by Anne McCaffrey
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
On Dragonwings is an omnibus edition of three of Anne McCaffrey’s “historical” Pern novels. McCaffrey’s original series detailed the science-fictional world of Pern and its spore fighting dragonriders long after the planet was settled by colonists from Earth. At the end of The White Dragon, the third volume, McCaffrey’s characters were only just beginning to discover their long-forgotten past. Subsequently, McCaffrey has visited that past to flesh out the colonization (in Dragonsdawn), the establishment of the pseudo-medieval society which thrived at the time of Dragonflight (in Dragonseye [British title: Red Star Rising] ) and the legendary flight of the dragonrider Moreta in a novel of the same name.
Dragonsdawn not only served to answer many of the question which arose in The White Dragon, but also served to tie the series more firmly into the realm of science fiction. The characters, many of whose names are familiar from the earlier published books, are given personalities which the reader can relate to and are shown not always to act in heroic manner. McCaffrey shows the troubles undergone by the original colonists and how they dealt with them, along the way showing the origins of some of the standard characteristics of Pern as well as knowledge the colonists had that helped them survive which was later lost.
Dragonseye is probably the weakest of the three stories in the collection. Set two centuries after Dragonsdawn, the colonists are no longer as dependent on the technology which came to Pern on the three spaceships. They are beginning to develop their own culture and institutions, many of which are the prototypes for the institutions which are so ingrained in the original Pern novels. Despite this, there is an air of familiarity in the way the story plays out. Characters fall into archetypes which McCaffrey has used in the earlier novels, although they may seem fresher to readers who have not already read the “Dragonriders of Pern” trilogy.
More than twelve hundred years separates Dragonseye from Moreta, less time than separates Moreta from Dragonflight, and Pern is pretty much established by the time Moreta makes her legendary flight. McCaffrey referred to Moreta’s flight several times in the original trilogy and in 1983 she returned to Pern to tell Moreta’s full story. When legend is examined, it never meets expectations, and Moreta’s ride is not quite what McCaffrey had made it seem initially. Nevertheless, it does provide an excellent story, despite readers of the original trilogy knowing the ending.
Although these are the first three novels in chronological order, McCaffrey has also published several short stories which are set during or before the first two novels in the omnibus. These stories were all collected in The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall. It might have made more sense to combine this book with Dragonsdawn and Dragonseye and leave Moreta for a later omnibus with Nerilka’s Saga and a reprint of the newly published story “Beyond Between,” all of which take place during the sixth pass and feature the same characters.The omnibus edition is a welcome introduction to Pern for new readers and a convenient collection for those who have already read the books. While the selection of works in the omnibus may be questioned, the stories all take place before the initial series of books and is easily defensible.
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