Deconstruction Roundup for May 14, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is in the middle of trying to be okay with the idea that people doing the right things for spiteful and fantastical reasons is still people doing the right things.)

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: Eruditorum 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 wondering whether you should take it more seriously when people repeatedly tell you that you have a way of phrasing things that resonates with them. Or for any other reason, really.

The Dragonriders of Pern: Final Thoughts

All throughout this project, I’ve tried to maintain a posting queue, so that when I ran into a week where I had other things to do, or the mojo wasn’t coming, or I really needed to take a break from Pern and cuss it out thoroughly to my sounding boards, or to get their help in explaining something to me that doesn’t make sense, even if their help is “nope, doesn’t make sense to us, either,” I could post the next week’s item on schedule (Big thank you to azurelunatic and alexseanchai, who have endured far more of me blinking twice and swearing at Pern than anyone probably should.) Possibly tweaked a touch if the comments section has been particularly insightful between when the post was originally composed and when it was posted. Some of those earlier comments and theories worked their way into later posts when that thematic element reappeared, almost as if by clockwork. You can probably guess about how long my queue was by the appearance of such things.

This post, though, I have waited to compose the bulk of until after last week’s post has gone up and been commented on, because it’s supposed to be final thoughts, and you can’t write your final thoughts until after the final thing has been posted. It’s cheating if you do it beforehand. Or something.

First, though, I do want to thank all of the people who have left a comment on this six-year, once-a-week project. Trading theories, alternate universes, and the several tons of snark we’ve left about the decisions made about Pern has been a delight, and I have looked forward every week to seeing your commentary on the latest bit of WTF. Especially the weekly commentators who have stuck through all of this, genesistrine and Firedrake. MadamAtom has been around for a while as well, and deserves thanks. And WanderingUndine, who nicely summarizes the reaction counts for each of the works as we get to the end of them, to give us an idea of how far away from reality this particular work managed to go. Depizan, thanks for the use of the cocowhat, it has served us well and faithfully for all of these years, and there’s probably still some life left in it.

Ana Mardoll and chris the cynic get big thank yous for showcasing that literary reviews are a doable thing, and for being willing to host on the Slacktiverse for the weekly running showcase. Even if I’m also trying to archive it on AO3, for redundancy and Director’s Cut purposes.

(If I’ve missed someone, yell at me and I will get you in the post, because the small but determined community that’s appeared here has been really great for making sure that we made it all the way through to the end.)

And now, some final thoughts on all the various parts of Pern that we’ve come across in this journey:

I can really see now why the fandom basically pretends the last book in the series is the last one that happened before the Todd Era began, including some politely ignoring the Gigi book as well, since it completely upends Piemur’s characterization and replaces him with a more generically angsty teen. (Possibly, in both 1.0 and 3.0 Pern, Piemur has ADHD.) The Todd Era messed with things because it could, and because it really wanted to drive home the part where this was a really, really creepy thing that was going on. Sorry, it wanted us to believe that very young children were consenting and happy with the arrangements that bonded them with sex ray broadcasting organic flamethrowers, the grand majority of whom would not live to see their fifty year tour of duty end. The Todd era introduced certain things that might be useful here and there, like canonical leaders who rode blues and greens, and some amount of worldbuilding around the caste system and those who are outside of it, which, like the rest of Pern, could be mined and shaped into a narrative that will do a better job of not being creepy and thinking through the ramifications of what’s been set up by these bits, but for people who want their Pern to consist mostly of romance tropes and dragons, neither the Todd era nor the Gigi book are going to be any help with that.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there are people who only accept as their Pern what happened in the 1.0 universe, and some subset of those people who stop at Moreta/Nerilka and dismiss anything that happened after that, since that’s where we start getting the heavier SFnal elements appearing in the text, once there’s explicit acknowledgement of the lives and the machinations of the colonists, leading to the rediscovery of the AI. Pern could certainly have worked as a series that hints, sometimes very strongly, at the fact that it once was an SFnal place, and there are the artifacts of that all over the place for the reader to understand, but that the Pernese of all these years have never known, because they haven’t re-achieved (and may never re-achieve) the science and technology necessary to understand them. Pern’s a really fruitful ground for fanworks as a degraded science fiction world, but I think most people came to it and want to think of it as a fantasy world with a couple of weird artifacts rather than a degraded science fiction world, especially once the technology parts of it started coming back, even if it was to achieve the ultimate end of the nemesis that they’ve been fighting all the time. And, as I noted at the end of the Ninth Pass books, post-Thread Pern is going to go through a gigantic social upheaval, which would be interesting for people who wanted to write about politics, instead of mostly pretending they didn’t exist. So the before-colonists books provide a perfectly useful fantasy world with dragons and sex rays and all sorts of space for id to be, and there doesn’t have to be anything more.

As I was going along with this story, I tried to acknowledge that this was going to be a case of coming back to something you only hazily remembered and finding that the Suck Fairy had moved in. The place hadn’t changed, but with more adult eyes and more grown-up experiences, things that weren’t understood, or were hazy or unimportant suddenly stand out in very sharp relief. And, even if it didn’t sound like it at times, I tried to work on the idea that people aren’t bad, wrong, or otherwise problematic for liking Pern and continuing to like it. It’s totally okay to still like something when you’ve given it full consideration for all the things that it does wrong, and if you keep those things in mind when talking about it. Perhaps unsurprisingly for people who know this better, having done a deep dive with the intent of uncovering and talking about the flaws that the original materials have, I feel like I have a better grasp on how I would write Pern in a fanfic way, if I ever decided I wanted to do something of particularly long length or how I might include pushback and incorporate changes into my Pern that hopefully worked fairly seamlessly and made the experience better for the reader. That was significantly harder in the Todd Era, but even there, I can extract some useful things that might be helpful if anyone ever asks for works that don’t focus on the dragons and their riders (which seems unlikely, but we’ll be prepared for it.)

I also wanted this to be a thing that focused on the published things themselves, rather than what might have been said outside of them. Some part of that is because I believed that something that the author actually wanted to make true about their world, they would put in the actual material, rather than trying to hang on and insist that the worlds they created weren’t flawed in some manner, or that representation was totally there when it wasn’t, or other techniques that were popularized by the ever-sprawling franchise of a notable TERF who shall remain nameless. And some of it is because I wanted to avoid having opinions about other people’s opinions of the works. That’s a rabbit hole that goes deep, and it garners attention and combativeness a lot of the time. And, perhaps most importantly, if I kept things to the works, ideas like “well, they were a person of their time” could hopefully, mostly, be sidestepped, since we’re talking about a completely different world and another planet and society. Even though, yes, I know that in science fiction and fantasy, we are usually talking about our own world with enough of a weird filter on it for most of us not to notice.

In any case, there’s no more to be said for this particular series. At least, not right now. If there ever is a TV show, or if Gigi writes more, or if the Trust decides to let others have a thwack at Pern, we’ll be back.

But in the meantime, that means I need a new project. Any suggestions about something fairly ubiquitous that could follow along in the idea of the Suck Fairy’s Greatest Hits? There’s probably a lot there that the library has in digital forms.

Deconstruction Roundup for May 7, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who does not want to have to deal with coronavirus season like flu season. Get your shots if you can, people.)

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

Christine Kelley: Eruditorum Press

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorum 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 still delighted at being able to make something work that hadn’t before, because understanding finally arrived for you and you executed the correct commands to make it work. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragon’s Code: The Last Hurrah

Well. This is it. The last chapter of the currently-written Pern books. The plot with the men from Nabol is wrapped up entirely, with Jerrol and kin at the mercy of Lord Deckter, Sebell is healing, Jaxom has returned the egg (and gone to get the egg), so there’s little left for this chapter to resolve.

Dragon’s Code, Chapter 12: Content Notes: Death of a family member

I mean, there’s still the problem of Piemur’s voice not settling and there’s still the entirety of the Southern Weyr having warped themselves back in time. And, I suppose, the ailment that they’re suffering from as well. So there are loose ends to be finished, so that the series can be retired successfully and then left to the fandom.

And, I suppose, because it’s the farewell, there’s been space made in this chapter for a more personal farewell from the author. Because chapter twelve opens with Ama dying. After participating in the dinner in the previous chapter, on the fourth day after the end of the chapter, Ama has a stroke (I’m guessing, based on the description of how her face has changed, how she seemed confused, and then slumped over) and dies, surrounded by her family. This feels very much like the author taking a point of personal privilege and telling us how she felt about her own mother dying , how much she’s missed, and the sorts of things that you would tell someone at a funeral, after someone has died. The kinds of stories that come out when nobody is around to contradict them. In Piemur’s case, though, we only hear one thing about him, Pergamol telling him

“It could have been that sweet voice of yours that beguiled her, but I think it was all the antics you got up to—after she got over being vexed with you, of course. She always laughed at your windups, Pie. Didn’t she?”

As it is, after she dies, Ama’s body is carried on a stretcher to the lake and then let go to be buried in the water, with each of her family lighting a candle to accompany her. And apparently, there’s a song of lament to be sung. Even though everyone expects Piemur to take the lead, he’s too choked up with grief, and Pergamol is able to start the song. But he can only go through the first verse , and, after summoning Ama’s advice from the last chapter to let it rip, Piemur does sing, and unlike every other time in this book, his voice holds and he’s able to sing with greater confidence and volume as his body does what he wants it to. For reference, here’s the song, and it makes me think it’s sung to something like the unknown but haunting melody of the Question Song.

On again, go again
Take your last step
Free your worn body
And send it to rest.

Go again, show again
We’ll see it right
Marching ye onward
Toward peace in the night.

Go again, know again
You were loved true
Take heart in the honor
Shown b’those whom you knew.

On again, go again
We’ll think of you ere
Now rest our belov-ed
Turn to dust, turn to air.

And Piemur spends a week with his kin in grief and mourning, sending a message to the Harper Hall about what happened and that he’ll rejoin them when he’s ready. (At least the guild system gives him excellent bereavement leave.) When he’s ready, having come to peace with it all (and seen a fleeting image of Ama smiling at him), Piemur sends to the Hall that he’s ready to go back, and N’ton arrives to get him. Before he departs, though, Pergamol has a last “Well Done, Son Guy” moment with him, telling Piemur that he shouldn’t be ashamed of the voice that’s come in to replace the one he lost, and that he’s glad Piemur stepped up when needed, and that he’s proud of Piemur. And to not stay away so long between visits the next time.

On his return to the Harper Hall, Robinton and Sebell bring Piemur up to speed on the likelihood that Ista Weyr is going to be without both a Weyrleader and a Weyrwoman soon, and when asked of whether Benden approves of the next likely Weyroman of Ista, Robinton says he couldn’t say in a way that makes it unmistakable that there’s frost between Benden and the Harper Hall at the moment.

It was a huge pity, Piemur reflected, looking down at his hands; allies such as Benden Weyr and the Harper Hall had to remain in accord. Lessa hadn’t appreciated Robinton’s insistence that revenge was the wrong road to take. It could only be hoped that Lessa would relent and see reason, once the rest of Ramoth’s clutch hatched and Impressed, and life in the Weyr got back to normal.

Good luck with that. Since, y’know, this is the Lessa that spent ten years as a drudge so she could absolutely ruin the life of the dude that killed her family and took over her Hold. And that hasn’t likely been able to do a whole lot of the things she really wants to do because the Benden Weyrleader keeps reining in her impulses instead of letting her wreak glorious hell on the patriarchy that she chafes at.

