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In the Dragonriders series, Pern is subject to periodic incursions of Thread, a voracious and deadly space-borne organism that devours any organic matter it touches. Defending the population from Threadfall are dragons who can breathe fire to singe the Thread from the sky.
In McCaffrey's first Pern novel, Dragonflight, the dragonriders of Pern are concerned that they are not sufficiently numerous to fight the imminently arriving Thread. In the novel's climax, Weyrwoman Lessa brings 1,800 dragons and their riders—plus support staff and equipment—forward in time 400 Turns (years), thereby ensuring a sufficiently large force to fight Thread.
In later books of the series, the appellation "Oldtimers" is given to those who came forward from the past.
When the Oldtimers were brought forward, they were used to matchless respect from Holders and Craftsmen. After their arrival in the present, this led to dissent among the common folk of Pern who respected the dragonmen, but no longer believed them entitled to every woman and craft that they desired.
The Oldtime Weyrleaders considered themselves to be superior to the other Pernese, and would not listen to reason. Eventually, in the novel Dragonquest, F'lar fought a duel with one of the Oldtimer leaders. Upon his victory, any Oldtimers who would not accept F'lar's leadership of Pern were exiled to the Southern Continent. The consequent use of the phrase Oldtimer referred only to those who had been exiled.
McCaffrey's The White Dragon recounts other efforts of the Oldtimers to reassert themselves on Pern, the most important of which is the foiled theft of a Queen dragon's egg. In later novels the Oldtimers become less important as their numbers diminished through attrition.