Pern's Renewable Airforce (repost)

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Title: Pern's Renewable Airforce (repost)
Creator: Anne McCaffrey
Fandom: Dragonriders of Pern
Topic: Pern's Renewable Air Force
External Links: WebCite; the wayback repost; original repost, now offline
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Pern's Renewable Airforce (repost) by Anne McCaffrey was reposted by Cibryen Weyr with permission.

It is a revised version of McCaffrey's original 1997 explanation: A Long Overdue and Definitive Explanation of Pern's Renewable Air Force.

The Repost's Introduction

Back in September of 2000, Anne issued a document that defined how we run our club today. It explains WHY dragons impress as they do. It explains why heterosexual men ride bronze, and gay men ride green, and why only a heterosexual female will Impress a gold. This is a valuable document, reprinted here with permission.

The Post

In the Beginning of Dragonriders of Pern™, females rode green or gold. Males rode blue, brown or bronze. (I made it easier for myself in the beginning by remembering that Boys impressed Brown, Bronze or Blue, and Girls impressed Gold and Green.)

Since greens are females and tend to be 'loving', they mated with any dragon they fancied. When not enough girls elected to stand on the Hatching Grounds after the first disastrous Plague, males with feminine personalities Impressed green dragons. Blue riders, not to mince words, tended to be gay with masculine temperaments. Browns, who were not so inclined to mate with a green's rider, made an arrangement so that two pairs of riders were involved in a green's mating.

The dragons act in the way they were bio-genetically designed. I went into considerable detail about it after long discussions with Dr Jack Cohen, a Reproductive Biologist of international reputation. The reason why the dragons Impress only certain candidates presented them is due to a factor built-in by Kitti Ping Yung, the bioengineer who designed them. Kitti Ping used Mentasynth, an alien chemical compound that could often alter certain functions of those receiving it. This was mentioned during early landing years and had been used on quite a few animals on Earth, such as the dolphins, who elected to join the colony. Mentasynth permitted dolphins to communicate in reasonably understandable language but other animals did not react as favorably (dogs for instance).

After the particular abilities of the indigenous fire-lizards were observed by two biologists, an attempt was made to treat a new found clutch with the Mentasynth. Their empathy with humans improved considerably. It wasn't until Thread began to fall and the colonists needed a renewable airforce that the possibility of creating larger animals with the same innate abilities (telekinesis and fiery breath), that the genetic material of the dragonets was used to create a new creature. In the course of designing the new creatures, Kitti Ping employed Mentasynth, to provide a telepathic link between dragon and rider, building on the empathy already apparent in the dragonets. She gave additional thought on how else it could be used to improve the new 'dragon' species and ensure that only the best, strongest, cleverest would propagate the species. While the main and most important application of the Mentasynth was to increase mental function and innate empathy in the 'dragons,' a secondary use was to allow the newly hatched young dragon recognize the most suitable symbiotic partner. At hatching, the dragon recognizes by the sweat pheromones the appropriate sexual partner. Therefore the dragonet, just out of its shell, would approach only the male or female candidates exuding the proper pheromones for its basic sex type.

The green dragons are particularly sensitive not only to the mental empathy of possible candidates but also to pheromones. Blue dragons also are to some extent, but it was long a Weyr practice to send mixed colors on Search. The Terran analogue - HLA - for this type of mate selection is similar to that of rat females who can recognize tissue type by the urine left by other rats. In fact, an A-type tissue rat, already impregnated by a B-type tissue rat, will abort the B-type embryos when she discovers an A-type tissue mate.

Therefore there is a valid, bio-engineered reason for draconic choice on the Hatching Ground and why browns, bronzes and queens make heterosexual Impressions.

Why has this never been mentioned before? Possibly because no one has asked. Also because in the initial seven books, there was no knowledge of the bio-engineering that went into the dragons, and certainly no way to describe the advanced technology until DRAGONSDAWN.

Now, Pern's Renewable AirForce was not just whomped up in an odd moment. There is a rational chain of command for very obvious reasons - ESPECIALLY DURING FALL. I designed Pern's Air Force quite carefully and, if it seems sexist to readers in this decade, I make no apologies for the world I designed over thirty years ago.

Consider this, for those of you who think a bronze or gold dragon are the only colors worth having: There are generally a THIRD more greens in any fighting weyr since they are the fighter pilots, whose skills often save the larger and less flexible dragons from getting Thread scored. Any Weyrleader would welcome, with great relief, the presence of each new green rider in his wing. But, since the greens are small and have exchanged speed and manoeuvrability for stamina, they generally fly only half of a Fall, being sent back to the Weyr to rest, returning only if a Fall lasts longer or is heavier than normal.