Also, Robinton is also on board with this no-revenge plan? Well, I suppose what he suggested and insisted upon when he will be kidnapped for similar reasons will apply then. Perhaps he picked it up from Sebell, or Sebell was very convincing to bring others around to his way of thinking about revenge versus restoration. It’s still basically going to require a fundamental reshaping of society to achieve anything like what this anti-revenge platform is aiming for.

Robinton invites Piemur to stay at the Hall for as long as he likes, but Piemur is itching to get back to the South and do more exploring and being himself in the place that he now considers home, having finally managed to settle into a mature outlook on his life. Or something. He’s gained perspective, apparently, from Ama dying and him singing and now he’s ready to step into maturity. Or at least he’s become okay with the unknown stretching in front of him. While he’s riding Stupid, with Farli nearby, Piemur thinks about the Question Song, which is what he was apparently teaching to the cothold children the day Ama died. And while he doesn’t make any obvious connection as to why he might be thinking about it now, I think he might be thinking of similarities. After all, this is how it starts:

Gone away, gone ahead
Echoes away, die unanswered.
Empty, open, dusty, dead,
Why have all the weyrfolk fled?

From there, Piemur’s thoughts turn to the conversation he had with Sebell about trying to see how it serves everyone better if Lessa isn’t allowed to exact her revenge and how they, as harpers, as the custodians of knowledge and heritage, have an overriding duty to keep everyone in balance and harmony, so the society doesn’t fall apart, and then, finally, to thinking he’s found his niche. And also, that perhaps that jango root that he had in Nabol might be the thujang that Meria was looking for to help cure the ailments of the Southern dragonriders. Which is what he leads with to Meria to bring her on board with his plan to get the Southerners “how to look forward.” And B’naj and Meria take Piemur back in time to where the Southerners have been this entire time, a place where there is no Threadfall so that the dragons aren’t restless at not fighting Thread, and also a place, apparently, where T’kul and his faction don’t care about being found by someone they claim is not part of their Weyr any more. After all, what’s the point of disappearing to an unknown time if you don’t keep disappearing when pesky people show up to try and convince you not to do that thing?

In any case, it’s time for the Big Damn Speech, and since Piemur’s been the one that we’ve been following this entire book, it falls upon him to singlehandedly convince the dragonriders that have nothing to come back to that they do have something to come back to. First, he lays out his desire: to be the advocate for the Southern Weyr with everyone else. And he says up front that he doesn’t believe all of them were involved in the plot to steal the egg. His main pitch, though, is to try and get the South to set aside their ways and come rejoin everyone else, same as everyone else’s pitch has been.

“Noble dragonmen of Pern, set aside the rules of your time. Don’t let your strict adherence to independence keep you isolated from the others of this Pass. I ask that you take my help and let me speak and act for you.” As he spoke, he looked directly in the eyes of the men and women standing in front of him, projecting his words so they could be could be clearly heard, and keeping his expression and voice open and relaxed.
“None of us can survive alone, dragonriders, not without one another. And we can’t exist as a whole when some of our parts are missing. Crafts, Holds, and Weyrs—we need one another. We are under constant threat from Thread and we have to defend against it together or perish. The Holds need the Weyrs just as much as the Weyrs need the Holds. And the Crafthalls enhance our lives. Together all serve to teach us that we must band together. Come back with me! Come back to where you belong in the Present Pass. You cannot face your future here. No one should have to face such difficulties alone.”
A dragon coughed near Piemur, and then a voice from the back of the compound growled loudly.
“Bah! You are just one person! How can you help all of us? Go back to your own time, harper!”
[…Piemur talks about the illness, indicates that he thinks Meria can help them, and continues to make his argument that the exiled and banished dragonriders are needed back in the present…]
“Noble dragonkind, I do not want to make judgment on whether your banishment was right or wrong. Or to mete out or seek justice,” he said, knowing his words would send a ripple through the crowd, making clear he was referring both to the theft of the egg as well as to their own exile.
“We could fight with one another, seeking revenge and retribution until we’re all but spent. But such actions are self-serving. They’re not for the good of us all,” he cried, and obeying an impulse he jumped down from Seventh’s back and slowly walked into the crowd.
“You all came forward to help fight Thread and keep the people of this Pass safe for the future. I would like to help you find your rightful purpose again. In this Pass! I know you can teach us, teach your descendants, many things. Just as you taught our dragons and riders to fight against Thread. But would you let us teach you how we can live together in this Pass?” As Piemur spoke, he walked among the dragonriders, looking from one to the next in appeal. “I would be honored to be your advocate, dragonmen.” He came to a stop, his progress impeded by the stooped figure of T’ron, who had stepped forward, barring Piemur from progressing any further.
“If you would allow me, I would be your voice—to speak on your behalf so your wishes would be heard.” Piemur’s words carried across the compound. He stood in front of T’ron, aware that all the [time-skipped] were regarding him keenly. He crossed one arm in front of his waist and slowly dipped his upper body in a deep bow.
When he straightened up, T’ron had stepped closer. He glared at Piemur.
“We’ve listened to you, harper, and heard your words. Go, and leave us now!” Tron’s voice, loud enough for everyone to hear, brooked no argument.

So Piemur goes back, crushed that his appeal didn’t amount to anything at all, and that his grand plan has fallen flat. B’naj offers his condolences and that there hasn’t been a harper that’s offered their help to the South at all, so he should feel good about that, at least?

Which is very nice of B’naj, since Piemur was going in there without even ace high and trying to bluff them all into believing he had a full house. “Let me talk to them, I can convince them to reintegrate you into society” is a hard sell for Piemur, considering that these are already the people who have been sent off once and it’s been long enough that the rest of the world clearly doesn’t give a rip about reintegrating them, or is sufficiently cheesed at their stubbornness that they’ve stopped trying. Plus, at least some of them committed a heinous act that there isn’t going to be any forgiveness for, regardless of how much the harpers are trying to push this as the better, smarter, less terrible idea. There’s no reason for Benden to do anything but wash their hands of them and leave them to die in the place that doesn’t even need to be flown over by dragons in the first place. Piemur’s got nothing to draw them back with other than his sincere belief that he can be their advocate and that deep down, the Southern Weyr wants to fight Thread until it kills them and go out like men.

To twist the knife further, Meria points this out to Piemur when she reports back on her own success with the time-skipped.

“Ther was nothing more you could have done or said to those riders to change their minds. B’naj told me what you said; he told me about the offer you made to them. I think there are a few of the older dragonriders who are just too bitter, and still too angry, to embrace the possibility of a hopeful future. I’m sorry they didn’t accept your offer, Piemur. I think you would’ve been an excellent advocate for them.”
Piemur pursed his lips in a brief grimace, nodding twice.
“But you should know that the dragonriders did hear what you said about getting help from me. At first, a group of about fifty riders asked B’naj for the jango root I had sent down from Nabol. They’ve had complete success with it, too, clearing up that wretched coughing once and for all. And when the others saw how improved their fellows were from the jango, the rest of the riders asked for some, too. I think their dragons put them up to it. If you hadn’t guessed that thujang is called jango now, it might’ve taken far longer to make the weyr fit and healthy again. So you see, some good did come from what you did. I hope that makes you feel a little better.”
“I’m really pleased the dragons and their riders are better, Meria. That is good news,” Piemur replied, but he couldn’t keep the disappointment from his voice. Meria scanned Piemur’s face, searching his eyes for a moment, then she nodded once, and reached out both of her hands to clasp Piemur’s. He could see that the gentle [time-skipped rider] was trying her best to console him, and he smiled weakly at her.

The jango root did more to advance the cause of bringing Southern back to the current time than Piemur’s words did, because the jango root solved a problem they were having, with immediate and obvious effects. Which still leaves them in the position of being exiled, without any queens, and on Benden’s shit list, so there won’t be any aid forthcoming if they ask unless they can convince Benden they’ve mended their ways and are willing to accept Benden’s authority over them about how things get done.(And even then, Lessa might say “It’s good to hear, but we’re going to wait until you all die out and then replace you with people who we know are on board with the mission.”)

But because we can’t have a Pern book end on a bleak note, (or at least, not one that doesn’t already have a sequel sold), the last pages of this book is B’naj and Meria coming to find Piemur to spirit him back to Southern Weyr in time for him to see all the dragons and dragonriders that had disappeared reappear around him.

“What you said swayed them! They changed their minds and decided to return. To this Pass, to this time!” B’naj cupped his hands around his mouth so Piemur could hear his next words. “It was the dragons who made their riders see sense. They told their riders to listen to you, Piemur!”
Piemur looked at B’naj, mouth open, incredulous. A dozen or more dragons trumpeted welcoming calls, vocalizing their pleasure while Piemur took in the full import of what the [time-skipped rider] had just said.
Surprised, exulted, and overwhelmed, Piemur jumped up on Seventh’s back and spread his arms out wide in welcome, overcome with relief. As yet another dragon bugled a call of triumph, Piemur threw back his head, a huge smile spilling across his face as he welcomed the dragonriders home.

And that’s the last current words of Pern.

But I also have to note that Piemur did not convince the dragonriders to come home. Piemur convinced the dragons, and the riders came with them. Which, y’know, I wish that particular conversation and discussion had been recorded in these pages, because Piemur’s appeal probably landed much better with the dragons and their instincts rather than with the dragonriders. And if it’s the dragons dragging the riders along, that says a lot about who has the upper hand in the dragon-rider relationship. I feel like it was probably something to the order of the dragons deciding they don’t want to be bored and restless in the past, not when they know there’s some Thread to fight if they go back to the time they left from, so the dragons decide they’re going to go back, and they inform their riders of the choice, possibly manipulating the connection they have with their rider to make the rider feel like it’s a good idea and to go along with it. Or maybe the dragons threatened to go back without their riders, who can enjoy learning how to do everything like non-dragonriders do. It’s clearly possible for dragons to exist at some remote time without their riders, although the connection gets obscured if they go too far afield. Still, the dragons probably had all the leverage in that discussion.

And here we are. And I have to wonder how this 3.0 Piemur then fits in with the subsequent discovery of the AI, the special classes that go along with it, and everything else, if he’s also supposed to be the advocate for the Southern Weyr with everyone else. Except I think that K’van is Weyrleader at Southern by that point, so whatever Piemur’s advocacy was, it doesn’t appear to have amounted to a hill of beans. As everyone suspected it would. But I’m sure he did his best to advocate for bringing the exiled back into the fold because he didn’t want there to be the wide rift between Southern and the rest of Pern.

That’s it. I can see why there haven’t been any more in the intervening years, if this is the story that got told, this the time period that got retreaded, despite there being an entire wide world and timeline to go gallivanting up and down and leave your own, more individual, mark on the book. You could build a completely different space, with different tensions and people, and that would have also been part of the internally complex and snarl-filled canon of Pern, but it would have been yours, rather than trying to stick to an ill-fitting script with new actors that have the same character names, but are playing them altogether differently.

There is an acknowledgment section at the back of this copy of the book, which gives us a pinned date of publication, March 2018, but is also where we learn that J’hon is based on the real person John Greene, who had passed by the time of the publication of the book, that there were people consulted about both the singing and the percussion aspects of the book, for the small segment that the technical aspects of music-making are on display. It is the beginning parts that I want to quote.

