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The Dolphins of Pern
[Beware of spoilers for All the Weyrs of Pern]
There are hordes of devoted fans of Anne McCaffrey who will run out and buy The Dolphins of Pern, no matter what anyone says. And there are throngs of readers who never liked McCaffrey in the first place, or who have given up on the Pern books in disgust, and they won't get within 50 feet of The Dolphins of Pern, no matter what anyone says. I belong to the third group of readers who have continued to read the increasingly disappointing Pern books out of a lingering sentimental fondness for the earlier books. So should these borderline fans try Dolphins? I think so; I enjoyed it more than I did the previous few.
In Dolphins, McCaffrey returns to her strength: writing about unappreciated kids who bond with endearing animals. And her dolphins are endearing, and considerably less goofy than I expected them to be. The first section of the book, which begins several Turns before the end of All the Weyrs of Pern, deals with the rediscovery that the "shipfish" are sentient. This part of the story is fairly self-contained and centers on only a few characters, which I found a pleasant change from the recent Pern books.
The mercifully short second part of the book, which meshes with the end of All the Weyrs, is far less successful. In a typical passage, Readis, the young son of Jayge and Aramina, receives a note with the news of Robinton's death; he goes from one adult to another for an explanation, and each adult promptly bursts into incoherent tears. McCaffrey was obviously shooting for pathos here; unfortunately the effect is ludicrous, especially after the third or fourth adult, and I giggled through it.
The final third of the book is the best part. Forbidden by his mother to have anything to do with the dolphins--and stop me if you've heard this one before--Readis runs away from home to live Holdless in a cave by the sea, where he spends his time swimming with and caring for a pod of dolphins. It's not exactly new material, but I enjoyed it.
So if you've read your copy of Dragonsong into shreds, take a look at The Dolphins of Pern, although you may want to skim the middle. If you've read the previous two Pern books, you have a good idea of what to expect, and if you haven't, it stands fairly well on its own.
-- Christina Schulman.
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