Deconstruction Roundup for April 19th, 2019

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is talking to a lot of fellow professionals 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.

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorium Press

Fred Clark: Slacktivist

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 less happy about the supposed existence of a social hour, but there was never a time where it came into being. Or for any other reason, really.

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Dragon Harper: Do You Understand Me?

Last time, Kindan fell in love with someone he could never have, which incidentally gave the lie to the equality campaign that Murenny has supposedly recruited Kindan to help with, got a fire lizard, and continued to be unperturbed by how completely Vaxoram has changed after the duel. Kelsa has some skepticism about the last. And possibly the girl that Kindan has fallen for.

Dragon Harper, Chapter 5: Content Notes: Sexism

(Harper Hall, 496.11, the first time marker we’ve had since Chapter 1)

This chapter’s poem is an admonition.

Harper, treat your words with care
For they may cause joy or despair
Sing your songs of health and love
Of dragons flaming from above.

There’s a certain amount of acknowledgement here that the Harpers have the power to shape social dynamics, but it’s couched in a warning to stick close to the party line. Which makes me wonder what kind of story we could tell about a Harper, or a group of Harpers, that broke off from the Hall and did their best to encourage the people to overthrow the Holds and Crafts and eventually, perhaps, put the Weyrs under the control of elected egalitarian councils. And all the trouble that comes from actual democracy being implemented in a previously feudal space. We won’t get it, because everyone in Pern loves their lot in life (except the Shunned), but if we wanted to show what kind of power the Harper Hall holds, why not have to deal with Harpers in their midst that are not on the company line?

In any case, this chapter starts with the fact that puberty has come to Kindan at last, and his awkwardness of body, combined with the fact that his clothes aren’t fitting because he’s expected to grow into them, eventually gets him moved out of the Archives after he spills indelible ink (that everyone admits shouldn’t have been there in the first place) on some freshly-created Records, ruining them.

So Kindan goes to the instrument maker, instead, to learn some finesse, but he doesn’t have the knack for pipe making immediately, even if he can do a passable drum and some amount of sanding and polishing. Which he gets assigned to do, and thinks of himself as learning something about handling the wood from doing all the sanding. He mixes up the glue and polish buckets and ruins both of them in their pots, though, just to be consistent to the narrative.

Vaxoram is still magic, though.

In the past ten months, the relationship between Vaxoram and Kindan had grown deeper, more complex, yet still no less perplexing to both of them. It was as though the older apprentice was sometimes Kindan’s older brother, other times his apprentice. Yet it worked, and Vaxoram was now an accepted member of the “outcasts”, as he had once named Kindan and his friends.

Kindan’s voice is breaking and not settling, either, so the Voice Master asks if he would rather conduct, which Kindan enjoys, but he is recalled to the task of cleaning out his mess before too long.

As one might guess, Kindan finds this puberty business all sorts of aggravating. And it’s not helping that the talented people around him seem sure of what they will do.

“You’ll find your height,” Verilan added staunchly. Kindan smiled at him but couldn’t help feeling a bit jealous–Verilan was assured a place in the Harper Hall; his skill at copying alone would guarantee it.
[…they remind Kelsa to eat…]
Kelsa was always writing. The dark-haired girl was another who Kindan was certain would find a place in the Harper Hall, even if the Hall was traditionally a man’s world; Kelsa’s songs were so original that none could forget them, and she herself had a perfect memory for not only words but notes as well.
Play her a song once and she’d know it forever; start a melody and she’d write a whole new piece from it. It was dangerous to whistle near Kelsa, for she’d often lurch to a sudden stop–to the consternation of all behind her–and start writing.
Kelsa and Pellar had an amazing affinity for each other whenever the mute Harper visited from Fire Hold; she seemed able to take his merest buttons and put them to music. Surprisingly to Kindan, Halla, Pellar’s mate, never seemed to mind the way Kelsa and Pellar acted around each other. In fact, she seemed to encourage it, when Kindan would have preferred that she be jealous and keep Pellar away from Kelsa. Despite his recent understanding that he didn’t feel that way about Kelsa, Kindan still wanted the hope that if he ever did, he’d stand some chance.

Kelsa sounds a lot like Menolly to me. Which, you know, recycling characters doesn’t look good on anyone, but Kelsa being super-talented also reinforces the idea that women have to be exceptional just to survive in the world of men. If Kelsa’s talent were any less, she wouldn’t be here, whereas perfectly mediocre boys can stay on and get accepted.

I’m also intrigued about Halla’s apparent lack of jealousy. Does she, gasp, trust and believe that Pellar is doing this for the music and not because Kelsa is a pretty girl? Is Halla interested in polygyny or polyamory?
Does Halla have a thing for Kelsa? We’ll never know.