This story could never have been written if not for my wonderful mother, Anne McCaffrey. She created Pern and its marvelous inhabitants over fifty years ago. Thank you, Mum, whereever you are, out there in the cosmos, for permitting me to play in your world.
A huge debt of gratitude is also owed to my brother, Todd McCaffrey, who generously stepped back and allowed his little sister to mess around in the sandbox that he has been carefully guarding for so many years. To Shelley Shapiro, my editor, whose patience and indefatigable guidance encouraged me to keep writing even when I hadn’t a clue where the story was taking me. Todd and Shelley, you two are true Champions of Pern.
To Diana Tyler, my agent at MBA Literary and Script Agents, for her gentle encouragement and endless patience; and to Jay A. Katz, most trusted Trustee, for thankfully never exerting an ounce of pressure on me throughout the writing process. Diana and Jay, treasured family friends for many decades, there could be no finer Guardians of Pern than you two.

Because it’s worth nothing the similarities between how Todd characterized Anne letting him play in the sandbox and how Gigi says Todd let her play in the sandbox. Now, admittedly, I see less of Todd’s hand in this work than I might have seen Anne’s hand in Todd’s. I wonder how much of that is due to the way the Pern fandom appears to have rejected both of his named series and their works as unworthy of consideration or fanworks, such that if it appeared like he were having a hand in this Ninth Pass book, things would be equally as dismal for Gigi.

I also want to note, again, that there’s mention of the fact that Pern itself is held in the hands of a literary trust at this point, and that only Todd and Gigi are authorized to write official works of Pern, so if things didn’t go well for Gigi (and it doesn’t seem to be the case that they have, given that there hasn’t been any more works in the three years between the publication of this work and now), it’s highly unlikely we’re going to see any more Pern for our lifetime, unless the current Trust designates new authorized novels and writers. I would be very interested to see how many writers of our times would approach the supposedly-static society of Pern with fresh eyes toward raising the voices of the marginalized, or adding some grit and realism into the Randian fantasy world, of telling histories that have been forgotten or actively suppressed, and otherwise trying to come to grips with Pern as a property that spans several decades and that has changed tastes significantly about what constitutes a good novel. Which is what, y’know, AO3 is for, if you want the unofficial takes, but it would be nice to see some official ones, as well. I think it would spark at least a little bit of interest in the fandom to see writers with good credibility getting a chunk of the timeline to play in, so that we could see what they come up with.

That’s all of the words that have been written so far. There are no more adventures to be had. There are supplementary materials that could be examined, like the Dragonlover’s Guide or the essay collection Dragonwriter, but those are not stories of Pern, for the most part, they’re stories about Pern, and one of the fundamental fandom rules to play by is that you don’t harsh on someone else’s squee. (Even if you think their squee is totally problematic. If you asked, you might find out that they agree with you that it’s got problems that need to be addressed, and for them, they’ve made the decision to continue engaging with the source material. Possibly even to fix the problems that you’re pointing out and accusing them of enjoying uncritically.)

This post is long enough already. Final thoughts will come next week. And then, after that, who knows? Maybe I’ll finally take you all up on the suggestion to examine Restoree and see how it compares to Pern.

Deconstruction Roundup for April 30, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is celebrating their impending immunity from novel coronaviruses.)

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: Eruditorum 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 a bit (a lot) surprised at having managed to bash together something that works in the span of an evening after hearing the concept. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragon’s Code: Winding It All Down

Last time, Piemur rescued Sebell with the help of Menolly, J’hon, and the assorted fire lizards along with them. Then Meria got called in to take care of Sebell and patch him up, since she apparently is disconnected enough from the events that she can be relied on not to say anything about it to anyone. After Sebell gets healed at Piemur’s cothold, he explains to Piemur that he doesn’t want vengeance, revenge, or punishment to happen to Jerrol’s group, but instead for Deckter to take them under his wing and give them something that will help them heal from all the abuse Meron inflicted on them.

Which, y’know, to hear him say it, would probably involve fully destabilizing the entire societal structure of Pern. Which is supposedly why nobody gets to know about this ill-fated trip and what happened, because if the Harper Hall takes umbrage, then apparently there’s a schism between Lord and Craft, and that could rip everything apart, in the same way that dragonriders fighting each other could destroy the world.

Except, y’know, not.

Dragon’s Code, Chaper 11: Content Notes:

So, now that we’ve dismissed the possibility of prosecuting Jerrol and crew, there’s really only one thing that’s left outstanding, and that’s the dragonriders that have warped themselves back in time. And really, that’s something that could have been left well enough by itself, honestly. But we still have two chapters to go, so there’s probably some other thing that has to be dealt with. And, I suppose, we need to resolve this thing where Piemur is still feeling adrift and otherwise hasn’t found his voice again. Not that it would take up two chapters, but let’s go forward.

At the beginning of chapter 11, since Sebell is healing, Meria is going back, and so is Menolly. B’naj has come for Meria, and that means it’s time for more of Piemur’s purple dragonrider prose.

B’naj regarded Piemur with a composed and open demeanor, not a glimmer of arrogance evident. Unexpectedly Piemur recognized something in the older man’s face that, up to this point in his life, he had never fully comprehended: What compelled B’naj and all dragonriders was an unconditional commitment to their dragons and to the code they lived by, a code that was so deeply embedded in dragonmen and -women that it had become part of their very essence: to protect, and to sustain the safety of everyone.
Piemur bowed to B’naj, trying to convey in that one slight gesture to convey the deep respect the older man deserved.

I mean, the closest we’ve gotten to that is the dragons who, in the presence of Thread, will do whatever they can to try and destroy it, apparently on genetic impulses from Kitti Ping. The dragonriders themselves don’t seem to have gathered any sort of altruistic impulses over all this time, amd since they’ve basically set themselves up as the top of the pile from the beginning, I doubt they were ever going to develop such a thing. But everybody assumes they have to have the world’s best interests at heart to be willing to throw themselves at something that would otherwise destroy the planet on regular intervals, and it’s not like the dragonriders want anyone to think differently than that. Even if most of that throwing themselves at deadly things is from the dragons they’re bonded to. Which is to say, I think the Dragon’s Code that Piemur and everyone else insists is real and has been there since time immemorial…is mostly in the heads of the people who believe in it. That’s probably nothing new to anyone who has been following this series from the beginning.

Piemur sends his regards and appreciation for the attempt that B’naj, Meria, and Seventh had at trying to get the egg back and return it, and then they leave. Piemur chooses to spend time with Sebell as he recovers, at which point we learn that despite their best efforts to keep everything a secret, the whole thing got exposed anyway.

“The Masterharper received a message from Nabol today, just before we came here,” Menolly replied, trying unsuccessfully to hide the smug look that spread across her face. “Jerrol and his kin have had their comeuppance.”
“Yes!” N’ton said under his breath, punching a fist into the palm of his other hand.
“Lord Deckter and his primary holders found out what those three did to Sebell, and what they planned to do to Jaxom,” Menolly told them.
“How?” Sebell asked, taking the words out of Piemur’s mouth.
“It’s the oddest thing, but some biddy named Fronna recognized Piemur when he and J’hon were bringing you out of the cellars, Sebell. Seems she nearly had a fit when she saw the condition you were in, so she marched straight into Lord Deckter’s rooms, fit to be tied, and demanded to know why two men leaving his Hold looked as if they’d had the stuffing kicked out of them. When Lord Deckter was unable to give her an answer she told him exactly what she thought of him. Candler heard her, as did everyone in the Great Hall! Her choice of words was great! Menolly placed on hand on her hip and changed her voice to sound like a busybody old woman. “ ’Lord Deckter, you cannot harbor the despeakable activities that’s been going on in your own Hold. No, no, it’s time for you to take better charge of your men!’ ”
“When Lord Deckter quizzed her further, she told him how odd she thought it that a single dragon took off from the side rampart to the Hold, not where dragons usually arrive and depart when visiting Nabol. And she harangued another holder, who’d also seen Piemur and Sebell, and made him step forward to back him up. So Lord Deckter had no choice but to find out what’d happened in his Hold, under his very nose. One thing led to another, and when Jerrol and his kin were found frantically searching every room in the deserted part of the cellars, the whole sordid mess was revealed.”

Yep, the entire plan to keep everything secret gets blown up by a reasonably observant woman who won’t back down and who has a very strong sense of justice and insists a Lord should have a better idea of what is going on in his Hold. This would be the sort of thing that the Lord’s justice officer would be the right person to handle first, but the problem is, of course, that despite having all the trappings of vassalage feudalism, none of the authors have really bothered with how much running a place like Nabol would require subordinates, who in turn would also require subordinates, and so forth.

“Did they plan to use Sebell to blackmail the Harper Hall?” N’ton asked.
Sebell cleared his throat. “I think they were using me to get the attention of their Lord Holder, through the Harper Hall,” he explained. “Piemur, do you remember when we went to Marek’s house? Before Laida let us in, there was a young boy knocking around outside. She shooed him away. Do you remember?” When Piemur nodded, Sebell continued.
“Well, it turns out he was a lookout for Jerrol and reported back to him as soon as Laida let us into her home. Jerrol took no small amount of pleasure informing me of that,” Sebell said with a rueful grin. “The boy must’ve heard Lauda call me by name, or perhaps she called me ‘harper.’ No matter. Our cover story was blown long before we entered Skal’s brewhouse.”

I think that might be some of the most competent villainy in execution I have seen in this book. Sentries on the lookout for suspected infiltrators certainly qualifies, as apparently does being suspicious enough of Piemur to want to put a sentry out to look for him, so I guess Piemur wasn’t as subtle as the thought he was. (Which, actually, tracks with he rest of this book and all the other times that Piemur tries to be a spy and fails at it pretty spectacularly.) The idea of “murder a harper to send a message to your Lord Holder,” on the other hand, doesn’t make sense at all. Not making sense is nothing new for this crew, but if they thought Deckter was going to give in to pressure coming from the Harper Hall to give Jerrol and his people whatever they wanted so they would stop killing Harpers, I don’t think that would work out at all. Especially if what they want are lands, because someone has to try and collect on those demands, and that seems like a very bad thing to try doing.

Sebell goes on to explain that he tried to convince them of the futility of their plan, but he was too convincing and he got the shit beat out of them in their anger. Sebell continues to advocate for mercy and understanding, so as to get Jerrol and company to change their ways, but the topic quickly switches over to Jaxom and how much he probably hasn’t noticed that he’s been getting an extra helping of observers and guards.

“I think Jaxom’s been too preoccupied to notice,” N’ton answered, and when Sebell raised one questioning brow, the dragonrider continued, “With a fetching young woman, from what I hear.”
[…Menolly has noticed that Jaxom deflects her questions about the stolen egg and its return, and that the fire-lizards were really pestering Ruth for a good long while, but makes no connections between those incidents and the likelihood that it means Jaxom and Ruth are responsible at this point…]
“Brand tells me Jaxom divides his time between duties in his Hold and his persistent interest in the sister of a smallholder in Plateau,” N’ton explained. “It appears he’s beaten such a path to her door that Ruth must know the place like I know the back of my hand.” His brilliant-blue eyes shone mischievously.
“Well,” said Sebell, glancing quickly at Menolly, “it’s good that Jaxom has found a pleasant diversion.”

