Deconstruction Roundup for June 14th, 2019

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who hopes you are doing better than their staff meeting right now.)

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.

Elizabeth Sandifer: 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 going to repaint your bathroom entirely because you had an overreaction to someone making a gentle suggestion. Or for any other reason, really.


Dragonsblood: Another Always Chaotic Evil Villain?

Last time, we spent a chapter proving that the watch-whers are not, in fact, a useless failure of an experiment, but a vital part of the Thread-fighting apparatus, specifically bred to eat Thread at night when the flashy dragons aren’t able to see.

We also learned that Kitti Ping, at least to Wind Blossom’s perspective, was an abusive mother, and that Wild Blossom is passing this problem on to her own daughter.

Also, it was very strongly hinted that the dragons of the current Pass are about to fall victim to something that has evolved to attack dragons and make them sick.

Dragonsblood, Chapter 3: Content Notes: Plotting Rape, Suicide

(AL 507, Half-Circle Sea Hold)

Wide ship, tall ship,
Tossed on a raging sea.
Fair ship, brave ship,
Bring my love back to me.

This feels like a song, for once! Not as sophisticated as some sea shanties I’ve heard, but something I can imagine actually being sung outside of the Harper Hall, by someone other than a child.

The chapter begins with Lorana scrambling up the mast and sketching the sunrise. When someone calls up to ask about the weather, she calls it back and everyone groans. Lorana doesn’t understand, so we get a charming piece of old Terran lore that has somehow survived all these generations.

Baror shook his head. “The old saying goes ‘Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; Red sky at morning, sailor take warning.’ There’ll be a blow for sure, but I already knew that.”
Lorana had heard from others day Baror had broken his arm years back and was convinced he could tell when the weather was going to change by the way it ached.

And also, a sailor with a weather arm, in case you needed more stereotype in your diet.

I talked about the improbability of “women are bad luck for a ship” last time, but I realize that we’ve never really gotten a good look at just how “Parallel Earth” the planet is supposed to be. The assumption we’re supposed to make is essentially “Like Earth, Except Where Noted.” There’s a different calendar system, though, which would suggest the Gregorian calendar and divisions of time didn’t translate exactly. So there’s a different revolution period. Pern has two natural satellites, instead of one, so that would mean tidal forces and the rotation period are likely different. And while Rukbat is described as a G-type star, The Other Wiki tells us “G-type star” is an imprecise categorization that contains anything from red-hot to white-hot stars and our conception of Sol’s color is strongly influenced by the way Terra’s atmosphere scatters light depending on the relative position of Sol in the sky.

And there’s Thread, which has to have an influence on the weather patterns, and life forms that have adapted to the regular intrusion of Thread, which might do the same. And also, there are humans (and possibly humaniform ETs?) and their climate-influencing technologies like coal forges and furnaces, cows, horses, mines, and the like, that have been going for at least 500 rotation cycles at this point in the narrative.

Which is to say, Pern is nothing like Terra at all, and we don’t my have a reason to believe that stereotypes like a weather arm or advice like “Red sky at morning” are actually useful on Pern without the narrative providing justification. I would think the Pernese would be more frightened of any red sky situation, given that the presence of the Red Star in the sky means Threadfall is on the way.

Which is, admittedly, me being grumbly about a lack of thought with regard to the world that’s been constructed. The MST3K Mantra or Bellisario’s Maxim could certainly be applied here, but it would be nice to know how all this ancient wisdom supposedly survived in a world that hasn’t been described as close enough. And it’s always Terran wisdom, not Cetian or Eridani.

Anyway, the narrative continues with Colfet breaking his arm and Lorana helping to get him below to set it. Well, Lorana helps, but it’s because Colfet refuses the sensible assistance the captain is ready to give Lorana.

Tanner looked alarmed. Catching sight of a seaman coming up on deck, he called, “Gesten, Colfert’s broken his arm. Help him down below so that Lorana can go ahead and get set up.”
“No, it’s all right!” Colfet called back, putting his weight on Lorana, who nearly buckled in surprise. “Lorana’s a stout lass, we’ll manage. Besides, the weather’s picking up–you’ll be needing all hands to trim sail.”
Getting the large seaman down below to get cabin was much harder than she’d figured, but Lorana felt that she’d proved herself “one of the boys” by doing so.

A couple paragraphs later, Lorana blushes under the intensity of Colfet’s gaze, and the whole sequence, bar the first time Lorana tries to set the bone and misses the mark, Colfet seems to be trying to flirt by looking at her drawings (which are in high demand, and also, Lorana finds Captain Tanner nice to look at). After blithely assuming she could support his weight so he could have alone time with her. And her going along with it because she thinks it will help her standing with the boys. (Which is to say, Colfet has really tanked his possibilities, in my opinion, but my opinion doesn’t count.) It’s a nice example of workplace sexism and how sometimes women can’t say no to the situation they’ve been maneuvered into.

Thankfully, there’s no sexual assault, and Colfet is genuinely glad to have his broken bone set and bound properly. He also has some advice for Lorana: hop off after this stop, because Baror hates women and dragonriders in equal measure, so Lorana will be persona non grata.

