|“||“Not fish! Mam’l.” His rescuer got out the three words in a loud and contradictory tone. “Doll-fins,” it added clearly, and Alemi shook his head. “Doll-fins speak good.” As if to emphasize this, it began to speed forward, hauling the dazed Masterfisher along at a spanking pace.||”|
The Dolphins of Pern was placed the tenth for the annual Locus Award for Best Novel and was one of nominees for the annual Hugo Award for Best Novel. It was one of nominees for the HOMer Award for science fiction novel and won the SFBC Award.
When the inhabitants of Pern seem to have finally neutralized the threat of Thread and their deadly, earth-scorching spores, the colonists once again make contact with the "ship fish, " the dolphin populations who were Pern's original cohabitants. T'lion and Readis redevelop this ancient bond between human and dolphin, and discover once again the magical relationship their ancestors cherished and valued.
Fans of Anne McCaffrey's entire Pern series will delight in this episode which tells the heart-warming story of Pern's dolphin population… How the fish were the colonists' original friends and companions on the planet, and how the how the original colony lost contact with their sea-going friends, the «ship fish» who utilized telepathic connections to aid the colonists. When they are re-introduced to the playful dolphin schools, T'lion and Readis uncover the history and importance of their connection to the ship fish. And when Thread's deadly presence once again looms over their planet, these brave Pern leaders know that the dolphins will be their essential allies in finally ridding Pern of the deadly Thread attack.
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«Dolphins of Pern» opens with a short prologue in the First Interval (102 Years After Landing), showing two dolphins, Kibbe and Corey, who find no humans are answering their signals — giving an insight into how communications broke down between humans and dolphins.
Many years later, in the seventeenth turn of the Ninth Pass — at roughly the same time as All the Weyrs of Pern, Masterfisherman Alemi at Paradise River Hold goes fishing with Readis, son of the Paradise River Holders. A sudden storm sinks their skiff, but they are rescued by a pod of «shipfish», which, to their surprise, engage in conversation with them. Upon safe return to Paradise River, Alemi and Readis tell their story (even sharing it with Lord Jaxom of Ruatha Hold when he comes to retrieve sand to use as an ingredient in making glass; a scene detailed in All the Weyrs of Pern).
Alemi is eventually summoned to Landing to recount the adventure, while Readis is left behind as his mother Aramina wants him to avoid the shipfish, partly because she intends him to succeed his father Jayge Lilcamp as Holder of Paradise River Hold, and partly because she fears he will come to harm in the water.
At Landing, AIVAS explains the nature and history of the shipfish, who are actually called «dolphins», to Alemi, and prints him useful material to use. Alemi then travels to Monaco Bay with the help of T'lion, a young bronze rider who conveyed him to Landing initially. In the bay, he successfully manages to signal a pod of dolphins using AIVAS' advice. Returning to Paradise River Sea Hold Alemi plans to establish a pier and bell that he and the dolphins can use to contact one another (before requesting his sister Menolly come to Paradise River and temporarily act as Harper, as most are too busy with AIVAS to teach the children).
Meanwhile, T'lion also becomes interested in the dolphins and begins engaging with them alone, which he reports to AIVAS when he accidentally ends up in the machine's room. His brother K'din (who resents T'lion for inadvertently Impressing the same day as him) reports this to Eastern Weyrleader T'gellan and Mirrim, insinuating that T'lion is neglecting his bronze Gadareth because of it, and they ask about his activities before going to meet the pod. While there, they wade into the ocean up to their waists and the dolphin Tana announces that Mirrim is pregnant, which shocks the dragonriders. They hastily make their way to Landing, where AIVAS confirms that Tana is correct, having used their sonar to detect the changes inside Mirrim's body (a diagnostic technique that was used by their ancestors). T'gellan and Mirrim's opinion of dolphins and T'lion is greatly improved, as Mirrim had previously miscarried twice due to going between while unknowingly pregnant. Following this, the dolphins' sonar ability is tested on several patients by Persellan, the Healer at Eastern Weyr (who even ends up treating an injured dolphin who is brought to him for treatment), and Master Oldive at Fort Hold. And T'lion become the Monaco Bay Weyr's dolphin liaison, as they remember more words.
Another use for the dolphins is found around this time; while heading over to see Alemi, T'lion witnesses a strange boat docking near Paradise River. He informs Jayge, who realizes it is people attempting to illegally immigrate to the Southern Continent — immigration is currently being regulated by the Weyrleaders to ensure land is fairly distributed. The holders succeed in repelling the would-be immigrants, returning them to the Northern Continent, and realize they can get the dolphins to track and identify the unauthorized ships. Unknown to the Weyrleaders, Lord Toric of Southern Hold, resentful of their authority over the Southern Continent, is planning to construct illegal holdings on the outskirts of his borders.
T'lion ends up visiting Paradise River Hold repeatedly to deliver Boskoney (Harper replacement for Menolly) to meetings at Landing, and ends up talking with Readis about the dolphins. When Readis tells T'lion his mother forbade him from seeing the dolphins alone, T'lion offers to accompany him. While swimming, Readis gets a sea thorn in his foot. While the dolphins warn him that he needs medical treatment right away, and T'lion also insists he should get it checked, Readis doesn't bother, and T'lion finds at a later date that Readis has taken ill. He tells Boskoney of the thorn, and Boskoney tells the Healers. A sevenday later, Readis recovers, although his right leg is crippled as a result of the infection. To help the muscles remain strong, he is to exercise by swimming.