And then they go on to talk about the suitability of Jaxom for confirmation to the Council of Lords Holder and D’ram’s likely abdication of his Weyrleadership. The excuse of “Jaxom’s found someone to bone, and that’s why he’s been so secretive about everything,” presented in this way, does look like a good surface explanation, even though it doesn’t fit all of the data that’s known about what happened with the egg and who was likely to have stolen it, but if you’re not paying attention to all of the incongruities, then I suppose you’d miss the parts that should make you think harder about it. Especially because there’s this ready-made excuse sitting in front of you, and Occam would suggest that it’s the right answer, since it’s the one that requires the least amount of torturing data. It just happens to be completely inaccurate because Jaxom and Corana’s relationship has basically nothing to do with Jaxom and Ruth going to retrieve the egg, but that the relationship appears to be providing sufficient cover for nobody to look any deeper as to why Jaxom disappears, why he came back with a Threadscore mark on him, and all the other observed data about who stole the egg back.

Since they’re now on the topic of dragons, Piemur asks what is to be done about the Weyr that removed themselves to another time, and N’ton flatly tells him that they can learn to deal with the consequences of heir own actions and their desire to cling to their own autonomy. And I just have to snark at this and go “Y’all remember that this whole planet was founded on the idea that there is inviolable autonomy between guilds, lords, and dragonriders, right?” Because the time-skipped are repeatedly being called out for wanting to hold on to their autonomy instead of ask for help, and Sebell continues to suggest that Lord Deckter take his kin in and provide for them so they can heal from the torture that Meron put them through, and it seems like this book is repudiating the Randian foundations of the world and its people. I’m all for this, but it takes a little more suspension of disbelief that the descendants of Sean and Sorka (who wanted those dragonriders to be completely independent of everyone else, save for the tribute trains) are now griefing others because they wanted to stay independent. Beyond that, there’s still yet more reference to this deeply-entrenched dragonrider code.

“Don’t you see, Piemur?” N’ton went on. “Dragons expect us to know better—to do what is proper and for the benefit of everyone. They were designed to selflessly pit themselves against a dangerous enemy for the sake of the whole world. And they trust us to do our part in Pern’s defense, too, not squabble and steal like dishonorable curs. The [time-skipped], even if it was just a few of them, violated a code that runs so deep among weyrfolk they may have corrupted the trust of our dragons.”

And, y’know, I would like to see what that looks like, honestly. If this code is so intrinsically wound between dragonriders, what are the psychological and physiological consequences of it being broken like that? What happens if you have a trust bond broken between a dragon and their rider? Or one broken between dragons and other dragons or other dragons and their riders? Are there stories of what happened as a warning to others, or a tale about a dragonrider who engaged in *gasp* cowardice and what happened to them? We’ll never know.

Piemur decides in the next paragraph that while he’s not going to mention B’naj and Meria, deciding the N’ton already knows and doesn’t care, he still thinks it’s worthwhile to try and convince him of another way of thinking. No, really, that’s what he thinks.

Nonetheless, he felt compelled to try to show the Fort Weyrleader another point of view.
“I realize that, N’ton, far more clearly than I ever did before. But when it comes down to it, we all have impulses that we can’t ignore—or even control—sometimes. When we feel rejected, or under a burden, and can see no solutions to our problems, then we’re bound to behave badly. That’s why we have to support and protect one another. What the men from Nabol and those few Southern [time-skipped] did was dishonorable, unspeakable—” Piemur faltered for a moment, searching for the words to explain the idea he was trying to voice. “But it’s as Sebell just said: They have to be given the chance to change, or they never will. To my mind, punishment followed by isolation is not the answer.”
“Oh!’ Menolly exhaled the exclamation on a single breath. “All that time spent on your own hasn’t been wasted, my friend. I do believe you’ve become our very own deep thinker, Pie.”

There’s no indication of mood or delivery on this, other than the singular exhalation from Menolly, so I can’t tell if she’s making fun of him or not. I think we’re supposed to believe that she’s being serious, but I’m staring at this turnaround of position from Piemur. When it’s his own mentor that’s been beaten solidly, Piemur and Menolly have to be talked out of punishment, but when there are dragonriders involved, suddenly it’s all mercy and reintegration. It’s disconcerting, even if it does seem to be exactly in character for him. Like, Piemur, you want to work on that blinkered spot that you have about dragonriders and your willingness to forgive them for everything they’ve done?

It would land a little better for me, or at least show some author awareness, if Menolly is gently ribbing Piemur about his sudden turn into deep thought where he hadn’t been before. And possibly suggesting that if he believes Sebell’s approach is right, he should let Sebell try to explain it to N’ton. Which would be a nice callback to the Toric-Robinton-Piemur situation from earlier in the book.

Piemur’s plea, such that it is, falls on closed ears, and we proceed to dinner, where Pergamol casually mentions that he’s got such a giant chunk of meat roasting that it’ll go to waste if Menolly and N’ton don’t stay for dinner. (Hah. Roasting, smoking, salting, all sorts of preservation methods for meat were well known and would almost certainly have been preserved or rediscovered over time such that none of that would have gone to waste. Plus, meat in this time period on Terra is an expensive thing, something you bring out when you’re entertaining guests that you want to stay in the good graces of, or people who are of sufficiently higher social rank than you that you are going to give them the extravagance because they can make your life hell if they think you’ve disrespected them. (Same thing.) Piemur “marveled at how the little community of people, who obviously lived much of their lives cheek by jowl, managed to maintain their equanimity so easily.” Perhaps because he was taken to Harper Hall as the star boy sporano so early in his life, he never really understood what life was ahead of him and what little wealth there would be that would have to be shared, in addition to all of the much larger amount of work that would also have to be shared. And that all of that would have to be done with a smile if there was the possibility of one of the Lord’s men nearby, because if someone audibly said something critical of the Lord, there would be no space and no wealth and no cothold at all.

But, instead, we’re supposed to get a big happy family vibe from this situation, with offhand comment about how Jalla and Nula, in whose name the cothold is, are really good at making babies, like “Shells, the man hardly has to take his trews off and she’s got another bun in the oven!” as a quote. In a world like Pern, though, hyperfertility like that is probably something that gets selected for, especially if there’s the same kinds of infant and child mortality rates there are in the comparable period of Terran history.

It can’t be too idyllic, though, or we wouldn’t believe it.

As he watched his family and friends, Piemur marveled at how the little community of people, who obviously lived much of their lives cheek by jowl, managed to maintain their equanimity so easily. Then, without warning, a chair was thrust back, scraping loudly on the stone paving, and everyone looked up. Jalla and Nula’s young son said something to his mother in a fierce whisper and then pulled his arm out of her grasp sharply, storming from the table in a huff.
“Leave him,” Nula said to no one in particular, her eyes fixed on her plate of food as the assembled diners briefly looked up at the commotion.
“Numie’s a hothead and we all have to learn to let him cool off,” Ama said to no one in particular. “He’ll come to his senses again given time, he always does. He knows we’re always here for him—when he’s ready to come back.” And she chuckled at her own words, patting N’ton on the hand absently.
[…after dinner, Pergamol produces instruments and there is dancing and storytelling, and eventually, yes, Numie does come back to the table…]
“I see Numie has come to his sense,” Ama said to Piemur as she sat down next to him. “He’s forgotten all about his earlier upset. He can’t stop his feet from dancing now.” She chuckled as they watched the young boy clicking and tapping his feet on the solid floor, his eyes gleaming with delight.

I really would like to know what Numie was upset about, because this is either parenting done almost correctly (someone should really go check on Numie to make sure he’s okay and that he’s not doing anything destructive to himself or others) or this is parenting done terribly wrong, because there’s nobody listening to him and his entirely valid concerns. I can’t tell which of these it is, because this was supposed to be charming and folksy and a child that’s obviously upset over nothing and this happens all the time, so there’s nothing at all to worry about. It may be nothing, and Numie is sensitive, or it may be that Numie has a neurodivergence that makes things that neurotypicals think are nothing into very important things and nobody has the understanding or the professional ability to help Numie learn healthy coping strategies.

During the music, Ama has a conversation with Piemur about his talents and why he’s not singing along with the other harpers.

“But you are good at other harper skills. You can’t expect only your singing voice to fill you with self-respect and pleasure, my Pie.” Ama looked at him sharply, though her words were spoken with kindness.
“But I was good at singing, Ama. It was the one thing I could do well without having to try.” And he shook his head, looking at her with a weak grin. A sudden rush of regret hit him, and he felt the loss of his voice as keenly as when it had just broken. Piemur had to look away from Ama quickly, afraid he’d lose his composure in front of her; he stared down at his hands instead, as they lay idle in his lap.

Ama tells him that having one good thing isn’t enough, and that she was happiest in life when she went for hard-won goals and that he should be himself and listen to his instincts and he’ll be fine.

And maybe it’s because I’m living in an era where we’re finally starting to recognize the signs of neurodivergence in more people, earlier or later on in life, and normalizing it to the point where there are treatments that can be applied, and some of the stigma associated with them is lessening (not all, not a lot, but enough that we’re (just barely) starting to treat it as a serious condition rather than behavior and discipline issues or personal failings), but I kind of wonder whether Piemur has ADHD in the 3.0 Pern. He has trouble with sitting still, he seems extremely sensitive to rejection, he can still recall older hurts with the same clarity and intensity as when they just happened, and he had a talent that was encouraged and refined to as high a degree as possible because that was effortless. And he picked up drumming, something fairly complex, apparently, really easily and was working ahead of the other apprentices. And he got bullied for reasons that he didn’t fully understand and that nobody fully explained to him. And, I’m pretty sure, the Harper Hall doesn’t do a whole lot of encouragement based on effort, but focuses on results instead, which would continue to encourage Piemur to stick to what he knows, because that’s safe space to be in. So, yeah, that’s the other reason I wonder about Numie, because it might be that he’s getting the same parenting that Piemur got, and that didn’t turn out well at all.

The rest of the chapter is N’ton, Menolly, and Piemur piecing together that it was, indeed, Jaxom and Ruth who stole back the egg and returned it, finally putting together the puzzle pieces in the correct way to reach that conclusion, and they realize that the “Jaxom’s going to see Corana” tack they were on earlier was a good smokescreen for what Jaxom and Ruth were also doing. Because Ruth always knows when he is, and because Jaxom said some really self-incriminating things, once they’re looked at in the right light. The next question they try to puzzle out is why Jaxom hasn’t said anything about it, and N’ton concludes that it’s because Jaxom was already being suffocated, and he didn’t want his few liberties curtailed even more once it came out that he had flagrantly disobeyed a whole bunch of the prohibitions and restrictions placed on him and Ruth, even if he did it for the best of causes. Because that’s completely what N’ton would have done to him, and Lytol would have agreed with him, because they both want Jaxom to be a Lord who can transport himself because of a fluke.

Anyway, the last chapter is next week, and there’s a lot of farewells to be said in it, I guess.

Deconstruction Roundup for April 23, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is considering the questions of how to make the world of in-person interactions much more accessible when others would rather it go back to “normal”.)

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.

Christine Kelley: Eruditorum Press

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorum 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 a bit (a lot) surprised at having managed to bash together something that works in the span of an evening after hearing the concept. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragon’s Code: The Nonsensical Plot, Part Two

Last time, despite not really having any need to inject themselves into it, Piemur and Sebell tried to infiltrate Jerrol’s group and get more information out of them about their plans to kill Jaxom. Piemur managed to get drunk, and in doing so, ended up getting kidnapped by the conspirators, along with Sebell. He’s escaped, using his strength and wits, and has sent Sebell’s Kimi to Menolly to get help so he can go rescue Sebell from whatever fate his torturers have in mind for him.

