community -after all, they arrived with six thousand people. But we don't need to know so many names. The story itself doesn't have much depth. It really tells the tale of how people live in adversity, and overcome it by rising above the challenges. There are cameos from Paul Benden and Emily Boll and a bunch of other people we met in Dragonsdawn.

But the real story is the relationship that develops between Jim and Theo, and it really felt sincere. Theo listens intently as Jim tells heroic tales from Old Earth. She takes refuge on his boat at night. It was interesting to see the relationship between Theo and her dolphin, as well as Jim's mounting interest in the dolphins. Their relationship takes a turn more personal when the storm hits. We heard of the storm in Dragonsdawn, and it was a pleasure to read about it in detail in this story. Both Jim and Theo are injured, and forced to watch on as their companions perform repairs and rescue cargo. While resting on board, they are literally thrown together by a swell in the sea, and they take mutual advantage of it. They make the crossing on their repaired ships, and Jim puts his ship in mothballs, to be taken out at some future time, which, according to the last story in this book, never happens. However, Jim and Theo do get together as Theo is pregnant by the end of the story. The story is called The Dolphins' Bell because it was the bell at Landing that always called them to the shore. They lamented the fact that they couldn't bring it with them, but at the end, it is revealed that somebody did indeed manage to box it up and bring it across the sea.

In The Ford of Red Hanrahan, we learn a bit more about life after the crossing, and the final evacuation of Landing. Thread continues to fall, and the dragonriders have established the first weyr. But although there are only a couple of settlements left on the Southern continent, there is only one Hold in all of the North. Paul Benden is up to the task of dividing the population, much to the surprise of Red Hanrahan, Sorka's father. Is it boring that everybody gets along here? I don't think so, but perhaps it could have used a little more discontent or danger. I don't know. The story of how Red and his sons staked out the new Hold, and the ford that they had to cross to get to it was interesting, but I would hardly call it fun or page-turning intense. Again, it was more a few days in the life..., and it was more about Red's feelings toward Fort Hold and his new Hold. It covers a bit about cutting into the stone to build a sufficiently-sized living space. He takes with him the airlock door from the last shuttlecraft, which turns into the main door to the Hold. The significance of this hold is that it is named, at the opening ceremony, Ruatha Hold, which will become important, of course, in later (earlier) books. The significance of the Ford in the title is that it is submerged by the time Red and his caravan gets to it, making the crossing difficult. Sean uses his dragon to scare some of the pack animals across, and Red is exhausted to the point of unconsciousness by the end of it. When Paul Benden comes to see the inauguration, the Ford is so high that the horses have trouble crossing it, but they do manage. And so the Second Hold is born.

After the second Hold is founded, the dragonriders feel that they need to expand out of their weyr, also. Once again, everybody assumes the leaders want to retain total control. And once again, everybody is surprised when Sean announces that there will be four new weyrs. There is very little difference of opinion. The point of view comes from Torene, a Queen rider, who everybody knew would be the next to rise to the mating call. She wards off several of the men who vie for her sexual attention. She goes often to the location everybody assumes will be chosen to be the next weyr. And she meets Sean and Sorka's son Mihel, who seems to have perused all the young women in the weyr, to varying opinions. Once again, the story has quite a few names, but thankfully, it focuses more tightly on Torene and her small group of riders. Once again, it is very interesting, but very steady, instead of having moments where I was super-interested. As expected, though not certain, Mihel's bronze catches her queen. I thought the purpose of the flight was to keep it as long as possible, to have a good clutch of eggs. This queen was caught almost immediately. Mihel was annoyed at her virginity, which delayed the passion of the dragon mating. But then he reveals that he has loved her from the moment he first saw her, but was not permitted to seduce the queen riders. And so The Second Weyr, called Benden Weyr, after the three-years-dead Admiral, is led by Torene and Mihel.

Rescue Run finishes off the tales in this book, and it also finished off a loose end from Dragonsdawn: the emergency beacon that was sent off into space asking for help. Paul Benden and the other colonists thought that they could beat Thread. But Avril and Kimmer and one other heartily disagreed. Now, from the point of view of Benden's nephew, who is on a ship looking for remnants of the alien threat the Admiral fought against before he left for Pern, there is a response. A ship in the area sees the Rukbat system as flagged, and they discover the beacon message calling for help. They see the mysterious life forms in the Oort cloud, and when they land on Pern, they see the devastation that Thread caused. All of the southern continent is devastated, but there is a little bit of new growth around the Thread circles, as Thread stopped falling only a few years earlier. They don't see any sign of human habitation in the North, where everybody has stopped using technology. They follow the colony's transponder, which shows the ash-covered buildings and devastation. Then they follow a second transponder South, where they find an aged and very grumpy Kimmer, along with descendents of Kenjo's wife.

Kimmer is determined to leave, but the science officer wants to get a sample of Thread, now completely dying out on Pern. Young Benden spends a lot of time trying to reason with Kimmer and the others as to their certainty that the other colonists must be all dead. Some of their arguments have merit, but although Benden doesn't quite believe Kimmer, he has to agree that he can't spend more than a few days searching, and he can't rescue more than a few people, anyway. Not to mention that he didn't see any trace of human habitation anywhere. The small threat comes when they take off, using Kenjo's hidden fuel and a maximum of 35 kilograms of carry-on per person, for 11 refugees. But Kimmer had the women under his control, and they smuggled high-value metals on board the ship small pieces at a time, lining the shuttle with it, causing the shuttle to take off very heavy, and miss its rendezvous. When discovered, Kimmer is left in the airlock alone as they hunt for the stuff. When they come back, he's gone. While suspicion falls on the two men, who obviously hated Kimmer, everybody concludes that Kimmer committed suicide. I believe one of the women did it, from her attitude at the end, but nobody ever finds out, if true. There is a short paragraph where one of the fishermen at Fort Hold sees the flash of the engines, but doesn't recognize it for what it is. And so nobody else knows about the rescue run. They manage to shed the extra weight and slingshot around the first planet in the system to make a new rendezvous.

These stories constitute a continuation of the First Fall chronicles, and I wonder if the first novel would have been better told as a bunch of short stories. Still, while they are interesting, the crises are minor, and the characters don't actually do much. The fun is in the relationships and the exploration, but it is simply "interesting", instead of the real rush of awe I felt when I read Dragonflight, or even Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern.

 
   

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