Dragonflight: Scheming Woman, Backfiring Plan

(by Silver Adept)

When we last left F’lar of the Immense Ego and Darth Lessa, Lessa had just obtained her dragon companion, Ramoth, guaranteeing she would be the next Weyrwoman of F’lar’s Weyr, ensuring the two of them can continue to be forced to spend time together. They do have something in common, though – they both have some belief that they are better than everyone around them.

Dragonflight, Part II: Content Notes: Misogyny, Rape

There’s a short timeskip zfter thr aftermath of the Hatching, leading to the part of a princess movie where the princess has to learn all the boring details of court life, when all she wants is to go have adventures. R’gul and S’lel, the Weyrleader and his lieutenant are Those Two Guys, the perpetually bickering pair, neither of whom is able to impart any useful information and that resist her pushback against their rote instruction with “It’s tradition.” (Traditioooooooon!) For more than a few pages, we have Lessa working through the equivalent of the classics, slowly realizing their koan-like natures, in between bouts of snark at the last, now-deceased queen and her rider and how F’lar wouldn’t have touched her with a ten-foot pole and the desire to go back to Ruatha and oust the regent and the child. I still maintain that Lessa is entirely okay with infanticide, and that is not a quality to have in a leader.

To get away from history lessons, Lessa gets inforrmed of a logistics shortage. R’gul is getting ready to trade with the holds instead of using the dragons to go grab everything for the Weyr and leaving everyone else to take the scraps. Not everyone is sending their proper tributes, and there’s only one half-staffed Weyr instead of a full five. And F’lar is waiting, as is tradition, for the mating flight to take over so that he can dominate legitimately. So Lessa hatches another plan, not only to depose R’gul, but also to bring all the Weyrs and their corresponding holds under her control.

It must be tiring for F’lar to be right all the fucking time – avarice does become Lessa’s motivation to be a great Weyrwoman. And it gives her a purpose and plot to move forward with – apparently, Lessa isn’t alive if she isn’t scheming something and keeping secrets.

This time around, however, when Lessa tries to use the Force and goad the dragonriders into raiding the holds, her Jaegermomster-subtle strike is picked up by F’lar, who reacts as F’lar does – violence against her body, and a strong backlash against her mentally. And, as always seems to happen, Lessa’s plan to encourage raiding and supplying the Weyr backfires because the rider she encouraged to raid draws too much attention to himself.

Y’know, this pattern is chock-full of issues, now that I look at it. Lessa hatched her original plot, with her ambition to kill Fax, and it sustained her for ten years, while she…sabotaged the Hold and generally made things miserable for the people that were there, while Fax was away. And then she maneuvered F’lar to kill Fax, finally, only to be undone by her lie coming true. And now, she’s trying to provoke the dragonriders into fighting the Holds, but the one she chooses lacks discretion, and F’lar snuffs out her attempts. Which is setting up Lessa as the conniving, shrewish, bitchy woman who needs a Strong Man to teach her the right and proper way to be submissive to men, and to stop trying to advance her own interests and just dutifully accept her powerless role. We’re in Taming of the Shrew territory instead of Much Ado About Nothing, but without any signs that the classic Shakespeare inversion is on the way.

And, right on cue, we now have a mating flight opportunity, which means F’lar, a bronze rider, will get his shot at becoming the Weyrleader if Mnementh can mate with Ramoth. So, the dragon surrogates will have a dominance fight in proxy to F’lar and Lessa. Because the bronzes are the ones that go after Ramoth as she takes to the air.

Once aloft, though, Lessa and Ramoth gestalt into one consciousness, running solely on instinct and wanting to get away from the stupid boys that think they can catch her. As the “lesser” ones drop off, Lessa-Ramoth goes down to taunt the survivors, thinking about how great she is, and the inevitable fouling-of-plans happens, and Mnementh is able to catch Ramoth and mate with her.

Which apparently means that F’lar has free reign to have sex with Lessa without her consent. Since she was never informed about what happens when dragons go on a mating flight, and because I think it’s safe to say that having a dragon in heat in your head qualifies as a sufficiently altered state of mind to be unable to give a true consent. The narrative carefully constructs things, though, to give credence to the “but she was asking for it” defense:

The mating passion of the two dragons at that moment spiraled wide to include Lessa. A tidal wave rising relentlessly from the sea of her soul flooded Lessa. With a longing cry, she clung to F’lar. She felt his body rock-firm against hers, his hard arms lifting her up, his mouth fastening mercilessly on hers as she drowned deep in another unexpected flood of desire.

And, fade to black, with F’lar once again getting everything he wants, now including Lessa and the Weyr.

And F’lar even gets his victory lap, with no mention of how Lessa actually felt the morning after, when her mind was clear, other than an impassive look on her face and a warning from Mnementh to be careful of her. And, look, conveniently on the horizon, a distraction on the form of an invading army!

…which we’ll get to next time.