Dragon’s Code, Chapter Ten: Content Notes: torture, hangovers, abuse

Help arrives in the form of Menolly and her full fair of fire-lizards, as well as J’hon, all of whom Piemur is very glad to see. As he explains the situation to them, though, he wins himself back up a full-on panic state because he doesn’t know how much time he’s lost and whether or not Sebell is alive. Menolly sends out her fair to collect information from the local fire lizards while the humans try to find the door that Piemur came out of so they can get back in. Which is a much harder task than originally thought, because there are a lot of doors that are in the wall of Nabol Hold and Piemur is having thoughts of hopelessness.

(Also, I suspect he’s fighting a concussion, given how much his head and body hurt, how many times he’s taken head injuries, and how hard it is for him to put together coherent thoughts without significant effort.)

Piemur put his hands to his head, forgetting about the lumps above his ears. The sudden act made him wince in pain. He fell silent then, fighting back the mounting despair, too embarrassed to look at his friends and ashamed because he had failed Sebell
You can’t hide from this, Piemur, he thought and forced himself to look up. As he slowly searched the faces of Menolly and J’hon he knew he had failed to hide his distress. Menolly started to fidget, and J’hon looked at the ground; both were clearly worried, and Piemur realized that nothing could be done to help find Sebell until he pulled himself together.

This would be really good in a work that played up a lot more the idea of “Piemur is trying too hard to rush his puberty” instead of characterizing him as aimless and listless, adrift and really wanting to get back to the comfortable position he was in before. Because once Piemur slows down a bit, he remembers a key detail about the door he popped out of sounded when he slammed it behind him. And then rushes past the door before realizing its the right one in his haste, before recognizing the ping from his brain, going back, and examining it slowly and carefully. He realizes that the door doesn’t sit correctly, and that misalignment is what likely caused the off-kilter sound. Every time he stops and thinks in this entire escape and rescue sequence, Piemur pulls a useful bit of information out of his brain that helps move things forward. This could be one of those profound “Okay, I do know what I’m doing as a harper if I can not surrender to the fear. Fear is the mind killer” kinda of moments. But there wasn’t the build up before to make this be a useful realization point, at least not without squinting. Because, if I squint, I suppose all of those “Piemur has trouble keeping his cover” and the entire thing with blurting stuff out in front of Robinton and Toric would be stuff that could be attributed to “Piemur doesn’t stop and think and go forward after that,” but all of that is just as much evidence that Piemur might have a neurodivergence, not that anyone knows what that is on Pern, and therefore it’s not a matter of him lacking conscious control and more a matter of his coping mechanisms not working as well as they could, and that we should see those times where things do go according to plan as being something that takes conscious effort and energy to maintain (and that would be severely affected by drunkenness, heat, or other environmental factors).

Having tried to get in the door every which way they know, J’hon and Piemur get some help from above.

“Oy! Whadder you doin’?” a voice called.
Startled, Piemur and J’hon looked up but couldn’t locate the source of the voice. They searched all along the huge expanse of wall, but no one was visible.
“Up here, you thick two-wits!” the voice called again. Piemur and J’hon took another step backward and looked up once more. High up in the wall of the Hold they saw a head protruding from a tiny opening.
“Whadder you doin’?” the head repeated.
“Ah,” Piemur said, thinking quickly. “Lord Deckter wants us to check that all the doors are working from the inside and the outside.” He dare a big show of scratching his head, trying not to wince when he touched the sore spots. “But we can’t get in from this door, if you get what I mean.” He scratched his head again.
“You’ll never open that door from out there! Jackers, there ain’t any knob! Where did they find you two? I don’t know why he wants you to check ’em all when the whole passageway is going to be bricked up tight for good. But ne’er mind. Whadder I know?” the head yelled, shaking itself from side to side before continuing.” The Lord Holder knows best, I reckon. Listen here to me an’ I’ll tell you what to do. Go back to the rampart and in through the door; then go all the way down to the end of the passway. Take the second turn right, down two sets a’ steps, and to the passway at the very end. That’s where that door is.”

Having been suitably chastised, and with Piemur not feeling great at having to look up so much (concussion!), J’hon gives thanks and ushers Piemur and Menolly through the correct directions to get them to the cellars. Which involves a lot of Piemur feeling very unsteady, physically and mentally, and needing both a pep talk and nearly some physical bracing to get him through the crowds and to keep going. (Concussion!)

Also, can I say how much I would like to see how these imprecations came about? “Two-wits” and “Jackers” sound like things that have some fairly interesting etymologies, and unfortunately, we don’t get to know anything more about them. (And, I’ll admit, this entire scene played a lot like Adam West’s Batman climbing up the side of a building, and this person popping out of the small window is the guest star cameo for the episode portraying a citizen of Nabol, so it was a lot funnier than the narrative was going for. Unless this was supposed to be a pure comedy moment.)

Once in the cellars, Menolly vetoes Piemur’s suggestion to split the party, and they go to work trying to find the spot where Sebell is. After finding nothing in their search, Piemur stomps his foot in frustration and gets ready to search again, but he’s stayed by J’hon asking him to do it again. When J’hon demonstrates scary he wants, everyone gets to see that the dust doesn’t fall down, but instead like there’s a current of air in the room. Which leads them to throw aside a barrel that was covering a door, and behind that door is a pile of rags, which makes Piemur despair again, except Menolly spots inside the pile of rags a Sebell, and the crew works to get him free before the fire lizards arrive and Kimi scolds Sebell. Now that they have Sebell free, and have enough people-power to get him out, but before they’ve actually pulled him out of danger, the rescuers decide to have a chat about what Healer they’re going to bring him to.

“We need to get you to a Healer, Sebell,” he said.
“But we can’t bring him back to Fort—or the Harper Hall,” Menolly said, her voice breaking slightly. Tears ran down her face.
“You’re right, Menolly,” Piemur said, and he placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “Too many questions will be asked, and I’m not sure how we can answer them.”
J’hon muttered an expletive through tight lips, and Piemur could see the dragonrider was doing his utmost to control his anger.
“Wherever we bring Sebell, his condition will provoke too much interest. And if we right accuse Jerrol, Jentis, and Serra—or anyone—of beating a harper, we’d have to explain why Sebell and I were here. Then the threat to Jaxom—which we’ve been trying so hard to keep secret—would become common knowledge.”
Sebell nodded as Piemur spoke.
“No, we can’t tell anyone what happened here, though I sorely wish we could,” Piemur spoke through clenched teeth.

Cocowhat by depizan

That does not logic at all, no matter how much everyone is sagely nodding along to it in the narrative. There’s enough evidence already obtained that Deckter could have had all of them arrested before the brew-ha-ha at Skal’s, and now that both harpers are safely recovered (or will be), Deckter really could just disappear the lot of them, as silently or loudly as he wants, with whatever charges, if any, he wants to put forward publicly as the reason for them facing his justice. We saw with Halla that the Lord’s court can be called anywhere, for any reason, and that nobody is entitled to an advocate for their position, and if they had one, it would likely be the harper, which would be an issue, since this is an offense against harpers and, oh yeah, there are no legists. If Deckter disappears the conspirators and puts up a public story that they were trying to kill or injure him, then the plot against Jaxom never comes out, and it’s not like there’s an independent press trying to get to the bottom of all of this that will keep digging and pushing against things until the truth comes out. They can take Sebell anywhere they like, and whatever story gets put out will be validated and become official. Even if it is “hey, we heard that people were trying to plot against another Lord, and when we tried to see if it was serious or not, they beat us up and tried to kill us.”

But because we’re stuck in another one of those situations where “discretion” apparently overrides any other concern, including logic and good sense, it takes them a while before Piemur hits on the solution of having J’hon fly all of them straight on to his house in Crom, and then calling a Healer to attend Sebell there, so that there’s nothing that happens that’s high profile. As they leave (and draw lots of attention to themselves, because it’s two really beat up people in the company of a harper and a dragonrider), the narrative tells us that Piemur spots someone who looks a lot like Fronna, who gasps at seeing their condition as they walk by. Which will become important later, so we mention it now. And then they fly to Crom, where Piemur gets a somewhat joyous welcome from everyone, at least until they notice Sebell, and Drina, one of the others who lives in the space, diagnoses Sebell with a separated shoulder that will need a Healer to put back in, even if she can handle most of the other stitching up and work done needed to help heal him. Eventually, the group decides on Meria, as she’s both Healer-trained and low-profile enough that J’hon can go get her from Southern, bring her here, have her keep silence, and send her back and nobody will know any wiser that harpers got beaten up while trying to suss out a plan against Jaxom. Which still doesn’t make any logical sense.

Meria is as good as her training, and re-sets Sebell’s shoulder back into the socket while she promises her silence on the matter. She also looks after Piemur’s bumps (and hopefully checks him out for a concussion, although the narrative doesn’t say any such thing) and eventually gives him a blanket and tells him to rest when he’s doing a bad job at staying awake. And the narrative advances to Sebell looking and feeling healthier, going to dinner, meeting Ama, the woman who raised Piemur as a mother, and Piemur admitting in front of everyone that he hasn’t sung since his voice cracked, which Ama takes in stride and doesn’t shame or pressure him about, and eventually, Piemur has had enough of his family and heads back to where Sebell and Meria are.

“Hm,” Meria replied, smiling in return, “it is a little puzzling, Sebell. The dislocation of your shoulder isn’t that uncommon an injury, but the bruising and lacerations on your legs make me more than a little curious, particularly since you asked for my help. Why didn’t you get someone from your own Crafthall?”
“I know we have your discretion, Meria,” Sebell said, searching her face for any hesitation on her part. When she nodded, Sebell sighed, puffing out his cheeks as he made a spur-of-the-moment decision. “We were trying to get more information about some men from Nabol who, we believe, are planning to act against Hold code.” At the look of alarm on Meria’s face, he stopped speaking. She pursed her lips and then gestured for him to continue, but her response piqued Piemur’s curiosity. Why should Meria be concerned about the men from Nabol?
[…Sebell explains the plot, and Meria asks what they plan to do about those men, further inflaming Piemur’s curiosity…]
“I’d honestly prefer to leave them to their Lord Holder,” Sebell replied. “He is, after all, their kinsman, whether they like it or not. But I don’t think punishing them would serve any purpose, not in their situation.”
“But look what they did to you, Sebell!” Piemur cried, outrage propelling him to his feet. He stood with his fists at his side and his body thrust forward, his face suffused with anger as he stared at his mentor. Sebell merely held out one hand, gesturing to Piemur to calm down.
“Yes, Sebell, why don’t they deserve to be punished?” Menolly asked, her brows furrowing deeply.
“They’re hard men, and hardhearted, from what I witnessed,” Sebell continued. “I know they were treated poorly by Lord Meron when he was alive, so it explains a great deal. What they need is for Lord Deckter to take them in hand instead of leaving them alone.”
“You’re amazing, after the threatment you received from them,” Menolly replied, a deep scowl darkening her face.

First of all things, that’s the second code that’s been pulled out of the aether and placed in here as if it were nothing worth looking at, after the dragon’s code. I suppose this could be sen as the logical extension of the insistence that everything was in the Charter, even though there obviously would have had to have been amendments to it, but things like a “Hold code” suggest a level of standardization of legal procedure, penalty, and crime that Pern has never had (except “Charter offenses”, and it’s only in the 2.0 timeline that those things were even thought of before the appearance of the AI and the recovery of the charter). So Sebell saying that people are acting against “Hold code,” as if the laws of any given Hold and its territory aren’t fully “whatever the Lord of the Hold decides is the law that day” and always have been is a very big revision for our 3.0 timeline.