Kelsa insults Kindan’s clumsiness out of annoyance at the others at the table trying to remind her to eat, rather than write, and Kindan takes it (and the non-apology that follows) as it is intended and storms off. He feels bad about it almost immediately, because that table was his entire group of friends at the Hall, and Kindan realizes that his wants and ambitions have changed since he arrived. Vaxoram appears, and Kindan feels “oddly reassured” by this, but before they can have a talk about how much puberty sucks and they wish their bodies would stop doing this to them, M’tal arrives by dragonrider with a new apprentice, Conar, and the moment is ruined.

Which, I suppose, saves the swearing storm that would have filled such a quiet and intimate moment when Kindan is asked to show the new apprentice around.

The duty of welcoming a new apprentice to the Harper Hall should, by long tradition, have fallen to the newest apprentice, which would have been Kelsa. However, Kindan had noticed that Master Murenny had disregarded that tradition with the last two newcomers, assigning the duty to Kindan instead. Kindan had noticed the change but not commented on it because, after dealing with the first newcomer, he understood the Masterharper’s reasoning: that most apprentices would be affronted and embarrassed to be introduced to the Harper Hall by a girl.

There is an argument to be made about picking your battles for equality and that nobody should have to do all the heavy lifting by herself, which Kelsa would likely have had to do, and endure all the aggression and sexism that would come from the objections.

If Kelsa was game for it, though, it would make a hell of an entrance exam to see if this new Harper would be someone who would further the goals of respect for women. Especially if she were Journeywoman or Master Kelsa at that point.

As it is, it makes me think of Murenny as an incrementalist, who is doing what he can from within the system, rather than throwing it over and starting with something better. Or deliberately making his Craft different than all the other Crafts in the way they treat women. Given how well his planning worked with the Shunned, it might be better that he’s not trying too hard.

In any case, Conar brings news that his Hold Harper died during a bout of particularly bad flu, and that he thinks he was sent here just to get away from the sickness. His only talent that he believes in is drawing, and that’s not a traditional Harper skill, so he thinks he’s in the wrong place. Kindan encourages Conar to stick around, because there’s always a possibility that Harpers will need drawing talents.

Conar correctly guesses that Vaxoram is Kindan’s servant, and raises an eyebrow at the idea of a co-ed dormitory, but Kindan is not having any of that.

“You sleep with girls?” Conar asked in astonishment.
“Yes,” Kindan replied. “We treat each other with respect and don’t peek, if that’s what you’re wondering.”
Kindan was surprised to see how Vaxoram accepted this statement. It underlied how much the older apprentice had changed in the last ten months.

I mean, that’s a really low bar to clear there, compared to how things were, and if that’s what Kelsa and Nonala want, which I’m still not entirely convinced is the case. But also, whatever magic has basically held Vaxoram in place for all this time still applies. If Kindan says that’s what happens, Vaxoram is on board with it, by whatever geas it is that came aout from the end of their duel.

Conar also learns there is no help when it comes to cleaning, and Kindan pulls out his “second-best broom” as an illustrative point.

“Harpers have to know what other people do, and the best way to learn is to do,” Kindan told him. “So we make a broom, clean our own quarters, mend our own clothes.”

And Conar expresses at least some awareness of his own ignorance, which delights Kindan, because he mistakes it for interest in brooms, a thing that Kelsa, Nonala, and Verilan have all called rather boring.

Kindan hopes for both of them to get to the feeding hall for food, but Conar apparently has asthma (“short-breath”) and so it takes them a while before Conar can recover enough to make it to the dining hall, at which point they end up being the guests of Murenny and M’tal at the Masters’ table. After Kindan’s broom gets mentioned again.

As they walked, Murenny fell in beside Conar, asking the smaller boy, “Did Kindan tell you about his broom?”
Kindan tured bright red, to the accompanying chuckles of the Masterharper and Weyrleader. M’tal clapped him on the shoulder, saying, “You have a right to be proud of your accomplishments.”
“It’s only a broom,” Kindan groaned.
“Dragonriders at Benden make their own harnesses,” M’tal told him. Kindan gave him an interested look, so the Weyrleader continued, “Our lives depend on them, we have to trust them.”
“Well, my life doesn’t depend on a broom,” Kindan murmured.
“Best not let Selora hear you say that,” Mureny warned him. “Or she’ll prove you wrong.”
“Selora does the cooking,” Kindan explained to Conar.
“She does much more than that,” Murenny corrected.
“She keeps this whole Hall running,” Vaxoram said in agreement. Murenny smiled in agreement.

I am reminded again that every time we have seen a headwoman, whether of Hall, Hold, or Weyr, everyone admits out loud to each other that she’s the real power keeping everything running.

Also, I’m waiting for Kindan to catch up with the fact that he and everyone around him is saying quite bluntly “your talents are important things that you can be proud of.” Because that’s the space he needs to find to get his way out of the mental state he’s in. Kindan is also believably obtuse about this, because sometimes it takes saying it enough or staring it enough in the face before you realize what you’re looking at.

