Thursday, August 21, 2014

Far Far Away - (Dragonsdawn)

This book has seen much abuse/love. 
What a crazy couple of weeks it has been since my last entry. I've been chiseling away at my latest book, Dragonsdawn, slowly, very slowly, but surely. I was very prepared to marathon my way through my current book but instead I've been tackling my first Pern novel five or so pages at a time whenever I can find a spare moment. In the past three weeks my sister stayed with me for a week on a visit from Las Vegas, I traveled to New York for a family reunion, attended a birthday party, made preparations to sell a number of my belongings in a garage sale, and somehow managed to avoid going crazy during my work week. Now I have a big convention/concert to go to starting tomorrow, but I figured I'd use my fleeting moment of time squeeze in a update. Whew! Needless to say but I've found it difficult to squeeze in many good reading sessions when I've had a hard time keeping up with routine stuff. Still, the project can and will continue! It just means that some of us might be centenarians by the time I near the end.

So, again, my newest novel is Dragonsdawn by Anne McCaffrey, a book that comes highly recommended by my lovely wife Jennifer (read: pestered into submission). Dragonsdawn is apparently one of many set in a world called Pern and despite its rather tell-tale title I've found the book to surprisingly absent of fantasy and and traditional dragons. In fact, although it has been hinted that this changes, Dragonsdawn is quite easily sci-fi, which has been quite a pleasant discovery.

The book opens with the Yokohama and three other ships, interplanetary space-ships, arriving at a planet named Pern after having traveled some ridiculous distance from Earth. Not what I expected from a book with a busty woman surrounded by tiny dragons on the cover. The premise is definitely cool though, and the early pages of the book cover the preparations for landing and colonizing the planet, as well as introducing a rather large number of characters.

My first impressions are, uh, wow. This is how you do a book right. I mean, no offense to Dog On It but it's hard to beat a book that opens with the end of an interstellar journey and the colonization of a planet. The epic scale of events lends a lot of interest and novel ideas to the reader before any of the real action even begins. Anne McCaffrey's writing is top notch. She introduces a lot of information, characters, and events without seeming overwhelming  or dry and boring. The events seem organic, coherent, the characters genuine and relatable, and she doesn't think twice about skipping over the uninteresting stuff. That said, Anne McCaffrey seems to have borrowed from the same school of character introductions as HBO's Band of Brothers. Which is to say "Pay attention to the names of these 30 characters who will eventually be important but whom you can't tell apart in any way right now." Part one of the book introduces a rather huge pool of characters, most of whom only make brief appearances, but it seems to work well. You obviously aren't supposed to distinguish between most of the characters early on; most characters are given a cursory description at best while many were left with nothing more than a name leaving you to differentiate them by their actions. Much like Band of Brothers for me, I felt utterly lost with names early on but slowly came to recognize important characters until I reached a point where I was saying: "OH, that's the same person from this part."

Where Dog On It was frenetic and face-paced Dragonsdawn is methodical and involved. Anne McCaffrey weaves the events of the world together in such a way that each event takes on its own special meaning and significance. Much of this is done by taking advantage of third person omniscient point of view (POV) rather than first person limited, but there is also an apparent skill-gap in writing quality too. Anne strikes me as a masterful author. Her language, her choice of words are complex and varied. I've had to look up a number of words for the first time in a long while and they aren't just thrown haphazardly in for show, and I consider myself to have a strong vocabulary. Anne seems to know exactly when and how to use each of her more uncommon word choices. I for one have relished the opportunity to add a few more words to my repertoire, but despite this her book is still an easy read. If you're a regular reader at all you can just assume the context and keep moving along. I, however, cannot do that without gradually being self-annoyed into picking up a dictionary.

My last topic before I retire for the night are the main characters. Yes, plural. As you might have guessed from my comment about the wide cast of characters the story tends to jump between them a lot. The closest to main characters the story has are probably Paul Bendon, the admiral of the Yokohama and a key administrator after the planet is settled, and Sallah, a shuttle pilot who later becomes a housewife. Really though, and I'm starting to see my wife's point now, there isn't a main character. The story seems to be about the planet Pern itself, and the people on it as a whole. The story's main character is the new civilization, the various characters forming parts that create a whole. It's all very impressive really, and unlike many other books with split focuses I'm not overly dismayed when the focus switches to certain characters. In some books I've read I get really into following certain characters so when the focus switches again I get annoyed. In Dragonsdawn, even when the focus switches to a character I'm not overly fond of I'm at least still interested in what new information will be revealed from their POV. I can't say enough how impressed I am with Anne McCaffrey's writing.

Well, that's all for now. I'll make my page 200 or 300 post after my convention ends. I'm technically on page 275, so I haven't decided yet whether I will do a combined post or two separate posts but at least my introduction is out of the way so I can rant about the content a little more next time.

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