Four turns pass, and Project Overkill succeeds in altering the orbit of the Red Star. Readis now uses a specially bred runnerbeast, Delky, to aid in moving around. Jayge informs him that he and two other children from Paradise River Hold are to attend the new school that is being established at Landing. They day they are set to attend, Masterharper Robinton dies from heart failure and AIVAS shuts down. The news shocks the many holders at Paradise River Hold, and a funeral procession is held at Monaco Bay Weyr. Despite Readis' fears that the school will have been cancelled as a result, the classes begin in three days later at Landing.
Eight turns later, many things have changed on Pern, including the addition of generators to several major Holds, a change in the Harper Hall's methods of teaching, and several specialized dolphins' diagnostic Healer marinas have been established. A meeting takes place where several of the Weyrleaders continue to survey the Southern Continent, discuss the continuing problem of illegal immigration, and the possibility of establishing a Ninth Weyr.
On a school trip to Honshu Weyrhold, Readis ends up talking with F'lessan about his future, F'lessan suggesting he pursue his interest in dolphins and perhaps even establish a Crafthall like Masters Benelek (Computer Craft) or Hamian (Plastic Craft). However, Readis's mother Aramina blames the dolphins for the crippling of his leg, and wants him to have no association with them. Alemi will not help Readis as he does not wish to go against Aramina, but T'lion, unaware of Aramina's objections, is keen to assist Readis, and the two look into getting an «aqualung» constructed.
Not long afterwards, dolphins at Tillek Sea Hold report a big storm, which sweeps across Pern's coastal areas. Paradise River is one such area affected, and Readis gets T'lion to escort him there so he can check on his family. When there, he hears from one of the dolphins that two dolphin calves have been injured. They rush to get help, but with all the Healers busy attending to injured people, T'lion is forced to raid medical supplies from Persellan's rooms at Eastern Weyr, which they use to successfully stitch up the injured dolphins. However, in doing so they accidentally damage Persellan's medical book, and while they are worrying about that Jayge finds them, and angrily asks why they were more concerned with dolphin welfare than humans. Readis ends up in an argument with his mother, who tells him that he cannot associate with dolphins if he wishes to remain in the Hold. Unwilling to agree, he flees the Hold, and rides out on his runnerbeast into the wilderness of Araby Province.
Several days after the storm, K'van reports to F'lar and Lessa that Toric is planning to settle holds outside his borders — K'van reveals he had long suspected Toric was up to something, but only recently found evidence when the storm uncovered several hidden sites. The Weyrleaders start coming up with a plan to deal with Toric, ultimately traveling to the sites with the Lord Holders of the Northern Continent and forcing the new holders back, before confronting Toric at Southern Hold and forbidding him from attempting a similar feat in future. When Toric threatens K'van and the dragonriders of Southern Weyr, K'van reveals that they have shifted the Weyr to an unoccupied area of the Southern Continent.
At Paradise River, T'lion attempts to find Readis, but without success. Readis is in fact sheltering in a sea cave on the Rubicon River, and inadvertently makes contact with a local dolphin pod when he swims out too far to sea. The pod tells him that all the pods are searching for him, but he requests that they don't say they've found him. Instead, Readis decides to remain in his cave and be a dolphineer with the pod (who bring him a bell from the wreckage of one of the ships sunk in the First Pass).
After a while, a new dolphin, Theresa, arrives at the sea caves, and requests Readis swim with her. She guides him to a place where two ships are anchored, carrying an assortment of Craftsmen, Dragonriders and Holders — including his family. Many dolphins are also gathered, and Readis realises that Theresa is «The Tillek», the equivalent of Masterharper and leader of the pods. On the ship, the assembled people tell him that Theresa actively sought them out with the intention of establishing a Dolphin CraftHall, and she wants him to be in charge. Aramina apologizes to Readis, having seen the error of her ways. Readis names his new hold — to be built out of his caves — after the Ancient name for the area, and goes off to be educated by Theresa.
- Although no date is given for the later events of the book — aside from a throwaway mention of at least three turns having passed following Robinton's death — The Skies of Pern later confirmed they took place in 29PP — explaining why Readis seemed to age eight years over what appeared to be a three year time frame.
- Readis is stated to be seven turns old when he and Alemi were rescued by Dolphins, yet All the Weyrs of Pern states he was five turns. For reasons discussed on the Inconsistencies page, it has been assumed that All the Weyrs of Pern listed the correct age.
- Lord Oterel of Tillek Hold and Lord Begamon of Nerat Hold are depicted among the Lord Holders disciplining Lord Toric of Southern Hold near the end of the book, when Oterel had died several turns back and Begamon stripped of his title and banished to the Eastern Ring Islands for his role in the attempted kidnap of Masterharper Robinton. It can be assumed that Ranrel and Ciparis; their successors, were there instead.
- At the end of the book, Readis is told his proposed hold along the Rubicon River is in an area called Kahrain, thus he names it «Kahrain Hold». However, the Rubicon River actually runs between Cathay and Araby Provinces. The updated edition of the Dragonlover's Guide to Pern addressed this issue, and renamed the hold «Rubicon River Hold».