Make my klah a doubleshot.
January 15, 2010 2:42 AM   Subscribe

Calling all secret Anne McCaffrey fans out from hiding: Help me read the entire Pern canon in the most logical way possible, thus satisfying my completionist urges.

My favorite books in the summer when I turned 12 were the three in the Harper Hall Trilogy. Shortly after, I snatched up at least eight different Pern books at my local used bookshop. Unfortunately, the selection of YA and sci-fi in my local library was poor, and I never read any of them in the right order. My interest in Pern faded around 1998, when I discovered the awkward-teenage-girl-crack of Sailor Moon.

This Christmas I found the Harper Hall Trilogy in my best friend's family house, and I devoured them like candy. Shameless, hamfisted, world-building-funtimes candy. My curiosity is killing me, I barely remember all of these details that are just hinted at in those three tiny books. The time has come for me to suck it up, sit down, and read every book McCaffrey ever wrote set in that world.

Googling around for preferred reading order and even what's considered "complete" is kind of difficult; I keep running into fanfiction wank and dead sites. So, AskMe, I know you guys are out there, how can I most efficiently acquire everything Pern, and then, in what order should it all be read? I don't even really know how much of it there is! Was it ever declared "done"?

Thanks in advance for exposing your secret predilections for questionably consenting dragon mating rituals by answering!
posted by Mizu to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I too read the books as a teenager! (Although oddly I did not pick up on the questionably consenting dragon mating rituals thing until much later. I think I was in denial and/or blinded by YAY DRAGONS AWESOME.)

There's a list of books by Anne McCaffrey on her website, and linked at the top is a suggested reading order. I don't know how good that is because I read them sporadically and out of order at a library, but there's one for you.
posted by Xany at 4:32 AM on January 15, 2010

There are still Pern books being written, by Anne McCaffery's son supposedly with her "help". He can't write and she's gone down hill anyway. The box at the bottom of this Wikipedia page does a pretty good job of summing them up. I would read in this order:
  1. The original trilogy: Dragonflight, Dragonquest, The White Dragon.
  2. The Harper Hall trilogy (if you want to re-read it again).
  3. Books in "modern" Pern in this order: The Masterharper of Pern, A Gift of Dragons (collection), Renegades of Pern, All the Weyrs of Pern, The Dolphins of Pern, The Skies of Pern
  4. And then books from most "historical" to most "modern": Dragonsdawn, Chronicals of Pern: First Fall, Dragonseye, Moreta, Nerilk'a Story
  5. Then any of the companion books, although they're not really readable--just references, lists, and maps mostly.
  6. And then I would shoot myself. And then after I did that, I would read the novels with/by Todd McCaffery. (OK, they're not that bad. But almost. Definitely wait until you're desperate before reading them.)
I think there are some flaws, like Moreta is better than Dragonseye, so you might get depressed and stop reading before Moreta (which is not high writing, but is better than a lot of the rest), but from a consistency in the world perspective this makes the most sense to me. An alternative reading order which has predominately the better books first would be to read them in the order which they were published, which is here. (That list does list some short stories which were later published in collections. Reading them with the collection would also be fine.)
posted by anaelith at 4:54 AM on January 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

According to this guide (PDF) from Fans often ask for advice as to the order in which to read the books in the popular Dragonriders of Pern© series. Anne McCaffrey herself suggests you should read them in the order in which they were published.