Unless “Hold code”, in this case, means the sum total of obligations and rights taught to everyone by harpers in their Teaching Ballads, which is how things have been referrred to in every previous work but this one, but again, variant timeline. In any case, Meria has no reason to accept the idea of “Hold code” without remarking on it, unless dragonriders get taught hold code as well as dragonrider code (along with the understanding that dragonrider code is superior in every way to Hold code and Hold code is not to be followed unless it’s in the interest of the dragonrider to do so.)

Second, while Sebell is correct that what the right play for Lord Deckter would have been to provide some land for all of the disgruntled relatives, even if it wasn’t specifically the land they were promised by Lord Meron, and to let them sort it out amongst themselves what that land’s final configuration would be, Deckter is now caught in a bad position, because forgiving people who specifically plotted to kill a Lord and beat the people who were going to report on that plot is probably going to result in more plots against him, because Pern is the kind of place that would see that forgiveness as weakness and try to exploit it, possibly by arming some of those disgruntled relatives, providing them with people, and then setting them against Deckter in the hopes that Nabol destabilizes and a better puppet gets put on the throne. (Well, except for whatever magical compulsion there is in place that stops the Lords from plotting against each other and trying to take each other’s lands and people.) If what Sebell wants is a peaceful resolution where everyone is reconciled to one another, that’s not going to happen now, because any conciliatory item at this point sets the bar at “well, if we beat up some harpers as an act of terrorism, then the Lords will give us what we demand.” Or, at least, I would assume that’s what it would be seen as on Pern. Sebell is right that the correct call is to leave them in the hands of Deckter, because he’s the person with appropriate jurisdiction over the matter, and if Sebell wants to advocate for forgiveness and mercy, he’s welcome to, but ultimately the decision is Deckter’s, and I don’t see him as being forgiving of kinsfolk of his that have demonstrated a willingness to do violence and plot overthrows of Lords. You’re SOL, Sebell, even if it’s a noble goal you have in mind.

Now, if Pern had a real social safety net, where these conspirators could be housed, fed, given therapists, and allowed to contribute productively to society without having to scrabble for basic needs or be subjected to someone else’s caprice about their lives, then Sebell’s idea would probably be both correct and would work, because the infrastructure needed for restorative justice would be present. Of course, if that social safety net had been in place up to this point, there’s a good chance this plot would have never happened, because Meron wouldn’t be able to be so effective with his caprice and spite.

The plot proceeds with Meria revealing that back before the Great Leap Forward, she was from Nabol Hold, the niece of the Lord Holder, no less, got Searched, didn’t Impress, but did fall in love with S’han and stayed on in the Weyr. When the Weyrs jumped forward, S’han missed a jump and was lost, leaving Meria in an unfamiliar time without her anchor, but with familiar people, and she learned everything from Fort’s Weyr Healer, G’reff, eventually assuming the position when his health became too poor for him to continue. When exile came for the Southern Weyr, even though Meria disapproved of the inflexibility, she went South to stay with her friends. And now, she has a certain amount of guilt about how things turned out in the South.

“Life grew very difficult in Southern Weyr and the riders seemed to lose their sense of purpose, and so did their dragons. Eventually I felt I couldn’t remain there any longer, but I had nowhere else to go—being holdless is not a thing people from my time can adapt to.
“Toric had been trading supplies with Southern Weyr, and when I asked him for help he offered me a place in his Hold. T’kul was furious at my decision and made his feelings known throughout the Weyr. It’s with the deepest sense of regret that I’ve realized, all too late, that I did a selfish thing when I left the weyrfolk of Southern, because I was the only person among them who had an in-depth healer’s knowledge.” She paused, gathering her thoughts.

I mean, that sounds much more like Meria got the opportunity to flee an abusive relationship and T’kul confirmed for her that it was the right decision by flying into a rage about her decision. And besides, didn’t T’kul or someone else kill the Weyr Healer at Southern before Meria fled? Or was that after? Either way, it’s not Meria’s fault that Southern Weyr is a hostile work environment. Plus, it’s a pretty common abuser tactic to make the victim believe that leaving will cause far greater harm than staying does. It’s much harder to get away from an abuser if it appears clear to you that doing so will result in their being unable to care for themselves, or that the organization itself will collapse without you staying on. It’s usually an illusion, and the abuser is able to land on their feet just fine, or the organization is able to continue on without you, but it is hard to trust that reality, and to trust that you yourself will also be able to land on your feet and rebuild without them. (Even more so if you’ve been socialized into a role that insists you are responsible for taking care of others, or that you are responsible for the actions of others, and that no entity will take hold that person or organization accountable for their actions.)

And, even knowing all of that, it doesn’t get rid of the guilt and regret. Because the victim is almost always the person that ends the relationship, since they’re the one suffering from it. But all of the pressures put on them always suggest, if not demand, that there was some effort the victim could have made, maybe if they smiled more, maybe if they complained less, maybe if they contributed everything they had, maybe if they just went along more, maybe if they didn’t dress so provocatively, maybe, maybe, maybe if they had properly read the mind of their abuser and acted accordingly, then things would have turned out completely okay. Very rarely, except from advocacy groups and those who have been victimized, do we hear “Hey, maybe the abuser shouldn’t have been abusive. Maybe they could have recognized their own role in building this situation and worked to dismantle it. Maybe they could have gotten help for themselves to stop being an abuser. Maybe they could have listened more, not with an ear to weaponizing what they heard, but with intent and action to make the relationship equitable and fair. Maybe they could have fought back against their cultural conditioning. Maybe they could have found a way of curbing their outsized entitlement complex. Maybe, maybe, maybe it’s only the abuser’s fault there was abuse, and the entire world needs to shift from blaming the victim to blaming the abuser.”

And, of course, Pern still has no therapists.

“I know you’ve heard often enough how stubborn us [time-skipped] are,” Meria went on, and a rueful smile briefly played across her lips, “and how the Weyrs of my time hold on to their autonomy like a crutch, unable to ask for, or accept, help from any quarter outside the Weyr. So when our firestone sacks were completely depleted, the riders and dragons grew desperate, because they had nothing with which to flame Thread. The riders tried mining firestone themselves, but it was a disaster.
“I had left the Weyr at that point, and B’naj told me that almost the entire complement of dragons was at the mine to transport the stone back to the Weyr when the shafts gave way and caved in. He said the plume of dust that rose up from the mine must’ve been mixed with more than firestone dust, because it had a peculiar effect on everyone, although they didn’t know it at the time. Those who had been at the mine started to grow irritable, and a persistent cough plagued most of the dragons and some of the riders, too. Then they developed chronic aches and grew more lethargic as their health continued to decline.
“Of course, they no longer had a healer, and were too proud to ask anyone from outside the Weyr for help. The sad thing is I know I could have helped them. We have a root that grows in the north to help counter all sorts of woes. G’reff called it thujang, but I haven’t heard it mentioned in this Pass. Perhaps it’s vanished. I’ve been trying to find another root in the south that has the same healing properties.”

Piemur immediately thinks of the jango root tea that he had in Nabol, but despite the similarity of names, he dismisses the connection and keeps his attention on Meria’s story. Y’know, having learned the lesson about not running off on tangents properly so that he doesn’t pipe up with the correct thing at an inopportune moment.

That said, this firestone mine collapse is also the first time where dragonriders have tried to do something that isn’t being a dragonrider and utterly failed at it, (welcome to the 3.0 timeline) which I remember we remarked upon at the beginning, when we had first encountered this failure. All the same, the stubbornness that has them devising egg-napping plans rather than asking for help is the sort of thing that should reasonably have the Southern contingent die out. Meria may have the solution, but it’s not going to do a whit of good on the direct approach, as we saw. Instead, there’s going to have to be some sort of face-saving farce put in place to ensure that Southern survives with both their health and their pride. B’naj can probably act as go-between in this regard, since he seems flexible enough and friendly enough, and still on good terms with the Weyr enough to be able to “find” a useful cure lying around and distribute it. And possibly to “accidentally” mention in someone’s hearing how much they need that firestone mine repaired because there’s duty being shirked about supplying dragonriders with firestone so they can do their duty of roasting Thread. And then everybody hunkers down and waits for the old stubborn guard to finally die so that newer leadership can take over and have a better relationship that allows for mutual assistance and asking for aid. Or for enough people to leave Southern Weyr that it can safely be left to die on its own and then be repopulated with people who are more modern. At this point, Meria has probably done everything she can and more to help out her friends, short of finding the mystic root itself and bringing it back to the dragonriders.

Also, phosphine poisoning is a thing, and the symptoms described by Meria track consistently with inhalation of phosphine gas. So this jango root, if it is a supreme cure-all, has some serious kick to it to be able to both clear out the respiratory condition and the cardiac conditions that might follow from inhalation. Nice having magic alien plants to cure your serious conditions.

After some speculation about who might have returned the egg to Benden, we have a moment of empathy from the person who has been primed to be empathetic to the Southerners the entire book.

“I wish they’d listen to me,” Meria said wistfully. “I’m certain the poor health they’re suffering is due to the dust and fumes they inhaled at that firestone mine. I’m sure I could make them well again if they’d let me help.”
“I feel sorry for them,” Piemur said, crossing his arms in front of his chest.
Meria tilted her chin toward him, her expression one of curiosity. “Why is that?” she asked.
“They don’t fit in anymore. They’ve left their Weyr and fled their lives. And they’re sick, too. They haven’t lived in their old Weyrs up north for more than six Turns, and they don’t really seem to be living anywhere in this Pass. Shells, they’re nowhere! How bloody awful they must feel.”

And this is a situation of their own making, as well, Piemur. You can feel bad for them and how similar their situation is to your feelings of being adrift and without a home, but the people who got exiled, for the most part, it seems, made the decision to go into exile and be disconnected from their support networks. Or, at least the leaders did, and I’m assuming that B’naj and Meria went because they couldn’t contemplate giving up their entire social circle of known people for the rest of their lives. Others may have gone because they still believed that what the leaders did was right and true. It is a problem that people are hurting and suffering, and that their leaders are too stubborn to accept help, but until Meria finds something that will help with the health situations, there’s nothing that can be done through official channels, and the leaders have the power to change their positions on the matter any time they like.

And sometimes tragedies happen because the people in charge, who should know better, who should do better, who should be moved at the amount of human suffering going on under their watch, choose to stand aside and do nothing, because they think that tragedy is okay when it happens to the Other, to people who don’t support them and never will. Tragedy never stays contained to the Other, of course, but by the time it’s escaped the Other, it’s too late to contain it, and then the people who support the Leopards Eating People’s Faces Party start screaming about how unfair and wrong it is that the leopards are eating their faces instead of knowing, somehow, that there are acceptable faces to eat and unacceptable faces to eat. Tragedy never works that way, and it is painful to ethical and empathetic people to watch the tragedy happen and feel powerless to do anything about it on the grand scale, even as they do their best to manage it on the scale they can influence.

The last sequence in this chapter is Piemur going through all the what-ifs that could have meant that Sebell was the victim of tragedy, instead of being safely rescued and on the mend. Unable to get to sleep because of the complexities of the timeline, eventually he and Sebell go outside to have a talk about what happened to Sebell and the inherent unfairness of the universe.

