31 August 2012

The Girl Who Heard Dragons

From Goodreads:
Anne McCaffrey’s dragons are the stuff of which SF/fantasy legends are made. All of her dragon books have been national bestsellers.

The Girl Who Heard Dragons is a feast for McCaffrey fans and for all readers—a big, satisfying compilation of her fiction. Best of all, it opens with an original short novel of Pern, “The Girl Who Heard Dragons.”

In addition, the book contains twenty-four beautiful black and white drawings by award-winning artist Michael Whelan. Romance, humor, colorful description, and affecting characters are Anne McCaffrey’s hallmarks and the fifteen stories herein have these virtues in abundance. No wonder the Chicago Sun-Times described her as a “master of the well-told tale.”

“The Girl Who Heard Dragons” is the story of Aramina, a teenage girl of Pern who hears dragons—a skill which does not seem likely to help solve her family’s problems. They are “holdless,” and must constantly roam the land, trying to hide from bandits. Aramina’s mother fears losing her daughter completely to the life of a dragonrider, but McCaffrey has another fate in mind for her young heroine.

A very diverse collection of short stories.

I've only read a few McCaffrey Pern novels so I'm only familiar with her high fantasy style. I did have to read the title story twice, the second time allowed me to fit the characters back into what bits I remembered of Pern.

After that I experienced a bit of stylistic whiplash - high fantasy, SF horror, absurdist humor, space opera, sociopathic time-travel, magical realism (yeah, yeah), fairy tales - that made it hard for me to "settle" into the book. The most settled I felt was stories 4-6, all set during an intergalactic war between the Alliance and the Khalians (think WING COMMANDER or any of the major Star Trek storylines, ie, Federation vs Borg/Dominion/Klingon/Romulan empires) but with different characters and situations. All the stories are very well-crafted and worth reading (with the possible exception of "The Greatest Love" - written in 1956, the subject of surrogacy and in vitro fertilization is quite dated by 2012 (the world's first test tube baby is my age) and the story serves as an example of why scientific ignorance serves no one).

The introduction "So You're Anne McCaffrey" is priceless.

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