There is an arms race, of sorts, in television right now. For the past several years, GAME OF THRONES has been the big show — the one that everyone watches and everyone talks about. But now, as GAME OF THRONES is rapidly approaching their final season, all the big names are scrambling to find the next big thing. My suggestion? Adapt Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern books.

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Everyone is desperate to snatch up that coming opening in the cultural zeitgeist. Amazon even spent a ridiculous amount to secure the rights to Tolkien’s works. But Tolkien has already been done — and done well, in my opinion. Why keep squeezing him dry when no one has even considered McCaffrey’s fantastic series? If the material is given justice, it will capture attention for years to come.

The Dragonriders of Pern

The Dragonriders of Pern is a book series written by Anne McCaffrey and her son Todd. At the moment, there are 23 novels and several supplemental works. The Dragonriders of Pern books may not be as well known as Tolkien or George R. R. Martin, but they have a loyal and devoted fan base that would love to see these books come to life on screen. (And really, was Martin as well known before GAME OF THRONES?)

So what is the story? The Dragonriders of Pern takes place on a distant planet called Pern, where, you guessed it, people ride dragons. But there’s a lot more to the story than that. Over the course of the 23 novels, a unique society, fascinating history, and dramatic story emerge.

dragonriders of pern
Courtesy of Del Rey.

In the future, Earth colonists reach Rukbat 3, a planet designated Parallel Earth, Resources Negligible. After a devastating war, they are hoping to return to a simpler, agrarian society. Things go well on Pern for a while, until a biological hazard falls from the sky and threatens their very existence. To combat the threat — called the Thread — the scientists on Pern bioengineer indigenous lizards to create dragons — actual, flying, fire-breathing (even telepathic) dragons.

Over time, due to the recurring Threadfall and short memories, technology disappears from Pern and a feudal society emerges. Society splits into cities — holds, learning centers — crafthalls, and the dragons’ lairs — weyrs. Holders and crafters must support the weyrfolk, who protect them from the Thread alongside the dragons.

Eventually, nearly 2500 years after the original colonization, the people of Pern rediscover the original colony. An AI shows them a way to eradicate Thread forever. The plan is dangerous but succeeds. Now, they must figure out how to live without the threat hanging over their heads.

Why Pern?

The Dragonriders of Pern books are a pillar of science fiction/fantasy literature. Anne McCaffrey wrote the first book 50 years ago. She began collaborating with her son Todd sometime later. When McCaffrey died in 2011, Todd was able to continue the legacy on his own.

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Obviously one of the biggest selling points for adapting the Dragonriders of Pern is that there is a lot of material to work with. Unlike with GAME OF THRONES, a show is unlikely to outpace the novels. Even though Todd is still writing new stories, there is so much already to work with that the odds of them facing a Winds of Winter situation is unlikely. But the Dragonriders of Pern books are well situated to fill the GAME OF THRONES void in other ways.

Rich History

There’s a lot to work within these books. The series ranges in time from the original colonists landing on Pern to 2500 years later. A long-running show could work with that whole range, or pick a smaller span of time to focus in on. With the former, there’s enough material to last seasons upon seasons. With the latter, they could focus on the rich history of Pern as context.

dragonriders of pern
Courtesy of Del Rey.

For example, the first Pern book McCaffrey published takes place as Pern approaches the Ninth Pass, or the ninth time Thread falls on the planet. Usually, there are 250 years between Threadfalls, but this time it has been 450 years with no Thread. The people are forgetting the very real threat, and Pern is unprepared. It’s very similar to Westeros insisting the White Walkers are a legend because it has been so long since they were seen.

More difficult but still interesting would be a parallel story. They could show the lives of the original colonists, engineering the dragons and learning about Thread for the first time, alongside the lives of people who take those things for granted.

Genre-Bending

Taken on surface value, the Dragonriders of Pern seems to be solid fantasy. Dragons? Check. Feudal society? Check. An almost complete absence of technology? Check. But McCaffrey herself argued that her books were science-fiction, and there’s evidence to support that.

The origins of Pern are solidly sci-fi. It’s set in the future of Earth, not some nebulous mystical world. People fleeing a war are colonizing another planet. There’s space travel, cryogenesis, and other sci-fi staples. The colonists may be rejecting technology, but they definitely had it.

dragonriders of pern
Courtesy of Del Rey.

Even the dragons, icons of fantasy, are solidly scientific. The dragons are the result of genetic engineering done by the colonists on the native inhabitants of the planet, the fire-lizards. The colonists noticed that these lizards could produce flame after eating phosphine-saturated rocks. Again, scientific explanations. They engineer the dragons to save them. These aren’t mythical beasts — they are genetically engineered helpers.

There’s something for everyone. Want a fantasy world of maidens, magic, and myth? Pern has it. Want scientific evidence, AI, space travel? Gotcha.

Heroes and Villains

The Dragonriders of Pern books have an abundance of fantastic characters to work with. Obviously, the dragons are a big selling point. The dragons have actual stories, with a social hierarchy. They are telepathic, which means they can communicate with their riders. Given the popularity of Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons, it’s likely that the dragons and their riders would be incredibly popular.

Plus, the riders are awesome. You want a new Khaleesi? Let me introduce Lessa, the lead Dragonrider. She has a familiar story: her family, rulers of a powerful hold, were slaughtered and she alone escaped. She hid her identity, biding her time until she could get her revenge.

Along the way, she bonds with a newly hatched dragon queen, making her one of the most powerful people on the planet. She manages impossible feats and later participates in the plan to save Pern from the Thread for good.

dragonriders of pern
Courtesy of Dan Milligan Illustration Ltd.

The Thread makes for an interesting villain. Thread is not sentient. It’s a biological hazard that comes from a planet in Pern’s solar system. When the planet passes close by in orbit, parasitic spores fall from the sky, devouring anything organic they touch. The Thread forces the people of Pern to live in caves. Dragons can eradicate the Thread, but it comes back every 250 years, meaning it’s a never-ending struggle for survival.

Want more sentience in your villains? There are, of course, also human villains. The man who conquers Lessa’s home, Fax, is a cruel despot. Conservative colonists reject technology, even when it promises to eradicate the Thread for good. There are strict gender roles in some areas that limit girls’ opportunities… there is lots of good, humans-are-the-real-villains fare.

It’s Time

Given that McCaffrey published the first Pern book 50 years ago, it’s way past time for an adaptation. There have been rumors over the years (2009, 2012, 2014), but nothing has come of it. Warner Bros currently owns the rights to the Dragonriders of Pern books, but aren’t doing anything with them.

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It’s time. If you want the next GAME OF THRONES, you’re looking at it. Pern is a goldmine of material to work with if only someone would get in gear and start seriously considering it. Come on, WB. Give the people what they want — or give someone else a chance.

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