Deconstruction Roundup for December 9th, 2016

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who had plenty of reason to rain invective this week.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Fred Clark: Slacktivist

Froborr: Jed A. Blue

Mouse: Mouse’s Musings

Ross: A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

RubyTea: Heathen Critique

Vaka Rangi: Eruditorium Press

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are snowed in. Or for any other reason, really.

The Renegades of Pern: Rob From The Rich… To Enrich Myself

Last time, the dreaded Threadfall returned to Pern after a long Interval, and we got to experience it from the perspective of a terrified wagon train, who were attacked and then abused by birth the dragonrider that helped them and the Holder that took them in after Thread destroyed nearly everything they had. This continues to be in the vein of showing us how people end up holdless or enslaved and ready for rebellion. Being Pern, however, the other shoe, where we find out how evil the people organizing the holdless are, has yet to drop.

The Renegades of Pern: Chapter Two – Content Notes: Sexism, Attempted Murder, Murder

(PP 02.04.12)

That’s a ten Turn timeskip, by the way, and so if Jayge or any of the members of his train never show up again in a plot-important manner, that first chapter was a complete waste.

Because Chapter Two starts with Thella, who is already well into her plan to live holdless and free and raiding various Holds for supplies. And, as it turns out, to build her own Hold, where she hopes to attract others to work for her. The arrival of Thread threw off her timetable by a full Turn, and we are told that Thella did not do well with failures, and suffered a deep depression at being thwarted by nature. She appears to have recovered nicely by this point, however.

I’m also going to flag up now that Thella’s ambition of having a Hold to herself is not an immediate disqualifier for being a hero of the proles, nor, necessarily, is her stealing from the Holds, but the narrative is likely not going to be sympathetic to her, so we should keep an eye on how it characterizes her actions.

Thella lucked out into finding her Hold – all of the previous residents had perished before she arrived, but they left their furniture and accessories behind. Thella knows that sometimes people die from plague, but she is willing to take the risk. There’s some about the logistics of Thella’s frustration and bad luck, but also some useful data.

But the hold could have been completely reestablished and hers! Hers! If she had just had the Turn or two. The ancient Contract Law of Pern gave her that right. She could have insisted that the Conclave of Lord Holders permit it, once she could prove her competence. Her father had told her, in answers to discreet questions, that anyone could form a hold, so long as it proved to be self-sufficient and remained well managed.

I’m sure that this is true…if you’re a dude. Because Thella has already been thrown out by the Bros of the Conclave for trying to assert her birthright, I somehow doubt that she would somehow be accepted as one of the peerage just for demonstrating that she has the same capabilities that they do and is part of the bloodlines. There’s really no way that Thella would be able to be a Lord Holder – or the Conclave would basically give her Hold away to the first dude that could make a claim on her, whether she consented or not. Sorry, Thella.

Also, the narrative is starting to help with turning us away from the idea that Thella is heroic and more toward the idea that she is someone’s trope of a woman that is universally described as negative. First, it talks about her quest for boots and clothes, because her foot size is pretty unique, and then we get into other logistics.

She took only new trousers and shirts, of course – not even in extremity would Thella of Telgar wear used clothing.[…]These supplies, along with the food she took, were after all no more than a modest portion of the tithe due a Lord Holder’s family, so she had no compunction about her acquisitions; she merely did not wish to be seen – yet. But boots…boots were another matter, and she might have foregone principle to get decent boots.
A journey to Igen Hold for a Gather would be the best way to end the footwear problem and satisfy one or two other minor needs that would fulfill the rudimentary requirements of her prospective holders. Perhaps she would be able to hire a likely herdsmen, preferably one with a family to supply her with drudges. They could camp in the beasthold section and not interfere with her privacy.

So, now it’s not so much about surviving to stick it in the eye of those that want to marry her off as it is establishing her own hold to give herself the lifestyle she’s accustomed to, just without a man to do it with? That’s not un-feminist, I suppose, but the part where she wants to hire someone and then use their family as her unpaid servants and give them no protections against her…yeah. I think I have to abandon the idea that Thella is secretly a hero of the people, much as it was nice to have it for the first few chapters.

