There are many things we've discussed as we've made our way through the sixteen books, but one thing has come up time and again: however good she may have been at other things, McCaffrey was, shall we say, substandard at writing romance and- especially at writing sex. It's just so awkward and unbelieveable and a lot of it is, frankly, pretty rape-y.
Of course, it's important to understand the context in which she was writing, and what era she herself was of. She wrote the first books in the 70s, when a Romance Novel Hero wasn't considered virile if he didn't force the heroine- because of course the heroine couldn't ask for sex, because Nice Girls Don't Do That. She was maybe allowed to enjoy it, once it was happening to her, but only after an appropriate amount of, "No, no, my purity!"
You can see, as McCaffrey's career went on, where she did attempt to make things better- both in romance and sex- but honestly I never could quite shake the feeling that those were topics she wrote on more because she was expected to than because she had any real desire (hah!) to do so.
During the last conversation I had with my mom (discussing some exceptionally rape-y BS) I mentioned that I ought to write some Pern fanfiction in which people have reasonable attitudes towards sex- none of that virgin/whore dichotomy. And then last night, as I was falling-asleep-whist-nursing-my-child-in-the-middle-of-the-night, I began to mentally plot. And I liked my plotting enough that this even I sat down and started fleshing-out.
Caffera was about four man-heights up the cliff-face above her family’s hold when the dragon appeared, his shining hide like a patch of brilliant summer sky against the softer blue of early spring. The girl paused, one sun-browned hand wrapped around the herbs she was gathering for her mother, the other resting lightly but securely on a small outcropping, and watched him circle his descent.
For a brief moment she and the dragon were on the same eye-level, less than a dragon’s-length between them, and Caffera was delighted when the rider waved at her. She grinned back, but didn’t relinquish her hold on either rock or herb until the duo were safely landed. Then she secured the plant in one of the bags hanging from her belt, and began her own descent, eager to find out what had brought so important a person as a dragonrider to their corner of Pern.
Caffera jumped down the final five feet, a habit that always earned her a scolding when she was caught at it, but she had no fear that anyone would be spying on her now- not when there was a dragon to gawk at. Her four younger siblings would even now be swarming the courtyard, and she expected that only a heightened awareness of their own dignity would be keeping her two elder siblings from doing the same. But her twin, Callen- he might be trying to decide whether or not twelve was too old to be awed by dragons. She would give him the courage to be young and excitable, still. He was always so serious and eager-to-please, unlike Caffera. She supposed it was because technically he was older than her, if only by an hour.
As she expected, Caffera found Callen not in the polite line their older siblings had formed just behind their parents, nor in the cluster of younger children getting as close to the dragon as they dared, but caught somewhere between the two, a look of agonized indecision on his face. Caffera grabbed his hand and pulled him towards the dragon.
“C’mon Callen! Dragonriders are just men, and we can talk to men anytime. But that is a real actual dragon right there!”
Callen, looking scandalized that his twin had referred to a dragonrider as “just” anything, let himself be towed right up to the front of the other children.
“Hello blue dragon, sir! Remember me? I was on the cliff!” said Caffera. The blue turned his head towards them, and the beautiful green-blue of his eyes began to swirl faster.
Hello, children, the voice was a musical tenor, floating lightly across the top of her thoughts, and Caffera gave a gasp of excitement.
“Callen! He talked to us, Callen!” Her twin looked like he might faint.
“He… I can hear him,” Callen whispered, and Caffera laughed. The other children took a step back in awe.
“I’m Caffera, and this is my brother Callen! What’s your name?”
But it wasn’t the dragon who answered.
“That’s Slioth,” said the dragonrider, who had come up behind them. His voice sounded quite like the dragon’s, only without the inside quality. Callen turned to face the man, nudging Caffera to do the same.
“Nice to meet you, Slioth,” she said, then reluctantly turned towards the rider.
“I’m P’Tull,” the man said, grinning, “And I can’t say that I blame you for preferring Slioth’s lovely hide to my own.” It was then Caffera realized that the right side of P’Tull’s face was twisted by a tangle of scars.
“Oh!” she said, before she could help herself. P’Tull gave her an understanding look and touched the silvery flesh briefly.
“Threadscore. It doesn’t hurt anymore, not since my brave lad got me out of harm’s way so quickly.” He turned his gaze to Slioth, his expression softening much the way Caffera’s mother’s did when she gazed at her husband. Caffera felt vaguely embarrassed to be witnessing it.
Suddenly P’Tull snapped his eyes back to the twins, eyebrows raised.
“How old are you two?”
“We’re twelve,” Callen said, getting a bit of his bearings back.
“Huh,” P’Tull looked a bit disappointed, so Caffera drew herself up as tall as she could and added,
“We’ll be thirteen in nine months!”
“Don’t rush it, my friends,” P’Tull laughed. “You’ll be staring down your fifth decade soon enough.”