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12 thoughts on “Dragonflight: Scheming Woman, Backfiring Plan

  1. Brin May 29, 2014 at 9:25 am

    You know, anti-siren techniques would probably work well here. At-risk people ought to be restrained in such a way that they can’t do anything while bewitched (and they are bewitched) they may regret when sober. It says a lot about these people that they don’t treat it like that.

  2. Silver Adept May 30, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    @ Brin –

    They really would work here quite well. Future Knowledge tells us that Weyr culture is supposedly over most sexual hang-ups and taboos and has very few issues with regard to sexual expression. What we are shown, in the future, however, makes everything we’re being told lies and damn lies. When we get to more clear examples of this, I’ll be highlighting them.

    That knowledge adds Wrong retroactively to this scene, though – not only is consent not sought, it’s not even thought in any serious way that consent might be needed or would be best sought as explanation of what happens during mating flights and the likely outcomes of such things. Like depizan mentioned in the last post, it seems that dragonriders are looking outside specifically to find women that can be controlled and exploited, and that won’t speak up because they don’t know any better. Wrong compounds exponentially, if not logarithmically.

  3. depizan May 31, 2014 at 11:33 am

    I no longer have any understanding of why Fax was a villain, unless it was purely because he didn’t follow Tradiiiiiition! There appears to be absolutely no moral or ethical divide between Fax and Lessa and F’lar. No, wait, I think F’lar is Lawful Evil rather than Neutral Evil. What a difference!

    Fine, the Weyrs are a necessary evil, all that stands between the people of Pern and death by Thread. But they didn’t have to be written that way. This isn’t a history book. There is no Pern. The politics of Pern are entirely McCaffrey’s choices. She chose to give us main characters who see nothing wrong with tyranny – as long as they get to be the tyrants.

    What bothers me about this is less that she decided to have evil main characters and more that I’m still getting that awful sense that the values dissonance is between me and Anne McCaffrey, not between the audience (including me) and the world of Pern.

    (Don’t bother with the “this is just how feudalism worked!” excuse. Fiction. Authorial choices. She could have written about feudalism – or her understanding of it – without appearing to endorse it uncritically. She could’ve had Lessa actually be a drudge elevated to Weyrwoman, she could’ve had Lessa have compassion for other people, she could’ve given us a viewpoint character in one of the Holds that sees the Weyr as a parasite, she could’ve given us characters raising doubts about the whole system…the list goes on.)

    The mating flight is actually even more awful because F’lar forces her back into Ramoth’s mind during sex – supposedly to keep Ramoth from going between – and I’m pretty sure he’d already stripped (possibly both of them) at that point. She clutched at F’lar, touching bare skin… So it’s pretty much 100% rape. He knew what would happen, he was prepared for what would happen, he didn’t warn her, and he made sure she was in Ramoth’s mind.

    Also, the keeping Ramoth from going between… if I didn’t know spoilers, I’m not sure I’d believe him, since it seems unlikely that dragons would naturally accidentally kill themselves while mating. Nor is it clear that she does a damned thing other than re-mind-meld with the dragon. (Knowing spoilers, if it really is necessary for dragons to be mind-melded and kept from going between while they mate… What the ever-living FUCK was wrong with the people who designed them?!)

  4. Silver Adept June 1, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    @ depizan –

    Yes, the difference really is between “legitimate” Lawful Evil and “illegitimate” Lawful Evil. And since the narrative believes the dragonriders, especially F’lar, are always right, that values dissonance you’re feeling doesn’t really get much play. Even when we do get to see characters who see the Weyrs as parasitic or necessary evils, they tend to be portrayed as Cartoonishly Evil.

    While Future Knowledge doesn’t explicitly declare the reason for forcing a dragon to stay out of hyperspace, we later find out that pregnant women and pregnant dragons abort or miscarry if they go into hyperspace. (Supposedly, the intense cold is too much for the developing young. Or something.) So it’s not for suicide reasons, its to make sure the Ramoth gets and stays impregnated and produces egg clutches. It’s not much better than the idea of dragons needing to be saved from themselves, but there it is.

    The best about whether or not the narrative will call it a rape is yet to come, though, because we’re going to be able to explore F’lar’s feelings about the master, while we conveniently don’t get to hear what Lessa thought about it.

  5. depizan June 1, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    That it’s so Ramoth stays pregnant is WTF on even more levels. Pregnancy begins at sex!? WUT Don’t the dragon sperm and the dragon eggs need to at least meet, first? Okay, maybe the intense cold is too much for the sperm and eggs, except, wait, if the cold is killing off frickin’ reproductive cells inside the thickest part of a dragon’s body, how are the dragons and riders not dead the moment they pop into between? Because that’s pretty much flash frozen solid, guys. Unless dragon uteri are thin sacks on the outside of their body or something weird that hasn’t been explicitly stated in text. (This is a problem for the miscarry issue too, but right now Ramoth and Mnemeth are just doing the horizontal mambo. They haven’t even conceived yet!)

    And, if it can kill sperm once they’re in a female dragon (and, if dragons are built like mammals, far more internal than when they were in the guy), how is it that male dragons don’t get instant birth control applied to their testicles every time they go between? Or do their dangly bits not dangle?

