“Let us welcome you, my friends, to the planet Pern,” the admiral cried in a stentorian voice.
While the Dragonriders of Pern series is recognized as science fiction (due to its origin discussing the nature of the star Rukbat and its planetary system), many of its elements in the earlier books were primarily fantasy in origin. Dragonsdawn establishes the science fiction nature of the series by defining the science behind McCaffrey's dragons.
Dragonsdawn placed third for the annual, juried John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel published in the USA and seventh for the annual Locus Award for Best Novel.
There are two versions of this novel — American and British. The British edit extended some scenes and added various minor episodes. For example, the difference in the second paragraph of the first chapter of the book:
- «On the screen, please, Mister Telgar», Admiral Paul Benden replied.
— American editions
- «On the screen, please, Mr Telgar», Admiral Paul Benden replied with his punctilious courtesy. He was joint leader of the Pern Colonial Expedition on its fifteen-year voyage to the Sagittarian Sector and the strategically unimportant Rukbat star system
— British editions
In general, the difference is about 50 pages.
Pern was a beautiful planet, Earthlike enough to feel like home, yet unspoiled by the industrial development and interstellar wars that had ravaged the other planets of humankind. And the few thousand colonists who came to Pern intended to keep it that way. They staked their claims to the land and settled down to build a low-tech, agricultural paradise on the world they had loved at first sight.
Then suddenly disaster struck. Deadly spores fell like silver threads from the sky, devouring everything — and every one — in their path. Fire and water could destroy the Thread, as the stuff came to be called, but the colonists could not keep up with relentless attacks. Very quickly it became clear that the colony's resources could not support a long-term fight against the menace — and the Thread was predicted to fall for fifty years. Some other solution would have to be found if the colony was to survive.
Then some of the colonists noticed that the small, dragonlike lizards that inhabited their new world were joining in the fight against Thread, breathing fire on it and teleporting to safety. If only, they thought, the dragonets were big enough for a human to ride and intelligent enough to work as a team with a rider.
And so they set their most talented geneticist to work to create the creatures Pern so desperately needed — dragons!
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Three colony ships, the Yokohama, Bahrain and Buenos Aires, approach Pern, carrying over six thousand colonists. After fifteen years of travel, everyone is woken from cold sleep. Teams meet to discuss their plans for landing while probes send them information about their new home. Captains Paul Benden, Ezra Keroon and Jim Tillek choose a landing site in the Southern Continent. Soon both passengers and materials will be making the shuttle trips to the surface.
Young Sorka Hanrahan and her family wake up, but since her father, Red Hanrahan, is a veterinarian, and her mother, Mairi Hanrahan, is child care, both important jobs but not immediately needed, the family won't be disembarking until one of the last shuttle flights. Sorka makes a (reluctant) friend in Sean Connell, one of the traveling folk.
Avril Bitra meets with Stev Kimmer to inform him of her plans: to obtain some of Pern's natural wealth and then leave the planet. She has with her the plans left by her ancestor, Shavva bint Faroud, who was part of the EEC team that surveyed Pern.
Pilot Kenjo Fusaiyuki and his co-pilot Jiro Akamoto lead the first trip to Pern's surface. Six shuttles bring materials and colonists. On Kenjo's shuttle are Paul Benden and Emily Boll, leaders of the colony. The shuttles land on Pern, and Kenjo is alarmed when Paul and Emily leave the shuttle through its escape hatch. When he opens the passenger hatch, all can see Paul and Emily standing by two flags: one for the FSP and one for Pern. Paul and Emily welcome the first colonists to Pern.
On Pern, the teams begin work. One team sets up the landing strip for the shuttles. One team begins construction on the meteorology tower. Another team, led by Mar Dook, Pol Nietro, Phas Radamanth, AC Sopers and Ted Tubberman, begin the process of adapting Earth plants to Pern's soil. At the end of the day, those on the planet sit around a bonfire, watched on the viewscreens by those still on board the three colony ships.
Next day, Sallah and her co-pilot Barr Hamil make their first journey to Pern. When they return to the Yokohama at the end of the day, Kenjo scolds them for their careless use of shuttle fuel; Sallah, knowing that she wasn't at fault, decides to keep careful records of her fuel usage on her shuttle flights.
