And that is the simple fact to which canon evidence consistently points: dragonets are survivors. Inherited from their fire-lizard ancestors and enhanced as a precious commodity by Kitti Ping, the dragons’ will to live is part of their very nature. The Chronicles of Pern are science fiction, not fantasy; the dragons are an artificial species designed for a purpose, not a mystical race capable of making moral judgements. We are told that dragons select their riders on character, yet see them choose vengeful, bitter or small-minded partners; we hear that gender is imperative, yet witness dragons choosing against that constraint. What we are told seldom tallies with what we are shown.
Dragon choice is far from random, but no characteristic save basic empathic potential is vital in a dragonrider. With a field of candidates from which to choose, a dragonet discerns first those capable of Impression; then, of these, those receptive to Impressing him. Then he focuses on those of the correct gender, and of these candidates selects the one whose personality best matches his own.
Where one criterion cannot be met the dragonet compromises: a lieutenant if there are no leaders; a boy if there are no girls; a fearful child where none are bold. He will discern the best option of those available to him. Sometimes the decision will be simple, and he will make straight for the correct candidate; sometimes he must study each candidate in turn before settling on the one for him; sometimes he will sense his best match outside the immediate circle of possibilities, and Impress from the stands; but no matter the manner of his choice he will always find a rider if he can. Gender is of higher priority than personality, else bronze dragonets would be attracted to strong-minded queen candidates, but receptivity beats gender, for green dragonets generally choose keen male candidates over the female spectators who do not believe themselves able to Impress fighting dragons.
Necessity or destiny? For me, it can only be the former, as prosaic and unsentimental as that may be. Yet the allure of Pern’s dragons has remained intact after nearly forty years, not least for the fascinating phenomenon that is Impression. And for a science fiction series spanning over twenty books, that’s a feat of magic all of its own.
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