Reviewed date: 2005 Mar 10
Awards: 1968 Hugo best novella for Weyr Search, 1969 Nebula best novella for Dragonrider
Dragonflight is the Anne McCaffrey's first book in the Dragonriders of Pern series; it is written in sections, the first of which won the 1968 Hugo for best novella, and the second the 1969 Nebula best novella.
Dragonflight is science fiction, not fantasy. Although the plot centers around dragons, these are not the magical dragons of fantasy. These dragons are creatures native to the planet Pern; it is unclear whether they have been bred or bioengineered by humans to breathe fire or whether that was their natural state. In any event, the colonists of the planet Pern have long ago lost contact with civilization and have lost their technology. Their world is constantly under threat of invasion by Threads from a nearby planet, and the dragons are Pern's best weapon against the invaders.
The dragons must protect the skys, breathing fire upon the Threads as they enter Pern's atmosphere intent on wreaking destruction. Dragons are guided telepathically by their riders, humans with empathic abilities. The critical problem in Dragonflight, the first Pern novel, is too few dragons; Pern has not been attacked for 400 years, and in that time the dragon population has been allowed to dwindle to levels unable to cope with the inevitable resurgence of Thread attacks.
Nowhere in Dragonflight does McCaffrey portray the Pernese as religious. This is strange, for the elements of mysticism and religion abound: fire-breathing dragons controlled telepathically by inscrutable and secretive Weyrfolk, unnatural invasion from the sky by strange beings from the heavens, and the relics and memories of a great long-lost civilization. This is perhaps the second-greatest failing in the book. McCaffrey explains on her website that the original settlers of Pern were an enlightened, unsuperstitious bunch, and their atheism has been passed along to their descendents. I say that would never happen in real life. After the fall of civilization it would take one generation, maybe two, for the whole world to fall into superstition and primitive religion. But still, it makes a good story. Dragonflight is a better story for being absent of superstition.
I almost rated Dragonflight a four out of five, but it contains my least favorite element of science fiction. I won't give it away, but it's called time travel. Ooops, now I've gone and ruined the book for you. Well, at least that's less of a spoiler than the blurb on the back cover. In fact, don't read the blurb on the back cover, because it gives away a major plot point. The simple existence of time travel in the story isn't a huge secret, but please, don't read the blurb on the back cover.
Dragonflight rates a three out of five. If you like time travel, consider it to rate a four out of five. I recommend it.