M'Caffrey, Anne. 1998. The Masterharper of Pern. New York: Del Rey.

Reviewed 21 March 1998

Utter Rubbish (cover) Calling this book an embarassment to the field doesn't go far enough. Ms. M'Caffrey's latest tries to rewrite a secondary character's early life story as the focus of an entire "novel" (although that's too grand a term for this garbage). In the process, she points out the ultimate danger of "prequels": unexplainable inconsistencies. Just a couple of examples I noted (and I haven't read the other books in many years):

  1. In this book, Camo is Robinton's son by Silvina. Dragonsinger and Dragondrums implicitly disavow such a relationship; in fact, Dragonsinger implies that Robinton is sterile.
  2. In this book, Sebell is heavily tanned. In prior books (the Harper Hall trilogy and The White Dragon), Sebell isn't just heavily tanned—he has stereotyped African features (tightly-curled hair, skin "almost black," very dark eyes, etc.).
  3. This book tries to insert Robinton into the opening conflict of Dragonflight. Serious problem: some of the events and actions in this version were clearly credited to others, particularly F'nor, in Dragonflight.
  4. This book repeatedly refers to "fiddles"—which appear nowhere else in the Pern megaseries after the landing book. In fact, Ms. M'Caffrey went to great lengths to substitute "gitars" for stringed instruments in the Harper Hall trilogy and elsewhere, although she couldn't be bothered to change scales or tuning principles (see Menolly's interview with Morshall in Dragonsinger), or compare instrument durability, or develop a sensible linguistic drift.

And it gets worse. Ms. M'Caffrey's prose has never been stellar, although it has usually been professional. I wish I could say the same of The Masterharper of Pern. The verbs are imprecise, as if the writer was desperately trying to find the right word and couldn't. Character names are even worse than usual. Descriptions are, at best, journalistic and visual, and all too often absent.

Aside 1: Reread the previous paragraph. Notice all the weak verbs and false equivalences? It's a slight exaggeration.

Aside 2: I expect better copyediting from Del Rey. Say what you will about literary quality, Del Rey's copyediting is ordinarily quite good. In the first 30 pages, though, I found 13 copyediting errors, ranging from dubious stylistic decisions to out-and-out misusages. I know what I'm doing—I'm an editor by day.

Serious structural flaws have created all of the above problems in this book. It reads like an adolescent's diary--completely linear and in present tense, very flat and yet overplayed, false pathos overwhelming meaning, no acknowledgement of cultural history. If this book had to be written—which is open to question, although I haven't seen any preexisting option clauses—M'Caffrey would have done much better to pull this story out of Robinton through other characters. Conversations with Menolly, Sebell, and Jaxom (maybe even Lessa and F'lar); scraps of writings here and there; reminiscences by other harpers; conversations between dragons, f'gawdsakes! Please, anything other than a self-centered portrait that "shows" what without ever "showing" why!

The Masterharper of Pern shows the danger of rewriting events in series books in prequels, or from other characters' viewpoints. Yes, we can have unreliable narrators, different perceptions, etc. It's not very smart to try this 30 years and (by my count) 13 books apart, though, unless one relies upon a fresh rereading of the books, with careful notes, as they were actually published.

I first encountered Dragonflight in about 1977; it was unsophisticated even then. Maybe a bit more fun than most of what was available, but definitely unsophisticated. I last read any of the original trilogy in about 1983 (yes, I have a pretty good memory); I haven't been able to make it all the way through any of the other books since. I forced myself to finish this book, and I'm sorry I did. I'm very thankful that I borrowed a copy from the library, instead of paying for it.

Overall rating: no stars
Ugly.
Let's hope Ms. M'Caffrey stops draggin' this series on.


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