The narrative continues with Thella’s journey to the Gather, trying not to be seen or interact with others, and her breakfast there, where she feels she is overcharged for a bad mug so that she can have a drink. It stays in her head through much of the day until she picks a rock up and chucks it behind herself at the vendor that sold it to her, striking and breaking many of his wares. Having revenged herself (and who would be willing to sell themselves into her service with a temper like that?), Thella heads to get her boots. She nearly has another fit when passed off to a journeyman, but the deferential attitude of her cobbler soothes her, and Thella has a couple pairs of boots and a third on the way. She notices that there’s a large gathering of the holdless just outside the formal Gather, including a large aloof man that has some money to spend. She hides her purse a bit more securely, and muses on how appropriate it is for everyone to be worthy of the shelter being provided to them against Thread, essentially endorsing the exploitative practice of Holders during Fall. Since she expects to be one, I suspect. If she had no expectation of being on the top, I would hope her attitude would shift sufficiently.

Also, I realize that the book promises us only the Renegades of Pern, but it would have been nice to have a viewpoint character for the whole book that wasn’t from the aristocracy. Thella is still trying to be an aristocrat, even though she doesn’t have all the means yet. It would be so much better to have, say, Jayge, who has never been part of the societal system, to help us with the outside perspective and critique of the system. Thella wants to replicate it. Jayge wants revenge against it. His story is the one I want told, so, so much more. Or Thella’s quest to dismantle the system instead of replicate it.

Thella continues to study the holdless, thinking she can exploit their fear to get them to come to her hold and have at least shelter. She hears about Lessa’s time hop and gets very pissed off about the presence and attitude of the time-shifted dragonriders not being properly deferential, nor Benden riders being too eager to please.

Thella collects her boots, and then goes to find a place for a nap while the heat rages on. Then wakes up to someone trying to cut the purse of the person next to her, stabs them in the thigh with her knife, causing them to flee, and then chastises the possible victim for having their purse displayed too obviously. Who then flirts with her and offers her money for her companionship for the evening. Thella thinks it’s a good idea, while planning to knock the man out and rob him of his purse and more. She spots the big man again as he snags a piece of meat that’s fallen and runs off with it to consume it.

The person she thinks of as an easy mark turns out to be running a con to get women drunk, lure them away from the Gather, kill them, and take their money. Thella, trusting her suspicions, ends up shoving the mark into the path of the killer’s blade, and then she overpowers the killer. With her weapon ready to kill him, he tells her about the plan, and basically begs her to either kill him or offer him shelter in a Hold, which he will repay with great loyalty. Thella accepts.

It’s Dushik, the man excluded for fighting, and he gratefully accepts the task of finding loyal people among the holdless for her. Thella has her first vassal, and thus ends Chapter Two.

Well, the narrative has definitely removed any hope we had of Thella being a great person getting a raw deal in the stories. Which annoys me, because it’s right there as a possibility. Perhaps not as easy to do in 1989. Or in a world that has been little more than contemptuous for women who have tried to go beyond their assigned role in life. But it’s right there, all the same.

Writer Workshop December 7th, 2016

(Posted by chris the cynic)

Those of you who also frequent Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings will find this somewhat familiar.  Here, as there, it was requested that there be a regular post to talk about writing projects (and other artwork-creation). Thus this post exists.

Pencil by Elisa Xyz

What are you working on? How are you feeling about it? What thoughts and/or snippets would you like to share? How does your activism work into your art? What tropes are you hoping to employ and/or avoid? Are there any questions you’d like to ask or frustrations you’d like to vent?  Writing workshop below!

Open Thread: Marginalia

(by chris the cynic)

More than two and a half thousand years after the stuff was composed, sometimes we only know who someone was because someone decided to write a note saying, “Totes refering to person X” or sometimes we would know who they were, but not their name if not for the note saying, “By the way, her name was totally Y.”

