|Series||Dragonriders of Pern|
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Publication date||July 1968|
|Media type||Print (paperback original; 1969 hardcover|
|Pages||309 pp (early US eds.)|
Dragonflight is a science fiction novel by the American-Irish author Anne McCaffrey. It is the first book in the Dragonriders of Pern series. Dragonflight was first published by Ballantine Books in July 1968.[a] It is a fix-up of novellas, including two which made McCaffrey the first woman to win a Hugo or Nebula Award.
In 1987, Locus: The magazine of the science fiction & fantasy field ranked Dragonflight number nine among the 33 "All-Time Best Fantasy Novels", based on a poll of subscribers.
Two components of Dragonflight were award-winning novellas published by Analog science fiction magazine. The first segment, "Weyr Search", had been the cover story for the October 1967 issue, illustrated by John Schoenherr. The second segment, "Dragonrider", appeared in two parts beginning December 1967.
"Weyr Search" features the recruitment of a young woman Lessa to establish a telepathic bond with a queen dragon at its hatching, and thus to become a dragonrider and the leader of a Weyr community on the fictional planet Pern. "Dragonrider" features the growth of queen dragon Ramoth and the training of Lessa and Ramoth. Analog editor John W. Campbell requested "to see dragons fighting Thread", Pern's menace from space, and he also suggested time travel. McCaffrey put it all together. A third story "Crack Dust, Black Dust" was not separately published, but provided crucial material for the novel.
Pern is a planet colonised by humans. The original colonists originally intended to adopt a low-technology agrarian lifestyle gradually, but were thrust into this more precipitously after they encountered the onslaught of the deadly Thread raining down from the sky. By harnessing the indigenous flying, fire-breathing dragons (with genetic alterations to make them larger and telepathic), the dragons, with their human riders, destroyed the Thread in the skies over Pern before it was able to burrow into the land and breed, creating pockets of safety over Pern's surface. Humanity finally managed to find equilibrium and began to create a thriving culture, society and economy, eventually expanding right across the northern continent of Pern. However, when this narrative begins, an unusually long interval between attacks of centuries duration, has caused the general population to dismiss the threat as myth and gradually withdraw support from the Weyrs where dragons are bred and trained. By the time of this narrative, only one Weyr remains (the other five having mysteriously disappeared at the same time in the last quiet interval), maintaining a precarious hand-to-mouth existence.
Dragons are telepathic, capable of forming a lifelong bond with one particular human in a process called Impression. Tradition, established thousands of years before the narrative, has arranged that selected young humans with empathic and telepathic talents are taken to the hatching grounds as candidates for Impression with the hatchlings. The dragons come in several colors which are generally correlated with their size; blue males, green females, brown males, bronze males, and golden females – queens. Bronzes, as the largest males, are by tradition the only ones who compete to win the queens in their mating flights. The green females are banned from breeding as they produce only small, less talented dragons. The Golden Queens, are not only the largest dragons, they also hold a subtle power of care, control and inhibition over their dragon communities Weyrs. As their human counterparts are linked mind-to-mind and heart-to-heart, when dragons fly to mate, their riders are also drawn into their extreme passions, resulting in a sexual culture within the Weyrs which further sets them apart from the rest of human society.
Dragonflight chronicles the story of Lessa, the sole survivor of the noble ruling family of Ruatha Hold on the northern continent of Pern. When the rest of her family is killed by a cruel usurper, Fax, she survives by disguising herself as a drudge (a menial servant) partly through simply adopting a slovenly appearance, but also by using her hereditary telepathic abilities to make others see her as far older and less attractive than she actually is. Her only friend is a watch-wher, a somewhat telepathic animal (related to dragons) that guards the hold. Lessa psychically influences other Hold workers to do less than their best work, or to become clumsy or inefficient. Her dream is to regain control over her own hold. Her strategy is to make Ruatha economically unproductive, so that Fax will renounce it.
