This page is part of my What is Science
Is Pern fantasy?
Anne McCaffrey's Pern books are often a cause of
vigorous controversy when people try to draw lines separating fantasy
from ScF. A survey of the arguments on each side would be welcome;
until someone contributes it, I'll fill in with my own list of
features that Pern has, or doesn't have, in common with a "typical"
fantasy or ScF world.
But first, let me state my bias: I think McCaffrey has the
soul of a fantasy writer, but would like to be known as a science
fiction writer, as long as she doesn't have to learn any
science. OK, this is harsh; and I get it from reading only the first
three Pern books, the first two Killashandra books, and To Ride
Pegasus. However, a friend of mine offers what I think is an
even harsher view: that McCaffrey is really a romance writer who likes
to use fantasy or science fiction settings.
Why Pern is like fantasy
- Fire-breathing dragons that:
- can teleport anywhere
- form telepathic bonds with humans
but there's no way to predict which humans
however, the human's ancestry does matter (see the beginning
- in spite of their limited intellectual abilities, have a strong
moral sense (see here for why
I regard this as fantasy-like).
- Feudal society that:
- is dominated by agricultural interests
- uses knives for settling arguments
- uses barter and tribute rather than money and taxes IIRC
- relies on bardic tradition rather than written history.
- A genuine Princess-in-hiding (Lessa)
Why Pern is unlike fantasy
- No religion, gods, demons, or similar beings
- No "trials of magic" between rival dragonriders
- No magical means of healing, prediction, etc.
- No arcane lore handed down -- the Teaching Ballads contain
advice, not spells
- No evil dragons, or even evil riders -- just lazy and
selfish ones. In fact, no good-versus-evil at all.
- Dragons, despite their moral sense, can stay subservient
to unpleasant riders.
Why Pern is like ScF
- There are two planets that really do orbit a star (it makes a
difference where they are in their orbits). Pern even has time zones.
- Population and economy do grow, and something has to be done about it
- Technology advances (albeit from a low base).
- The main characters believe that their world works according to
laws which they can discover by observation and experiment.
- Dragons are used, for their main defensive purpose, much like any
other combat aircraft, requiring well-trained pilots, good ground
support, ammunition, etc.
Why Pern is unlike ScF
- Gigantic dragons can fly easily in an atmosphere and gravity which are
presumably close to Earth-normal. (While McCaffrey carefully refrains from
giving the sizes and weights of the larger dragons, we are told that even a
small one (Ruth) can carry three humans, which suggests that they must be
much bigger than anything that ever flew on Earth.)
- There seem to be no physical limits to draconic
teleportation. (Larry Niven doesn't say how the difference
in potential energy is dealt with when you teleport from a high place
to a low one, but at least he alludes to the problem.)
- Benden Weyr maintained the health and vigour of its dragons, and
even improved it, through centuries of severe inbreeding.
- Dragons occasionally acquire "special" extensions to their
abilities, either in compensation for disabilities (Ruth) or because
of special humans (Robinton) -- in other words, whenever the plot
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