The Masters and M’tal discuss the flu outbreak, that it has affected several of the outlying holds of Bended, and Conar is at the Harper Hall as a precaution against the flu sweeping Benden and wiping everyone out. (There’s also a little bit of back-and-forth about the intertwined nature of Harpers and Healers, and a complaint about Healers’ bad handwriting. Some things are universal, I guess.) The Masterhealer is short-staffed for apprentices, and so sifting Records for the presence of a super-virulent and deadly flu would overwork him, and the Master Archivist is similarly short for apprentices to do any work on his end. (Murenny is rather bitter that the Conclave basically said “you can find your apprentices from Somewhere Else” when he asked for more healers and harpers.) With everyone, including M’tal, proclaiming they have nobody to search the Records, Murenny volunteers Kindan for the job, since he already has experience at teasing out cryptic details from old Records to a successful end. (Sort of, since it was Cristov who did the actual legwork of finding the right kind of firestone.)

The Master Archivist is unhappy with this, given how much damage Kindan has already caused to his Records, and that’s the end of Chapter 5.

Deconstruction Roundup for April 12th, 2019

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is back at instrumental music 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.

Ana Mardoll: Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorium Press

Fred Clark: Slacktivist

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 still staring at the collective trash fires that you have known always were there and hoping your bucket brigade will be able to stall things long enough for others to get away. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragon Harper: Doing Anthropormorphization Wrong

[Mari Ness has a new post, as well, where the problem of temporal paradoxes is used as a frame to point out some of the more egregious wrongs of Pern society. It feels a lot more like this is the stuff that we are there for and that Mari Ness actually wants to talk about. For as little as my opinion matters, I approve of this shift in topics. It’s still going at warp, though. By the time we get done, we might be caught up with each other.]

Last time, Kindan fought Vaxoram and won, using all of the technique and psychological warfare that he had been taught by Mikal, which made Vaxoram Kindan’s servant until Kindan decides he doesn’t want one any more. And somehow, Vaxoram just accepts this and doesn’t try very hard (if at all) to get Kindan to revoke his servitude or otherwise be so terrible that he’ll just dismiss him to get out of his hair. But it’s been forty years since Weyr Search and Dragonflight, so perhaps the Lessa method of being such a pain in the ass that you can get someone to renounce their claim on you has fallen out of vogue in the intervening time.

Ah, and also, the fire lizards hatch, and Kindan gets one, as does the daughter of the Fort Holders.

Dragon Harper: Chapter 4: Content Notes: Bad Anthropomorphization,

Vaxoram gets sent back to the Hall with the news and that Kindan is staying the night to help at the request of Lady Sannora. (He asks whether Kindan trusts him on his own, and Kindan looks at him for a bit and nods a yes, because whatever magic that has Vaxoram willingly taking on this role is still in place.) Once Vaxoram leaves, he’s the subject of the conversation.

“That boy!” Lady Sannora exclaimed to her husband. “Did you see the scar under his eye?”
“He was fighting,” Lord Bemin replied, turning his head to eye Kindan thoughtfully. “There was a duel. He lost.”
“I don’t approve of duels,” Lady Sannora pronounced, her face set in a grimace. “What overmuscled cretin picked a fight with him?”
Lord Bemin raised an eyebrow in Kindan’s direction.
“I did,” Kindan said, meeting the Lord’s and Lady’s outraged looks steadily, though he felt the heat in his cheeks. “He had threatened to use his strength over a woman,” he explained. With a shrug, he added, “Several women, actually.”
“Why didn’t you kill him?” Bemin’s eldest son, Semin, demanded.
“Because, my lord,” Kindan replied, “I believe in second chances.”
Semin was surprised at Kindan’s response.
“And because it would have done more harm than good,” Issak chimed in from the other side. He inclined his head toward Kindan. “Master Murenny recounted your thinking to me.”
Was there a hint of respect in the journeyman’s eyes?

I’m very impressed at Sherlock Bemin’s ability to deduce the entirety of what happened between Vaxoram and Kindan by observing a scar and the behavior of the two boys with each other, but still look “outraged” when Kindan owns up to being the one who fought Vaxoram. This doesn’t improve Kindan’s standing, I’m sure, and Koriana asking for Kindan to sleep in the same room as her really doesn’t, but Issak is there as a chaperone, at least in theory, so Bemin assents.

As the commenters have pointed out, this is Kindan repeating a lie, or at least, something that we didn’t actually see on screen, since all we have was Vaxoram making a rude joke about Kindan and Nonala as a possible sexual couple. Unless we’re supposed to read that the constant bullying stream given to Kindan, Kelsa, Nonala, Verilan, and so forth, qualifies as threatening to use his strength over a woman. In a system less focused on toxic masculinity that thinks swords are effective methods of resolving disputes, a tribunal or other court proceeding would presumably bring the truth out with the witnesses. (Or it wouldn’t, and then you can have the swords, if you need to, but still…)

In the middle of the night, Koriana gets cold and her fire lizard hungry, so Kindan ends up sleeping much more proximal to her than propriety suggests, as in touching heads and knees. Vaxoram discovers them this way and immediately wakes Kindan and goes to town on making sure it looks like Kindan and Koriana have spent the entire night very properly apart. Since the second set of eggs, from a different clutch, are hatching, not too soon after propriety is manufactured, the rest of Koriana’s family arrives. Koriana’s two brothers are eagerly awaiting their fire-lizards, and Koriana’s taken it upon herself to personally aggravate Sannora as much as possible, given that “It was clear that Lady Sannora was unhappy with the thought that Koriana had spent the night in his [Kindan’s] presence.” Kindan muses on this very idea at nearly every exchange between Koriana and Sannora.