“Baror doesn’t like women,” Colfet interrupted. “You know that.” He paused and leaned in closer to her. “He doesn’t like dragonmen much, either. And for the same reason.”
Lorana looked intrigued.
“His first wife ran off with a dragonman,” Colfet told her. “I can’t say as I’d blame her–he was never much to look at, and his idea of romance would bore a fish.”
Lorana made to comment, but Colfet held up his good hand to forestall her.
“I suppose he might have changed his mind,” Colfet went on, “if only his second wife hadn’t died in the Plague. He blamed the dragonriders for not helping soon enough.”
Colfet nodded. “He found a third wife, but she hounds him unmercifully. I think that’s why he was so happy to go on this voyage. Still, he’s no reason to think kindly of women or dragonmen.”

I can’t tell of this is being played for empathy or comedy or just as a straight justification for misogyny. It could be any of them, and the context around isn’t helping any. If this is supposed to be “poor Baror, look at the suffering he’s gone through. The women in his life were unfaithful, dead, and a harridan, respectively” then the crack about how his idea of romance would bore a fish is out of place, because it’s a justification of why his wife would run off with the more sexually adventurous dragonrider. If it’s supposed to be “laugh at Baror, because the best he can hang on to is a shrew,” then the account of his second wife dying is out of place, because that evokes empathy.

This would read way better as “why Baror hates dragonriders and those associated with them” by keeping the first two wives and cutting off the third. That would even work for “hates women and dragonriders” with just those two, but then it’s “and now he’s married to a shrew, so he hates women because of her” and it’s out of place. At least one of these accounts is out of place for trying to find a throughline of making Baror a consistent character. He doesn’t have to be consistent, sure, but it helps.

And if he were consistent, it would be easier to find a thing to hang on to as “Pern is still a terrible place, even to men.” Because there’s a lot bad stereotype at work in Baror’s character and justifications. He’s ugly and unimaginative, so his wife ran off! He hates being cuckolded by dragonriders! And I want to know whether there were sex rays involved, and whether she had a choice to say no to the dragonrider that propositions her, assuming he did. And if she did, I want to know why she married him and whether being a lover of a dragonrider is a better station than a fishwife, so it was a mercenary decision as much of anything…yeah.

Wife number two dying and the dragonriders taking the blame makes sense, so there’s two reasons to hate dragonriders — Baror had his pedestal shattered again. Presumably, he loved her.

And what happened with wife number three? Like, there’s the very real possibility that he’s been taken advantage and is being abused, even if not physically, and he’s decided that it’s fine because he doesn’t deserve anything better, since better keeps getting stolen from him. And he’s stuck in a toxically masculine society that thinks it weak that he’s not the one doing the abusing and controlling, or thinks the solution is simply breaking the relationship and turning her out on her ear. (It’s hard if you love them, because love always believes you can work it out. And abusers are very good at making it seem like you even thinking about breaking it off is a terrible offense that means you don’t love them any more and you’re going to make them suffer because you’re a cruel and heartless person.)

It’s a complex character if you spend as much time thinking about things as I did. If not, it’s another woman-hating grunt with stereotypical reasons to do so. I suspect the latter was meant more than the former.

The ship docks at Half-Circle after several ships try to chase and overtake them for fun and fail. They pay mooring and watching fees (which seem to be highway robbery, based on Colfet’s reaction, but Tanner pays) and Lorana takes Colfet to the Hold Healer. The Healer looks over her work and says he’ll recommend Lorana to the Healer Hall if she wants to go, doubly so when Colfet talks up her drawing skills. The sailors and Lorana get food.

The perspective shifts to J’trel arriving at Half-Circle and having questions about the design of the place and whether that might make it vulnerable to Thread. He nearly gets run over at the Hold entrance by people hauling stones, insulted for being old, then blamed for the insulter, Genin, tipping their wheelbarrow when Talith gives the entire group an angry bugle for the slight.

Everyone around Genin tells him that it’s a terrible idea to provoke a dragonrider, but Genin is too provoked to stand down, and J’trel is determined to teach Genin a lesson.

It is a question of honor, J’trel said. Thread comes soon. Holders must respect dragonriders. Talith accepted the answer reluctantly, taking station and circling watchfully high above the crowd.

The fight itself is short and brutal. Since Genin knows he’s Shunned, no matter what the outcome is, he tries to grab J’trel to break his spine. J’trel gouges his eyes, kicks him in the groin, then in the chest, and that’s it. J’trel finds out where Lorana is while he’s still in a snit (and still very hurt from the fight) and goes over to say hello.

We do a quick shift to Baror, still grumbling about how it’s “not right” for a woman to be aboard a ship, which becomes a plot to…

“She’s a bit plain for my tastes,” Baror grumbled.
“She’d keep you warm at night,” Minet said suggestively. “Especially if you were the captain. She’d have no choice then.”
“My missus would skin me,” Baror grumbled. Minet knew that all too well. He was convinced that getting away from his wife was half the reason that Baror had agreed to this voyage.
“Your missus would skin you only if she found out,” Minet said, his eyes glinting. “As you said, it’s bad luck to have a woman aboard a ship. And accidents can happen.”

…rape Lorana while she’s out to sea with them by taking the captaincy from Tannner, and then also deal with J’trel, by causing “accidents” to anyone who would get in the way, then forcing Lorana with the captain’s authority.

Because we can’t let characters stew in complexity, or be ambiguous, or get hurt by their society and want to hurt others, or anything like that.