As time went on some manuscripts had margins larger than the actual content of the work theoretically being written/printed.  New marginalia has been produced constantly, and writing it is a practice that continues to this day, as anyone who has bought textbooks used can tell you.

We call it scholia, and while it may lead us in the wrong direction if the person writing it was horrendously wrong, with the passage of time sometimes all we have is what someone scrawled in the margin.

Also, sometimes the suggestions of the scrawling scholiast’s notes make for much more interesting stories than the book itself or, indeed, the truth (see: The Philadelphia Experiment.)

[As a reminder, open thread prompts are meant to inspire conversation, not stifle it. Have no fear of going off topic for there is no off topic here.]

Deconstruction Roundup for December 2nd, 2016

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is ready for the year to be finished.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Ana Mardoll: Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings

Fred Clark: Slacktivist

Froborr: Jed A. Blue

Mouse: Mouse’s Musings

Ross: A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

RubyTea: Heathen Critique

Vaka Rangi: Eruditorium Press

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are buried under snow and need companionship. Or for any other reason, really.

The Renegades of Pern: The Stuff of Nightmares

Last time, we were introduced to a Rogue’s Gallery of holdless characters and a potential leader for some of them, Thella. The holdless are a mix of those displaced by greed, turned out over jealousy, ditched for disability, shunned for crimes, and those that refuse to go quietly into arranged marriages. It’s as good an underclass as any you could create, but since we’ve been seeing things from the aristocracy’s view, both drudges and holdless are curiously absent until needed for the plot. Hopefully this time, we’ll actually get to see how they live and the reasons why they might decide to rebel against a caste system.

The Renegades of Pern: Chapter One: Content Notes: Asshole Riders, Exploitative Holders

(Present Pass, First Turn, Third Month, Fourth Day – 3.4.01)

Not immediately, though. Instead, we get Jayge Lilcamp (descended, no doubt, from Joel Lillenkamp) grinning about having a horse that looks clumsy but wins races and a sufficiently large stash of “credit bits, almost enough to trade for a saddle when next their wagons encountered those of the Plater clan.” Which suggests that yes, there is scrip and alternative currencies already at work at Pern, adding even more confusion to the economy and how things get paid for and exchanged and who sets up the currency baskets and arghlebargle keyboard smash. Apparently everyone mints their own money and this is somehow okay.

And yes, Jayge is totally a Lillenkamp just from that stunt involving horses and laying odds. He’s also part of a family of traveling merchants that are reputed to be honest, and that carry goods to small Holds, some of them without the Crafthall stamp for those that need cheaper things. They’re breaking camp and moving on today, despite Jayge’s desire to bilk a few more unsuspecting characters out of their cash. It’s time for the once-every-five-years trip to Keroon to sell off the lumber they’ve been logging. Jayge hates bullies and those cruel to animals, which we learn from the boy he wrestled (who was bullying little ones to do his chores) and beat last night flicking a whip at him repeatedly, missing every time, but coming close every time. There some nice idling over the scenery that wouldn’t be out of place for a Western before a messenger from the Hold just left catches up to them and urges them to come back at all speed – a Harper message warning everyone that Thread is falling again, with witnesses having seen it and the dragonriders over Nerat.

As befitting someone who hasn’t seen Thread in their lifetime, or several lifetimes before that, Crenden, the wagon leader, dismisses it.

Again Crenden laughed, not at all dismayed, although Jayge felt a spasm of cold uncertainty shiver down his spine. Crenden rolled the message up again and thrust it back at the boy. “Thank your father, lad. The warning is well meant, but I’m not felling for it.” He winked at the boy good-naturedly. “I know your father’d like us to help finish that new level in the hold. Thread, indeed! There hasn’t been Thread in these skies for generations. Hundreds of Turns. Like the legends told us, it’s gone now. And we’d best be going now, too.” With a cheerful salute to the astonished boy, Crenden stood in his stirrups and roared out, “Roll ’em!”
There was such a look of total dismay and fear in the lad’s face that Jayge wondered if his father could possibly have misread the message. Thread! The very word caused Jayge to squirm in his saddle, and Fairex danced under him in response.
[…Jayge argues with himself…]
Holder Childon was not the sort to play jokes; a straight man, he said what he meant and meant what he said. Crenden had often described him so. Childon was a good deal straighter than some holders who looked down on trains as feckless folk little better than thieves, too lazy to carve out a hold for themselves and too arrogant to be beholden to a lord.