The hatching, however, goes extremely poorly, as Koriss, Koriana’s queen, hisses and squawks at both of those hatchlings, a bronze and a brown, as they leave their shells, and both of them disappear into hyperspace at the threat before the Impression can be made. The brothers are very unhappy about this, and Koriana winds both of them up further by being utterly unsympathetic to their situation. Before it explodes completely, Issak gracefully extracts all the harpers with a promise to report the whole thing to the Masterharper and send along any advice he might have about it. Issak takes on the duty of the report and sends Kindan and Vaxoram on, but not before obliquely trying to give some advice to Kindan.

“It wasn’t us and you know it,” Vaxoram replied. “It’s that spoiled Bannor and his airs.” He glanced toward Kindan. “And don’t be too certain his sister is any better.”
Kindan bristled.
“It doesn’t matter,” Issak told him, holding out a placating hand. “You’re not a Lord Holder candidate, and Lord Bemin will trade his daughter to his advantage.”
“Trade?” Kindan repeated in outrage.
“She’ll go willingly, when the time comes,” Issak said to cool Kindan’s anger.
“It’s for the good of the Hold,” Vaxoram added, gloating over Kindan’s outburst. “You must understand, you’re a harper.”
“And harpers aren’t good enough?” Kindan demanded.
“Not for Lord Holders,” Issak agreed with a sad shake of his head. He said to Vaxoram, “Help him to understand.”

To be honest, it’s a bit refreshing for someone to come out and say plainly how little respect there is for women on Pern, in contrast to the poem at the beginning of the chapter. Plus, although I’m not sure anyone in this conversation actually realizes it, this is also a great look at why feminism has to be intersectional if it is going to be effective. If Harper (and maybe some Craft) girls are supposed to be respected everywhere but Holder girls are still expected to dutifully marry and bear children to the advantage of the men in their life, and dragonrider girls are expected to submit to the authority of whichever rider manages to catch their gold, then Harper girls aren’t going to get anywhere on a quest for respect, even if there are men championing them to the sexist society.

Selora doesn’t help, either, in how she explains why Koriss frightened off the other hatchlings.

“A strange thing happened, Selora,” Vaxoram continued as Kindan sat down, too lost in concentration on Valla to speak. “Koriana’s little fire-lizard–”
“Koriss,” Kindan interjected suddenly.
“–Koriss,” Vaxoram agreed with a playful smile, “frightened off the two hatchlings that came to her brothers.”
“Males, were they?” Selora asked, cocking her head shrewdly.
“Yes,” Kindan agreed, his eyes narrowing. “How did you know?”
“She frightened them away on purpose,” Selora said. “Didn’t want her siblings paired with her mistress’s siblings.”
“Why?” Kindan asked in confusion.
Selora started to reply by had a coughing fit instead. “You’ll find out in time, I’ve no doubt,” she said, a grin spreading across her face.

Because scientists in Pern have extensively observed fire-lizard behavior in the wild and domestically and have concluded that they behave with hostility toward hatchlings from other clutches because they want to keep their gene pool pure. Like, if it was another gold? I could entirely see some sort of “MY territory” display, because, as we have already seen, gold dragons in heat that get close to each other fight viciously over the potential mate pool. (And possibly gold fire-lizards, too?) But they’re not gold or green. Based on the fire lizard behavior we’ve seen so far, it would seem more likely for a gold to want to build as big a harem as possible so as to be able to drive off other golds. But instead, two candidates for generic diversity are scared off, apparently, because the gold fire-lizard doesn’t want brothers from another mother? This is pretty weird anthropomorphization, honestly. Like, maybe for Holders, because of things like lines of succession, blood purity, and primogeniture, it matters who you came from, but those concepts are pretty meaningless to fire-lizards. If, instead, it were speculated that Koriana is a person with an incest taboo, and everybody knows that fire-lizards influence sexual behavior among their bondmate, then it makes reasonable sense for Koriana to not want either of her brothers to have fire-lizards, because incest taboo. This is never hinted at or suggested in any way. I somehow doubt that Menolly, Robinton, and Sebell are the only ones to have discovered this aspect and explicitly talked about it. And yet.

The magic that is Vaxoram continues to be shown in a positive light, even though we’re seeing plenty of spaces where he hasn’t changed much internally, just externally. Or, rather, the narrative is trying to convince us that he’s changed internally.

