Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight begins with an “Introduction” that reads: “When is a legend a legend? Why is a myth a myth? How old and disused must a fact be for it to relegated to the category ‘Fairy-tale’? And why do certain facts remain incontrovertible while others lose their validity to assuma a shabby, unstable character?
Rukbat, in the Sagitarian sector, was a golden G-type star. It had five planets, and one stray it had attracted and held in recent millenia. Its third planet was enveloped by air man could breather, boasted water he could drink, and possessed a gravity that permitted man to walk confidently erect. Men discovered it and promptly colonized it. They did that to every habitable planet, and then – whether callously or through collapse of empire, the colonists never discovered and eventually forgot to ask – left the colonies to fend for themselves.
When men first settled on Rukbat’s third world and named it Pern, they had taken little notice of the stranger-planet, swinging around its adopted primary in a wildly erratic elliptical orbit. Within a few generations they had forgotten its existence. The desperate path the wanderer pursued brought it close to its stepsister every two hundred (Terran) years at perihelion.
When the aspects were harmonious and the conjunction with its sister planet close enough, as it often was, the indigenous life of the wanderer sought to bridge the space gap to the more temperate hospitable planet.
It was during the frantic struggle to combat this menace dropping through Pern’s skies like silver threads that Pern’s tenuous contact with the mother planet was broken. Recollections of Earth receded further from Pernese history with each successive generation until memory of their origins degenerated past legend or myth, into oblivion.
To forestall the incursions of the dreadful Threads, the [-p.8] Pernese, with the ingenuity of their forgotten Terran forebears, developed a highly specialized variety of a life-form indigenous to their adopted planet. Such humans as had a high empathy rating and some innate telepathic ability were trained to use and preserve this unusual animal whose ability to teleport was of great value in the fierce struggle to keep Pern bare of Threads.
The winged, tailed, and fiery-breathed dragons (named for the Earth legend they resembled), their dragonmen, a breed apart, and the menace they battled, created a whole new group of legends and myths.
Once relieved of imminent danger, Pern settled into a more comfortable way of life. The descendants of heroes fell into disfavor, as the legends fell into disrepute.” (7-8)
The book that follows this introduction is more closely aligned with the genre of fantasy. All mention of space travel, Earth, and colonization is abandoned to mythical mystery (until later in the series). However, the novel’s deliberate placement in such an SF context has raised discussion. Is it SF or is it fantasy?
It’s both. The Dragonriders of Pern owe their entire legacy to space travel, genetic engineering, and colonization. This is how they come into being. However, Pern’s dragons are named for the dragon myths we know and love and thus, appropriately, also grow out of the imaginative application of myth to reality. Myth and science, fantasy and science fiction are intertwined for the purposes of this series.
The connection thus made between science fiction and fantasy (through the element of legend/myth/story) is subtle, but essential. Dragonflight is a story about ‘story’. And this is one of the aspects of the novel that makes it such an excellent piece of writing.
Ref: Anne McCaffrey (1990) Dragonflight. Corgi Books: London. [originally published by Rapp & Whiting, 1969]