I do like the “petty” stakes for this, in the sense of “not trying to overthrow the social order,” not in the sense of “the rape of a woman is not important”. And yet, Baror could just be a greedy cuss, rather than having this plan spark off because dudes want to revenge-rape a woman. Not everything has to revolve around sexual assault.

J’trel sees Lorana, delivers some beaded harness gifts that proclaim Lorana to be an Animal Healer-in-training, to her “bzuh?” She learns from Grenn that J’trel was in a fight, and also that J’trel may have killed the man he fought. Before we can explore whether this is actually the case, Baror appears and plies J’trel with wine loud praise about his fighting ability, and quiet “commisseration” about Genin’s death until J’trel is too drunk to do much as Baror convinces Lorana to come with him because the ship is about to sail. Before she heads out, Lorana hears Talith cough and tells J’trel that it sounds worse than before. Baror leads Lorana so that she doesn’t see the crowd gathering around Tanner, who has been knocked at least unconscious by Baror.

Baror wondered if he had killed Tanner with the blow, but he didn’t really care.

Really? Baror has gone from husband at least nominally worried about consequences from his missus to a killer that doesn’t give a damn? That easily?

I don’t think the new author is any better at building believably evil characters than the old one was.

The end of the chapter is J’trel waking up from passing out from the drink, Talith’s breathing sounding strained, and both rider and dragon apparently agreeing that they are old, tired, and done with life, having discharged their duties to notify next of kin. J’trel tells Talith to give Lorana his love, assuming she will be able to carry on without them, and then the two take a one way trip to hyperspace together as the last action of the chapter.

I am entirely okay with assisted death decisions, but I usually like them to have been thought out and decided on with more than just a “we’re old, and it’s time, isn’t it?” because part of the reason for dragons and their riders bonding so tightly, as I understand it, is so that neither of them will ever have thoughts of disappearing like that while they’re bonded to each other. Even if we had a bit more about how Talith and J’trel have been thinking about what they’re going to do after they get done, and coming up blank, and maybe having had a discussion between themselves about whether the time was right, that would help this decision feel less like an author needed to get rid of a character and couldn’t figure out a good way of doing so.

And now, I sort of want to see how a rider-dragon partnership happens when the bond of the dragon isn’t enough to overcome depression or suicidal thoughts from happening, but it is enough to make those things less intense or less likely to be acted on, or otherwise sort of like being on meds that work for you.

Deconstruction Roundup for June 7th, 2019

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, whose school visits continue tomorrow.)

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.

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorium Press

Froborr: Jen A. Blue

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 entirely aggravated at still being sick, despite having had enough time to get well before having to talk to all the children. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragonsblood: Making Things Worse

[Mari Ness’s post is about the differences between slow-acting, widespread, small, and sometimes invisible changes that might end up having great environmental impacts versus big flashy loud things that are visible but may not be the most effective at what they’re supposed to do. Which is at least tangentially related to what we are encountering now, where there are characters making decisions about which path to take to provide the most assistance to their descendants.]

Last time…well, we met our main characters last time, found out one of them has the special “talks to all dragons” ability and is a fair hand at both mending bones and drawing whatever she sees, and that the new author was conceiving of the idea that blue and green riders didn’t have to be exclusively gay any more before it showed up in the later works of the series we just finished.

Dragonsblood: Chapter 2: Content Notes: Abusive Parents

(Fort Hold, First Pass, year 42, AL 50)

Which establishes (and retcons the original timeline established in the First Fall-era books, if I remember correctly) that the colonists spent eight years on planet Pern before Threadfall made itself known and forced the abandonment of the Southern Continent. This is a good change, in that it gives the colonists time to deploy and get set up and get used to their way of life before having to make the drastic changes necessary to survive Thread.

Rather than a poem or song fragment, we get prose to start this First Pass chapter.

-ome (suffix): (i) the biological portion of an ecosystem. (ii) the material and genetic information required to re-create the biological portion of an ecosystem. Examples: the “terrome” refers to the biological portion of the Terran ecosystem; the “cetome” refers to the biological portion of the Cetus III ecosystem; the “eridanome” refers to the biological portion of the Eridani ecosystem.

–Glossary of terms, Ecosystems: From -ome to Planet, 24th edition

One of the nice things about science fiction writing is that you get to make shit up, and so long as it sounds vaguely science-y, not that many readers are going to give you grief about it.

Which is to say that I can’t imagine linguistics going in this direction, even in the far future, because Terrans are much better at portmanteau than this, and I can’t see a phrasing derived from, say “biome” to suddenly take on a meaning that is only a small part of what the original was.

The chapter opens with Wind Blossom (daughter of Kitti Ping, fabled Eridani-trained dragon geneticist) being ejected from a dream, but with the important part still intact.

Even with the dream interrupted, as if against her will, Wind Blossom remembered her mother’s last words: “Always a disappointment you were to me. Now you hold the family honor. Fail not, Wind Blossom.”
Wind Blossom had had the same dreams for the last forty years.

Cocowhat by depizan

Do I even want to dive into figuring out which terribly executed, potentially racist stereotypes are at work here?

Actually, stick a pin in that, there’s more. First, the descriptions of the two of them, in comparison, which is essentially Kitti Ping saved everyone by creating dragons, Wind Blossom is “credited with–blamed for–the creation, through similar genetic manipulation, of the photophobic watch-whers.”

“Always a disappointment you were to me,” her mother’s calm, controlled voice came to Wind Blossom’s mind–a memory over forty years old.

