01/07/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 344 page hardback. Price: $26.00 (US), $31.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-50091-5)pub: Bantam Press/Transworld. 344 page hardback. Price: £18.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-593-06621-8) .
check out websites: www.delreybooks.com, www.transworld-publishers.co.uk
There are times now that I wish that series books had a reminder section at the beginning of the book to bring readers up to speed as to previous events simply because people don't hang around twiddling their thumbs between volumes. In many respects, 'Skydragons', comes off as a little light when you're chucked into the story with text light dialogue heavy material that you're fifty pages in without realising it, working out not so much what happened next but what led to the current state.
Essentially, there is a deficit of dragons and to evade the thread and to grow more, Fiona is lost in between seeking dragonriders in the past. Xhinna comes up with an alternative solution and her flight have had to go between into the past and have to rely on green and blue dragons for breeding purposes away from the general population and get them grown to full size before returning to their original present (something that was done in the earlier books with F'nor leading the group in the past) to find thread. With the tales in the far future and even the 'present', it has always been the male bronze dragons that have mated with the queen gold dragons, which also determines the leadership of the flight. All the other colour dragons are somewhat down the chain of command and any relationships there are often gay, which also suggests dragon relationships there because no woman rides these dragons, until now...or rather in this earlier period on Pern. I've always been a bit puzzled by that. Not to say that there are no hetro males with the colour dragons, just that it seems odd that there are so few empathic women on Pern that all they can do is connect with gold dragons.
The plot revolves around Xhinna and her people and draons settling on the Eastern/Western Isles and have to cope with the Mrreows, Pern's answer to dogs and domesticate them. Later in the book, the dragonriders seek high altitude to spot where thread comes down and hence the title of the book. Although they have problems with breathing at high altitude, even when the dragons going between take a bubble of air with them the main problem with both of these ideas is they seem to have vanished by the later time of 'Dragonflight'. No doubt there will be some resolution to why the Mrreows are no longer around as well and high flight stopped but it does indicate some wariness in having story ideas that aren't likely to be kept going than an origin for something we know of in the earlier books.
The worse problems with this book are still with Todd McCaffrey. The first two hundred or so pages are literally wall-to-wall dialogue and little prose. Just because the Pern books have a large fan-base which gives it the necessary sales doesn't mean they should be short-changed like this and my comments on his earlier books still stand here. He really does need to either go to a writer's class or get some tuition in story content to sort this major weakness out than think if he changes his style then people will dislike his work. If anything, I think they would probably applaud if he improved than keep this up for another book. Certainly, his editors need to tackle him on the subject. The next book in the series is having his sister coming on-board as a co-writer but whether this will make any difference, we'll have to wait and see. Although the lack of dragons is the major jist of the plot, the ones that are there in the book are seen as functionaries than as sentient freely communicating with their riders.
That is until the last third of the book when Anne McCaffrey takes the dragon reins and there is a marked difference in writing. She takes over her son's opening story at the end, 'Sky Weir', and then does the complete 'Sky Dragons' story where the dragonriders seek higher altitude. It's a bit disjointing when Fiona suddenly appears but I put that down to Anne writing this while her son is doing the first part. As this is the very last story by Anne McCaffrey, you'll have to accept that with good grace but it is here that her magic writing hand shows the difference in quality that her son has got so much to learn yet.
In many respects this is very much the resolution of all the problems after the plague that hit Pern and leaving it open for a fresh set of stories. Quite where they will go from here remains to be seen, let alone if it will succeed without the grand lady looking over her son's shoulders. You'll no doubt get this book because it's the last material by Anne McCaffrey and how much she'll be missed. Listen out for the dragons trumpeting her passing.
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