The Dolphins of Pern // by Anne McCaffrey

//published 1994//totally creepy cover//for real//

//published 1994//totally creepy cover//for real//

So guess what!  This is my THIRTEENTH Pern book!  And they just keep going on!  I think that what I’m really enjoying about these books is just watching the world building.  McCaffrey has literally created an entirely different planet, with a culture and politics and social rules and history.  It’s just really fun to read any of these books now, because I already kind of know the basics of what is going on.

In The Dolphins of Pern, we pick up about halfway through the events of All the Weyrs of Pern.  In Weyrs, we followed the leaders of Pern as they worked with Aivas, the AI computer left by the original settlers of Pern, to plan the final defeat of Thread.  (Thread, if you remember, periodically rains down destruction all over Pern; dragons were created to work with their riders to ward off Thread.)  Dolphins follows a few of the secondary characters from Weyrs as they make a discovery that, while not as drastic as the eradication of Thread, is still pretty big: they find out that dolphins can talk.

As the reader, we already know this, especially if you’ve read Dragonsdawnthe book that follows the original settlement of Pern.  Throughout the course of pre-Pern history, humans and dolphins learned to communicate; some dolphins agreed to a genetic modification that also allowed them to learn human speech.  When the settlers of Pern were leaving Earth/our solar system, a group of dolphins volunteered to accompany them.  During the early years of Pern, dolphins and humans worked together, as dolphins explored the coasts and brought information about shoals, storms, and fish.  In return, the humans helped the dolphins when they were injured.  Over the generations, as Thread took its toll, and several epidemics struck the humans, they forgot their ties to the dolphins.  But the dolphins never did, preserving their history and continuing to practice human speech.  They even continued in many of their duties – accompany fishing ships and rescuing shipwrecked sailors, who never realized – or chose to realize – that the dolphins were speaking to them.

In present-day Pern, dolphins are known as shipfish.  There are many tales of shipfish helping humans, and all fishermen know that injuring or killing a shipfish is terrible luck and is never done.  When masterfisherman Alemi and his young neighbor, Readis, are shipwrecked, shipfish rescue them and bring them to shore, speaking to Alemi and Readis quite clearly.  Throughout the book, humans relearn to communicate and work with shipfish, extracting history from Aivas and speaking with the shipfish.

All of this is really interesting.  It’s a great story, and McCaffrey does a really nice job of giving dolphins a voice and intelligence without making them too human, or even too much like her dragons.  I also really enjoyed reading more about some characters from earlier books.  Readis is the son of Jayge and Aramina from Renegades of Pernand Alemi is the brother of Menolly, who was the heroine Dragonsong and Dragonsinger.  I really liked what little I saw of Alemi in Dragonsong, so it was really nice to see him happily settled and living a good life.

The problem with Dolphins is that there just wasn’t all that much of a story.  I mean, yes, people were getting to know dolphins, but…  there isn’t a lot of plot in that.  In order to create some drama/tension, McCaffrey has Readis’s mother, Aramina, completely overreact when Alemi and Readis are originally rescued by the dolphins.  She flips out because he’s the oldest son and is going to the lord holder some day and he has responsibilities and can’t be gallivanting off around the ocean getting almost drowned, etc. etc. etc.  Then she makes Readis (who is like six years old at the time) swear that he’ll never go down to the water alone!  And he promises.  But what Aramina actually wants is for him to not go down to the water at all, because a few years later, when she finds out that he’s been hanging out with the dolphins – always with another person there, too – she flips out again.  And that really annoyed me because you didn’t make him promise not to go at all – you made him promise not to go alone, and he never did…????

Throughout the book, Aramina literally makes no sense, and it was really annoying.  It basically felt like McCaffrey couldn’t come up with any other way to create conflict, so she just made Aramina completely unreasonable, so Readis had to sneak around, when the truth of the matter was that what Readis was doing wasn’t wrong or bad, so him having to be sneaky just felt strange.  Aramina’s husband, Jayge, who is completely reasonable about everything else, basically just sits there like a lump nodding his head whenever she goes off instead of telling her to stop being stupid and let Readis live his own life, especially since this book covers ten or fifteen years, and Readis is an adult at one point, and Aramina is still bossing him around about visiting dolphins.  It was just weird.

Other than that, the rest of the book was great fun.  About half of the book takes place after the conclusion of All the Weyrs of Pern, so there was a glimpse of Pernese life after those big events.  There were also plenty of the main characters from other books in the background of this book, and it all felt like it hung together really nicely.

I still have plenty of Pern books left, so fear not – the reviews will continue!!