Monday, August 18, 2014

STL #116: 11 Grievances against "Dragonrider"

So the old book club (we're going by "Critique of Pure Bookclub" this month) is tackling Dragonflight by Anne McCaffery. I went to the what I thought was the source--the Nebula (sf writers) award-winning novella "Dragonrider." I remembered Dragonflight as a short novel, and assumed that it was just a punched up version of the novella. My plan then was scrupulously scholarly: read the core version and evaluate the additions as padding or amplification. It turns out, though, that "Dragonflight" represents only the second half of the novel; "Dragonrider" had been preceded by the Hugo (sf fans) award winning novella, "Weyr Search."  The second novella appears unchanged; even some now-redundnant exposition is repeated. There might be some new material between "Weyr Search" and "Dragonflight," but I now longer care to find out. In fact, I couldn't even stand to go back and read the first half of the novel.

Coming up with the following list was not difficult. These grievance are, as you'll see, connected--petty problems indicate larger ones. They appear in no particular order, thought they begin with structure and end with style.

  1. Structural integrity: as mentioned above, the novel is two novellas slapped together. I understand the tradition of the "fix up" in sf, but it seems that the continuity is sacrificed. The revenge story of "Weyr Search" does not bear out in part two--by the end, the protagonist Lessa seems barely more important than some  dude named T'tot. 
  2. Rape (oh, should I repeat that this is not a ranked list?): I'm not saying fiction, even escapist fiction, needs to avoid this topic. This story is in its planet's dark ages, there's this weird animal bond angle, so the sexual violence could be a meaningful element of world-building. However, it is not. It just happened, and the dude felt bad about it.  I think this is the era of rape-creep; in an effort to be sexually liberated, a bunch of creepy rape fantasies snuck into the party.
  3. Time travel: This might be a personal idosyncracy. Time travel stories should be primarily about time travel, not time travel and x. If the later, time travel becomes the worst kind of deus ex machina. 
  4. Sh-sh-shaking: How many times does F'lar "shake" Lessa? Sure it's uncomfortable, but it's also single-dimensional and repetitive (412, 413, 419, 473, 607, 629, 654 ("He'll shake me...", 657 "I told you he'd shake me...")
  5. So Lessa and friends go back 400 years in the past. They persuade every single dragon rider to give up their life as they know it and travel to the future, never to return. In like, five minutes. Digression: Why does a medievalish society (and a medieval -400 years society) accept time travel so readily. I'm racking my brain and can't come up with a time travel story from before the Industrial Era. 
  6. Between: So I understand the intradimensional trans-space is called "between" But why the italics every time. When you discover you can travel between times, you really mean you can travel between times.
  7. Fandarel the smith loves flamethrowers: "Flamethrower? Flamethrower? Flamethrower." (551, 599)
  8. N'ames: Call back to world-building--there's an explanation, but it's lame, makes the page unfriendly to the non-nerd, and anyway what kind of language would tolerate names that range from F'lar to Robinton?
  9. Wait a minute! That's it! (aka plot construction)
  10. Ok so there's a culture that can bioengineer flame throwing, telepathic, teleporting, time traveling dragons. And the best way to stave off alien spores is flame throwing, telepathic, teleporting, time traveling dragons.
  11. The last sentence of the novel is: "Mother of us all, he was glad that now, of all times conceivable, he, F’lar, rider of bronze Mnementh, was a dragonman of Pern!" That sentence is indicative of the style in general.