I wonder if this chilly feeling for Jayge is like the thrill or chill one is supposed to receive upon hearing The Name of Aslan. Those who believe rightly and are afraid of Thread will be terrified by its name. The rest, of course, will die or be saved by the dragonriders and convert immediately.

Also, it appears the wagon trains all have at least some of the original prejudice against the Tinkers and other nomads that ended up surviving Threadfall. Despite the fact that they are the only way that goods move around Pern with any speed, save dragonriders, who would never deign to be cargo transport except in emergencies. As far as I know, there are no truly self-sufficient Holds, so they should all be a lot more appreciative for the wagon trains.

Jayge reminisces about Crenden explaining to him why he should let insults roll off his back, which fights to take on, and the great joy that someone gets from wandering the world. Before noticing the grey storm rolling in from the east. Crenden, for as much as he disbelieved a person he considered fundamentally honest and trustworthy, is able to come to the correct conclusion when presented with direct evidence and the flashes of dragon flame, and orders the entire wagon train to ditch their cargo and head for the nearest deep pool to submerge themselves and their mounts in. Much as Jayge isn’t quite sure that will work, but it’s also having to deal with the utterly natural panic that happens when a thing that’s supposed to be gone returns. (Even though, as readers, we have seen Piemur manage a similar stunt already, and Sean and Sorka did it again when first noticing Thread. Seems to be a running thing.)

But a pool? That was no real shelter from Threadfall. Jayge knew the Teaching songs as well as any kid of Pern, and it was stone walls and stout metal shutters that one needed during Threadfall.
[…Jayge heads for the water…]
He kept watching the banks and the track, hoping that he might notice a rock ledge or even a burrow. They could put the babies in the burrows. How long did a Fall last? Jayge was so agitated that he could not bring the Traditional Duty ballads to mind.
[…seeing no other options, Jayge tests the pool for suitability as the rest of the train can be heard thundering down…]
Jayge kept his eyes on the cloud as he raced back. What were those gouts of flame? It looked like thousands of flameflies, the nocturnal creatures he and his friends had tried to capture in Nerat’s lush jungles. And then he realized what he was seeing. Dragons! Benden Weyr’s dragonriders were flying Thread! As dragonriders should! As dragonriders always had and now were again, protecting Pern from Threadfall. Jayge felt a surge of relief that was instantly overwhelmed by confusion. If the dragonriders were already flaming Thread from the skies, why would the traders need the river pool?
“Worlds are lost or worlds are saved, by those dangers dragon-braved?” The verse sprang to Jayge’s mind, but it was not the one he wanted. “Lord of the hold, your charge is sure, in thick walls, metal doors, and no verdure.” But Lilcamp folk were holdless.

Creatures that now exist on Pern – fireflies. One would assume there is a vibrant insect life on the planet, of course, but as in many stories, the insects are just part of the noise, unless they need to be present for some plot reason.

More interestingly, a couple lines from a teaching song! Which apparently includes a word for “green” that hasn’t seen a lot of use in the time of the writing, much less in the far future that Pern is supposed to be set in. With the way that Pernese grammar and word construction is, I’m chalking this up to “the plot needed a rhyme” and chanting the MST3K mantra rather than trying to figure out how a word like that would survive two thousand years of culture that doesn’t seem inclined to use language in that way.

That said, this feels like an appropriate amount of panic and confusion for someone confronted with the idea that the thing of their nightmares is actually true. Including the nice contrast of “I know my teaching songs as well as anybody” and yet being unable to recall them without additional effort, and recalling wrong to start with. This is why people drill on unlikely but dangerous situations, such that if they should happen, the information is set far enough into the mind and body that it doesn’t require much effort to recall.

