Dragonflight is the first book in the long-running Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey.
Dragonflight was first published in Analog science fiction magazine. The first segment, "Weyr Search", was the cover story for the October 1967 issue, illustrated by John Schoenherr. The second segment, "Dragonrider", was a two-part serial starting in December '67. The combined story was published by Corgi and Ballantine Books in 1968.
In 1968, "Weyr Search" was nominated for both the Hugo Award for Best Novella and the Nebula Award for Best Novella, winning the former. The following year the honors were reversed: "Dragonrider" was nominated for the Hugo and won the Nebula.
Pern is a planet inhabited by humans. The original colonists were reduced to a low level of technology by periodic onslaughts of deadly Thread raining down from the sky. By harnessing the indigenous flying, fire-breathing dragons (with genetic alterations to make them larger and telepathic), humanity finally managed to gain the upper hand. The dragons, with their human riders, destroyed the Thread in the skies over Pern before it was able to burrow into the land and breed. However, an unusually long interval between attacks, centuries in duration, has caused the general population to gradually dismiss the threat and withdraw support from the Weyrs where dragons are bred and trained. By the time of this novel, only one Weyr remains (the other five having mysteriously disappeared at the same time in the last quiet interval), maintaining a precarious hand-to-mouth existence.
Dragons are telepathic; each bonds to a single human being when first hatched. They come in various colors which are generally correlated with their size, blue, green, brown, bronze, and gold queens. Bronzes, as the largest males, are by tradition the only ones who compete to win the queens in their mating flights. Queens, however, are always the largest dragons. As their human counterparts are linked mind-to-mind, the humans mate when their dragons mate.
Dragonflight chronicles the story of Lessa, the sole survivor of the noble ruling family of Ruatha Hold on the northern continent of Pern. When the rest of her family is killed by a cruel usurper, Fax, she survives by disguising herself as a drudge (a menial servant) partly through simply adopting a slovenly appearance, but also using her hereditary telepathic abilities to make others see her as far older than she is. She escapes notice completely. Her only friend is a watch-wher, a somewhat telepathic animal that guards the castle. Lessa also psychically influences other Hold workers to do less than their best work, or to become clumsy or inefficient. Her idea is to make Ruatha unlivable, so that Fax will renounce it.
F'lar, wingleader at Benden Weyr and rider of the bronze dragon Mnementh, finds Lessa while Searching for candidates to Impress (bond with) a new queen dragon, as the current queen has a batch of eggs due to hatch very soon, including a crucial golden egg. Realizing that she has engineered the downfall of the Hold, he recognizes her as possessing unusually strong psychic abilities. After defeating Fax in single combat (following the rules of the Pernese code duello), F'lar convinces Lessa to give up her birthright as Lord Holder of Ruatha Hold and she passes the title on to Fax's newborn son (who later features in The White Dragon). F'lar takes Lessa to Benden Weyr, where she impresses the Queen dragonet Ramoth and becomes the Weyrwoman, the new co-leader of the last active Weyr. On Ramoth's first mating flight, Mnementh catches her, and by Weyr tradition, this makes F'lar the Weyrleader.
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