And yet more hagiography of the early settlers and how Kitti Ping saved them all.

Wind Blossom stares herself in the mirror as she starts her morning routine.

Her hair was still dark–it would always be dark–as were her eyes. They stared impressively back at her as she examined her face. Her skin had the same yellowish tinge of her Asian ancestors; her eyes had the Asian almond shape.
Wind Blossom completed her inspection, noting once again that the muscles around her face, which had slackened thirty years before, pulled the corners of her lips downward.
Opening her dresser, she saw the yellow tunic at the bottom of her drawer and sighed imperceptibly as she had at the sight of it every day for the last twenty years. Once, an accident at the laundry had left one of her white tunics with a distinctly yellowish tinge. No one had remarked on it. When the day was over, Wind Blossom had carefully put the tunic away in her drawers. She had worn it again, years later–and no one had noticed. Now, as always, she carefully pulled out one of her scrupulously white tunics. From the lower drawer she pulled out a fresh pair of black pants.

Okay, I think that’s enough potentially-racist material for now. Let’s start again at the top, with what were apparently the last words of Kitti Ping to her daughter. Her sentence construction is more Yoda than anything, which is often deployed in a “the funny foreigner doesn’t have a solid grasp on English language and structure” kind of way. But also, there’s apparently no warmth or love between mother and daughter, for Kitti to have said all of this so dispassionately. That sounds suspiciously stereotypical for Asian parents on Terra. Then Wind Blossom describes herself as having a yellowish tinge to her skin, which is a sign of jaundice rather than ethnicity. Yellow skin was a racist caricature of Asians on Terra, and I doubt somehow that Wind Blossom would describe herself in such a way. The almond eyes also lean into stereotype, but those I might believe are descriptors.

And I really don’t know what to make of this yellow tunic story. Did nobody notice or care because she was the failure daughter of Kitti Ping? Because they thought an off-color mistake was perfect for the geneticist who created the mistakes called watch-whers? Because they thought that yellow suited her well, for fashionable reasons? For racist ones? And when she wore it again, nobody noticed the color change then, either, apparently. Same reasons? I don’t know what this is doing here in the story, because there aren’t any signs to point at or reasons why she held onto an “accident at the laundry” for twenty years so she could sigh at it every morning.

What I can see is that Kitti Ping gave her daughter severe mental trauma as she died, trauma that she is dealing with by herself (because again, there are no therapists on Pern and nobody ever comes up with the bright idea to reinvent them, despite the clear need for them every time we check in on Pern), and that, as we find out, she is passing on to her own daughter.

Wind Blossom spared one more moment to glare at her daughter. “Always a disappointment you were to me,” she muttered before she bent over the boy.

Because a terrible thing about abuse is that it tends to cycle and perpetuate itself on the next generation as well. (And also, if I recall correctly, Kitti Ping died slumped over at her workbench, having just created the dragon program, so if those were the last words between mother and daughter, they happened before Kitti died.)

The plot, such that it is, has someone calling Wind Blossom to come out because a child has been mauled by a watch-wher and needs stitches. Wind Blossom is first amused, then acidly annoyed, by the apparently new conception of calling her “my lady”, and then starts barking orders at the interns on what will need to happen, while she mentally complains that there isn’t any such thing as a true, sterile operating theater to work in, even though there are apparently still sterilized gowns for surgery, and that there isn’t any more supply of suture material, so surgery as medical practice is about to go out the window because technology is fading out without being replaced. Wind Blossom will say as much that learning about sutures is pointless because the technology to support that knowledge is fading, and I am wondering why, despite knowing that they wanted to degrade gracefully, the colonists seem to have not packed the necessary things to be able to create such things as sterile environments, sutures, and the like in their target technology level? Or had the knowledge of it spread widely through the populations?

The boy turns out to be a Tubberman (although his father disavows the name that caused so much trouble on Pern), and because of bloodline records, his father can tell Wind Blossom that the child is O positive. So Wind Blossom, after ordering the preparation of the room, and telling M’hall, Benden’s Weyrleader, that this is the last of the suture material, also orders blood transfusions to the boy before/while/after the surgery is going on, from the three people that can give – his father, Wind Blossom, and her daughter, Emorra. The interns are advising against a woman of Wind Blossom’s age giving a unit of blood, but she thinks it would be poetic if she died giving her blood to atone for her “mistake”, in the same way that she thought it poetic earlier for descendants of Kitti Ping to be helping the descendants of Ted Tubberman.

Wind Blossom passes out from giving the unit of blood, and we get another dream of hers where Kitti Ping is insistent that her designed creature, the one she received accolades for because it appeared to save Cetus III from radiation poisoning, was a visible symbiote and the unnoticed, unsung leechworms were really responsible for the salvation of Cetus III, because they ate (and therefore concentrated) things that had been irradiated by the Nathi in their attempt to wipe out all the humans on the planet. The designed creatures ate the leechworms, and were able to process the radiation. But we don’t get very far in the dream before Wind Blossom wakes up. (And is informed she was out for two days from the blood donation.) Purman (the Tubberman who denies his name) and Wind Blossom then have a conversation that M’Hall will eventually join in on, but we have a few things to note before we get there. First, Purman thinks Wind Blossom is being harsh with her daughter.