Sorka and her family finally make it to Landing on one of Sallah's flights. After several days of school and work, Sorka's hard work and initiative have impressed headmaster Rudi Shwartz enough that she is assigned to more independent duties. One day she, Jacob Chernoff, and Chung are sent off to catalog and collect life samples along the beach. Sorka wanders off from the boys and almost stumbles into a nest of eggs. The mother, a beautiful golden flying creature, scolds Sorka. As Sorka watches the mother, she finds Sean Connell also watching. The two children make a pact to check on the eggs. One day, the mother is joined by several of the dragonets (or fire lizards, as Sean calls them). The dragonets are bringing food for the about-to-hatch eggs. As the eggs hatch, a bronze and two brown dragonets make their way to Sorka and Sean, who feed them. When the other dragonets, including the new hatchlings, fly off, Sorka and Sean's trio stay with them. Sean's father, Porrig Connell, hopes Sean's two browns will help keep the tunnel snakes away. Sorka's bronze, named Duke, attracts the attention of scientists Pol Nietro and Bay Harkenon, who want to take him away for study, but Red Hanrahan suggests they let Sorka keep him at home, and Sorka promises to keep the scientists updated on Duke's growth.
The colony ships have been mostly emptied of people. When Sallah sees that Avril Bitra and her cronies have volunteered for a weekend skeleton crew aboard the Yokohama, she is suspicious and signs up as well. On the bridge with Boris Pahlevi, Sallah does some investigating. She deduces that there should be much more available fuel, so Kenjo must be stashing it somewhere. She also notices that Avril and her friends are searching the computers for information on leaving Pern. At first Sallah worries that Avril and Kenjo are working together, but she dismisses that idea, only to worry that Avril might find Kenjo's hoard.
Soon, many of the colonists have impressed their own dragonets. Many discoveries are made about the animals: they can teleport, they eat ravenously during their first few weeks as they reach their final growth; their skin dries out as they grow, requiring regular oiling; and the «owners» can sense their dragonets' emotions.
Sallah, having discovered Kenjo's hoard and having overheard Avril discussing her plans with her cohorts, is tired of the intrigue and volunteers to fly the geologists and miners to their expedition to Drake's Lake. While there, she has to endure Drake Bonneau's advances and Svenda Olubushtu's jealousy, while at the same time trying to attract Tarvi Andiyar's attention. At the camp, a still is set up to produce quikal. When Drake returns from a supply run, he has news: everyone is being called back to Landing for a Thanksgiving celebration — the last load from the colony ships has officially landed.
Back at Landing, Sallah relates her concerns to Zi Ongola, who is also concerned that Avril will find Kenjo's hoard. However, Zi is grateful for the information, and Sallah is relieved to have passed it on to someone in charge.
As everyone enjoys the celebration, an mild earthquake hits the area. Paul Benden quickly calms any fears, while some of the scientists investigate. The dolphins are sent to watch for any tsunamis, and the next day Patrice de Broglie reports that the epicenter was out in the ocean.
The colony prospers, and many of the plants and animals brought from Earth thrive. One day in Landing, a herd of wherries attacks the poultry. To the colonists' surprise, the dragonets drive the wherries away, and Sorka even thinks she saw a little flame come from Duke, though she doesn't tell anyone.
Pol and Bay, still interested in the dragonets, decide the best way to study them is by finding some eggs and dead bodies of the dragonets. They enlist Sorka and Sean to help them on their expedition, promising Sean a horse of his own as payment for his services. Jim Tillek and his crew sail the team to a likely spot. On the expedition, Sorka finds a gold's nest and takes an egg for Bay, who impresses the queen, while Sean finds some dead dragonets and gold's eggs for study.
Pern's system of government is set up, and Paul Benden, Emily Boll, and Zi Ongola have regular meetings to discuss the colony, including keeping track of Avril Bitra and her friends. Zi has taken precautions to prevent anyone from leaving the planet in the Mariposa. There have been several weddings, including that of Zi to Sabra Stein, and Emily is heading for one with Pierre de Courci. Meanwhile, Sallah and Tarvi travel to the Northern Continent to explore a cave system there, and Sallah manages to successfully seduce Tarvi.