Somewhere in that time [TWO WEEKS] Vaxoram moved from being a brooding, vanquished opponent to being truly dedicated to Kindan. Kindan could never point to the exact moment nor quite understand why, but there it was.
[…Nonala notices, and Vaxoram seems surprised by the revelation…]
“But why, though?” Kelsa wondered later when she was alone with Kindan, helping him oil Valla’s patchy skin. “Why has he changed?”
Kindan thought for a moment. “Master Murenny said that Vaxoram had come to the Harper Hall with a great voice as a child. When it broke wrong, he couldn’t find any new talent to replace it. He came from a small hold, Master Murenny said.”
“So he was afraid,” Kelsa guessed, nodding sagely. “And now he’s got something to do, guarding you.”
“Maybe,” Kindan agreed. Kelsa cocked her head at him questioningly. “Maybe there’s more to it. Perhaps because the worst has happened to him, he’s realized that he has nothing to be scared of.”
“Maybe,” Kelsa replied, but she didn’t sound convinced.

Instead, Kelsa asks about Kindan’s crush, Kindan says there’s almost nothing to the rumors, and Kelsa points out that rumors also say that Lady Sannora fell in love with a Harper who didn’t return her love, and Kindan guests correctly, after some prompting, that the Harper in question was Master Murenny, so Kindan was dealing with extra prejudice when it came to her daughter.

That’s the end of chapter 4, with us no closer to the real reasons for Vaxoram’s apparent change, and really, only Kelsa exhibiting any degree of skepticism about whether it’s a real change or a surface one. And it is happening so swiftly that it stains credulity. I mean, if “defeated by the protagonist” were that kind of magic, then Toric wouldn’t have continued to be a schemer well into a second book.

I’m also still really grumpy that we’ve closed off what would be a really good story about friendship and more to instead get this crap about pining for someone above your station, who is probably showing interest in you to spite her parents. Yeah, love is great, sure, and strikes where it will, but this sort of story has been done, repeatedly, and I see no new twist or interesting spin on it that would make it anything less than a tired retread.

More next week.

Deconstruction Roundup for April 5th, 2019

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who has been laid up with sickness for the last couple days.)

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

Fred Clark: Slacktivist

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 more than ready for the merry-go-round that is politics to stop. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragon Harper: Conflict Resolution

Last week was a training montage, courtesy of Mikal, where Kindan prepared himself in a week to get ready to fight Vaxoram. There was some amount of technique, but a lot of it seemed to be trying to get Kindan to the point where he had true resolve to go forward and enough skill to back up his boasts. While Kindan has been giving answers about why he’s doing what he’s doing, they don’t sound organic to me, and they seem to want to put the emphasis in the wrong place.

Dragon Harper, Chapter 4: Content Notes: Bullying Apologia,

We are again trolled by the poem for this chapter:

Fight only in direst need
Not for lust or petty greed
Honor those that do give birth
Respect them well for their full worth.

This certainly seems to be from the same fragment as the rhyme in Chapter 3, and it has the same context that makes it more of a nose-tweak than serious advice. Because the last couple chapters have been about a fight that could have been squashed if any of the adults in the room had decided that children fighting was a terrible idea. And it’s over specifically the people who give birth, which on Pern means women, because trans characters definitely do not exist here, I’m sure. I’m sure that the authors thought it a brilliant counterpoint to the narrative, but really it just highlights how far away from reality this moralizing poem currently is.

Kindan, for his part, as he arrives back from training, and finally figures out the way to beat Vaxoram on terms Kindan will accept, convinced as he is that he needs to win without bloodshed. and decides that he needs “practice”, which in this case means getting a few green tomatoes and demonstrating to the audience, with his off-hand (“‘Kindan, you’re not left-handed,’ Kelsa said in surprise.” Assume the usual Princess Bride remark here.) that he first can bruise tomatoes (which looks like missing them) before cutting them cleanly in half, two at a throw, not once, not twice, but three times in succession, even though Kelsa puts a little extra oomph into the last throw in her excitement.

[#]5: Duel before the sun is in the sky.
Pick a place to die where it’s high and dry.

Now that he’s done with his practice, Kindan gives Kelsa the thumbs up and says he’s ready to face Vaxoram.

I suppose, then, that the training montage with Mikal covered the next two, so they’re slightly out of order.

#6: Leave a note for your next-of-kin.
Tell ’em where you been. Pray that hell or heaven [between or the place beyond between?] lets you in.
[#]7: Confess your sins.
Ready for the moment of adrenaline when you finally face your opponent[?]

Kindan calls to Vaxoram if he wants to surrender and is rebuffed. Murenny calls to Kindan and Vaxoram and asks if they still want to go forward with this.

#8: Your last chance to negotiate.
Send in your seconds, see if they can set the record straight.

[For example:] “Alexander!”
“Aaron Burr, sir.”
“Can we agree that duels are dumb and immature?”
“Sure. But your man still has to answer for his words, Burr.”
“With his life? We both know that’s absurd, sir.”
“Hang on, how many people died because Lee was inexperienced and ruinous?”
“…okay, so we’re doin’ this.”

