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The Masterharper of Pern by Anne McCaffrey
Published by Del Rey Books
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
The Masterharper of Pern by Anne McCaffrey is the latest installment of the bestselling Pern series. This is the biography of Robinton from his birth through the beginning of Dragonflight, the book that started it all. Robinton started as a "spearbearer," a walkon character who was just to appear long enough to deliver an important bit of information in Dragonflight, then leave. However, Robinton took a life of his own and Anne McCaffrey wrote him an ever-larger part in subsequent novels.
On Virtual Selyn, the Sime~Gen mailing list, we were discussing the difference between pro and fan fiction at about the same time as I was reading this. Someone suggested that (aside from venue of publication) fan fiction was fiction written for fans. That is, fiction that was written with the assumption that the reader was familiar with the background of the universe and did not need it explained any more than a reader of a mainstream novel would need to have Chicago or New York explained.
This novel certainly would fit that description. It starts with the assumption that you already know and care about the world of Pern, and that you're reading because you want to know more about a favorite character. There really isn't any compelling plotline that would hold this book on its own as an independent novel. It keeps you turning pages simply because you want to know how things happened to make Robinton into the man we knew so well in the original Dragonriders trilogy.
For instance, when he prepared to marry Kasia, I knew that something awful had to happen, since he was always a lonely and solitary man in the original books. That dreadful anticipation kept me reading through several near misses to the woman's tragic death.
However, there were a couple places where it seemed to me that Anne McCaffrey liked her character a little too much, and got him involved in major historical incidents that it was unlikely he actually would have been present. Some reviewers have said of several of her recent Pern novels that they really don't have to be set on Pern, that is, that they use the special qualities of that world as backdrop, rather than as essential story elements.
More vexing are the problems of inconsistancy with the background established in the earlier books, some of which seem to be partly due to a pandering to political correctness. For instance, things that had seemed like long-standing problems were treated as having cropped up only within the last generation at most. The world of the original trilogy and the Harper Hall books seemed much darker, more patriarchial, yet this book has women holding responsible positions in various crafts in Robinton's youth, and that is treated as normal and typical, rather than rare women who by their exception prove the rule. Some people have suggested that the extreme patriarchialism Menolly faced in the Harper Hall trilogy was just that of her father, but that she had no other reality checks, and therefore assumed it was true of the wider society as well.
Less easy to shrug away are the things that were portrayed as F'lar's innovations in Dragonflight -- Searching for boys outside the Weyr, having non-Weyrfolk present at Hatchings, etc -- but in this book are portrayed as having been the norm well before that novel's setting. Also, in the original trilogy, paper was a new innovation, whereas the norm had been "hides" (presumably parchment), but in this book, it appears that paper was in common use before that.
Click to buy The Masterharper of Pern in hardcover.
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Review posted May 19, 1999
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