The Pernese Dragon

Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series  put dragons on the map in the science fiction and fantasy world as both plausible alien creatures and the brand-spanking-new fantasy trope of the all-knowing, intelligent animal companion. The first two stories, “Weyr Search” and “Dragonrider” were published in Analog magazine in 1967; they later were incorporated into the first Pern novel Dragonflight.  Published in 1968, it led to sequel after sequel that expanded upon the world of Pern and its medieval culture of lords and commoners, the poisonous alien spores that periodically fall from the sky, and the dragons and dragonriders that fight them.

I’ve got problem with the books themselves (see here) but have always loved the concept of alien dragons. Here’s different ways artists have depicted them.

Artist Unknown, late 1960s

One of the first covers of Dragonflight, a British edition, for all of 25p (!) It’s abstracted as were a lot of covers in the late 1960s, with a vague Gustav Klimt look, but artistically, not too bad. I can guess that the sheer volume of paperbacks published back then required quick turnaround for covers, and this one might have taken only a few hours, compared to a few weeks, for, say, a Michael Whelan cover. The dragon looks alien and monstrous, but the bright colors are attractive to the eye.

dragonflight pb cover

Artist Unknown, mid-1970s

Cover from one of the first US paperbacks, mid-1970s. It’s intriguing, but let’s face it, it’s not a literal scene from the book. The undress of Lessa and her fluttering hair and robe are more in line with a Harlequin cover, though not the sideboob which was more common for SF and fantasy of the day, as were her gold sandals. The dragon’s head looks fine but not its neck, which is twisted awkwardly as it looks over its shoulder. In fact, it seems to be looking at the Red Star, the source of all Pern’s troubles!  It echoes the Chinese legends of dragons pursuing pearls through the sky.  In hindsight it’s not a bad bunch of analogies, but the whiff of cheese still lingers.

Poul Alexander cover for Get Off the Unicorn

Poul Alexander cover for Get Off the Unicorn

A very vicious-looking hatchling dragon appearing on the paperback cover of  Get Off the Unicorn, a collection of McCaffrey short stories including “The Smallest Dragonboy” which inspired my own story “The Unchosen.” When I saw this cover in the mid-1970s as a teen I snatched it up from the drugstore book rack right away, because of the strength of that dragon. It’s a very powerful image even if a false depiction. The eyes aren’t multifaceted for one thing, as in the McCaffrey canon, but most of the artists don’t get that detail right.

And… actually… McCaffrey never sent into much detail describing the dragons, save they had smooth hides, forked tails, a pair of head knobs, and were variously colored green, blue, brown, bronze, or gold.

Michael Whelan cover for Dragonflight

Michael Whelan cover for Dragonflight

An eighties depiction by SF and fantasy artist Michael Whelan who painted a lot of covers. His creatures are more like robust pterosaurs, more alien looking than the multihorned, clawed versions above. They’re also not as fun. But the painting is magnificent in how it captures how they swoop and dive. Lessa here seems to be dressed more appropriately for flying. She raises her arm in triumph as she leads her flight.

Artist Tony DiTerlizzi, Dragonflight

Artist Tony DiTerlizzi, Dragonflight

This version shows creatures as more alien yet, with bulging, multifaceted eyes. The size also seems “right” for how they are written in the stories. I like this one a lot, because it balances what we think of as a dragon, and how an alien biology would come up with something like a dragon. For example, those eyes seem like they might be withdrawn into the creature’s skull at will, perhaps protecting them from the Spore.

A depiction of Jaxom and Ruth, by Tim Hildebrandt

A depiction of Jaxom and Ruth, by Tim Hildebrandt

A Tim Hildebrandt version of Jaxom and his white dragon Ruth. Ruth is depicted in a way similar to the artist’s earlier Smaug, but I don’t understand why Jaxom is wearing caveboy garb. As the son of a holder, shouldn’t he be able to afford nicer clothing?

Cover for The Dolphins of Pern, by Rowena Morril

Cover for The Dolphins of Pern, by Rowena Morrill

Rowena Morrill’s version. She gets the multifaceted eyes right, and the sheer energy of a dragon playing in the surf. But this is one odd-looking creature. It has pecs, for one thing, and its humanlike arms seem too small for that massive neck and chest, giving it a Tyrannosaur look. The rider and wings look oddly detached from the rest of it. Not one of her better efforts, but at least she read the book!