“Emorra did not leave your side until she collapsed into sleep herself. I had Carelly take her to her rooms.” His expression changed. “I think you treated her harshly. Was Kitti Ping like that?”
Wind Blossom examined his face before slowly nodding. “It is a great honor the Eridani bestowed on us.”

Wind Blossom, for her part, doesn’t try to deny it and acknowledges that her own mother was the same way, and we can see very clearly here a cycle that is being perpetuated on the next generation and yet nobody, save Purman here and now, seems interested in possibly trying to break that cycle. Purman doesn’t persist in his objections, even when Wind Blossom changes the subject by asking what happened to Purman’s son.

After Purman tells Wind Blossom how his son got mauled, M’hall and Emorra arrive. Wind Blossom tells them both to kill the watch-wher, because she thinks it still has an instinctive reaction that she tried to breed out of it. M’hall shrugs and says the watch-wher’s (Bendensk, which means that whers bonded to places apparently take the name of the place, instead of the name of their primary handler) already killed herself from lack of partner. Because her previous handler got Impressed to a dragon, and her attempt to bond with the young child meant he got mauled. Wind Blossom, upon hearing that the son will need to wake soon and not move his mouth, assigns Emorra to handle that issue.

“My lady!” M’hall protested, “Emorra is the administrator here. She should not be ordered about–”
“She is my daughter,” Wind Blossom replied, as if that were enough. Emorra bit off a bitter response, nodded curtly to her mother, and left.
“Mother or not–” M’hall’s indignation suffused his face

I think by now we can safely say that Wind Blossom lost whatever empathy points she may have picked up by having this version of Kitti Ping as her mother, because she’s doing it just as much to her daughter. Like, we can see it as the tragic continuation of a cycle of abuse all we like, but that doesn’t mean we have to like or excuse anything that Wind Blossom is doing with Emorra. And having that same nightmare every damn night seems like it might induce Wind Blossom to make some changes in her life so that she doesn’t turn out exactly like her mother to her own daughter, but that kind of self-awareness has apparently eluded her. (Which is all too realistic.)

Plot-wise, Wind Blossom sent Emorra out so she and M’hall could talk at Purman about the actual function of watch-whers, dragons, and grubs. At least at this point in time, the function of the grubs has not been lost to time, and it turns out that Purman bred a variation that works more closely with the wine vines at Benden so that they aren’t harmed by Threadfall. Which will become important when he actually says it, but for now, it’s a lecture about genetics and why you want to have multiple reasons for introducing a new species into an ecosystem. Watch-whers apparently are meant to fulfill several roles.

“In fact, the watch-whers were created to solve several problems,” she continued. “Dragons, by their nature, would associate with a select few people. But they must become part of the human ecology, if you will. They must not be feared.”
“So you bred the watch-whers as something that most people could see?” Purman sounded skeptical.
“And they’re uglier than dragons, too,” M’hall added. “If you were to try to tell someone who’d never seen a dragon what they were like, you’d say like a watch-wher but bigger and prettier.”
“So their first purpose is psychological?”
“It is not their first purpose,” Wind Blossom replied rather tartly.

The hell is this? There really isn’t any reason at all for the dragons not to be feared – they’re the protectors of the planet and keepers of the way of life. Sean and Sorka seemed to think a healthy fear of dragons and their riders would make things easier for everyone, especially in not having the dragons do mundane things and in making sure their tribute trains stayed uninterrupted. And if Wind Blossom wanted to make people more comfortable with dragons in their midst, she would have done better working with others to try and breed a domesticated fire-lizard. Humans, at least, like small and cute things that are useful to them. Watch-whers fit neither of these purposes, so it seems like, at least for this part, Wind Blossom is talking out her ass.

What follows, however, is something far better, and also makes me wonder if this were something that was strongly fought over or was supposed to be the plan all along, and the first author just never got around to saying so.

“I designed their eyes to be excellent in low-light situations,” Wind Blossom said, choosing her words carefully, “and particularly tuned to infrared wavelengths.”
[…and also that they’re empathic more than telepathic, and that she tried to make them harder-armored, but that didn’t take…]
“Why not incorporate these changes directly into the dragons?” [Purman asks.]
“Two different species are safer,” Wind Blossom said. “Greater diversity yields redundancy.”
Purman nodded but held up a hand as he grappled with his thoughts. Finally he looked up at the two of them. “The watch-whers fight Thread at night?”
“By themselves,” M’hall agreed, eyes gleaming in memory. “I’ve seen them once–they were magnificent. I learned a lot about fighting Thread that night.”
“They breathe fire?”
“No,” M’hall said. “They eat Thread, like the fire-lizards. They don’t need riders, either–the queens organize them all.”
[…The plot gos on to discuss things like “how do they fly?” (The same way dragons do, just with smaller wings to avoid getting Threadscored.) and “why don’t we see them more often?” (it’s usually too cold for Thread to survive when the watch-whers are active.)…]
A look of wonder crossed his face as he recalled the experience. “They swarmed in from everywhere, arranged themselves by their queens, and flew up to the Thread. I was above them at first, and they came up at me like stars coming out at night. And then they were above, swooping and diving for the still-viable clumps of Thread.”
“They see more in the infrared range,” Wind Blossom said. “They can differentiate between the live Thread and the Thread that has been frozen by the night atmosphere.”

Cocowhat by depizan

And yes, that’s why their eyes are terrible, and also, did you know that Wind Blossom thinks of the watch-whers as the second string in case the dragons and their riders die, too?