Admittedly, no seconds handling this part of it, because the narrative and the authors have conveniently forgotten to tell us who agreed to be Vaxoram’s second, but since Kelsa is also not going to be seen in this fight at all, it ultimately doesn’t matter, I suppose. Murenny asks the important question in this case, and Dellator examines their blades to ensure they are appropriate for dueling.

Kindan knows that he’s got an advantage on Vaxoram, because, as I’m sure all of you have suspected, the tomato practice was really meant to be intimidation.

“Are you determined to do this?” Murenny asked Kindan and Vaxoram in turn. Each nodded, although Kindan noticed that Vaxoram was swallowing nervously, his eyes wide with fear. Kindan locked onto Vaxoram’s eyes until the other glanced away. Kindan kept his eyes on Vaxoram’s face, meeting his eyes every time the older boy glanced nervously in his direction. Kindan was certain that Vaxoram had seen the tomato demonstration, just as he was equally certain that Vaxoram thought Kindan had missed the first two tomatoes.

#9[a]: Look ’em in the eye, aim no higher.
Summon all the courage you require.

Then,

[#9b:]Count.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9,
#10: [Ten] paces! FIRE.

On hemmed-in ground, resort to stratagem.

On desperate ground, fight.
-Sunzi, The Art of War, Book 11

Which means, yes, the duel is on, after the ritual salute. Vaxoram attempts to overpower Kindan with a charge, but Kindan sidesteps the rush and whacks Vaxoram with the flat of his blade, which will “leave a welt”, but more importantly, will piss Vaxoram off. (The narrative says “with the side of his thin blade”, trying to evoke the idea of the fencing foil/epee/saber, but in just about every sword I know that’s intended to kill someone, the side is sharp for slashing as well as the point for thrusting, and Kindan is explicitly not trying to cut Vaxoram here.) Vaxoram opts for cautious advancing, but Kindan can read his attack, knocks his sword away and sticks him in the shoulder with his own sword. (So much for bloodlessness.) And then offers Vaxoram another chance to yield. Vaxoram is undeterred, and then Kindan blocks one of his attacks and threatens Vaxoram’s eyes. Vaxoram protects them on instinct, and now it looks like, to Kindan, that Vaxoram is afraid.

“Did you see what I did to those tomatoes?” Kindan asked. He saw a flicker of curiosity in Vaxoram’s eyes. “I can split your eyes just like that.” He saw a look of horror creep over Vaxoram’s face. The large apprentice charged blindly with a loud yell, but Kindan was ready and sidestepped, turning around to keep his blade pointed at Vaxoram.
Vaxoram stopped, uncertainly. It was a moment before he turned to face Kindan. In that moment, Kindan knew the fight was over, that Vaxoram was looking for a way out, an honorable surrender. And Kindan would give it to him.
He rushed toward the larger apprentice. Vaxoram took a step back, then held his ground, his sword in guard position. When Kindan struck, he beat Vaxoram’s blade to the side and curved back across Vaxoram’s exposed face–just below the right eyeball, leaving a thin, red, welt.

Really, so much for bloodlessness.

Vaxoram charges again, gets tripped, and is told to yield at the point of Kindan’s sword or he’ll lose an eye, throws his sword away, tries to get it back as a feint, but Kindan knocks it away and out of his grip, and then makes sure that Vaxoram says his yield and forefeit loud enough that the entire audience can hear and witness. Which puts him in Kindan’s service until Kindan releases him. And then there’s this.

Kindan kept his eyes on the older boy who had just agreed to become his personal drudge. And he was surprised to see a sense of relief in Vaxoram’s eyes. The bully had found his place at the Harper Hall–at Kindan’s side.

Cocowhat by depizan

*checks cover* Nope, this is not The Dragonriders of Gor, but for this whole next sequence, I wouldn’t fault anyone for thinking that perhaps it were. To wit, Kindan is able to stop Vaxoram from considering what he could do with both blades to Kindan’s none with a glance and a stare of conviction that Vaxoram recognizes and decides not to test. And Kindan says that Vaxoram will sleep close to him and the girls, which Nonala is dubious about, but acquieses to because of Kindan’s “set look.” And when he goes to Murenny, Kindan argues for his point of view with the older Masters and the Weyrleader present.

“You could have killed him,” M’tal said with no preamble.
“That would not have been a good idea,” Kindan replied.
“Explain,” Murenny said, waving his hand to turn the terse word into an invitation.
“If I had killed him, the rest of the apprentices would have decided that perhaps Vaxoram was right, that there should be no girl apprentices because they caused trouble,” Kindan said. Murenny nodded in agreement. “And they might also decide someday that I deserved retribution.”

…nothing really stopping them from that now, Kindan. The masters ask what Vaxoram will do for Kindan, and it’s mostly “as he did before, but with some extra chores.” And then they ask if he can be trusted with the girls. Kindan’s response is illuminating, but not necesarily in a good way.

