Pern is the 3rd planet of the Rukbat system in the Sagittarian sector. Its name comes directly from the acronym it was given by the Exploration and Evaluation Corps (EEC) team that first mapped it; Parallel Earth, Resources Negligible. It was colonized by 6000 people lead by Admiral Paul Benden and Governor Emily Boll. It is the main setting of the Dragonriders of Pern series.
Pern was explored and cleared for colonization by an Exploration and Evaluation Corps team, two hundred years before the actual colonization commenced. This is in keeping with McCaffrey's themes of space exploration and colonization to escape from a polluted and overcrowded Old Earth, explored in many of her different series.
The EEC team spent ten days assessing the planet. They recorded geographical, geological, botanical, ecological and zoological information in a variety of locations, some of which are recognizable as areas of interest in other Pern stories. One member of the EEC team, Shavva, found the pristine planet so beautiful that she struggled to remain objective. Despite the beauty of the planet, the EEC team was puzzled by a repeated random pattern of circles of bare dirt which they observed across the whole globe. Eventually, they labelled the planet with the acronym: Parallel Earth, Resources Negligible (i.e., insufficient to support interstellar commercial investment).
Pern was colonized by settlers originally from Earth, First Base on the Moon, and the colony at Alpha Centauri. These people had lived in a technocratic society recovering from a war with an alien race. The colony was led by Admiral Paul Benden and Governor Emily Boll, who had both been key leaders in the war. The 6,023 colonists wanted to return to an agrarian society with a low level of technology so badly that they were prepared to take a fifteen-year one-way journey to an isolated part of the galaxy.
Less than a decade after the first colony was established, the settlers discovered that their chosen planet was subject to periodic attack from space by the destructive Thread, a spaceborne organism that destroys all organic matter on contact. This was responsible for the mysterious bare circles noted in the EEC report. Unable to retreat from the peril, the settlers were eventually able to develop methods of counteracting Threadfall. The discovery of small Pernese lifeforms dubbed fire lizards was a breakthrough for the colonists, as the indigenous species had evolved remarkable adaptations to protect themselves against Thread: flight, teleportation, limited telepathy, and the ability to chew phosphine rock. This latter adaptation enabled fire lizards to create a chemical chain reaction within their bodies that expelled bursts of superheated flames from their mouths, incinerating Thread before it had a chance to reach the ground.
Kitti Ping, a scientist trained in genetic manipulation by the Eridani, used her skills to «bioengineer» these small lizards into gigantic, flame-breathing, telepathic dragons, who were capable of obliterating large swaths of Thread while carrying a rider. Dragonriders became a vitally important and highly respected profession, especially during the massive push to reclaim the barren, Threadfall-battered northern continent, where humans and dragons lived alongside one another in large communal weyrs. Over time, the colonists settled into an agrarian way of life, and eventually forgot their Terran origins.
In the weeks following the first Thread attack, the colonists hotly debated sending a homing beacon back to Earth with a message seeking emergency aid. Without the might of Earth's advanced weaponry they were helpless against the Thread scourge, but if they were to go and beg for that very same technology to come save them now, not only would they be abandoning their deeply held agrarian principles, but in doing so they would be galvanizing their reliance on on technology all over again, the whole reason they fled Earth to begin with. The utimate decision was made to fight the Thread unaided. If they wanted to claim Pern for their home, they would have to learn how to defend it.
A small segment of the community disagreed however, and Ted Tubberman, colony botanist, surreptitiously built and launched his own homemade SOS beacon. As a punishment for this, he was shunned by the rest of the colony.