Steve Weston, cover for Dragondrums, British edition

Steve Weston, cover for Dragondrums, British edition

Artist Steve Weston did few covers for British editions versions in the Pern series. His dragons are more detailed, especially their wings which grow out of a lattice of connective tissue. They have an Oriental feel, especially the heads and the talons. To my mind it’s an attractive depiction.

Artist Eric Deschamps, Dragondrums

Artist Eric Deschamps, Dragondrums

Here’s another dragon I like a lot. It shows more color than the previous versions — the creatures have markings here, like birds or modern depictions of dinosaurs, though again the artist missed those multifaceted eyes. My second favorite.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 9/12/18: Individual Dragons II

dragon-shark hybrid

A drark, also known as a dracoshark

In the fantasy world, you can pretty much combine any any other animal into a creature and still call it a dragon. Dragon turtles are the terrors of AD&D maritime kingdoms. A Chinese dragon/lhasa apso hybrid featured strongly in The NeverEnding Story movie. And as I’ll continue to do on my site for September, there are plenty of dragon girls posing and looking pretty in all their scary — and scaly —  beauty.

For a dragon that’s a little different, here are some  ideas.

A few random, unusual dragons


A limbless wyrm covered with oily-looking blue and green scales, Koule collects objects made of silver. Intelligent and nature-loving, he eats trees and plants instead of meat to lessen his impact on the environment. His teeth are blunt, not fanged, and he speaks in a musical croak. Nevertheless he is as greedy as any dragon. Instead of fire he breathes out a thick black smoke that causes those trapped within it to gasp and choke.


An albino male dracodile, or dragon crocodile. Gamnur does not hoard treasure but collects random pieces of wood that are valuable only to him. He breathes out acidic spume at opponents while they are immobilized in the thick mud of his swampy home. Gamnur is crafty with a keen intelligence and very observant. Like a crocodile, he often lies motionless just under the surface of the water. He greatly resents intrusion and is always on the defensive.

Kraknix Sunwatcher

Kraknix is a young female dracoon (dragon racoon) with intermingled golden scales and light orange fur. She is the size of a small bear and has brown leathery wings. Kraknix collects natural history books and interesting pieces of driftwood, and her manner is curious, kittenish, and inquisitive. Her breath weapon is a shower of hot sparks.

Ithaud Dreamshade               

A venerable male dramerlion, or dragon mer-lion, covered with emerald green, fishlike scales and a purple mane. His eyes have no pupils. In manner he is self-assured and peaceful. He is fond of opals and pearls and attacks with electricity generated from his mouth. He lives on the sea bottom in a castle formed of living coral. He often associates with mermaids and other sea folk.

Mneur Misthaven

Mneur is a very rare dreetah, or dragon cheetah. She has finely textured, pale gold scales spotted like the fur of that big cat and her breath weapon is a cloud of hallucinogenic gas that incapacitates her enemies. Mneur jealously guards her savannah from intruders and isn’t above making a snack of them. On the ground, she is rumored to be the fastest of all dragonkind.


Cheu-saa is a massive green drark, or dragon shark. He can be heroic but also greedy, especially for rare seashells and pearl jewelry. Cheu-Saa loves gossip and speaks in a baritone human voice. He breathes out gouts of fire that boil the seawater around him.


A massive female dracolisk, a dragon-basilisk hybrid with dull gray scales and small, blunt horns. Her breath turns nearby creatures into stone which she uses to decorate her lair. She often travels in guise of a human gypsy minstrel and will lure attractive humans to a quiet area where she can “stone” them.


Zeike used to be a draconix, or dragon phoenix, until he became an undead, zombie-like lich. Now his brilliant gold, red, and orange scales are dull and lifeless, and his wing feathers tattered and gray. Zeike remains good-aligned but is now a quiet, depressed creature. He still collects interesting rocks and minerals as he used to and keeps his pride and sense of responsibility. Unlike a normal phoenix he can’t resurrect himself, but can still breathe fire.

Fetchingly Fanged

Cyguvid spent her days in luxury being fed bunches of grapes by her slaves.
Then she ate the slaves too.


Americus [Review]


by M. K. Reed and Jonathan Hill
First Second, 2011

Dragons make an appearance in this graphic novel about the dangers of censorship in that the book-in-a-book under fire features a “wytch” protagonist who is half-dragon… leading to cries of bestiality from the Christian far right!

Americus is based on a controversy of some years ago when J. K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter series was reaching epic heights of popularity. It’s all silly in retrospect, but there was a real danger her harmless and entertaining books would be banned from public libraries for their depictions of witchcraft and what was thought of as devil worship.  Americus is the story of a similar battle in small-town America, and how a high school freshman named Neil Barton plays a role in it, standing up for the books he loves.