“Yes,” he said. “I think he will be trustworthy. In time he’ll realize that if he wants a mate, he’ll need to seem appealing to women, and that his good behavior is the onnly way to do that.”
Murenny nodded.
“I think he has seen the error of his ways,” Dellator agreed, his face set in a wry smile.
“We shall keep an eye on him all the same,” Murenny said.
[…Murenny says to call on him if Kindan needs help. Kindan declines. M’tal is skeptical….]
“You’re saying that now that he knows his place, he won’t cause any more trouble?” Murenny suggested.
“Yes,” Kindan replied.
Murenny pursed his lips, his eyes half-closed in thought. Finally he looked up at Kindan and nodded. “I think you have a good understanding of his character,” he said. He wagged a finger warningly at Kindan as he added, “Make sure you don’t forget.”
“I won’t, Master,” Kindan said.

*checks book title again*

Nope, still hasn’t changed. Just from Pern itself, there’s no reason to believe that Vaxoram is going to turn himself into a contrite and virtuous character just from Kindan beating him and threatening to take his eyes. There’s really no precedent or Watsonian reason for him to accept his conditions so readily, and everyone is nodding along like becoming Kindan’s servant has somehow given Vaxoram the purpose in life that he’s lacked up until this point. This males no fucking sense. Because Toric. Because Tarik. Because Tenim. Because any of the other people who thought tangling with dragonriders was a good idea, and were lucky enough to survive the first encounter and kept trying. Vaxoram found an honorable surrender, sure, but that doesn’t mean that his entire demenor should shift so radically as to cause no further problems for Kindan, Kelsa, Nonala, and Verilan.

And yet, that’s exactly what happens. Vaxoram sits with Kelsa and Nonala at mealtime, which Kelsa disapproves of and Kindan waves away with his suddenly iron will. We learn that Kindan was offered apprenticing into the Healer Hall in his second year, but turned it down because he didn’t want to, but all three of them are still versed in some amount of healing because Harpers are often called to be backup Healers. Vaxoram contributes that one of the concoctions sounds familiar because of a song he learned about them. Kelsa asks Vaxoram to sing the song, but there isn’t actually enough time before class. Much more usefully, the narrative gives us a hint about why Kelsa is still pretty hostile to the idea of Vaxoram joining their crew.

“You still want to be a harper, don’t you?” Kindan asked him.
“But I’m not good enough,” Vaxoram protested.
“You are if you say you are,” Kelsa snapped at him. “But at least you don’t have people saying you can’t be a harper because you’re a girl.”
Vaxoram paled. “You could be a harper,” he told her. “I was wrong.”
“You’re not the only one who thinks I shouldn’t be a harper,” Kelsa snapped back hotly. She gestured to Nonala. “Nor Nonala.”
“But you can sing!” Vaxoram said to Nonala, then turned back to Kelsa. “And you can write songs I only dream of!”
“Keep saying that,” Kindan told him. “Keep telling them and anyone you meet. Maybe the others will get it.”
Vaxoram closed his mouth suddenly, his lips thin. Kindan got up from his place and walked over to Vaxoram. He leaned close by his ear, groping for the right words.
“We can all help each other here,” Kindan said at last. Judging by the twitch of Vaxoram’s shoulders, he hadn’t made his point. He sighed to himself. Maybe the next time he would figure out a better way to express himself.

I am not on board with this development. Mostly because it follows a bad pathway of bullying tropes, narratively asserting what many a parent or teacher has said to a child who is a victim of bullying. “They’re just jealous of you” is a terrible thing to say to a child, and actively indicates that the supposed grown-up in question isn’t actually going to do anything about the problem, and they believe that if the victim ignores it, it will go away. Or, that if they take the message to heart, that someone being jealous of your talents will make them bully you, they might decide to not do the things they are talented at in a (mostly futile) hope that it will make the bullying go away. The grownups sometimes think that’s a victory, because it means the weird kid isn’t being weird and drawing attention and resources to themselves. But of course, not everyone who’s weird can turn it off by willing it to be so. And especially in the Harper Hall, turning off your talents defeats the purpose of being there.

Kindan is trying to say that each of them is there to help each other get better, but that’s clearly a lie, if there are apprentices who can’t find a spot for themselves after their voices break for puberty. And Vaxoram has basically been putting the lie to that situation with his incessant bullying. He would know that not everyone is here to be helpful and friendly, and especially not to Kelsa and Nonala. If he were going to get anywhere toward making peace with himself, that would mean admitting that his masculinity is threatened by the fact that Kelsa’s a better writer than he is, and Nonala a better singer. And possibly that Verilan’s a better copyist and Kindan a better fighter. Vaxoram’s self-conception is rapidly and repeatedly being shattered by the presence of all the rest, but rather than try to find his own space, he’s limited by his own man box. If women weren’t supposed to be harpers because women aren’t good enough, then Nonala and Kelsa wouldn’t be there. Vaxoram has to confront proof that one of his bedrock tenets, and possibly one of the bedrock tenets of the Crafts themselves, is wrong. And that’s not easy for anybody. And especially not for men who have been bought up in toxic masculinity and are only now finding out that it’s all a lie, including the supposed fact that gender roles were a much more rigid boundary than they are.