F'lar, wingleader at Benden Weyr and rider of the bronze dragon Mnementh, finds Lessa while Searching for candidates to Impress (bond with) a new queen dragon, as the current queen has a batch of eggs due to hatch very soon, including a crucial golden egg. After killing Fax in single combat (following the rules of the Pernese code duello), he realises that she has emotionally manipulated him to kill Fax as well as engineered Fax's renouncement. It is then that F'lar recognizes Lessa as possessing both unusually strong psychic abilities and great strength of will. He recognizes Lessa's capacity to be the strongest Weyrwoman in recent history, and potentially the path to his own leadership at Benden Weyr. F'lar convinces a reluctant Lessa to give up her birthright as Lord Holder of Ruatha Hold for the larger domain of the dragonweyr and she agree to pass the title on to Fax's newborn son (who later features in The White Dragon). F'lar takes Lessa to Benden Weyr, where she impresses the Queen dragonet Ramoth and becomes the Weyrwoman, the new co-leader of the last active Weyr. On Ramoth's first mating flight, Mnementh catches her, and by Weyr tradition, this makes F'lar the Weyrleader.
One Weyr by itself is not enough to defend the planet; there used to be six, but the other five Weyrs are now empty, deserted since the last Pass centuries before. In a desperate attempt to increase their numbers, a new queen, Prideth, and her rider, Kylara, are sent back between times (a recently rediscovered skill) ten turns, to allow Prideth time to mature and reproduce. Lessa travels four hundred turns into the past to bring the five 'missing' Weyrs forward to her present. This is a huge strain for both her and Ramoth. She convinces the dragonriders of the five Weyrs to go with her to their future, and they use the Red Star as a guide to make smaller, less strenuous hops forward in time. This not only provides much needed skilled reinforcements in the battle against Thread, but explains how and why the five Weyrs were abandoned: they came forward in time.
Dragonflight includes the novellas "Weyr Search", which won the 1968 Hugo Award for Best Novella (voted by participants in the annual World Science Fiction Convention) and "Dragonrider", which won the Nebula Award for Best Novella (voted annually by the Science Fiction Writers of America) in 1969. McCaffrey was the first woman to win either award.
The American Library Association in 1999 cited the two early Pern trilogies (Dragonriders and Harper Hall), along with The Ship Who Sang, when McCaffrey received the annual Margaret A. Edwards Award for her "lifetime contribution in writing for teens".
- The Atlas of Pern (1984), a companion book produced by Karen Wynn Fonstad in consultation with McCaffrey.
- Dragonholder 1999, pp. 54–55, 68–71, 74: alone among the Pern books, it was published before her emigration to Ireland September 1970, at age 44, with Dragonquest (book two) nearing completion and a contract for The White Dragon. McCaffrey lived in the vicinity of Dublin until her death on 21 November 2011.
- Publishers Weekly review of Robin Roberts, Anne McCaffrey: A life with dragons (2007). Quoted by Amazon.com. Retrieved 2011-07-16.
- "The Locus Index to SF Awards: 1987 Locus All-time Poll". Locus. Archived from the original on 2004-01-13. Retrieved 2011-10-12. Originally published in the monthly Locus, August 1987.
• See also "1987 Locus Poll Award". ISFDB. Retrieved 2012-04-12.
- "Weyr Search", ISFDB.
- "Dragonrider", ISFDB.
- Dragonholder 1999, p. 49.
- "Hugo Nominees List". The Locus Index to SF Awards. Locus. 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-20.
- "Nebula Nominees List". The Locus Index to SF Awards. Locus. 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-20.
- "1999 Margaret A. Edwards Award Winners". Young Adult Library Services Association. American Library Association. Retrieved 2011-11-14.
Citations – books
- Dragonflight title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 2011-11-05.
- "Weyr Search". Analog October 1967 publication contents at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 2011-10-25.
- "Dragonrider" part 1. Analog December 1967 publication contents at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 2011-10-25.
- "Dragonrider" part 2. Analog January 1968 publication contents at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 2011-10-25.
- "Weyr Search" title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- "Dragonrider" title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database