Joyce Chng’s 2013 Rider: A Novel of Jin is the first novel in her Rider trilogy.
Lifang would like to be a Rider, one of the fortunate elites partnered with a Quetz (the enormous pterodactyl-like natives of Jin). Her family, however, believes Lifang can do her bit for the struggling human community on the planet Jin as an “agri-seer”. Which is to say, highly educated farmer.
If it were up to her family and her community, Lifang would not get the career she wants. Fate intervenes.
Jin was a desert world when the human starship arrived. Generations of human effort have transformed at least part of it into a garden. It will remain a garden only as long as humans persevere and luck favors them. Bad weather can wipe out years of effort. Agri-seers are the foundation on which human society rests. And Lifang shows definite talent for the work.
As for the Quetz? The Quetzalcoatlus siti have helped the humans reshape a considerable portion of Jin. They are considered the civilized Quetz. They aren’t the only Quetz species. There are also the Quetzalcoatlus wang, the so-called Wild Quetzes. These are seen as barbaric by the siti and dangerous by humans.
Lifang encounters a wild Quetz by a pond. It does not eat her, although it could. Instead, the Quetz — Nightskystars in its own language, Meng in Lifang’s — and Lifang become comfortable with each other’s presence. This suggests a tantalizing possibility. Perhaps Lifang could become the very first Rider to partner with a wild Quetz. She could open a new era in Jin history!
Or perhaps it could all go horribly wrong: Meng could turn on her or Lifang could fall off. Lifang could be crippled for life.
One could read this as a modern take on Pern, wherein the author has done their best to make McCaffrey’s rather ludicrous series plausible. Rather than teleporting dragons, for example, it seems likely that Chng’s model for the native flyers was this species from Earth’s past:
I am not sure that even Queszalcoatlus could get a human off the ground, but I would not rule it out. Perhaps air pressure and gravity on Jin are different; perhaps flying is easier there.
In this setting, the ongoing crisis facing the humans isn’t an occasional visit from a wandering planet of Evil Worms but the simple fact they aren’t particularly well adapted to Jin as it was and maintaining Jin as it is requires ongoing community effort. Any sort of general collapse is going to have unfortunate consequences for the humans.
One wonders what the Quetz get out of partnering with humans. Presumably the next two volumes will answer this.
Chng is quite aware of how stories about the very special girl who changed her world are received differently from stories about the very special boy who changed his world. One of the Old Earth terms found on Jin is “Mary Sue.”
“It’s like she is someone special, a Mary Sue – how irritating!”
A Mary Sue was a perfect-girl stereotype, first popularized in vernacular fiction consumed by girls in her age group. Everyone hated Mary Sues, because they were just too perfect. or special.
Those who already enjoy elevated status on Jin in no way appreciate the possibility that Lifang might join them. As far as they are concerned, her bond with the Quetz was sheer luck, not talent! Unlike the nepotism from which her main rival benefited, which is obviously entirely talent based. Never mind that being presented with an opportunity and successfully embracing it are two entirely different things.
I found this an engaging little tale, with one minor flaw: it’s part one of three. Part one ends rather suddenly. Readers might want to get the whole set before beginning the first. The trilogy is available for very reasonable sums at Gumroad.