I recently re-read my Pern collection (also known as The Dragonriders of Pern) by Anne McCaffrey. I have always loved this series from my first encounter with the books as a kid. They are wonderful books (although some are better than others) set in a richly developed world with compelling characters and intriguing stories. They are science fiction, and yet so many of the books are set in an agrarian, distinctly untechnical society that they seem more like fantasy – especially to readers who have not read the parts of the series, such as The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall and Dragonsdawn, which explain how and why Pern was founded.
The story is simple and one that resonates with lovers of history and dystopian fiction. Humanity made tremendous technical progress, but encountered many problems caused by these innovations. Struggling to survive and overcome these challenges, humanity spread beyond earth then barely survived a brutal war with an alien race. A group of colonists chose Pern to escape both the ongoing problems of Earth (and its near colonies) and to establish a new world not so reliant on technology that could offer a fresh start where the hard-won lessons of Earth could be applied. They select Pern (name adopted from its classification as a Parallel Earth, Resources Negligible). At first things go well for the fledgling colony, but then the planet is attacked by a space born spore that destroys anything organic. Their limited technological resources are not up to a long-term battle and so they must find another way to survive.
It is this struggle against enormous odds to survive that makes this series so appealing to me and many others. I know this is an element that always draws me to fantasy, science fiction, and dystopian stories. The will to survive is one of humanity’s most intriguing and appealing traits. We see it over and over again in our history books and we celebrate it in so much of our fiction. Reading these stories inspires us to push through our own challenges because things may be bad in our world, but they aren’t space alien bad! We also draw comfort from reminders of human ingenuity and determination. Maybe we aren’t geniuses ourselves, but we know there are innovative and inventive humans nearby – and they just might be able to save us all.
One of the reasons I like to use popular fiction in my humanities classes is because we can see that the same questions that have always intrigued mankind from the first storytellers gathered around fires with prehistoric man to the comics and movies created today. McCaffrey explores these questions, important questions about the essence of humanity, throughout her series. Questions such as what makes a human human and what is the role of law and government in society. These are important questions that we can never take for granted and must continue to explore and evaluate to stem the chaos and conflict that can result. These are questions that we continue to grapple with in our modern lives because humans are complicated both individually and collectively.
The best stories also teach how to make our way in our world as we safely consider the essential challenges of being a human who lives with other humans. Throughout the stories of Pern we encounter struggles with family dynamics, rigid societal structure, and character flaws highlighted by stress and tragedy. There are many lessons we can draw from these stories about the way we choose to live our life and interact with others. That is one of the traits of good fiction that is important to me.
Are you a Pern fan? Have you ever wished you could be a dragonrider? What can we learn from science fiction?Tags: #Books, #GirlPower, #Heroes, #Stories, #Storytelling