“They shouldn’t have done that to you, Sebell. Jerrol and his lot shouldn’t have beaten you half to death and then stuffed you like a useless old bundle of rags in a dark hole. They should pay for what they’ve done!”
“You’re absolutely right, my friend. What Jerrol and his lot did was unspeakable. And they should be punished for it. But you and I both know that the details of our little jaunt to Nabol must remain untold. That’s how it has to be,” Sebell said. “I know, Pie, that if we went to these men to mete out the punishment we think they deserve, we will have achieved only one thing.”
“What?”
“Retribution. Revenge. Retaliation, call it what you wish, but it would do absolutely no good. We have to find a solution to their problem so they’ll never want to behave like that again. If we don’t we’ll simply be showing them the same treatment they’ve always known and they’ll never, ever have reason to want to change, or become more compassionate men.”
Piemur sighed.
“Piemur, someone made those men into the people they are. They didn’t start their lives with such adverse and damaged viewpoints. They were pushed to the breaking point after Turns of manipulation at the hand of someone else.” Sebell leaned forward as he spoke, closing the distance between himself and Piemur, eager to make sure his point was understood.
“But they beat you! They bound you and then left you for dead, Sebell! That part of the cellars was going to be bricked up! What were they thinking?”
“They weren’t thinking, Piemur. They were reacting to Turns of mental torture that they shouldn’t have had to endure. They’ll never be able to change unless the chance to do so is given to them. I’ve been mulling this over, and I believe it’s the only course we can consider—otherwise we’re just fighting them. Perhaps turning into them.”
“That can’t be all that is done after what you’ve suffered, Sebell,” Piemur said. He knew he sounded belligerent—and probably looked it, too—but he didn’t care.
“Don’t you see, my friend? Dragons were prevented from fighting one another in the name of revenge! If everything that happened in Nabol came to light, the only outcome it would achieve would be to pit Craft gainst Hold. And we can’t let that happen—it would be like permitting dragon to fight dragon,” Sebell declared. “The only way this sickening behavior can be dealt with is at its root. If any of us were pitted against each other it would cut to the very heart of our way of life. We all fit together in a unique way, and if we allow our guardians—the dragonriders—or our protectors and custodians—the holders and crafters—to come to blows, then we’ll have undermined everyone’s safety. And Thread would win.”

Cocowhat by depizan

Cocowhat by depizan

How did this become a question of Craft-Hold warfare over people who plotted against a Lord and beat two Harpers? Clearly, the Harper Hall is within its right to demand that the Lord responsible for the people who attacked their harpers have the perpetrators arrested and punished for their act. And since Deckter is friendly to the Harpers, he shouldn’t have a trouble with it. Or because Deckter believes that people who assault others should suffer consequences for the assault, and he is willing to accept the testimony of the victims, an unaffiliated Healer, and any witnesses to the act itself as proof that Jerrol and company did what they are accused of and should be punished. The only situation where the accusation becomes an issue is if the Lord Holder is hostile to the Harper Hall. Demanding Fax’s men suffer for beating a harper in Fax’s territory would never fly, because Fax doesn’t respect harpers enough to grant them the freedom from violence. And we’ve seen what happens when a guild has an issue with the local Lord – they boycott the Lord. (What’s usually also implied in this is that other guilds will also boycott the Lord in solidarity with their fellow guilds, and by depriving the Lord of necessary goods and services, the Lord will come around to doing what they want.) So there’s a complete remedy available here.

And I still don’t understand why the details of this jaunt have to remain secret. If it’s “the harpers don’t want to admit publicly they do spying work,” then that’s something that needs to be said, not implied. And also, they may need to recalibrate that thought, anyway, as it seems like Jerrol and company know full well that harpers do espionage. So it’s probably one of those open secret things, like how most people should expect that if they have a group of a certain size and they occasionally criticize the government, there’s likely to be at least one informant for either local or federal police in the ranks. Or that, even though the Central Intelligence Agency is forbidden from spying inside the borders of the United States, they probably do it anyway and pass on the intelligence they receive to agencies that are empowered to act within the United States and nobody ever admits to it. And even then, since there’s no need to have a public trial, they can just tell Deckter the information that needs be told to him and he can handle it.

Sebell turned his head to watch Piemur closely as the younger man battled with his emotions. “Do you see what I mean? We have to be prevented from fighting one another,” he added, and then he leaned back.
“But it’s not the same thing!” Piemur cried, and all his anger was expressed in those six words.
Sebell sighed. “The [time-skipped] felt they were in a desperate situation, Piemur, and so they carried out a desperate act. In a way, I think that was their way of asking for help. Jerrol and his kin’s actions, though different, were born from the same feelings of hopelessness. Holdlessness,” Sebell said. It was Piemur’s turn to sigh.
“Shards, those three men were probably treated so badly all their lives they no longer know what’s right or wrong!” Sebell went on heatedly. “I remember when I was in Nabol for the Master, when Meron was alive. The way he baited his kin—it was nothing short of torture. He’d promise one nephew a patch of land, and the next day he’d renege on his offer and promise it to another kinsman. He used to laugh at their confusion and the anguish he put them through. It got so none of them could trust the other. Meron made them all hate one another. Their very own flesh and blood, too! And all because they feared they wouldn’t get what they should’ve been entitled to. It was appalling!”
“But what about the bricks, Sebell?” Piemur hissed; he couldn’t stop thinking about what would have happened if Sebell hadn’t been discovered.
“Don’t think about that, Piemur. You found me, and I’m going to be fine.”
Piemur stared at Sebell, the conflicting emotions welling up in him until he didn’t know what to think. He wondered if he’d ever be like Sebell or Master Robinton, wise enough to see what was right and wrong, and strong enough to see past his own emotions, to discern the best choices to make for the good of everyone.

And on that undeserved piece of praise, the chapter ends.

I get the part where Sebell correctly recognizes that Meron was an awful person and his torture and games caused trauma for everyone who is there, but the solutions that he is proposing are the kinds of things that would require a wholesale destruction and reconstruction of Pernese society, away from vassalage feudalism with despots that have absolute authority within their borders to at least some form of socialism, with goods and services fairly distributed and a social safety net in place to make sure that nobody ends up starving and homeless. I think Sebell is thinking of this as “the responsible Lord should look after his family and provide for them, so there aren’t people who want to cause social unrest running around,” but Thella disproves that this would work all the time. Then again, nobody would think of Thella as anything other than a woman who didn’t know her place, so I don’t think they would see her as the proof that “the responsible Lord looks after their family” doesn’t cover all the bases.

Additionally, there’s no guarantee that Deckter will be able to make everybody happy, especially since it appears that Meron promised the same piece(s) of land to different people on the regular, and none of the relatives got together between themselves and said, “Right, he’s just stringing us all along. So, regardless of whatever Meron says, the lands are going to be divided in this way when he’s dead. Now, who’s going to tell the harpers about the asshole we have in charge and see if they can’t help us depose him in favor of our power-sharing agreement?” So we still have a situation where the relatives could be arguing, bickering, and trying to unseat a nearby Lord because they’re unhappy with whatever piddling plot of land Deckter gave them and they want more. But at least it would be about greed rather than about the social system that allows someone to dick around their relatives like that and that gives the relatives no recourse to stop this from happening. Or at least to make Meron put it in a will and writing and to pay the appropriate witnessing fees and the like to change his desires so much.

Lead on to the socialist revolution, Sebell, even though I know full well that neither you nor your boss would actually want that to happen, because you’re all devoted to making sure that nothing ever changes, societally. And you’d have to fight all the Lords and all the dragonriders to bring about that change.

Deconstruction Roundup for April 16, 2021

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is exceedingly happy that others can get their vaccinations at this point in their locale.)

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.

Christine Kelley: Eruditorum Press

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorum 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 now staring the end of a project in the absolute face and are feeling a sense of shock more than one of accomplishment. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragon’s Code: The Nonsensical Plot, Part One

Last time, we took a complete break from the one remaining plot, that of the Nabolese people to try and kill Jaxom and usurp his lands, which is supposed to be taken seriously despite the complete lack of planning, preparation, and numbers of people participating in the plot itself.

I’m sure that once this is resolved, there will be something about the Southern Weyr that picked themselves up and vanished into the past as a way of trying to avoid Benden’s entirely-legitimate grievance with some of their riders stealing their queen egg, the same Weyr that’s suffering from an unknown illness that one of their own might know how to cure, if only they would have listened to her, but they didn’t, because she’s a girl and because she left them at some point and that means she isn’t to be listened to ever again.

But again, one plot at a time. Wouldn’t want to tax the reader by making them follow more than one thread between all the chapters.

Dragon’s Code, Chapter Nine: Content Notes: drunkenness, vomiting, kidnapping, head injuries

Chapter Nine starts with J’hon dropping Sebell and Piemur back off at Nabol, since they have to observe the meeting that’s happening between the conspirators. Their fire lizards go flying off because the weather is not to their liking, which is good for them since they’re not supposed to be appearing as harpers or as people who would attract attention to anyone who might make them for being something other than what they are.

Sebell and Piemur make contact with Laida, Marek’s wife, who drives off a child that is striking the side of her house with a stick with words and curses, before she settles them both down and makes them a cup of tea with something that Piemur is not particularly interested in trying at first.

Then she took a nub of gray root from her tunic pocket and wiped it clean with a quick scrape of her knife. She laid it flat on a piece of board, which she rested on her knees, and holding her knife so the blade was placed flat-side down over the root, she gave it a quick bang with the heel of her hand. When the knife was removed, Piemur could see the root had been nearly squashed and moisture slowly oozed from its flattened sides. Then the old lady cut the root in half lengthwise and plopped a piece in each of the cups.
[…Laida says this’ll do them well…]
Piemur, however, had never seen the root that Laida had used before and was more reticent in his approach than Sebell. He had bad memories of being forced to down noxious drafts by his foster mother, Ama, when he was a young lad.

Piemur doesn’t voice this, of course, and so he gets prodded by Laida that it’ll be fine, and Sebell is not giving him any indications that what’s going on is harmful, so eventually, Piemur sips the tea and finds it delicious and enjoys the entire cup. I feel like this would be a good time for Piemur to reflect on how much his unwillingness to talk about anything bothering him has gotten him in a lot of trouble before (since it was the whole “discretion” thing that kept the abuse going on for far longer than it might have, if Silvina had been willing to raise hell right off the mark and Piemur had been willing to talk about it), but Piemur doesn’t talk about why he’s slightly suspicious of remedies and nobody has the capacity to notice it and ask.

Also, Laida and Marek both speak with a phonetic accent. “Youse just sit there now te wait on ‘im. We’ll see ya roight. Feckin’ rain has youse soaked roight through,” for example. The more I read these kinds of phonetic representations of accents, the less I like them, since they’re almost always used as a way of showing someone is a country bumpkin, uneducated and otherwise unrefined. Which is going to set things up later that such a rough person turns out to be very helpful or effective, since these are people aligned with our protagonists. Instead, we could just have things like this: “Piemur thought he would never get used to the way Marek’s typical Nabolese accent stressed the second syllable of his name rather than the first: Pie-mur. He had to force himself to refrain from correcting him.” That gets across fine enough that the way things are being said are different than what the reader might imagine, without having any sort of tortured pronunciation requirements. And it also makes me wonder why Piemur isn’t correcting Marek. Is it because he’s tried, and Marek doesn’t bother? Is it because Piemur assumes Marek won’t bother, based on his own experiences in life and his current assessment of his own self-worth and self-importance? Is it because all of the abuse and trauma that Piemur has suffered tells him that the only thing that happens when he asks people to acknowledge his humanity is that he’s going to get abused more? There’s characterization to be had here, and the author is glossing over it.