But we’ve finally established a purpose for the watch-whers other than “Wind Blossom’s failed attempts to recreate the dragons, which she was doomed to fail repeatedly because she was a perpetual and continual disappointment to her mother.”

I’m with Purman, who says in the middle of this new understanding, “Why keep this a secret?” Why, indeed? Wind Blossom’s response is “So that people can sleep at night without the fear of Threadfall while they sleep.” Which doesn’t make sense. I think more people would sleep better knowing that watch-whers were the night patrol during night Threadfalls. And also, not knowing this has basically permitted the wholesale persecution of watch-whers on the planet, instead of understanding their vital role of keeping the planet safe in conditions where dragons and their riders aren’t as effective. I realize that all of the Threadfall mentioned in the books up to this point happens in the daytime, but if it follows a regular pattern, at some point a Hold has to be sieged by Thread during the night. Which would be a problem for the dragons and the riders, but nobody wakes up to find their fields devastated. Now we know why — the watch-whers have presumably been protecting them during the night. But if Aleesa is right and watch-whers have been either turned away or hunted just about everywhere that doesn’t have another use for them, there aren’t enough watch-whers on the planet to eat a full Threadfall. (Unless they breed wild in several parts of the planet and the humans haven’t discovered this.)

Which is to say, all in all, this doesn’t make any sense at all. The night patrol purpose of the watch-whers should be common knowledge, and yes, while they’re ugly, they should be seen as a valuable corps of Thread-fighters. Trying to stitch this knowledge in with the books that we’ve already experienced, near and far, is an exercise in the sort of explanations that comic book continuity is famous for. Expect headaches.

Further patching things on to the world, Purman is able to infer from all of this, and his own experience in having to breed a better grub because a fungus started destroying his grape vines, that Wind Blossom and M’hall suspect that disease vectors that affect fire-lizards could affect watch-whers and dragons, and that since there’s been ample time for mutation, the genetic immunity given to dragons and watch-whers might not be enough against mutated strains. There’s our reason for Talith’s cough, and Wind Blossom, M’hall, and Purman’s worries close out Chapter Two.

That’s a lot of new territory for exploration opened up in a single chapter. I like the way that it redeems Wind Blossom from being unfavorably compared to her mother, because their purposes were different, but something like “watch-whers eat Thread at night” is the sort of thing that should be disseminated far and wide so that, like the grubs, people can always be on the lookout for them and to try and help establish breeding lines and spaces for them. With this new knowledge, Kindan shouldn’t have had any trouble at all finding a new watch-wher to come to the mines, instead of the convoluted plot with Aleesa, Zist, and the others. There doesn’t seem to be any real justification beyond the need to set up the current plot as to why vital information is being kept secret, and other pieces of information weren’t being translated to the desired technology level long before Thread accelerated the loss of that technology.

This is a good chapter for worldbuilding, but it really needed to be in with the previous set of books set at the colony era, and subsequent books needed to take this into account. That way we don’t have to fit it in to the pattern and stare at how poorly it grafts with everything else we’ve seen so far.

Next week, back to the “present,” where there will be more cursing.

Deconstruction Roundup for May 31st, 2019

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, whose school visits start tomorrow.)

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

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorium Press

Fred Clark: Slacktivist

Ross: A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

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 entirely aggravated at getting stuck on the day before the dress rehearsal. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragonsblood: Flying the Nest

Well, we’ve made it this far. There’s still six books to go that we know of before we reach the end of the line.

This book is solely the product of Todd McCaffrey, or so the blazon proclaims.

Dragonsblood, Introduction and Chapter One: Content Notes:

If we turn to the Introduction, written by his mother, though, after proclaiming that Todd had quite the pedigree of writers and that he’s also accomplished in his own right without having to rely on that pedigree, it mentions there were conflicts between them about the story and that she made him go through her regular beta readers to make sure the canon and the style started true. She feels he did the job admirably, and shows us “another point of view about Pern.” One, of course, that hews to what Anne thinks about Pern, because, well…

You see, I’ve always been paranoid about people writing in my world. If you’d seen some of the lovingly but inaccurately written stories I’ve seen, including a film script that had me cringing in fear that it would be produced, you’d understand how I feel about having my literary child misrepresented.

You don’t say. Much like another Anne who accused her fans of “interrogating the text from the wrong perspective”, it would be an understatement to say that Anne McCaffrey hated fanfic.

It’s taken us a while, but now we finally have a textual excuse for all that extratextual material I’ve been trying to avoid, and will continue to avoid where possible, as justifications for why Pern is the way it is. I still think it’s a mark of poor storytelling if people have to use your outside-the-text conversations and statements to make your text make sense and see where you’re coming from.

There were some authorized outlets where people could play characters on Pern without litigious threats, but those spaces had to obey her very tight rules about setting, sexual orientation, and many other things, to continue to exist, and her lawyers were not above sending cease and desist letters to teenagers that strayed from the path. Among other things. And while it looks like she’s mellowed out some by the time this introduction is written, you can still see the white-knuckle pearl-clutching at work, so much so that even her son had to follow the rules to be able to write in the world.

Based on this alone, I don’t expect things to be different with a new author at the helm, writing supposedly solo. Let’s begin.

Red Star at night:
Firestone dig,
Harness, rig
Dragons take flight.