Some fifty years later, a Fleet battle cruiser, the Amherst, passed by the Sagittarian Sector on a search for alien incursions, and received an alert that the Rukbat sector had been flagged for investigation as a result of Tubberman's distress beacon. The captain on board, Anise Fargoe, authorized a rescue run under the leadership of Lieutenant Ross Vaclav Benden, nephew of Admiral Paul Benden, to discover the reason for the SOS. Upon arrival planetside, Ross flew his shuttle Erica all across the Northern hemisphere scanning for the colonists, but failed to detect any signs of human life, as everyone had all moved underground in deep cave systems in order to protect themselves from Thread. In the southern hemisphere, the Erica found the settlers' original landing site buried under volcanic ash, but a faint signal was still being transmitted from a beacon in the southern mountain range. There Ross and his crew found one of the founding colonists Stev Kimmer, now an old man, in charge at Honshu Hold. Stev and his compatriots lied and convinced Ross that they were the last surviving members of the colony, the others having long ago succumbed to the devastating effects of Thread. They were safely evacuated and the entire Rukbat system was interdicted, ensuring that Pern would remain undisturbed.
Planetary system data
Pern is the third of five planets in the Rukbat system (the Pernese star is also known as Alpha Sagittarius). In a departure from reality, Rukbat is a class G (yellow) star in the series; the real Rukbat is a blue, class B star—although it could be that the star Pern orbits is simply a solar-type star that is near the real Rukbat which was given the brighter star's name for convenience. Pern has two moons, Belior and Timor (in order of distance). The Rukbat system in the novel also contains two asteroid belts and an Oort Cloud. The Oort cloud and a rogue «sixth» planet, the Red Star (a Sedna-class inner Oort cloud object), plays a major role in the series, as it is the source of Thread.
Pern has three continents, four major oceans, and a large number of islands. The largest continent, the Southern, is noted for large areas of grassland and jungle, as well as high tectonic and volcanic activity (probably due to the two moons, although this increases with the coming of the Red Star). The Northern Continent, in contrast, is relatively infertile, composed primarily of 'shield' bedrock and is the most tectonically stable landmass on the planet. Not much is known of the small Far Western Continent, as it has never been explored; its existence is known only from orbital satellite surveys and maritime expeditions.Pern is noted for its high incidence of cave systems, particularly in the Northern Continent. This feature heavily influenced the development of human society on the planet, as humans forced to take shelter in these caves eventually developed an intricate culture associated with cave-dwelling in a feudal society at a medieval to Renaissance level of technology.
Pern is relatively lacking in most major metals. Nonetheless, sufficient deposits of petroleum and metals exist to supply a high-technology agrarian society, though not a high-technology industrial one.
Although Pern has four major oceans, the only ocean of major concern to most inhabitants of Pern is the Southern, which separates the Northern and Southern Continents. Few expeditions have explored the Western and Eastern Oceans to either side of the main continents, and the Ring Sea is known only from satellite observations.
The Southern Ocean is noted for its volatile weather and strong currents, which present a challenge for mariners. At least one tropical cyclone has occurred in the ocean in the course of the books.
These two globes were created from the complete map above which is a cylindrical projection going from pole to pole as well as being complete all around the equator.
Pernese biomes have been profoundly affected by the cyclical appearance of Thread, a spore which destroys organic material. This has resulted in a relative dearth of terrestrial plants and animal. However, as Thread drowns in water, Pern has a much more populous and thriving aquatic ecology.
Pernese biomes contain both indigenous Pernese flora and fauna and introduced species from other worlds—primarily Earth. (The original EEC team found that there was very little biodiversity, meaning that the colonists, coming two hundred years later, brought flora and fauna species with them.)
- Main article: Flora of Pern
The plants best-known to humans residing on Pern are those that are useful. There are several types of plants which are edible to humans: the redfruit tree, which produces a red, plum-like fruit, and the klah tree, whose bark is infused, like coffee beans, into a stimulant beverage reminiscent of chocolate, coffee and cinnamon. Native medicinal plants include dragon's tongue, which produces a gel similar to aloe; the needlethorn, whose hollow thorns can be used as hypodermic needles; numbweed, a strong analgesic plant that is made into a cream after boiling it in large pots for 3 days that numbs small wounds completely, and dulls larger wounds; and fellis, which produces a juice used as a soporific drug. The flower of the fellis plant produces a strong yet pleasant odor, and is used as a decoration for special occasions.