Also, to close the loop on this ginger-like root (as best I can tell, it seems to be a ginger-like root), after they leave Marek’s and start lying in wait for the conspirators, Piemur finds he’s amped up.

“Shards, Sebell, what was in that brew old Laida gave us? I have a fierce dose of the jitters.”
“Here.” Sebell took a cloth packet from his satchel and handed it to Piemur. “Eat this and the jumpiness should calm down. They call the root jango. It only grows here in Nabol. All the older folk up here take it, swear it gives them more pep. I think it’s a bit of a cure-all, too, but it’s best to eat something at the same time as taking it, I’ve discovered. This”—he pointed at the packet in Piemur’s hand—”should do the trick.” Piemur unwrapped it and found a hard roll filled with cured meat and pickled root vegetables.

So, Sebell knew about this, but apparently couldn’t be bothered to volunteer this information until after Piemur asks him about it. Despite the fact that they are both then going to a stakeout where they’re going to need to stay still and otherwise not draw attention to themselves.

There’s just so much not-communicating going on here, it’s a wonder anything succeeds. Maybe we’re supposed to believe that the harpers are just that good, in the same way that they were just that good with the music in the last chapter, that things don’t need to be articulated. Which, fine, if that’s what you want, great, but then figure out ways of cluing the reader in about what is going on.

Spinning back a bit, Marek has some more information for Sebell and Piemur about Jerrol and the others who are part of this conspiracy.

“Ah, they bin meetin’ together a lot these past few months after they came back home. Can’t help themselves but rock the boat till someone takes note and gives ’em what they want.”
“After they came home, Marek, where were they?” Sebell asked.
“They mooched ’round fer a spell after the old Lord died, an’ then they got the bright idea to make a go of it on their own down south. Didn’t look like they made much of a go, from what I saw, ne’er mind that they were gone fer Turns. When they got home, they were in a woe-geous state, their tails well tucked twixt their legs. And they bin sulkin’ ever since!”
“Hm,” Sebell said, resting his index finger against his lips as he thought. “That would explain why they’re stirring things up so long after Lord Meron’s demise.”

Perhaps I’m being unduly cynical at this point, but hearing this, I have to ask (again) the question that’s been in the background of this entire work: Why is this plot being taken seriously? In 21st c. Terra, with the technologies that we have at hand, and a sufficiently lax system of laws, a single person can cause a mass casualty event without the assistance of any other conspirator, and even occasionally succeed at striking a government official. But this is Pern, where you have to get close enough to stab someone if you want to off them. In addition to that, though, the conspirators seriously made a deal with the South to get help with Jaxom in exchange for the stolen egg. The egg, while stolen, has been returned, so I have to ask whether or not these conspirators still think they’re going to have any dragon help in their plot. Because I can certainly see the Southern riders laughing in their face about being expected to uphold their end of the bargain. Heck, even if the plan succeeded, I can see the Southern dragonriders telling the unimportant hold folk to get lost, because who are you going to complain to about dragonriders not fulfilling their end of the bargain to help you overthrow and assassinate a Lord? Logically, these conspirators were always hosed, and nobody needs to waste any resources on them until they get serious, at which point they should be attracting the attention of Lord Deckter’s police.

Which is to say, there’s no reason the Harpers should be here at all, is there? Piemur’s report should be passed to either Deckter or his appropriate sheriff for further analysis and action. Which would probably be “if Jerrol or his compatriots try to leave Nabol headed to Crom or Ruatha, detain them for questioning and seize whatever property they have on them.”

Instead, for narrative purposes, we have two valuable Harpers going in to a brewhouse to get more information about the nature of their plot. Which goes reasonably well to start with, as Piemur and Sebell pose as successful traders who have enough money to buy a few friends some drinks, so they make a few friends to buy drinks for.

And, oddly enough, Piemur gets drunk. Now, we’re supposed to see it as him falling to the temptation of his gut, but that’s not all of what’s going on here.

Skal was a canny man who knew how to make thirsty folk drink more, so when the noise in the courtyard has sudden to a near-raucous level, he passed out free baskets of hot crackled meat strips and chunks of fried tubers, generously sprinkled with spices and salt. His customers fell on the food like a ravenous pack, polishing off every morsel. But the salty food had the effect of drying their mouths, which made the drinkers quick to order more rounds of ale and cider to quench their renewed thirsts.
Just like everyone else at Skal’s, Piemur tucked into the baskets of food with gusto, falling to notice the subtle warning look Sebell shot him from across the counter. This was turning into one jolly and unexpectedly fine evening, Piemur fancied as he took a long draft from his third beaker of cider.

Because I want to know how Piemur is already on his third beaker without the person who supposedly has charge of him giving him a warning about drinking too much too quickly. Or how Piemur has had to actually consume those two beakers, instead of finding plenty of different ways to get rid of the liquid without actually having to drink it, like he did in the previous chapter when he was eavesdropping. Not a paragraph before, Sebell has put a lot of drink in front of him and told him to “drink up,” but presumably Piemur knows this is an act by Sebell’s character and his actual job is to remain as sober as possible so they can gather good intelligence. But instead, we have a drunk Piemur, which doesn’t seem to make any sense at all, who has had two beakers of the stuff and is working on three, (maybe we’re supposed to extrapolate that the drunkenness is because he keeps eating the salty spicy food that comes out to get people to buy more alcohol, and then drinks the actual stuff to get rid of the dryness in his mouth?) and who between himself and Sebell, has attracted the attention of Jerrol, and has been telling stories and fabrications about his character’s life for their amusement, and then eventually, Piemur primes them to talk about Jaxom and their thoughts on the matter.

While fighting the urge to vomit, an urge he eventually gives in to, Piemur makes his excuses and goes outside the brewhouse, eventually passing in and out of consciousness as he tries to get himself under control well enough to go find Sebell. Eventually, though, he’s found by Jentjs, and it’s made exceedingly clear that Sebell and Piemur were made as harpers before Jerrol beats him into unconsciousness.

That solves the problem of finding Sebell, as when Piemur awakens, with a hangover and pain from being beaten, he finds Sebell tied to a bench and unconscious. At least until Piemur touches Sebell’s shoulder, and the pain from that is apparently enough to get Sebell awake and talking. While Piemur tries to free Sebell from the ropes, Sebell insists that Piemur take whatever opportunity he gets to get out alive, because not only did he have an arm that feels “dead at the shoulder and hurts unbearably if [he] move[s] it even a second,” he “[doesn’t] think [he] could walk more than two paces on [his] own without falling over,” thanks to being beaten “around the knees and shins.” Piemur, of course, is adamant that he’s going to get Sebell out of there, but the return of their captors springs Piemur into action to escape, and after biting one of them on the leg and bowling over the lot that was there, and running for a properly long time, Piemur’s pursuit gives up, and then Piemur has to figure his way out from underneath the cellars of Nabol Hold. Which he does, by reasoning through what the sand under his feet would feel like as he got more toward the cellar parts that were actually in use. Popping out on what he realizes is the other side of Nabol Hold, Piemur tries to get help, but instead bashes himself into a tree branch and knocks himself out. When he comes to, a woman named Fronna is complaining that Skal is responsible for Piemur’s state, since he was the one who brewed the brew that resulted in Piemur being insensate outside of her door. Skal does come and take care of Piemur to provide him with some water and klah, and wants him to stay and rest, but Piemur remembers that he still has to get help for Sebell, and dashes out, reaching out for his fire lizard. Farli doesn’t respond, but eventually, he finds Kimi, Sebell’s fire lizard, manages to absorb her complete panic, and gives her instructions to go find Menolly and get help for himself. That ends the chapter, with Kimi popping through hyperspace to get help for Piemur, It’s a lot of pages of Piemur wandering in the dark, and then stopping to think, and then running on panic again, before he’s forcibly stopped, and then running on panic again because Sebell is still captive and he has to get help. It’s some of the best narrative the book has, because it’s actually got stakes and worries and an unknown fate and drama, unlike just about everything else in this book. It still makes me wonder what the two of them are doing, since their biggest support toward making this ill-thought-out plan work has almost assuredly vanished with the return of the queen egg. And, despite being the best swing that the author has put forth at the narrative so far, it’s going to get zero quotation coverage because it really is exactly as described, although Fronna will be important much later on.

In addition to that, though, in the middle of things, there’s an extended digression from Piemur becoming angry that his privileged position hasn’t protected him or Sebell from being hurt.

How dare they hit him! How dare they beat and tie up Sebell, too. A journeyman masterharper! We are not their enemies, Piemur raged. No one was their enemy! His breathing grew heavy as his sense of outraged indignation mounted. But as he took control again and his breathing eventually slowed, Piemur began to realize just how desperate those three holdless, feckless men were. They were close kin of Meron, the late Lord of Nabol, so it was no wonder they acted so abominably.
[…because Meron is, as has long been established, an abusive shitweasel…]
Meron’s kin had learned to expect that the holdings he promised to bequeath to one hopeful relative would be dramatically and whimsically wrenched out of their hands over some perceived slight, only to be given to yet another eager kinsman who would, in due course, suffer the same fate. Such was Meron’s perverse predilection to bamboozle his kin and keep them all on tenterhooks that it was no surprise, Piemur reckoned, that they were all tainted with the same element of perversity and cruelty that had characterized every aspect of Meron’s life.
Meron had been, quite simply, a wicked man who got no greater satisfaction from life than when he was brewing up malaise and discord among his nearest and not-so-dearest clansfolk. Such perverse depravity needed to be leached out of Meron’s kin, Piemur knew, or it would never die, only spread and proliferate like Thread.

So I’m guessing that Robinton never told anyone about the role he and Oldive played in establishing Deckter as the Lord of Nabol, and the entirely legitimate grievance some of Meron’s kin might have against harpers and healers if that story were to get out and be believed. Or the part where they might already believe that harpers are agents of the Lords and complicit in their abuses, making them acceptable targets for violence. Or perhaps these people have heard and believed the mythical doctrine only hinted at in Masterharper where harpers and their teachings are to be driven away as corrupting influences on the youth.

Or maybe they found spies in their ring and wanted to make sure nobody talked or would be believed if they did talk. As kidnappers, they make the cardinal mistake of leaving people alive instead of just killing them outright, but since they talk about Sebell being more useful for their purposes, they obviously believe there’s some better message they can send with him alive. Or with him tortured before he’s killed. Or something. It could be anything, given that these are the people who thought they would be able to infiltrate a rival hold, kill the leader, and then just claim the place for themselves, with dragonrider help or not. It suits Piemur’s narrative, though, to blame Meron and his perverse desires to string everyone along as the reason why they are all like this and desperate and why they would dare to strike a harper, who wasn’t their enemy at all, even for just the simple reason that very few people want to think of themselves as villains in their own stories. Piemur believes the harpers have no enemies, and yet, here he has been, spying on dragonriders and conspirators alike so they can’t do anything to implement their plans. The kind of thing that, y’know, makes enemies out of people.

We’ll get resolution to this nonsense next week.