THE SKIES OF PERN
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The Skies of Pern, the latest in Anne McCaffrey's dragonriders series, is made up of several stories which intersect with each other several times, but never fully come together. The main thread of the story is the growing role of F'lessan, the bronze dragonrider whose parents, F'lar and Lessa, started the entire series more than thirty year ago. In addition to flying against Thread, F'lessan has a budding romance with the green dragonrider Tai, is looking ahead to what he will do after the end of Threadfall, and taking an active role in saving Pern from a variety of dangers. The other major plot concerns Shankolin, an escapee from the Mines of Crom who is a member of the Abominator sect which wishes Pern to renounce the innovations of Aivas and return to the more traditional ways. While McCaffrey does manage to tie these characters together at times, for the most part the stories remain separate, which is at once a strength and a weakness to The Skies of Pern.
Shankolin is one of the most intriguing characters McCaffrey has introduced to this world recently. Although he disagrees with the majority of McCaffrey's characters, and thus is cast as a villain, he is one of the few villains who has the ability to gather a group of followers and organize them into a coherent unit. Furthermore, Shankolin has a philosophical goal in The Skies of Pern which gives him something to aim for, the destruction of everything inspired by Aivas, rather than merely the self-interest which so often seems to be at the heart of McCaffrey's troublemakers. Unfortunately, McCaffrey doesn't spend enough time following Shankolin's activities, although she does set up a situation for future novels which follow the predations of the Abominators.
The majority of the novel follows F'lessan, the son of F'lar and Lessa. With the reputation of a rake, F'lessan does not impress Tai when they first meet, but he continues to pursue her throughout the book, eventually battling his way through her reserve. Tai, apparently, harbors emotional secrets which are more serious than many of the problems McCaffrey's characters must contend with in the Pern novels. Although McCaffrey hints about these problems, there is no real in depth study of them and Tai's attempts to overcome the emotional scars of her past seem to be cursory at best. F'lessan is also given the opportunity to demonstrate that he has the same sense of duty which seems to run in his family. Seen by many as flighty for his obsession with the one-time holding of Honshu on the Southern continent, when Pern is threatened by an asteroid strike, he shows all of Pern what he and his dragon can do.
In All the Weyrs of Pern (1991), McCaffrey managed to end the future threat of Thread to the inhabitants of Pern. F'lessan and the other dragonriders, therefore, must figure out their own futures when they are no more needed to fight Thread as was perceived at the beginning of the story "Weyr Search" (1967), which began the series. McCaffrey seems to be using The Skies of Pern to increase the dragons' abilities so they will have an occupation after the current, and final, Pass is concluded in addition to providing Pern with further threats which only the dragons and their riders can overcome. Unfortunately, to do this, McCaffrey needs to provide the Pernese with technology and understanding faster than seems reasonably possible. The Abominators are Pern's answer to the changes which are occurring so rapidly that the Pernese culture has no time to accommodate those changes.
Many of the changes McCaffrey has introduced in recent Pern novels, from the dolphins in Dolphins of Pern (1994) to the runners in "Runner of Pern" (1998) have revitalized McCaffrey's world by adding actual new dimensions for McCaffrey to examine rather than merely looking at the same themes over. The Skies of Pern continues to add to the richness of the planet by providing Pern with predatory felines who can, under the right circumstances endanger a dragon, asteroid strikes and the beginning of the opening of the heretofore unexamined Western continent. At the same time, the Southern Continent remains largely unexamined and McCaffrey can continue to look at the role of technology on the people and culture of Pern.
While The Skies of Pern is a complete novel, it clearly relies on the characters and activities McCaffrey has previously chronicled to be completely enjoyed and understood. Furthermore, although many of the specific plotlines McCaffrey introduces come to an end before the novel does, she includes hints of conflicts and plots to be followed in the future. The Skies of Pern is typical of many of the novels in the series in its treatment of heroes and villains, and will appeal to the myriad fans of the dragonriders and Pern. It further helps to revitalize the series in a way which the books have definitely needed in the past few years and leaves the reader wanting to know what happens next.
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