In any case, the entire wagon train makes it to the pool before Thread catches up to them. Cue everyone trying hard to stay under the water, getting to see the destruction that Thread wreaks firsthand, and then this:

Suddenly a fountain of flame washed across the spot. He saw the long, twisting thing in the center of the flame turn black and burn quickly, adding an oily yellow smoke to the clean fire. Jayge almost missed seeing the dragon at all, he was so caught by the terror of the Thread burrow. But the dragon hovered briefly, to be sure if the destruction, so Jayge caught sight of the huge golden body as the dragon – gold was for queens, wasn’t it? – beat strongly upward and flamed again, farther up the hill. There was another dragon farther down the river valley, another good. But someone had told him that gold dragons did not fly. And there was only the one queen in Benden Weyr.

Ah, there’s a temporal reference point. Multiple queens throwing fire means that Lessa has already jumped back in time to bring the remaining Weyrs forward, causing the decline of the Weyrs that will make it more difficult for Benden in the next four hundred Turns.

I’m also interested in the way this is described. Because queens aren’t supposed to be able to use and chew firestone (fuck you very much, Kitti Ping), this queen unit must be equipped with flamethrowers. Yet the narrative describes the dragon as flaming, rather than noticing the rider as flaming or the flames originating from somewhere other than the dragon’s mouth. Some of this can be chalked up to Jayge not being completely observant due to the panic, but just a little while ago, the scene happening is described as “forever etched in his mind”, suggesting that his recall would be accurate and unaltered.

I’m sure this is an inconsistency that has no more Doylist reason than “this work could have used an editor”, but it does make for intriguing possibilities of gold dragon biology, that they might be able to overcome their inability to use firestone in truly emergency situations. If Jayge is accurate in describing the dragon as having flamed, instead of Jayge misattributing the flamethrower fire to the dragon. And since flamethrower equipment is heavy and bulky, from what we’ve seen in Moreta, it seems likely that it would be observed as the source of the fire.

As it is, Jayge’s focus has to become more immediate as he deals with Thread hissing into the water near him and trying to protect himself and Fairex from getting hit by falling Thread, so a full fifteen minutes of fighting for his life happens, because the time-shifted dragonriders don’t usually flame over things that are going to kill Thread anyway. (Yes, it uses the same slur as before, Oldtimer, which Jayge should learn about much later than this point in time.)

The casualties, as one might expect, are numerous, both in trader train, their goods, and the forests around them. As the wagon train is recovering what goods and people are still left, Fairex bolting for no apparent reason signals the appearance of a brown rider, who mistakes them as a ground crew looking to mop up the rest of the Thread. And gives us more useful information.

At first Jayge could not understand the words rattled at him. There was an odd inflection in the man’s voice that startled him. The harpers kept the language from altering too much, his mother had told him when he had first encountered the slower speech of the southerners. But the voice of the dragonrider, so small up there perched between the neck ridges of the big beast, sounded strange to Jayge’s ears. And the man did not look like any man Jayge had ever seen. He seemed to have huge eyes, and no hair, and leather all over. Were dragonmen different than the rest of Pern’s people?
[…the rider does his very best to insult everyone as an inefficient ground crew, since all he’s seen to this point are boys and women…]
Jayge stared, aware of many details that he would recall later with cynical accuracy; except that the rider wore his hair cropped close to his scalp, he was like any other man. Under other circumstances and with later knowledge, Jayge might have forgiven him his irasciblity, and even some of his scathing disapproval. But not that day.

This is going to end badly ,and the rider isn’t helping by treating the train as if they were drudges, then as if they were insane not to heed the warning, and as if they were a horrible ground crew. And for what he didn’t do to protect them from Thread. Even though he only knows the name of the dragon, Rimbeth, Crenden swears revenge once the dragon and rider are on their way, and Jayge is likely ready to assist in that.