Avril continues to make her plans. She and several others have set up at Big Island, where they are mining gems that she intends to take with her when she leaves the planet.
One day in Landing, people notice their fire lizards are behaving strangely, almost as if they are frightened. Fire lizards convince Sabra Stein-Ongola, Pol Nietro and Bay Harkenon to get inside. Sean Connell and Sorka Hanrahan, one of many hunting parties, are guided by their fire lizards to take shelter. Zi Ongola notices a smudge on the horizon and takes a sled to investigate. Suddenly, Landing is hit by a rain of thread-like creatures that devour anything organic. Those who can, take shelter. Fire lizards defend Landing and anyone out in the open by flaming Thread.
When the fall is over, many deaths are reported, with some stakes completely devastated. Investigations are begun into this menace and how to defend against it. Colonists from stakes that weren't hit come to Landing to offer help. Kenjo flies in and does an aerial survey. Samples of the life forms are obtained. The consensus is that it comes from the wandering planet, though whether it is a prelude to invasion is up for debate. The Thread can be killed by fire or water.
The next day, angry and grieving colonists, led by Ted Tubberman (who lost his daughter), confront the scientists for keeping a specimen alive. Mar Dook suggests giving them the dying specimen as a way to assuage their grief. Ted and his group burn the specimen in a bonfire.
Signs of an earlier fall are found, and it is concluded that this menace is responsible for the mysterious circles found by the EEC survey team. It is theorized that these invasions come about two hundred years apart. Also noted is that there are more than one stage of this life form.
Three days after the Landing fall, a call comes in announcing another fall in Macedonia Province. Kenjo flies Paul and several others to the site. When they arrive, investigations begin, but Paul is uncomfortable with the fact that people are once again treating him as «the Admiral».
Work begins on a defense. Flamethrowers are filled with HNO3 for destroying burrows of Thread. Livestock shelters are constructed and supplies are located centrally. Tom Patrick suggests that a meeting should be held and someone should be named as leader for the duration of the emergency.
Cabot leads a meeting where necessary measures are announced to those in attendance. Ted Tubberman disrupts the meeting several times, suggesting the colony send a distress call (which would take at least ten years for help to arrive). Tubberman's suggestion is voted down, and Paul and Emily are voted in as leaders.
Pilots and gunners are sent out each Fall to destroy Thread before it lands; ground crews, accompanied by dragonets, destroy anything that gets through. At a special meeting by the colony's leaders, Joel facetiously suggests getting more dragonets for fighting Thread, to which Emily answers that they just aren't big enough. Emily's remark gives Paul an idea.
At Avril's camp, Stev shows her his discovery of black diamonds. The next day, he is not surprised to find that she has left the camp. He knows her plan is to take the admiral's gig and leave Pern, but she hasn't been paying attention to messages from Landing and will be surprised at the activity that is now taking place there.
Kenjo is sent in the Mariposa to try to discover the source of Thread. When Avril arrives at Landing, she is angrily surprised how crowded it is, and can't figure out where the Mariposa is. While she walks down the grid, Sallah looks out a window and happens to see someone who looks like Avril but doesn't believe it could really be her.
Paul and a delegation of leaders and biologists approach Kitti to ask her to bio-engineer the dragonets to be large and intelligent enough to fight Thread. To their relief, Kitti agrees. All medical and biological staff, including Sorka and Sean, are put on the project. Kenjo makes several more missions to find Thread's source, without success. Paul calls Avril's team back to Landing; when they arrive, Stev informs him that Avril left weeks ago. Unknown to everyone else, she's been hiding nearby, keeping an eye on the Mariposa.
Six weeks after the first Fall, Paul and Emily declare a holiday for everyone to gather. A short Threadfall will be attended, but everyone else will get a chance to relax and socialize. Unfortunately, the Jepson twins, flying the fall, fool around and are killed, along with Becky Nielson and Bart Nilwan. Three days later, Kitti is found dead at her microscope. The specimens on which she had been working are carefully placed in the gestation chamber. To add to the colony's woes, every probe sent to investigate Thread's source malfunctions; they don't know whether it's a fault with the probes or if the atmosphere of the red planet is too corrosive. It is decided to send Kenjo and Zi to the Yokohama to see what's wrong with the probes.
