Anne McCaffrey, over her career, won both a Hugo award AND a Nebula award. She has been inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, and she did more for women in sci-fi (both characters, AND writers) than almost anyone else. For all of us women who write genre fiction, a large part of our success is owed to Anne McCaffrey. Without her and her stories, there may not have been room for the strong female heroines we love, or for us, their writers.
The overall plot of the Pern series has to do with the dragons and Thread. Thread is a living organism that falls from space every 250 years. The fall lasts for four hours at a time over different parts of the planet and lasts for 50 years. Thread devours anything organic (except rock, and metal) and the only thing that kills it is fire or water.
The dragons were created to fight Thread in the sky before it can land on the ground and destroy crops, animals and people. The dragons can breathe fire and also possess the ability to teleport, so they can destroy Thread in the air and pop in and out before Thread manages to touch and devour them or their riders.
That's Pern in a nutshell.
All right. Let's talk about my favorite Pern books. For my list, I'm only considering books written purely by Anne McCaffrey. Of course, that still leaves 18 books to choose from. Not an easy task, but one I dove into.
Here we go, my top 5 Dragonriders of Pern books, in no particular order.
DRAGONSINGER (published 1977)
Plot: Menolly travels to the Harper Hall, a music conservatory for harpers (minstrels/educators). Menolly finds life in the Harper Hall challenging. She must at first live with a group of paying female students who are catty and mean and also finds herself torn between master musicians who want her to specialize in their techniques. The situation is complicated by her nine fire lizards, small dragon-like creatures recently rediscovered in Pern.
The Harper Hall trilogy is the YA part of Pern Saga. It's an easy starting place for anyone who wants to give Pern a try. It's certainly where both myself and Twin started. Of the three books, Dragonsigner, the middle one, is my favorite. I love Menolly as a character. She's both self-effacing and humble but also strong and not afraid to punch a boy in the face. The best part about this book is the life at the Harper Hall. I love books that center around schools. I could read about Menolly going to her music classes any day of the week. The only thing I don't like about this book is that it's too short. I wish there was more.
Plot: The planet Pern seemed a paradise to its new colonists—seeking to return to an agrarian-based simpler way of life. Shortly after arriving on the planet, however, a new threat appeared – Thread, an organism that falls from the sky and devours anything organic. With time running out, the colonists set out to bio-engineer Pernese lifeforms that appear to instinctively react to the Thread – the dragonets that colonists have adopted as pets.
This book is firmly in the science-fiction category, with space travel and technology that is not present in most other pern books. It's also the first, chronologically, in the series (barring a short story or two). I love this book because it's the beginning of everything. We get to see the dragons genetically engineered. We get to see the tragic first threadfall when so many colonists were killed. I also love colonization stories, so that helps a lot with my love of this novel.
THE WHITE DRAGON (1987)
Plot: The White Dragon follows the coming of age story of Jaxom the young Lord of Ruatha, who had accidentally impressed the white dragon, Ruth. As Jaxom grows up, he has to deal with the difficulty of being both a Lord Holder and a dragonrider. While fighting Thread, Jaxom falls ill with a potentially deadly sickness. This leads him to recuperate in Cove Hold, where he discovers some of the mysteries that the Ancients, the ancestors of the Pernese, left behind.
Ruth, is, hands-down, my favorite dragon. He has more personality than a lot of the larger dragons, due to his runt-like nature. Jaxom is also a very likeable character and it's fun to watch both he and Ruth grow up to become leaders of Pern
DOLPHINS OF PERN (1994)
Plot: Readis, the Paradise River Lord Holder's son, is saved by talking dolphins ("shipfish") as a young boy after falling into the sea and subsequently develops a strong fascination with the dolphins. T'lion, dragonrider of Bronze Gadareth, also develops an interest after being involved in an early dolphin encounter. The two befriend each other due to their shared interest and, in their own ways, defy family, Hold and Weyr to maintain their friendships with dolphins and convince others of the dolphins' intelligence and ability to speak.
This book is just a lot of fun, because the dolphins are adorable. They're funny and entertaining and their interactions with the dragons is worth a book alone. I always feel like this book is too short, though. Right when it ends is when I want to read more, even if it's just boring technical stuff. I'd read it, because I want to know how all of Pern deals with the reintroduction of dolphins into their society.
ALL THE WYERS OF PERN (1991)
Plot: AIVIS, the AI machine left behind by the original colonists, is re-discovered and sets about on his original task, to discover a way to use the dragons to stop Thread once and for all. But not everyone trusts the talking machine and its new technology, and factions of people seek to destroy it, even if it means Threadfall and Pern's dependence on the dragons and their riders must continue forever.
This is, more or less, the final book in the overall plot of the pern series. The dragons were bred to fight thread in the sky, but they were only supposed to be a temporary solution. What I love about this book is all the characters learning about their history, especially the people and events that take place in Dragonsdawn. It's like a super crossover. But it's also sad for many different reasons, so I both love picking it up, and loathe it, because I know what happens at the end.
THE MASTERHARPER OF PERN (1998)
Plot: The story of Robinton's life as he grows from a boy, choosing whether to be a harper or a dragonrider, and his subsequent position of Masterharper of Pern and the most important man on the planet.
Yes, I cheated a bit. This is a sixth book. I couldn't put it above any of my other favorites, but it felt wrong to leave it off. Robinton is the heart of most the Pern books. He is kind and funny and plays a main character is almost all the ninth-pass books. I love this book because we get to focus on Robinton and his life, even though it's a life full of sadness and tinged with regret.
So that's it! Those are my top Pern books. If you're a fan, do you agree or disagree with any of my choices? And if you've never read the Pern series before, I really hope you one day decide to take the plunge. You won't regret it, I promise.