Also, what the hell is this about the Harpers trying to keep the language from changing, so much so that a regional dialect, accent, or an older variation is seen as a horrible thing? We’ve discussed reasons before why the Harpers are doing their best impression of an Orwellian Ministry of Truth, but all of those reasons basically have to do with a stated and strong desire to keep the population stupid and exploitable.

*beat for comedic effect*

Seriously, though, what’s a good reason for the Harpers trying to keep the language and its pronunciation from drift? Are they worried someone is going to develop a Geordie and become supposedly incomprehensible? Do they have secret Harper lore about how the vaunted technology of the Ancients was powered by the voices of those that could commune with it? Are they using it so that they can fulfill the overt charge of the colony that everything stay low tech, pastoral, and static by restricting the language so that concepts like electricity can’t be thought of, much less captured in a Leyden jar and used to power a telegraph? There has to be a reason that makes sense in the context of the society, and we had three books set in the Harper Hall to have it disclosed. Assuming that the person writing thought that far ahead. We’ve spanned nearly twenty years of writing up to this point, so it’s entirely possible the entire series has always been working on a wing and a prayer, but the more we go along, the more likely these things are going to request to be resolved.

Once salvage is completed and the full extent of the damage known, there’s a thought of returning to Kimmage Hold. Unfortunately, when they get there, Childon, the Lord Holder, gives them a really raw deal of being able to bed in the beasthold, having to be ground crew, and really not providing a whole lot of anything for them. Readis leaves soon after, and Crenden’s wife’s sickness keeps them there until she dies that summer, when Jayge and all the others are out as the ground crew.

That’s Chapter One. A casual reader might notice all the reasons why someone might be more than a bit miffed at the way things have turned out – a disaster on a planetary scale just rendered more than a few people without any goods, few possessions, and with nobody around willing to help them, only exploit them. If the author were trying to set this story up as the how a resistance came into being to overthrow the Lords Holder and their dragonrider allies because they exploited the population underneath them in the wake of a tragedy, this would be an excellent setup. Since this is Pern, however, which has traditionally had no interest in the lives of the proletariat, I’m thinking Jayge is a decoy protagonist of some sort, another in the Rogue’s Gallery, as a setup for whom the real person is that will be driving the narrative.

Tune in next week to find out if I’m right. It would be a shame if I were, and if this book turns out to be the scathing critique of the feudal society that Pern has become.

Board Business, November 30th, 2016

(posted by chris the cynic)

Irregular Business

There are people I’m supposed to poke with respect to writing articles.  The representation of female characters in classic Nintendo games?  Class issues at the farmer’s market?  Something about knitting and social justice?  I don’t remember.  With one exception, I don’t remember the people I’m supposed to poke either.

If I’m supposed to be poking you, please consider yourself poked.

Regular Business

There is no submission deadline for articles, open thread suggestions and writing prompt suggestions.  Send them any time.

The Submission Deadline for the weekend post is 20:00 (8PM) US Eastern Time Saturday.

Anyone who has submissions for the weekend post should send them in.  Some people wonder if they really deserve to be in the post.  The answer to that is always the same: You do.  So try not to be afraid and do try to send in submissions if you have them.

The sections of the weekend post are as follows:

The Blogaround

Any denizen of the Slacktiverse who has posted an article to their own website since they last submitted to a weekend post is invited, enticed, and cajoled to send a short summary of that article along with its permalink to the group email. That summary and link will be included in the next weekend blogaround. This will help to keep members of our community aware of the many excellent websites hosted by other members.

Remember, this is since you last submitted to a weekend post, not since the last weekend post. For example, if the last time you submitted was a month ago, everything you wrote since then is fair game.

In Case You Missed This

Readers of The Slacktiverse can send short summaries of, and permalinks to, articles that they feel might be of interest to other readers.  These should be sent, as you might expect, to the group email.

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Anyone who knows of a worthy cause or important petition should send a short description of the petition/cause along with its url to the group email.

Deadlines
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It is perfectly acceptable to use this as an open thread, should you so desire.