Avril, seeing Kenjo and Zi leaving on their mission, attacks them, killing Kenjo and severely injuring Zi. She is seen by Sallah, who sneaks into the Mariposa just as Avril is closing the door, cutting part of Sallah's heel off. When Sallah recovers consciousness, she is forced by Avril to fix what's wrong with the Mariposa. Sallah cannot do so, because Zi had removed a key component; however, she suggests they go to the Yokohama so they can figure it out. Once on the Yokohama, Sallah fixes the Mariposa enough for Avril to leave, then she contacts Landing. She performs the probe mission but informs those on the ground that she doesn't have much air left. When she is told that Avril's course will take her straight to the Red Star, Sallah is immensely pleased.
Sallah's sacrifice for Pern gives a boost to morale for a few days, until reports come in about Ted Tubberman's strange activity. He's been taking various pieces of equipment from various places. Leadership isn't too worried, because Tubberman doesn't have the skill to launch a distress probe, but Stev and Bart have been hanging around him lately. Soon a report comes in that there has been an unauthorized launch. Paul confronts Tubberman, who pompously stands his ground. When the leadership meets to decide on punishment, Emily says that he will be shunned.
It is decided that a shuttle will be taken to the trail around the red star to determine just how long Thread will continue to fall. Unfortunately, most pilots don't want to perform the mission, so Nabhi Nabol is approached. He is offered a charterer's stake; he demands Bart Lemos as his co-pilot. Their mission is expected to last a week.
Soon after the launch, the formerly predictable Threadfall pattern shifts. One of the places hit is Tubberman's stake. Drake Bonneau is told not to help out the ground crews there. As he flies over the stake, he sees Tubberman's son Ned standing on a patch of grass and waving to him. Drake flies back to Landing but is later approached by Ned, who calls his attention to the fact that his father is working on something that kept the green patch of grass free from Thread. Ned wants Paul and Emily to talk to his father, but they can't because he's been shunned.
The dragon eggs are finally ready to hatch. Several young people, including Sean and a pregnant Sorka, are in attendance. The first dragon, a bronze, is impressed by Dave Catarel. Several others impress, including Peter Semling, Tarrie Chernoff, Shih Lao, and Marco Galliani. The last two to impress are Sean and Sorka.
Bart learns that Nabhi took the shuttle mission for a reason: while they investigate the trail around the red star, they will also search the debris from the Mariposa's explosion for the gems that Avril had brought with her.
The eighteen dragonriders take care of their new charges, and eventually the size of the creatures forces them to move out of Landing into nearby caves. The dragons will need to learn to fly and to go between when they are old enough.
Nabhi and Bart report to Zi that they have the necessary information. Next morning, a mild earthquake hits Landing, with Patrice de Broglie reporting that a new volcano has erupted out of the sea. Tarvi, now known as Telgar, plans to report to Paul and Emily the basement rock located on the Northern Continent. The following day, Nabhi and Bart are on approach back to Pern, but Zi's readings show them entering at the wrong angle. Their readings show different, however, and Nabhi won't be convinced by Paul or Zi that he needs to change his heading. The shuttle explodes on reentry and lands in the ocean; a team of dolphins is unable to get to the wreckage.
When the leadership meets, they conclude from Nabhi's reports that Thread will last a total of fifty years. Paul suggests a restructuring of the settlement, but Zi says Landing should be abandoned. Jim Tillek and Ezra Keroon make Telgar's suggestion of moving north to the caves on the basement rock. This indeed is what Paul and Emily have been discussing.
In the north, Telgar, Ozzie and Cobber prepare the cave site for the relocation of the settlement. Meanwhile, Sorka has her first child, a son named Michael.