Pern Books and Stories in order of Publication

• Dragonflight (1968)
The short stories “Weyr Search” and “Dragonrider” are incorporated in this book.
• Dragonquest (1971)
• Dragonsong (1976)
• Dragonsinger 1977)
• The Smallest Dragonboy, in: Get Off The Unicorn (1977)
• The White Dragon (1978)
The earlier publication “A Time When” (1975) is incorporated in this book.
• Dragondrums (1979)
• Moreta: Dragonlady Of Pern (1983)
• Nerilka’s Story (1984)
• Dragonsdawn (1988)
• The Impression, in: The Dragonlover’s Guide To Pern (1989)
• The Renegades Of Pern (1989)
• All The Weyrs Of Pern (1991)
• The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall (1993)
The earlier publications “Rescue Run” (1991) and “The Dolphin’s Bell” (1993) are
incorporated in this book.
• The Girl Who Heard Dragons, in: The Girl Who Heard Dragons (1996)
• Dragonseye, published as Red Star Rising in the UK (1996)
• The Masterharper Of Pern (1998)
• Runner Of Pern, in: Legends (anthology edited by Robert Silverberg) (1999)
• The Skies of Pern (2001)
• A Gift of Dragons (2002)
The short story “Ever the Twain” is incorporated in this book.
• Dragon’s Kin (with Todd McCaffrey) (2003)
• Beyond Between, in: Legends II (anthology edited by Robert Silverberg) (2004)
• Dragonsblood (by Todd McCaffrey) (2005)
• Dragon’s Fire (with Todd McCaffrey) (2006)
posted by taz at 4:54 AM on January 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Heh, I read the Menolly books first too, when I was around 12.

I generally agree with the reading order as linked by Xany, with one caveat. If you have a copy of The Dragonriders of Pern, it's a trilogy of Dragonflight, Dragonquest, and The White Dragon. I think Menolly makes an appearance in The White Dragon, which is probably why they are ordered that way in the list. Since you already know who she is, you could read the whole trilogy at once, with the first two Harper Hall books either before or after. But, if you have the separate books, you might space them out as suggested.
posted by cabingirl at 5:04 AM on January 15, 2010

Looks like we're getting some doubles here.

I agree with taz--read them in the order of publication, which was the intention of the author. This way, you'll be starting with the highest-quality books, too. I quit around Masterharper because the quality was just too terrible after that--and frankly, I don't feel like I'm missing much, having picked up a Todd McCaffrey book in a bookstore, skimmed a few pages, and quickly discarded it--they're that bad. I think it's pretty important to read Dragonsdawn before the "modern" Pern books like Skies, because it contains background, world-building stuff that can help ground and explain the discovery of new technology in later books and acts as a nice bridge between eras (full disclosure: at 12, during my Pern phase, I read Dragonsdawn first and approached the series chronologically. That worked too, but it created a very different effect from reading in publication order, namely, that they seemed like harder SF than they were.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:39 AM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

As someone who loved Anne McCaffrey as a child and also read the Harper Hall series again over Christmas break for the first time in ten years... ;) I'd also put out there that she has some other fun science fiction series for when you're done. My favorite was always her Talents series, though that has it's own sexual weirdness. Only on a more recent read of Damia did I realize the full squickiness of Afra and Damia's relationship. I also like The Crystal Singer and Powers That Be more as stand alone books, as the sequels didn't hold up that well. Though I'd say that is probably true of Anne McCaffrey in general. Pern definitely goes downhill after awhile, I remember that even as a kid. But she's fun, definitely a master of world-building, just a little weak in extended storytelling.

The Talent series

* To Ride Pegasus (1973) (short stories)
* Pegasus in Flight (1990)
* Pegasus in Space (2000)

* The Rowan (1990) (partly based on the short "Lady in the Tower" 1959)
* Damia (1991) (partly based on the short "A Meeting of Minds" 1969)
* Damia's Children (1993)
* Lyon's Pride (1994)
* The Tower and the Hive (1999)
posted by amileighs at 6:15 AM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if you can get your hands on it, the Dragonlover's Guide to Pern is pretty indispensable, and can be read right after Dragonsdawn. The art is kind-of terrible, but it clarifies a lot of the background information and tightens up the backstory a bit. It also has a terrific recipe for klah.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:58 AM on January 15, 2010

I'm going to disagree with everyone, because if I'd read Dragonflight first, I'd never have made it to the other books. If I could plan a reading list for myself, erase my brain of everything Pern and McCaffrey, and start over, here's what I'd read:

- Dragonsong and Dragonsinger
Besides being wonderful, they are a "dip the toe in" intro to the entire Pern mythos without being overwhelming, and will start you off with a good number of sympathetic and/or likeable characters, and only a few that enrage you to the point of hurling the books at walls. Heck, even Mirrim comes off lovable at this point (enjoy it while you can). Continue with:

- The White Dragon and Dragondrums
Getting a bit more directly involved in Pern history, gradually expanding your character exposure, but a few hints of what is to come in here. Time for a break, so read:

- Moreta
This is the only "alternate pass" book that is actually compelling and doesn't feel like a retcon or a repeat of a previous story. If you read it right after the four above, it fits in really nicely and gets you more directly into the entire weyr dynamic, at which point you are ready to tackle:

- Dragonquest and Dragonflight (in that order, yes)
You will officially began to feel a little icky about Pern in these books, which is why you already need to be invested in the world to get through them, and make it to:

- All The Weyrs of Pern
Which takes the above pieces, wraps them together, and finishes on a decent tone with most of the most likeable characters as the central figures. At this point:

STOP. Everything else is to be ignored, assumed it was written to make a living, and considered not to exist. You're better off without any of it, seriously.

And for extra safety, don't go meeting with or writing to the author, either. I know a few folks put off the series entirely based purely on their interactions with her, it's not worth the risk.
posted by Pufferish at 7:30 AM on January 15, 2010

If you listen to Pufferfish, you're missing two pretty decent books: Dragonsdawn (which I'd say is much better than Moreta, but to be fair, I've never managed to finish Moreta because I found it dead-boring) and Dolphins, which is a little cutesy (I'm not sure why I find talking dolphins to be cheesier than telepathic dragons, but I do), but still an okay read, and one of the more engaging and enveloping Pern books.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:45 AM on January 15, 2010

I think you should read at least roughly in order publication. Sorry Pufferish, I think your order would be confusing in a few places. Remember that you don't have to read them all. I haven't read any of the short stories so I can't say whether they are worth reading.

Dragonflight, Dragonquest, The White Dragon and Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, Dragondrums each make nice trilogies on their own, so I'd read them in that order even if it isn't strictly publication order. I'd skip Nerilka's Story, which retells the events of Moreta from a more annoying perspective. Dragonsdawn is a lot of fun after reading all of the books set many years later. There are definite advantages to reading it before Renegades and All The Weyrs. I slogged through those two books and I don't think they're that great, although they do complete the story. I was under the impression All The Weyrs was supposed to be the last Pern book ever so I was a little disgusted when the McCaffreys kept on producing them, and haven't touched any of the others with a ten-foot pole.
posted by grouse at 7:52 AM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I knew I'd find little agreement, and I know nobody is actually going to stop at that list. Once you get that far you're hooked, and you end up reading everything else trying to get just one more hit of the earlier magic. It just never happens.

And to be fair, Dragonsdawn actually is a fine book... by itself. The problem is that it takes place on Pern, and the world is at its most enjoyable when it feels like a fantasy with vague legends instead of pseudoscience to justify why everything is how it is. Dragonsdawn is where the series begins to veer really hard into attempting to recast the entire series as hard science fiction, which is so wrong. Even All The Weyrs and companion books like The Dragonlovers Guide tread dangerously into that area, really.

There are two omissions from all of the above lists that I can't believe I'm just remembering, however. If you REALLY want to read "everything" -- Jody Lynn Nye wrote a couple of Pern "choose your own adventure" books, Dragonharper and Dragonfire. They obviously won't be considered canon, but the latter was more enjoyable to me than a lot of the later Pern books were. They're focused on Robinton and Mirrim, respectively.
posted by Pufferish at 8:26 AM on January 15, 2010

Personally I would go with publication order, but skipping Moreta, Nerilka's Story and The Renegades of Pern, and then stopping after Chronicles of Pern: First Fall. Or if you like cutesy fluff then also read The Dolphins of Pern, as PhoBWanKenobi suggests, and then stop.

I suggest not reading anything co-written with Todd McCaffrey, and while The Masterharper of Pern is not a terrible book it goes back and changes past continuity in a way which undermines the previous books (IIRC) so I like to pretend it doesn't exist.

If you want to read other McCaffrey, I also like the Talents series, but be aware that along with the weirdness of the Afra/Damia relationship, there's also some sexual ickiness at the end of Pegasus in Flight (spoilers in that link), and in general there's some strange and often squicky sexual issues in her books, which I didn't even notice as a 13-year-old but stand out every time I re-read one.
posted by penguinliz at 8:27 AM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Dragonsdawn actually is a fine book... by itself. The problem is that it takes place on Pern, and the world is at its most enjoyable when it feels like a fantasy with vague legends instead of pseudoscience to justify why everything is how it is.

