This book is actually a collection of five short stories, all set during the early days of Pernese history. Each of them was well-crafted and engaging. I found myself wishing that I had read this book directly following Dragonsdawn. The beginning of the book includes a timeline of the first 28 years of settlement on Pern, and places the three stories that occur during this time in their appropriate location. This was definitely a necessary aid to understanding how these stories fit into the overall history of Pern.
“The Survey: P.E.R.N. (c)” is the first story in the collection. It takes place before Pern was settled, as it is a recording of the first survey of the planet. An exploratory group is cruising about the universe checking out different planets to see if they are potentially useful for settlement, mining, or other industries. This was probably the least interesting of the stories, as it was mostly a way for McCaffrey to *wink wink nudge nudge* the readers with a lot of foreshadowing about Thread. It also gives her a chance to explain how Pern got its name: an acronym standing for “parallel Earth, resources negligible.” However, as this story was also only 18 pages long, it was a fine read.
Next was “The Dolphins’ Bell,” which takes place during the Second Crossing, when the settlers are forced to abandon the Southern Continent in order to take refuge in the rockier, cave-riddled Northern Continent. McCaffrey has touched briefly in several earlier books on the fact that when the original settlers landed on Pern, they brought with them a contingent of dolphins as well. The dolphins, intelligent and able to communicate with humans, start their own settlement of sorts in the ocean on Pern. They work with the humans, bringing them information and news about the weather, ocean conditions, and other pertinent information. In this story, the dolphins and humans are working together to move as many supplies as possible out of the range of the volcanoes getting ready to erupt around the main settlement on Southern. It wasn’t a story long on plot, but it did give more insight into the hasty removal of an entire colony of people, and, as I mentioned earlier, I think I would have really enjoyed reading this story alongside of Dragonsdawn.
“The Ford of Red Hanrahan” is set almost ten years after the settlers relocated to Northern. During this time, they have all been living in one giant cave system, Ford Hold. However, the population has outgrown this location and is ready to begin dividing into smaller settlements. Red Hanrahan leads one such group to a new place: in short, this is the story of the founding of Ruatha Hold. It was really good to see characters come back and to watch the colony growing and overcoming their many difficulties.
Set ten years after “The Ford,” “The Second Weyr” is a similar sort of tale – now that there are more and more Holds, the dragon colony, still working to protect all of Pern’s citizens from Thread, is also reading to begin establishing new Weyrs. This chapter focuses mostly on the establishment of Benden Weyr. Weirdly, this was the only story that really had anything to do with dragons, although they do crop up in “The Dolphins’ Bell” and “The Ford of Red Hanrahan.”
Finally, “Rescue Run” takes place around sixty years after the initial settlement, and ties up a lose end from Dragonsdawn. In that book, when Thread began to fall, a small contingent of colonists wanted to send a distress beacon back to their home sector. They were voted down because, among other reasons, it would take so long for a response. But one sneaky citizen sent off that distress message anyway: “Rescue Run” is the result. An exploratory spaceship intercepts the distress message and sends a party to Pern to try and determine what happened to the colony. Even though this story was really good, I think that it was also my least favorite. Instead of discovering the main colony, which is thriving, the rescuers discover a very small pocket of people who have stayed holed up on Southern and have gone, frankly, a bit mad. One of the rescuers is the nephew of one of Pern’s initial settlers, Paul Benden. And I guess the story just made me a bit sad because Benden’s nephew leaves Pern believing that his uncle (also a famous war hero) failed, and that the entire colony perished. As they leave, they determine that they will recommend flagging Pern as a sector to be avoided due to the Thread, and it is also marked as uninhabited.
Overall, a very solid collection of short stories. They would make basically zero sense to someone who hasn’t read Pern novels previously, and honestly you probably need to have read Dragonsdawn specifically to get the most from the tales. But for someone like me, it’s a great little collection of Pernese history that really adds to the depth of the world. 4/5.