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The Dolphins of Pern by Anne McCaffrey
Published by Del Ray Books
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
The Dolphins of Pern carries the Ninth Pass chronicles several years beyond their seeming end in All the Weyrs of Pern (when that book came out, I remember thinking that this must be McCaffrey's equivalent of throwing Sherlock Holmes over the Reichenbach Falls, her way of tying up the series for good so that no more novels could be written in it). The first several chapters overlap with All the Weyrs of Pern, but only tangentially relate to it in terms of storyline.
This storyline concentrates on the re-opening of the old relationship between humans and dolphins, which had laid fallow since the First Pass, when a plague among humans had wiped out most of the dolphineers and forced the surviving few to concentrate their energies on helping their fellow humans. At the beginning of the book, Alemi (Menolly's sympathetic brother from Dragonsong) and Readis (eldest son of Jayge and Aramina from Renegades of Pern) are shipwrecked in a storm. In the course of their rescue, they realize that the "shipfish" are speaking to them, distorted but recognizably. When they answer Alemi's questions, he knows this isn't merely mimicry, but actual intelligences speaking to him.
After this initial contact, Alemi and Readis want to continue and develop their relationship with the dolphins. However, Aramina becomes violently opposed to this, apparently afraid that something else may happen to her son, and forbids him to go to the sea alone. When Readis finds ways to continue his contact with the dolphins while remaining within terms of the promise, she becomes continually more opposed and piles more and more restrictions on him. When an infection leaves him with a withered leg, she blames the dolphins and refuses to listen to his own protestations that the dolphins had identified his injury, but in his carelessness he had ignored it instead of getting it tended immediately. After a storm devestates Southern Continent and Readis helps T'lion with the life-threatening injuries of two dolphins instead of immediately helping his human family salvage property, Aramina loses control and demands he promise to never have anything to do with the dolphins again. Readis cannot make this promise in good conscience, so he leaves to found his own dolphineer hall in a nearby cavern.
In my opinion, this was the weakest part of the book. It made Aramina come across as a silly, possessive ninny, totally at odds with the character in Renegades of Pern. In fact, it seemed almost like something McCaffrey did solely to give this book a running interpersonal conflict for Readis to struggle with, alongside his struggle to figure out how to work with the dolphins. Part of this may have been the lack of any scenes from Aramina's POV -- had we been able to see inside her head and know more of her motivations (especially if they were primarily out of genuine love for her son and desire to protect him for his sake, rather than merely possessiveness), the conflict between them would have taken on much more of the aspect of a novel about the struggle of growing up and convincing well-meaning overprotective parents that one is no longer a child in need of protection, but an adult who must be allowed to go out into the wider world, even when this means the risk of getting hurt.
Click to buy The Dolphins of Pern in paperback.
Review posted May 19, 1999
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