That's why I think it's good to read it after the books that were written before it (which often reference the science fiction underpinnings). Yeah, I don't like the thread (no pun intended) of recasting certain things in terms of science and technology, but the story itself is interesting,
and I think the environment is interesting simply because it is a reimagining of the more fantasy-oriented works.
posted by grouse at 8:36 AM on January 15, 2010

Dragonsdawn actually is a fine book... by itself. The problem is that it takes place on Pern, and the world is at its most enjoyable when it feels like a fantasy with vague legends instead of pseudoscience to justify why everything is how it is.

To be fair, Anne McCaffrey has been consistently insistent that her books are science fiction and not fantasy, and never were intended to be fantasy. While I can understand why people would like the fantasy-esque elements more than the soft sci-fi underpinnings, reading them in order can actually help you see how the return to technology and education from a forced agrarian state is one of her major, overarching themes. After all, the introduction of Dragonsflight opens with precisely this idea.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:40 AM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

To be fair, Anne McCaffrey has been consistently insistent that her books are science fiction and not fantasy, and never were intended to be fantasy.

This is absolutely true... it's just that the later you go into the series, the more you get beat over the head with her attempts to make everyone take that seriously. Most Pernites would admit when pressed that it's really the romantic dragon/fire lizard impression concept that is the major draw of the series... and like any kind of love, the more you try to logically explain it, the further away you get from the feeling of it. I suspect that the reason I don't caref for the later books is that they kept getting further from what the soul of the series was really about.

Or maybe it was just because I wasn't a lonely kid anymore when I read them.
posted by Pufferish at 8:53 AM on January 15, 2010

I read them all in the order of publication, and that worked well for me.
posted by killdevil at 9:23 AM on January 15, 2010

I did too, and I agree with Pufferish, STOP at All the Weyrs of Pern.

But don't skip Dragonsdawn, it's fascinating.

And Moreta? Damn but that was a weird one, when it came out. I read the whole thing, wondering when Lessa and F'lar would show up, and they never did. Guess it needed a better intro.
posted by Rash at 10:51 AM on January 15, 2010

I read Moreta first, and really liked it at the time (thirteen? fourteen?). Thought it was an excellent introduction to the world and, since it takes place in the distant past, it lays down some useful history. I also found Moreta to be a more likeable character than either Lessa or Menolly, but YMMV.
posted by Pallas Athena at 11:22 AM on January 15, 2010

I knew this would be a little bit contentious, but dang! I should have been more specific:

I know most of the later books are, apparently, crap. And I know that the series is specifically billed as sci-fi when most people wanted a fantasy dragons wheeeee! series. Apparently, I'm alone in enjoying when established fantasy conceits get explained with hardcore science fiction. It makes me get to thinking "Oh, hey, if I just forget these convenient facts about the universe we've discovered since these were published, this could so totally happen!"

But all of that is irrelevant. I'm the kind of person who has to read everything, in order, from start to finish. It's not about enjoyment so much as *completion* and usually I can mitigate my urges when something is still in production, but as Pern got its hooks into me at an impressionable age, I guess I never quite got rid of it.

So, thank you, everyone, for your suggestions and your extremely entertaining discussion, but don't worry about me hating every character and throwing books against the wall. I think i'll go by McCaffrey's suggestion and read them in publication order. Thank you, taz, I never bothered to click on that PDF.
posted by Mizu at 12:28 PM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Aside from the two Jody Lyne Nye CYOA books, if you're going for "everything", there's one more thing you may want to look up: The People of Pern.
posted by Pufferish at 5:11 PM on January 15, 2010

Dragonsdawn is the book that has stuck with me the most since I stopped reading Pern books (right around Master Harper). I'd suggest publication order, too.

(And I'm like you in that one of the big draws for me was that they were science fiction.)
posted by ocherdraco at 6:36 PM on January 15, 2010

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