(Fort Weyr, at the end of the Second Interval, After Landing, 507.)

Chronologically, we’ve moved forward in Pern time, rather than back, so we’ve jumped up past the flu that killed the humans. But we’re still feeling the effects of something, as the new Fort Weyrleader, K’lior, is concerned about not having enough dragons to fight Thread.


is still Weyrleader at Telgar, despite everything we saw him do and all the reasons his Weyr could have invoked to have thrown him out by now. And while he has enough supplies, and full tithes, he’s not sharing with anyone. Well, he could share, but then C’rion suggests it’ll all be bronzes so that D’gan doesn’t have to compete as much on the next mating fight and that pisses D’gan off enough that he storms out. M’tal chides C’rion for antagonizing D’gan, and the two haggle a bit about getting personnel in the right place, where it turns out C’rion wants to shift J’trel over to Benden so as to help them with Search…and to get over the loss of his partner.

“But he’s not a scoundrel. And it’s no lie that his blue has an eye for good riders, especially the women.”
“Which is odd, considering his own preferences,” M’tal remarked.
“Well, you know blues,” C’rion agreed diffidently. As blue dragons mated with green dragons, and both were ridden by male riders, the riders themselves tended to be the sort who could accommodate the dragons’ amorous arrangements.
“And you want to get him away from Ista so he can forget about K’nad,” M’tal surmised. K’nad and J’trel had been partners for over twenty Turns.

And that leads into realizations of just how old both Weyrleaders are, too.

I have to note that this book was published before Dragon Harper by a couple years, so this idea of saying that blue and green riders are generally gay without insisting they are exclusively so was already on pace by the time we get to that book. New knowledge. I also wonder if this is one of the things that got fought over.

The fruit that turns out to be vital in saving everyone from the plague gets mentioned here in the future time, too, and J’trel specifically as the person who brings the fruit and knows where it is, which might have caused a recordscratch about how Kindan knows this, but it’s entirely possible I just wasn’t paying attention in the right spots rather than this being an instance where a character knows something they shouldn’t.

We shuffle over to who is likely to be our main character, Lorana, trying to sketch a bug with one hand and keep it pinned down with another. Which works until she has to wipe away sweat, and then the bug burrows away.

Lorana has two fire-lizards, Grenn (a brown) and Garth (a gold), and gets regular visits from J’trel. Who is late to picking her up, but she shows him her sketches of the “scatids,” pointing out a variation between the ones in the north and the ones in the south. J’trel times it ever so slightly to make sure Lorana gets in the ship she’s supposed to on time, but there’s something worrying about Talith.

As the blue dragon became airborne, he gave a soft cough.
Lorana looked at J’trel with her brows raised. “I don’t recall him coughing like that before.”
J’trel waved a hand. “He’s old. Sometimes a thick lungful of air makes a dragon cough. His lungs aren’t like they used to be.”
“Do dragons cough often?” Lorana asked, with natural curiosity–her father had been a beastmaster and had even tended people in emergencies, and she had learned much of his craft.
J’trel shrugged. “Dragons are very healthy. Sometimes they seem to get a bit of a bug, and sometimes a cough.” He made a throwaway gesture, saying, “It doesn’t last long.”
“What about the Plague?” Lorana asked with a faint shudder.
“The Plague affected people, not dragons, and the dragonriders were careful to keep safe.” J’trel’s face took on a clouded look. “Some say we were too careful.”

So dragons do get sick as well as injured. (I wonder if this was a thing that got fought about.) And it’s useful to have already traced the Plague all the way through to know what had happened then.

There’s a quick explanation of how they time-traveled to be sure Lorana could get where she needed to go on time, and how being in two places at the same time can be exhausting or irritating or both to dragon, rider, and any passengers along for the ride. And, because it might be the first time someone is looking at Pern, there’s an explanation of how paradox is avoided in the timeline: every time travel incident is a Stable Time Loop. Everything that will happen has already happened. Or as J’trel puts it:

“You can’t alter the past,” he told her. “As long as it never happened in the past, it never can happen in the past.”
“Why not?”
It cannot be done, Talith said. A dragon cannot go to a place that is not.
Lorana looked puzzled.
“I tried once,” J’trel said, shaking his head at some sad memory. “I couldn’t picture the destination in my mind.”
It is like trying to fly through rock, Talith added.
“I wanted to go back to when my mother was still alive,” J’trel said. “I wanted her to see that I’d Impressed, that I’d become a dragonrider. I thought I could make her happy.” He shook his head. “But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t see her and the place clearly enough in my mind to give Talith the image.”
You had not done it, so you could not, Talith explained with draconic logic.
Lorana shook her head, mystified. “Maybe if I think about it long enough, it’ll make sense,” she said[…]

That characterizes this like it’s a failure of imagination that’s keeping the dragonriders from ripping through time and doing things that aren’t in the predestined Stable Time Loop. And frankly, that’s weird, because portraits and drawings and tapestries are very clearly part of Pern, and available to a lot of people. If J’trel had a portrait reference of the right time period, even if it wasn’t the right place, he could presumably do the time warp and then fly to the right place to find his mother once he knew where in the past he had landed. If it’s really solely a problem of not having an appropriate picture, then it really isn’t a problem at all, given how in the very first book of the series, a four hundred year-old tapestry was sufficiently detailed that someone could use the picture on the tapestry as their reference point. (Presumably not the tapestry itself, although being able to picture it hanging in a place where Lessa knew it would be hanging might have also been good enough for some sort of temporal hop.)