This aspect of the plot was a been there, done that for me as the original news stories have long faded. But what remains is more interesting… how Neil deals with the transition from 8th grade to 9th grade and the newer, more threatening milieu of high school with its bullies, gossip, adult hypocrisy, and social rules he knows nothing about. It’s the little incidents that made me laugh, like a cousin’s boyfriend taking him under his wing and introducing him to punk rock, or insisting to his mom that he wants a collared black shirt as back-to-school wear, and to grow his hair longer. By the end of the story, after he takes his stand at a library board meeting, he’s become a young man not a child, and this is reflected in the depiction by the artist – he’s no longer so soft and doughy, his nose has sharpened, his posture is straighter.

Excerpts from the fictional fantasy series, The Adventures of Apathea Ravenchilde, are woven in throughout the book, complementing it but not overwhelming it. The drawing style for these is darker and less complex than the modern scenes, which often have a delightfully cluttered look to them reflecting the overwhelming confusion Neil feels as he enters high school. Hill’s dragons are threatening and sinewy, with snapping jaws and long necks, while the humans wear swirling robes. It’s a nice way of indicating a fantasy series both like and unlike Harry Potter.

Americus, Apathea Ravenchild

A vision of dragons and ravens is conjured in the Apathea Ravenchilde series, part of Americus.

I did enjoy the artwork a lot, it was similar to, but looser, than the drawings for Dungeon Quest, and I’m a sucker for hand-lettered dialogue. The story struck me as more female-centered, with its emphasis on mothers, teenage gossip, and female friends, and indeed the writer, M. K. Lee, is a woman. But having a boy as a protagonist balances this out.

Americus excerpt

Censorship in action

What struck me most about the story is the passion books can inspire, whether it’s a lonely middle aged man explaining why he reads a YA fantasy series, or two best friends vying for the only copy of the latest book for the library. Books, especially fantasy books, mean something far more than printed words on paper. They inspire community.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 9/5/18: Individual Dragons I

Smaug the Magnificent, by franeres-d69dege

One thing that can be said of the dragon sketch above, he certainly has personality! See more versions of Smaug here.

Here’s something different in the worldbuilding department, a selection of randomgen* dragons for writing or gaming use, generated from lists of different characteristics like color, size, and type of treasure horde.

A few random dragons


A large but graceful male dragon with moss-green scales and a pair of cruel, curved horns, Vinaunt likes to hoard bejeweled chalices and emits searing flames. In manner he is irritable yet garrulous, with a self-aggrandizing bent, titling himself “The Despoiler Prince.” About him hangs the abominable smell of brimstone and sulpher.


Ixanth is a long and lean Asian dragon with gold-keeled scales and cheek and chin horns. He hoards luxury goods, horseshoes, and rare herbs, and breathes out hurricane-like gusts of wind. His manner is tranquil and cautious. Ixanth has a great yen for asking riddles, and his long ears twitch with favor when someone answers them successfully.

Magrex Dreams-of-thunder  

A stocky male dragon with supple bronze scales, Magrex’s flanks are covered with iridescent gold bars in a pattern like a python’s. He collects all that is precious and valuable and emits ghostly green fire from his mouth. He has an unpredictable manner and is able to shapeshift into human form, in which he once ruled a kingdom in disguise.

Sritrisk Rainbringer

A medium-sized male dragon with gray scales and silver horns, Sritrisk  hoards only platinum. He often disguises himself as a human sage with a brusque way of speaking. His breath weapon is a lightning bolt that destroys anything in its path. He has a narrow snout and small, hooded eyes. Sritrisk appears to honor the law, as he is always careful to keep his word while in human form.


Pewoth is a small but deadly female drake with pale green, crenallated scales and branching horns like the antlers of a deer. She collects human mummies. She has a cruel manner and never speaks, preferring to roar, and attacks with green-tinged flames. Pewoth has an odor of flaming musk and is especially malicious, prone to razing entire villages.


This ancient female dragon is black banded with light gold stripes. She collects jade and silk clothing and breathes out a blinding, blistering gas. She is normally sleepy and quiet, but evinces an inquisitive temperament when strangers venture into her territory. U’aut uses telepathic speech that sounds like thunder. She has a falcon’s golden eyes.

Ixva Stormvast                 

Ixva is a small, slim female dragon with gray-green scales and a membranous frill on her neck. She collects jewelry, pelts, and furs, and sprays out acid as a breath weapon. She is very intelligent, but reclusive. Halfings call her “The Gaunt Fury.” She has a throat patch of bright gold scales she is very proud of.


