TW: Rape, Domestic Violence

I want to identify an SF novel that I read in the ‘70s. The main group of people are what I’ll call Beastmasters, although I very much doubt that the book refers to them that way. A Beastmaster forms some sort of permanent psychic bond with a beast -- they are frequently treated as a pair. The beasts are large enough to serve as mounts. The larger the beast, the greater the prestige of that beast’s master. This is clearly symbolic of something.

The main character is a young woman, an outsider of very low social status. She demonstrates that she possesses the same psychic ability to form beast-bonds and joins the group. What follows is a curious mix of kindness and gaslighting. She is treated very well by the beastmasters, but they withhold much of the information that she would need to have agency among them.

The woman bonds with an exceptionally large beast and all seems to be well during the time that the beast is still a juvenile. But they’ve not told her that when a beast reaches sexual maturity and goes into heat, an overwhelming urge to mate is transmitted across the psychic link -- to both of the masters of the two beasts. When her beast suddenly goes into heat, she is totally unprepared and is raped by the man who is master of the other beast involved. This is all treated as totally normal. The rapist is either the leader of the Beastmasters or the son of the leader. She and this man marry and the woman has thereby achieved a position of great prestige.

I also recall a scene much later, where the woman goes to speak to another group of Beastmasters, and she tells their leader that, if her husband knew that she was meeting with them, that he would beat her. I don’t recall any explicit domestic violence, but their relationship was fairly tumultuous.

If I recall correctly, the novel was written by a woman. I am now certain that there must be some feminist message to the novel, to which I was totally oblivious back when I read it in my youth.


1 Answer 1


Dragonflight (1968) by Anne McCaffrey — "— Might as well call it rape."

It’s not "Beastmasters," but "Dragonriders" who bond with their dragons. When the dragons mate, the people bonded to each are forced to pair up:

[F'lar] caught [Lessa's] arm and felt her body tense. He set his teeth, wishing, as he had a hundred times since Ramoth rose in her first mating flight, that Lessa had not been virgin, too. He had not thought to control his dragon-incited emotions, and Lessa's first sexual experience had been violent. It had surprised him to be first, considering that her adolescent years had been spent drudging for lascivious warders and soldier-types. Evidently no one had bothered to penetrate the curtain of rags and the coat of filth she had carefully maintained as a disguise. He had been a considerate and gentle bedmate ever since, but, unless Ramoth and Mnementh were involved, he might as well call it rape.

It’s not quite a "feminist book," by today’s standards, although one of its two protagonists is Lessa, a woman. Most scenes, however, are given from the male protagonist — F'lar's — "gaze," like Lessa's first sexual experience reproduced above.

When a female dragon egg is born, it’s a bloodbath of girls as the baby dragon pretty much shreds them all except Lessa.

And if it is arguably feminist, it’s certainly trans-exclusive, as it appears to only be possible for biologically-female-sexed dragons to bond with biologically-sexed female humans, and similar for males.

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    I doubt McCaffrey even thought about how transgender people would fit into the Pern setting, so I do not think she was making a particular statement there, but she was known for being anti-gay. For some reason that I cannot remember, men who bonded with some particular color of dragon would have to end up having sex with men. When questioned about how this would work for straight men, McCaffrey claimed that they would "turn gay" after their first same-sex intercourse, which she claimed happened in real life.
    – Adamant
    Nov 26, 2021 at 3:43
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    Ah, this could be right. The term "beast master" in the question steered me away from dragons, and I was looking at the Chronicles of the Cheysuli even though it's a decade too late. (But I don't think there's an actual rape there.)
    – DavidW
    Nov 26, 2021 at 5:04
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    @Adamant the colour was green - greens are female but during the period of the original novels only men rode dragons (except for the queen), so any successful mating flight for a green meant two dudes were boning. In later years McCaffrey appeared to have altered her views on the order of operations there, instead suggesting that dragons can tell the sexuality of candidates and imprint appropriately rather than literally turning anyone gay. Later books reintroduced women as riders for greens anyway (though I suspect initially only to provide a not-gay love interest for another male character.)
    – Carcer
    Nov 26, 2021 at 9:58
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    Are you implying that basic biology is now radical feminism? Or that... dragons... are transphobic?
    – Davor
    Nov 26, 2021 at 11:05
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    @SillybutTrue From your description, I don't think it's accurate to describe this as TERF. An aspect of the setting not being tailored to be kind to trans characters isn't it being transphobic (by that logic, reality is TERF). Unless there are paragraph-long screeds about people “pretending”, or having “delusions”, often of dubious relevance to anything else going on, then I'd just call it a quirk of how the setting's dragons work. (To illustrate: you could write a story exploring trans issues from a 2021 feminist perspective in the setting-as-described-in-this-answer.)
    – wizzwizz4
    Nov 26, 2021 at 23:27

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