- Main article: Fauna of Pern
Pern is host to a number of invertebrate species, including the insect-like trundlebugs, rollers (analogous to a woodlouse), VTOLs (a type of fly), springs (a type of parasite), and spider-like creatures called spinners (also referred to as crawlers). There is also a type of worm or millipede called a grub, which was genetically engineered by the settlers to consume Thread. It serves the important purpose of protecting fields and crops by tunneling underground, eating any Thread that has reached the ground and burrowed. However it has only flourished in the Southern Continent and its existence was forgotten by most of the inhabitants of the North for many years. The only people who knew about the grubs had been eradicating them whenever they appeared in the North; an error in records interpretation led them to believe they were parasitical instead of beneficial. After the error was corrected, the grubs were encouraged to flourish—indeed it was noted that areas sown with the grubs prospered better due to the grubs aerating the soil and preventing Thread from destroying the crops or potential infestations forcing the burning of the field.
Native Pernese vertebrates have a body-structure with six limbs. Flying creatures, such as the fire lizard and wherries (carnivorous creatures not dissimilar to large birds), have two wings and four legs. Ground-bound creatures like most tunnel snakes have six legs, which may include specialized digging feet or hunting claws. Some tunnel snakes are aquatic or semi-aquatic, and have one or more set of fins or flippers in place of legs. Wherries are edible, and have been domesticated for food; some tunnelsnakes are edible, but they are primarily considered a pest animal in Weyrs and Holds.
The native dragonet was genetically engineered using advanced high-tech Eridani techniques, such as a mentasynth enhancement, by settlers into the much larger and more intelligent dragons. Other experiments resulted in the enhanced fire lizards and the watch-wher, a stunted, photophobic cousin of the dragons. fire lizards proved compatible with the original dragonets, but the enhanced genetics of the Fire-lizard proved to be a much bigger advantage, and dragonets eventually bred out of existence. Whers are used in mining and as guards of Holds, and were long thought to be a mistake made by Wind Blossom, the Eridani geneticist who was credited with (or blamed for) developing them. Wind Blossom later revealed that their 'flaws' were deliberate: they were designed to fight Thread by themselves on the few occasions when it fell at night. Their infrared eyesight not only allowed them to see Thread but to discern live Thread from Thread that had been frozen by the night atmosphere, and the shorter wingspan was intended to minimize Thread damage. Unfortunately, this information was kept from the general population and soon lost, and it became customary to chain whers up, which prevented them from playing their intended role in the fight against Thread.
- Main article: Flora of Pern
Most of the plants introduced by Pernese colonists are providers of food, fiber or medicine. Most grains, vegetable crops, and fruit trees were imported to Pern, as were a wide variety of herbs and fiber plants such as flax and cotton. Notably, the Pernese lack cocoa and coffee plants.
- Main article: Fauna of Pern
The original Pernese settlers brought a wide variety of animals (transported in coldsleep or as ovum and sperm to be bred in the revived birthing stock) and plants with them when they originally settled the planet. However, due to both the disastrous threadfall and the natural Pernese landscape, some animals never adapted at all. Deer and other forest-dwelling animals did not fare well in Pern's warm, tropical climate. Other animals required «genetic adaptation» but survived in some form or another. One type of genetic adaptation needed was the altering of the digestive processes of animals like cows to allow them to digest the boron-heavy grass successfully and without ill-effects.
The Pernese circa the Ninth Pass of the Red Star tend to categorize animals by use more than by species. Herdbeasts are animals kept in large numbers for meat or leather, and include bovines, ovines and caprines (which became the standard Pernese terms for cows, sheep and goats). Milchbeasts are the same species as herdbeasts, but kept for milk. Draybeasts are donkeys, oxen or draft horses. Runners are a particular breed of horse developed by the Pernese, a riding/racing beast. Burdenbeasts may be donkeys or llamas.