The dragons and their riders having moved out of Landing to the Catherine Caves, Dave Catarel and Sean are watching their dragons hunt. They feel like everyone else has forgotten about the dragonriders. As Sean and Carenath make their way back home, Sean impulsively decides they should fly. It is a success and the other dragonriders began flying with their dragons, after Sean has made his report to the leadership of Pern. Sean starts to get fed up with the leadership's attitude towards dragons — impatience mixed with doubt. Elsewhere, Wind Blossom's attempts at breeding dragons has resulted in the hatching of four photophobic creatures.
One day in early spring of the ninth year, Landing's inhabitants are surprised to find that Picchu is smoking. Plans are being made for an orderly move to the north.
Pol receives a call from Mary Tubberman, who is worried about her husband Ted — his creatures are loose. Pol and Bay recruit some of the dragonriders to go to Calusa. They find Ted's mauled body and a destroyed building, with no sign of Ted's animals. Mary tells them that Ted had experimented on felines, but they turned on him. Mary and her children are brought to Landing, while Ted is cremated. Ted's notes are brought to Pol and Bay.
Patrice de Broglie announces that it's Garben, not Picchu, that is set to erupt. Evacuation must occur immediately. The plans are set in motion — Landing is evacuated, Drake Bonneau takes the Swallow with children and equipment to the fort in the north, and materials are brought to the bay for transport to Kahrain peninsula or stored temporarily in the Catherine Caves. The dragonriders help transport goods, while Jim Tillek and a fleet of ships carries goods to Kahrain.
Evacuation continues even as Garben erupts. When everything that can be is cleared from Landing, Paul, Zi and Joel close up the tower. The interface with the Yokohama cannot be disconnected so it stays behind.
The dragons and their riders, having worked to help transport goods, rest at Kahrain. The dragons need to be fed, so Sean suggests they grab some sheep from the Galliani herds. Marco objects, so while the others feed their dragons sheep, he takes Duluth to the sea for fish. Emily confronts Sean about the missing sheep, but while they talk, Marco and Duluth take off, only to come in near collision with a sled. Marco and Duluth go between, but a few seconds later, the dragons and fire lizards keen in lament — Marco and Duluth are lost between.
As the dragonriders mourn their loss, they are joined by Pol and Bay, who give them encouragement and offer to help them teach their dragons how to go between safely. As they make their way to Seminole before going north, they plan to observe the fire lizards going between. They find that it takes eight seconds for a fire lizard to go from one location to another, regardless of distance.
Paul and Emily confer about the state of the evacuation, and Paul suggests she go north with the next sled. The dragonriders continue to practice flying in formation. The dragonriders break into three groups to hunt. After Sean's wing has fed, Sean carelessly tells Carenath to get back as fast as he can; he finds himself between before ending up at the tower. Sean has a brief moment of panic before the rest of his wing arrives.
The Parrakeet, the sled carrying Emily north, crashes. The pilot is injured and Emily suffers major injuries, but Paul decides they will keep silent about her condition.
Sean and the dragonriders plan to practice going between, carefully. As they make their way along the coast, they try to train the dragons to chew firestone. Unfortunately, the gold dragons cannot chew it, to their riders' anger. Sean suggests they could use flamethrowers.
Thread is due to fall at Fort Hold, but the sleds aren't in good enough condition to fight during Threadfall, so Paul elects not to fight the fall. Other bad news comes from Jim Tillek: a storm hit his convoy, capsizing craft and sinking cargo. Some of the cargo is being recovered by the dolphins, and no lives were lost. Telgar informs Paul that the photophobic animals created by Wind Blossom are ideal for helping work in the cave's tunnels.
The dragonriders finally arrive at Seminole. Peter Chernoff tells them Emily is injured and that Threadfall will not be fought. They cajole some flamethrowers from him and tell him they plan to fight Thread. When they leave, he calls Jake in the north to tell him that the dragonriders are coming to fight Thread.
During Threadfall, a discouraged Paul receives a call from Zi Ongola: the dragonriders have arrived and are fighting Thread. Paul grabs Fulmar Stone and a sled to go out to help them.
When the fall is over, the dragonriders land at Fort, and both riders and dragons are attended to by medics. Then Sean presents the dragonriders of Pern to Paul Benden and a cheering crowd.