cave canem

Cave Canem- Beware the Dog

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Anne McCaffrey's Dragonsdawn: Part I

I am firmly of the opinion that one can learn things about writing from both good and bad writers. Since I've heard so many conflicted things about her in the past, I figured that Anne McCaffrey would make a fabulous teacher. I picked up her novel Dragonsdawn, a book in the Pern series, and read the first chapter today. And there is no way in hell that I am not going to rip on it.
To give a bit of background; I read her Harper Hall Trilogy, also part of the Pern series, a while ago, so I know a bit about the books. Humans colonized a planet and genetically engineered some dragons to help them fight these space worms that would drop on them every century or so. ...My memories are a bit hazy, to be honest. Dragonsdawn, while not the first book in the series, is the first book chronologically. It's about the first human settlers establishing a colony on Pern.
So, chapter one.

Long story short, nothing much happens in this chapter. There are a bunch of people on a spaceship arguing about Pern's ecology and where they should land the ship all while having clumsily written sexual tension that I don't care about because there are too many characters for me to even keep track of let alone give a crap about.

There are some large chunks of this chapter devoted to spewing large amounts of jargon. To be fair to McCaffrey, she clearly put a lot of work into developing the ecosystem and considering the difficulties of settling on an alien planet, and she wanted to show that she knew what she was talking about. The problem, though, is that those parts of the book were a bit dense and didn't do a very good job holding my attention. I mean, really, McCaffrey, I've only read the very beginning of this book so far and I can already tell that your dedicated readers aren't here for a biology lesson. *wink*

As I mentioned before, there are a shitload of characters introduced in a very short period of time. Most of them are given a brief (or not so brief) biography and a lengthy and very purple physical description (more on that in a minute).
Here is a list of the characters I remember:
Emily Boll Weevil [citation needed]: She's some sort of ex-soldier. I think she's an important character or something. She smiles a lot and everyone seems to like her. She pisses me off for some reason.
Avril McBitchypants: She is a bitch. We hate her.
Mar Dook: I have no idea who this guy is or why we should care about him. I just thought his name was funny.
Sallah Telgar: She is a pilot. I think she's supposed to be a major character, but who can really tell?
Tarvi teh Sex Bomb: He is clearly supposed to be Sallah's future love interest because he made her all horny when she met him in the hallway.
Drake Something or Other: First Sallah thinks he is a douchebag and then she decides that he's an okay guy and she's just stressed out, so I'm not sure what to think about him.

Above all, my main problem with this book so far is McCaffrey's absurd purple prose. I have heard people say in the past not to use a twenty-five cent word when you can get the same meaning for a penny, but I never really understood what that meant until reading this. Sallah doesn't pet the child's soft red hair, she "ruffle[s] the child's silky, magnificently titan hair." Not to mention the way that she slows the narrative to a crawl to describe the physical characteristics of characters for no clear reason. Every character is either "homely" or some oddly-chosen string of words meaning "beautiful". I don't understand why we really need to know exactly how attractive all these people are, but it is apparently of vital importance to the book. My absolute favorite quote, I think, was the description of Avril that was given right in the middle of hearing about what a horrible person she is. Get ready for this; I almost spit tea on the book when I read it. (The emphases are my own.)

"Candidly, Sallah could see why a virile man like the admiral would be sexually attracted by the astrogator's dark and flashing beauty. A mixture of ethnic ancestors had given her the best of all possible features. She was tall, neither willowy nor overripe, with luxuriant black hair that she often wore loose in silky ripples. Her slightly sallow complexion was flawless and her movements gracefully studied, but her eyes, snapping with black fire, indicated a highly intelligent and volatile personality."

...Where do I even begin?
For the record, there are several other descriptions of this nature sprinkled throughout the entire chapter like nausea-inducing sprinkles on a dry, crumbling birthday cake. (Oh god, is it contagious?)

Yeah, it was pretty bad. There were some interesting ideas in there, though, and I have high hopes that it will improve. Maybe something interesting will happen soon. At the very least, she has to have run out of characters to describe, right? Right?

A last note: I flipped to the back and read the About the Author blurb. "Of herself, Ms McCaffrey says, 'I have green eyes, silver hair, and freckles; the rest changes without notice.'"
Jesus. She even does it with herself. What even is silver hair? Is she blonde, or just old? Grr.

Next chapter whenever I can bring myself to read it.


  1. Wait a minute..."magnificently titan hair"? What? So it's like...huge or something? An over-the-top beehive that'd put Marge Simpson to shame?

    Also, on the silver hair: maybe she's some kind of sorceress. That seems feasible, right?

    1. It gave me a bizarre mental image of Kronos sitting on her head like a bird.

      And a sorceress? Yup, about as plausible as any other answer I've heard.