Cats and dogs, called felines and canines, are kept for pest control or, in the case of dogs, as herd or guard animals. The felines and canines have adapted to fit the colder climates of Pern, having developed thicker, shaggier coats. A large feline was engineered by a renegade settler for the purpose of being an intelligent helper, but they turned on the settler and went wild on the Southern Continent.
A genetically altered breed of dolphins, subsequently called shipfish by the native population (due to their tendency to follow ships), accompanied humans to Pern. These dolphins had greatly increased intelligence, including a degree of telepathic ability, and had developed means of verbally communicating with humans because of the genetic mentasynth enhancement. Unlike many of the other animals that accompanied humans, dolphins took to their new home well. They were trained to come to the sound of bells, help troubled sailors in the oceans, and inform sailors and fishermen about the currents and fish. Unfortunately, intelligent contact between dolphins and humans was soon lost following the first thread fall, as the humans struggled for survival. For much of Pernese history they were not known to the human population as intelligent beings, and were considered as merely another animal, though forbidden and unlucky to harm. While the dolphins were forgotten about by the humans, the dolphins remembered the contract between the two species (made when the two species originally arrived on Pern), and continued to help sailors in distress, and returning lost cargo to shore, awaiting the day when humans would remember and again honor the old contract.
Firestone is a phosphine bearing rock found on Pern. When chewed by the Pernese dragons, they are able to produce phosphorus gases, which then ignite and are used, primarily, for burning Thread out of the air. (Golden queen dragons, however, cannot produce flame after chewing firestone.)
Firestone exists in two varieties. One variant is highly unstable in nature, often prone to releasing their deadly and potentially explosive gases on contact with even the slightest bit of moisture. This type of firestone is extremely dangerous to mine, store and use. The other variant is relatively stable, and require the rocks to be somewhat «digested» in the dragons' second stomach's acid before the phosphine gases are released. This was the variety initially discovered on the beaches of the Southern Continent.
Firestone is believed to render female dragons sterile, thus requiring queen (gold) dragons' riders to use flamethrowers when fighting Thread. This side effect would be beneficial, however, with regard to green dragons (which are also female)—being rather promiscuous, green dragons would cause Pern to quickly become overpopulated with small dragons unsuitable for Thread-fighting duty were it not for the sterility believed to be caused by chewing firestone. It was later noted that green dragons are sterile by design, as is the golds' inability to properly use firestone. Over time, this knowledge was lost, and the myth above became widely accepted. (None of the characters having noticed that gold fire lizards can chew firestone and produce flame, and that green fire lizards are fertile—although in the wild few green clutches survive, as greens aren't bright enough to choose relatively secure locations for burying their eggs.)
The Pern of the Ninth Pass is a highly structured society, consisting of four different groups of people, Weyrfolk, Holders, Crafters, and those without a permanent home, the Holdless and Traders. The Weyrs, Holds, and Craft Hall are all separate from one another and the leaders of each are equal in rank. But in the same way, they are interdependent, and no one group could exist without the other two. Individual Weyrs, Holds, and Halls are autonomous, but generally maintain good relations with one another.
Clothing Insignia was used to identify the role and rank of different individuals. In the stories of the Ninth Pass, these insignia include general colours, such as harper blue, and accessories described as shoulder knots. The colour and pattern of knots denotes geographical affiliation, Craft and rank, such as apprentice, journeyman, or Master. Amongst the sailing members of Pern society, such knots can also indicate the rank of Captain.