The blues are stronger, have a wider thrust of flame, and can last an entire Fall. The browns are stronger yet, with a wider and longer thrust of flame, which is another reason they are often appointed as wingseconds. The bronze, of course, is the strongest of the fighters, having great depths of reserve and the most potent flame in length, depth and duration: the bombers you might say. They are invariably wingleaders, with two wingseconds; either or both can be browns.

The queens don't like to be left out of the action and flame-throwers are their method of defence since they can't digest firestone. They fly low as it's the best way to catch whatever Thread might escape the upper level flights.

Back again to the different sexes involved. The greens, like their little cousins, are extremely affectionate, flirtatious, and when in season can be quite a problem to the Weyrleaders. However, some long-term unions were formed between greens and any of the other colors, bar the bronzes, who always hope to make the queen theirs in her next mating flight. The greens oblige any of the males including bronzes…or we'd have a heap of sexually frustrated, very unhappy virgin male dragons.

As the queen is wholly heterosexual, larger and stronger than even the largest bronze, and certainly any browns, she mates infrequently and only when she feels an irresistible urge to procreate. (To be totally whimsical, she's catholic, you might say.) Nevertheless, she is not as amenable to being caught as the greens are. She makes quite a show of her sensuality, evades and taunts all the dragons rising with her in a mating flight. As she is larger and stronger, her stamina is considerable. The bronze that catches her has to be the smartest, strongest and fastest of the flight. The higher he can take her before linking with her, the longer he has to impregnate her, which means a stronger and larger clutch. The stronger the impact of that mating is on the two riders also improves the clutch since the male is not inhibited by the queen rider's indifference. If Weyrleader and Weyrwoman are totally compatible, clutches invariably reflect that accord and include more of the larger dragons, and possibly a queen.

Finally, to those of you who are new to Pern, please remember this: War is not a word in the Pernese vocabulary. It's one reason so many people would like to live there. Including me.

Ciao now, Anne McCaffrey

Dragonhold-Underhill 30th September 2000

Reactions and Comments

The question of dragonrider sexuality will never go away. Irrelevant in Dragonflight, when Anne had not even fixed the gender of green dragons, subsequently touched upon in Moreta, made more blatant in Red Star Rising/Dragonseye, and brought into the open in interviews with Anne herself, the issue arises in virtually every discussion of Impression.

The “Renewable Airforce” document states that dragonets make their choices based on the candidates’ sexuality. According to the rules it sets out, green dragons choose either heterosexual women or males “with feminine personalities”. Blue riders “tend to be gay with masculine temperaments”. Browns and bronzes select only heterosexual males, and queens only heterosexual females. Moreover, the hatchling dragonet “recognises by the sweat pheromones the appropriate sexual partner”.

But the idea that gay men exude female pheromones is wholly unsupported by any scientific evidence. There have been studies which suggest that heterosexual and homosexual men may react to pheromones in different ways, but there is nothing to indicate that gay men produce a different chemical signal, or one that corresponds directly to a woman’s. The division of gay men into ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ is representative of the very old-fashioned view that all homosexual men are either ‘camp’ or ‘butch’. And it is difficult to place much stock in a system based rigidly on the sexuality of youths – sometimes, as in Dragonflight, children barely ten years old and not even sexually mature. Even the sexuality of adolescents can be a changeable thing in response to the overwhelming hormonal assault that accompanies the teenage years.

Furthermore, sexuality as a direct influence on a dragonet’s choice is not entirely logical. If green dragons are intended to be Impressed by heterosexual women, blue dragons should choose heterosexual men. The fact that green dragons started to choose male riders should not have impacted blue dragonets’ choice. Indeed, if blues’ criteria were altered by the prevalence of male green riders, it would be logical for brown dragonets to start choosing gay riders too.

A further dialogue with Anne, the controversial “Tent Peg” interview, states, “if circumstances arose, and a green dragon chose a heterosexual lifemate… Well, he would become homosexual. It’s a proven fact that a single anal sex experience causes one to be homosexual”. This asinine and ignorant notion severely damages the author’s credibility on the subject, and it would seem prudent to ignore statements made outside the novels themselves. [1]

Further Reading


  1. What about the tent peg?, Archived version (2014)