There’s a possibility that envisioning something that you saw would cause you to telefrag your younger self by appearing in the same place, but Lessa already proved that didn’t happen, and dragonriders presumably get the same image from others when they are warping through hyperspace, but the dragons seem to be able to sort themselves and their riders out so that everyone isn’t trying to appear in the same space-time coordinate. So that’s not it, either.

So what is actually keeping the dragons in check, other than narrative fiat? And, as usual, what happens on the first go-round, when someone isn’t already back in time to right the wrong or otherwise create the timeline that will save someone from a particular issue?

Does anybody in SF ever really provide a good answer to these questions?

But we should keep an eye on that cough from Talith, as the narrative spins back to how J’trel and Lorana met.

It turns out that Lorana had kept her brown fire-lizard from taking a one-way trip to hyperspace after he suffered a serious wing fracture, and that has J’trel’s curiosity, given that the fire-lizards usually vanish themselves when injured that badly. He inspects Lorana’s work at setting and splinting, says there’s a good chance the fire-lizard will live, and offers to take Lorana and her fair down to the southern continent (although not named as such) to rest and recover. Halfway through the month it took to recover, J’trel is fascinated by Lorana’s drawing skill, she tells him about how the skill was developed and encouraged by her father after they held off a mob that was convinced they’d brought the Plague with them. In return, J’trel let’s on that he doesn’t feel like he belongs, either, because he’s old, he’s not the best fighter, and the partner he loved is dead. He didn’t have a plan after informing the family, but now he’s glad because he’s pretty sure he’s met a future Weyrwoman.

“I’ve never met a woman more fit to lead a Weyr.”
“Lead a Weyr?” Lorana repeated aghast. “Weyrwoman? Me? No, no–I–”
“You’ve more talent than I’ve ever seen,” J’trel told her. “Half the Istan riders of the past thirty Turns were searched by me and Talith.”
He smiled briefly in pride. “And you can talk to any dragon!” he exclaimed.
Lorana crinkled her forehead in confusion. “What makes you say that?” she asked. “I’ve only talked with Talith.”
“While it’s true that a dragon can talk to anyone he chooses, only riders bonded to a dragon can address one–and usually only their own. No rider can talk to another dragon unless he can hear all dragons. Do you know how few can do that?”
Lorana could only shake her head.
“Torene is the only one I can think of,” J’trel said. “And I don’t think she has your way with them. It’s more like you feel than talk to them.”
“You don’t?” Lorana asked in surprise. She looked out to Talith and smiled fondly at the blue. “I’m sorry, I–”
“Lass, when are you going to stop apologizing for your gifts?” J’trel interrupted her gently.

Oh, I don’t know, maybe when your society stops being a patriarchal hellscape. J’trel is a privileged man asking why a woman isn’t using her skills to the fullest. Has he noticed at all how women are treated outside of the Weyr? Has he paid any attention at all to how the Weyrwoman gets treated in the Weyr? I’ll bet he hasn’t, because nobody would want to risk the patriarchal wrath of misbehaving around dragonriders. Plus, although it’s in the future compared to here, Aramina showed us why that talent isn’t necessarily one to flaunt everywhere.

The narrative, however, prefers to say that this feeling of not feeling like you have a purpose in life a symptom of the “deep shock” that came from the utter destruction of the population during the plague and that Pern is suffering survivor’s guilt on a planet-wide basis. But no, Pern doesn’t need therapists, and is steadfastly refusing to reinvent them in the face of the multiple planet-wide disasters that ravage the planet regularly, both scheduled and unscheduled.

J’trel gives Lorana the possible purpose of drawing all the creatures in Pern, and they have a laugh about the recovered Grenn having a less successful first flight because it’s too fat to fly from all the eating and loungng it’s been doing while healing. At least it’s not being fatpohobic about a human. Which is a pretty low bar to clear.

Coming back to the present, there’s some gawking over the drawings that Lorana can produce versus a superstition that has no real business being on Pern about women in ships being bad luck for the sailors. The captain points out it’s supposed to be a short shakedown run and takes Lorana on as Healer to see whether or not this ship can deliver on the promise of being a ship that can run between holds in the intervals between Threadfalls during a Pass.

Which goes smoothly and the chapter ends with J’trel very certain that Lorana will end up as a Weyrwoman, perhaps Pern’s finest.

Nothing like expectations. And also the strong possibility that J’trel might interfere as much as possible to get the result he wants.

As a first chapter, it’s a little weird, honestly. There’s not a lot of foreshadowing, and I guess that Lorana’s ability to draw is going to be the gun on the mantelpiece, unless it’s her ability to talk to all the dragons.

Right now, the narrative seems a bit lost, like the characters claim to be. We got some useful attempts at worldbuilding, and we got to know how these characters met, but I don’t know that anything very specifically contributed to plot in this chapter.

Which makes me worry that the editoral immunity that the first author had got extended to the new one, because the first author was being a helicopter parent with regard to this book.

Well, maybe the plot will work better next week?

Deconstruction Roundup for May 24th, 2019

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is only a week away from performance.)

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.

Elizabeth Sandifer: 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 dealing with the realities involved in having a radioactive cat for a little while. Or for any other reason, really.