- Main article: Weyrs
The Weyrs are the home of the dragonriders of Pern. They are expansive structures, often situated in a cave-riddled extinct volcano, or along a mountain face, where there is enough space for the dragons, their riders, and the people of the «lower caverns», i.e. the staff which maintain the Weyr. Due to the unsuitable terrain of Weyr locations (volcanoes, cliff faces), Weyrfolk are generally unable to grow food. They depend on tithes of goods from the holds in order to survive, and in exchange, the dragonriders have pledged to protect those holds from Threadfall.
- Main article: Holds
The Holds are where the majority of people on Pern live. Holds are literally castles, just not quite like the castles from the Terran Middle Ages. There are three sizes of Hold: Major, Minor, and Cothold. Major Holds are ruled by a Lord and Lady Holder, and their family. The remainder of the residents are staff and workers who run the hold, and professional crafters; all told, they usually number around one thousand. The Headwoman is in charge of the inner hold, and looks after all of the workings inside, while the Steward runs the outdoor parts of the hold. Major Holds tithe a portion of their produce to the nearest Weyr in return for protection from Thread.
Minor Holds are always beholden to a Major Hold, and tithe to them in return for protection from Thread and other dangers. They are run by a person who bears the title of Holder, and are home to smaller numbers of people than Major Holds.
Cotholds are small, family-run holds, and usually all those who live there are family or close friends. 'Family' on Pern generally means an extended family of several generations and branches, as opposed to the nuclear family common in Western societies on our own world.
Each hold is responsible for the discipline of its wrongdoers. Most times the Lord Holder will make the wrongdoer pay restitution and service to the wronged party. The next level of punishment is incarceration. Death penalty can also be used in response to heinous crimes. One of the greatest punishments is to be named holdless. This is where a person is stripped of all rank and status and thrown out of the hold. The most severe punishment of all is exile, usually to the island archipelago known as the Eastern Ring Islands. The reason this is the most severe punishment is because the holdless have nowhere to go during Threadfall and have no other human contact. This punishment is usually followed by a Shunning, which, in effect, causes the Shunned to be ignored completely by all humans. The holdless are marked on their foreheads with an indelible dye for identification.
- Main article: Crafthalls of Pern
The Crafthalls are the home to craftsmen; those Pernese skilled in a particular industry. The Crafts of Pern are: Harper, Smith, Healer, Miner, Weaver, Farmer, Fisher, Tanner, Baker, Vintner, and Herder. For example, the Harper Hall is responsible for the arts (specifically music) and teaching young children the Teaching Ballads, which provide them with basic knowledge. When a child is ten or twelve, they can be sent to be an apprentice at a Crafthall if they show a flair for that particular craft. The Crafthalls train the crafters and send them out all over Pern to provide their skills to even the remotest hold. Note that it is not necessary for someone to be (for example) a trained farmcrafter in order to grow food; holders have a wide variety of skills, but it is the crafters who are the experts.
The most recent craft, Starsmith (astronomy) was created during the Ninth Pass when Wansor, a Master of the Smithcraft, began his research into local celestial bodies. His work was influential to the major events of the Pass.
The crafts all use the same hierarchy. Everyone in each craft begins as an apprentice, usually from age twelve to eighteen, then becomes a journeyman (eighteen to thirty) with a great deal of hard work and dedication, attainment to the status of Master (thirty+) is possible. Not everyone makes it to Master, and some leave before even the rank of Journeyman is reached. Such a step from apprentice to journeyman is called 'walking the tables', based on the custom that apprentices and journeymen eat at different tables at a crafthall. The craft rank and hold they are beholden to are indicated by complicated knots which are worn on the shoulder.
The crafthalls are located near or in the Major Holds. For example, the Harper Hall and Healer Hall of the Northern Continent are both located in Fort Hold. At least some crafts have local crafthalls at other Major Holds; for example, there is a small Weavercraft Hall at High Reaches Hold, as well as a branch of the Healer Hall in South Telgar Hold.
The leaders of the Halls are called Mastercrafters, for example, the Masterharper is the head of the entire Harper Hall, and is not to be confused with a Master Harper, of which there may be several.