Hiszba is a large, mature, female dragon with bright red, keeled scales and large finned ears. She breathes out a hallucinogenic cloud of gas as a weapon. She also lures men to their doom with her singing chin bristles. Hiszba lairs underground in a vast cave complex she shares with her many offspring. She loves to collect jewelry and expensive writing utensils.


*   Randomly generated

Devastatingly Draconian

Portrait of a very wicked lady.


September is Dragon Month

I’ve got a confession to make.

At a certain point in my development, I drew dragon anthros. Dressed in designer gowns, their hairstyles, dress designers, and favorite colors, animals, and perfumes all lovingly detailed. They were posed in the manner of the models on my mom’s Singer sewing patterns, most often carefree and swinging their arms in that childlike style of the early 1970s. I’d post a pic, but I’m too embarrassed. So here’s this.

Dragoness Sleep, by Dragonesslife. Is that a male slave… or snack?

This month I will pay tribute to this cross-pollination of the erotic, the badass, and the mythic. I declare this Dragon Month!

Worldbuilding Wednesday 8/29/18: Kajira

I don’t quite approve of Gor, so here is some humor to make it more palatable.

Kajira is the term used for the eternally youthful, eternally hapless, eternally helpless slave girls found in John Norman’s Gor series. Gor, for those not in the know, is a Conanesque  planet superficially similar to Earth and sharing the same orbit, but on the opposite side of the sun so it remains undiscovered.  The first novels (there are 33 all together) are about Earth men who somehow blunder their way there and have all sorts of swords n’ steroids barbarian adventures. Or earth women, but their adventures consist of being kidnapped, enslaved, branded, and auctioned off to these manly men like commodity goods.

If you’re thinking this is a pretty hot sexual fantasy, you’re right. John Norman got to it decades before any number of erotic sword-and-planet romances currently being penned by women in Alpha Male lust.

The earlier books made some pretense of plot but the later ones just go on and on about the psychological benefits of this kind of female slavery, the characters’ pontificating acting as thinly veiled editorialization by the author, who takes a special delight in having accomplished or educated women fall into slavery and find contentment with their lot. Not cool.

One of the points Norman harps on a lot is how, once a slave, the girls lose their identity and become virtually interchangeable with each other as they are  traded from man to man, losing their original names and each subsequent name given to them by their owners. The names are usually simple two-syllable ones like Tuka, or salacious, but PG-rated, ones like Pretty Ankles. (In spite of the books’ covers, especially Boris Vallejo’s, sexual acts are not described in detail. “I took her in the furs” is about as much as Norman goes into it.) Both of them are here.


Kajira of Gor

















Spicy Plum

Fresh Honey



Tight Pearl

Wanton Blushes

Spicy Giggles

Tender Gasp

Torrid Velvet

Precious Ivory





Butter Pat

Kitten Dish


Say What?

Say, what?

The content is made even more inexplicable by being labeled in Japanese and set against those pop-art patterns.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 8/22/18: Perfumes

The making of perfume is almost as old as human agriculture. A perfume-making operation dating to around 4000 BCE was unearthed on the island of Cyprus in 2005, which is when humans were still in the Bronze Age. The Indus Valley civilization produced perfumes a few hundred years later, and Babylon in 1200 BCE. It was the Islamic world, however, that perfected the techniques for extracting and preserving scents, as well as cultivating the plants used in scent production. These techniques passed into Europe with their trade.

Large-scale commercial perfume manufacturing began in the early 20th century as knowledge of chemistry increased. The most familiar scents dating from this time are Chanel’s timeless Chanel No. 5. and Coty’s Emeraude. Emeraude was perhaps a turning point. Before it, scents had not-too-appealing names like Jicky, Jocky Club, and English Fern;  after it, more romantic and fantastical monikers took the stage, like My Sin, Shalimar, Joy, and Tabu. In the modern age anything goes, from the femme fatale implications of Opium and Poison to the more innocent Love’s Baby Soft, marketed to high school girls.

In case you need a made-up perfume, here’s some random generated ones.




Scarlet Paradise


Midnight Spice

Red Tango

Sleeping Eden

Rising Goddess


Passion Belle

Black Palm


Mystic Lake

Beautiful Willow


Silver Dream



The Huntress

Sacred Wood

My Crush


My Secret Acrobat



Voodoo Miss

Rising Elixer

Dreaming Venus




Golden Cinnabar

Gray Dove


White Fur