Vaxoram doesn’t have an anchor. I realize that on Terra we can say “Your job is not your identity” and mean it, because there are a lot of people who are working jobs that crush their soul or seem meaningless and pointless and are not at all what they are passionate about, but on Pern, there’s no such luxury. Kindan even points out that if Vaxoram got expellend from the Harper Hall, he’d have nowhere to go, because his family wouldn’t take him back in. If Vaxoram can’t find an identity in one of the Harper disciplines, he’s sunk. At least until Kindan bested him, Vaxoram could fool hinmself into thinking he was at least in charge of the apprentices. And now he’s lost that, too, even though Kindan points out he’s still senior apprentice, and people still do what he says, because his authority rests in Kindan, now.

There’s no way that Vaxoram “found his purpose” in becoming Kindan’s servant, because “Kindan’s servant” isn’t a position that’s going to help Vaxoram advance to journeyman harper status, so that he can make a living for himself on Pern. Kindan, to his credit, seems to be smart enough to realize this almost immediately.

The next issue occurred after their run next morning, as Kelsa and Nonala cast concerned glances between Kindan and the bath room, clearly asking him what he intended to do about the bathing situation. Vaxoram, however, had an answer, rousting out the remaining laggards and handing out large fluffy towels to the four of them. Kindan kept a smile to himself as he reflected that in most ways Vaxoram was still a bully–just his bully.
“He’s not bathing with us, is he?” Nonala hissed worriedly toward Kindan. Vaxoram stiffened, but he continued on his journey to the bath room with them. Inside, he pulled another set of towels off his shoulder and hung them lengthwise between the front and back rows of baths.
Kindan understood at once.
“An excellent idea,” he told the older apprentice. Vaxoram gave him the faintest of grins that vanished before Kindan could reciprocate.
“The girls are getting far too old for us not to respect their privacy,” Vaxoram said. He glaced at Kindan and Verilan. “And so are you.”
“But we like talking when we’re in the baths!” Kelsa complained from the far side of the towel partition.
“You can pull them down when everyone’s in their bath,” Vaxoram replied. “And when you’re ready to get out, let us know and we’ll look away while you wrap yourself in your towel.”
“That’s no fun,” Nonala protested.
“But he’s right,” Kelsa said. “We are getting older.”

I’m pretty sure the authors didn’t intend for Vaxoram to provide such an excellent example of white-knighting, but there you have it. Plus, Vaxoram being Kindan’s bully doesn’t fix the problem that Vaxoram’s still a bully.

Also, this towel partitioning idea seems like a useful one to have, even if in this particular case, Kelsa and Nonala aren’t feeling particularly shy about showing themselves to Kindan and Verilan. Maybe they will be later, but it’ll be up to them to make that decision, instead of Vaxoram making that decision for them and enforcing his own ideas of modesty on them. It’s still a form of control for Vaxoram, even though he’s not able to be as explicit about it as he wants.

The plot itself zips forward as Vaxoram comes to grab Kindan and tell him that the fire-lizard eggs are hatching. Kindan hops off to the Hold and comes onto the scene in the middle of the hatching, and is able to help the Holder’s daughter, Koriana, Impress a gold fire-lizard, by putting the food in her hands and telling her what to do as she’s too fascinated by the creature to feed her.

Also, we’re told that Kindan falls in love with her by seeing her in this moment of hesitation. I’m not really happy about this. It’s probably better than the…not good…way I would expect these authors to handle a love triangle (Kelsa’a interest seems physical, Nonala seems to have a crush, and Kindan’s not entirely sure what to do about either of those things, after all), but to throw away all of that character development in a single line that says Kindan falls in love with a girl he’s never met up to this point doesn’t seem like the best writer’s craft way of doing things.

Kindan Impressed a bronze, I’ll note, even though he was sure he’d picked a brown out based on the egg.

Lord Bremin looked relieved. He glanced at Kindan with his bronze fire-lizard in his lap and then at Koriana with her gold fire-lizard. A frown crossed his face as he noticed how closely the harper was seated to his eldest daughter.

Okay, now I’m angry, because we’re throwing away the possibility of negotiation and coming to understanding among peers in favor of a story about a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Which is not at all romantic or what I would want from this story. Did the authors believe this romance was what the readers wanted, or what Kindan deserved? Romeo and Juliet kinds of stories are not the kinds of things that I think are so universal that everyone deserves to have one. But that is what we are going to get, clearly.

We’ll stop here and then dive back into the ways that Holders seem to be the most socially uptight group in Pern next week.

Deconstruction Roundup for March 29th, 2019

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is running down to deadlines.)

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

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 going to be more than slightly concerned that you haven’t heard anything from anyone and there’s a deadline coming up. Or for any other reason, really.