People who do not live in an established hold — either by choice, or due to punishment — make up the Holdless. They have no guaranteed protection from Thread, and the life of a Holdless is often dangerous.
Several nomadic groups were part of the initial colonization of Pern. Similar to European Gypsies and Irish Tinkers, they disdain hold life, choosing instead to live on the road, traveling from place to place. They tend to live in tightly-knit family groups and are fiercely loyal to their group and way of life. They are extremely distrustful of outsiders and do not often take in strangers, especially ex-holders, without some proof of trust. Many are Traders (see below) and help organize trading caravans which travel from hold to weyr.
A gather is a periodic, day-long event, similar to a county or state fair, held by Major Holds for recreation and commerce. Gathers were seasonal, indicating that several are held yearly at each Hold. At a gather, Pernese from Weyrs, Crafthalls and Holds may mingle and enjoy various entertainments, including runnerbeast racing and physical competitions such as boxing and wrestling.
Gathers are also a chance for Craftsmen to offer their wares for sale, usually from Craft-run booths. Food vendors also operate at gathers selling snack items (as the hosting Lord and Lady Holder customarily provide a full meal to Gather attendees). Skilled Harpers, often Master Harpers and on occasion the Masterharper himself, are invited to play both performance pieces and dance music for the attendees' pleasure.
Traders are the people who take goods to trade to less well-off holds, and to those people who often cannot reach a Gather. It is these isolated holders who need the traders and their trains of goods to keep them equipped with flamethrowers and farming equipment from the Crafthalls. Traders usually visit those holds that have few to no Marks, and so take produce instead of currency. It is very rare that a trader will carry perishable goods that can be found somewhere else such as grain or culled animals. The only way this will happen is if the good in question is local and/or exotic and will be highly valued by those with more marks in the larger holds.
Another way the traders serve the rest of Pern is by allowing Craft Journeymen or Masters to travel with them so that these talented men and women do not have to take the long and sometimes dangerous journey by themselves.
Pern's currency is known as the mark. Marks are circulated in the form of coins made of wood, apparently as a fiat currency (though, due to Thread, wood has traditionally been a scarce resource during most of Pern's history), whose value is set by a meeting of the political and economic leaders of the planet, apparently as a command economy. The coins occur in the denominations 1/32,1/16,1/8, ¼, ½, 1, 2, 5, and 10 marks, with a few 100-mark coins for very large transactions.
All the coins are the same size, denominations being indicated by a stamped number. They also have some sort of picture marking representing the type of hold or craft mark they are. If the number has a line above it, then it represents a unit fraction (that is, 32 with a line above would be 1/32), whereas a line below the number indicates an integer. The ½ and 2 mark coins are the only ones that could be potentially confused.
Every craft produces its own marks, and the supply is kept constant, new marks only being produced to replace old ones. Some craft's marks are valued over other crafts depending on the political climate of the time.
The mark is a moderately large amount of money. An exact exchange rate is impossible to determine due to the differences between our economy and theirs.
Human settlement patterns
At the time of colonization, the eastern portion of the Southern Continent was selected as the most hospitable site to initiate the spread of civilization. Accordingly, Landing was established near the dormant volcano Mount Garben, on a fertile plateau near the Jordan River. Suitable stakeholds were established across much of the Southern Continent.
The arrival of Thread and the eruption of Mount Garben, both consequences of a close pass by the Red Star, forced the evacuation of first Landing, and then the entire Southern Continent, to Fort Hold on the Northern Continent. Circumstances then constrained human settlement for the next twenty-five centuries to the tectonically stable, cave-riddled Northern Continent. During the Ninth Pass of the Red Star, population pressure and improved technology made possible the recolonization of the Southern Continent and the rediscovery of the original settlements along with the creation of brand new ones such as the telescope project on the oft forgotten Western Continent mentioned towards the end of The Skies of Pern.