    Hell, I can’t get past the miscarry due to cold issue. Is that seriously the explanation? Not just the current explanation due to lack of science/tech to figure it out? The cold inside the dragon’s womb kills the fetus???

    And, once again, a species couldn’t have evolved this way – if your instinct is to abort your babies, you’re not going to successfully reproduce. (Or, with spoilers, WTF was going on with the designers?)

  6. Only Some Stardust June 1, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    One way to fix the ‘no between’ thing is if it was just an urban legend, and in reality pregnant dragons can go between just fine.

    (spoilerish) Maybe the designer was ultra-paranoid about keeping a race of meat eating dragons from getting loose and breeding without people controlling them. Or wanted a way to ensure that if you wanted to keep two dragons from breeding there was a back up control, or if the dragon population was getting overpopulated and you wanted few to no individuals to breed for awhile.

    A control to allow selective breeding would of course imply one wasn’t doing things like breeding siblings from the same clutch to each other willy nilly…. I seem to remember that happening, although maybe my memory is faulty and it wasn’t quite that bad.

  7. depizan June 1, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    Yep, if it were mistaken science that between causes female dragons and people to miscarry due to cold, it would be fine. (It could even be true that it causes them to miscarry, but for other reasons.) But I am at a loss as to how it can be the cold – unless dragon physiology really does put the womb somewhere truly strange and vulnerable. (I still don’t know what species I should even be looking to for dragon physiology – a number of things seem to make straight reptile unlikely, but even if they were, it makes no sense that sperm would be safe in a male dragon, but unsafe in a female dragon.)

    Oh, no, wait, it effects humans, too. Never mind the dragons, how are any of the dragon riders still fertile? Or even alive. I know where humans keep their uteri and if the fetus is going to freeze to death, so is mom. And anyone else in that environment. I could maybe squint and say it was risky at advanced stages of pregnancy, just because all kinds of things can end up inducing premature labor, at that would be a much more serious problem on Pern.

    (spoilerish) That’s a plausible explanation for why dragon reproduction was designed to be human assisted, but surely the designer could arrange that without making the dragons into date-rape drugs. Especially is it’s not at all clear from the book that the humans are thinking clearly enough to have control over the dragons at the time. Eh, it’s just all a mess. And, most likely, was dreamed up so that the two leads would have sex. Feh.

  8. Silver Adept June 2, 2014 at 10:33 am

    Yeah, its a mess. I consulted my notes on Future Knowledge, and I don’t have anywhere where the cold is explicitly mentioned, but there’s something about hyperspace being bad for developing organisms, and people in hyperspace always describe it as both cold and being utterly unable to feel anything while there, and I think I extrapolated the need for significant heat to harden and quicken dragon eggs along with other Future Knowledge about hyperspace being used as a way to abort, and yeah. So the official explanation isn’t necessarily that it’s the cold, but since the official explanation isn’t forthcoming, that’s the best guess I can come up with.

    It’s a big mess – maybe much later Future Knowledge will sort it out for us.

    As for the design, I think it’s been obliquely hinted at that candidates for Impression have certain tendencies that make it easier for them to form the psychic pair-bond. Perhaps over time, the criteria have changed from “has good mental fortitude to keep self and dragon separate” to “can form the gestalt more easily and deeply”. The unintended-to-the-designer effect is that dragons are essentially date-rape drugs when in heat.

  9. depizan June 2, 2014 at 11:45 am

    I’ve got to learn to avoid the wikis of book series under deconstruction. They always make things worse.

    Not only does the Pern wiki state that it’s the cold that terminates pregnancies (how???), but the the cold is ” far below zero, and possibly colder than outer space” which is a whole new WHUT. I’m not sure how cold a temperature a person can survive for three seconds, but that seems to be pushing it, to put it mildly.

    Googling tells me that -40 is cold enough for skin to freeze pretty much instantly, and yet I couldn’t find any mention of Lessa (or for that matter, anyone else) putting on protective gear before traveling to the Weyr. So either the Pern wiki is wrong and it doesn’t get to -40, much less colder than outer space, or McCaffrey changed her mind about how cold it gets after she wrote this book, or she forgot to do research, or something.

    It’s pushing it to have an environment that’s a problem for a developing fetus, but not the person carrying it, anyway. I think one would have to go with “a wizard did it” or do a hell of a lot of research to have something that worked. Coming up with an environment that is a problem for conception still seems even more problematic than that.

    And we have now probably considered this way more than McCaffrey.

    But at least you’ve come up with a way for the designers not to have been complete monsters!

  10. J. Random Scribbler June 3, 2014 at 2:58 am

    Oh, man, the mating flights issue. Originally I didn’t question the idea; thinking that since the riders are carried away by their dragons’ desire, that means they want to have sex, and nothing’s wrong with that, right? (And that’s not even my worst case of obliviousness to Unfortunate Implications of Pern back then.)

    Then, a fellow fan club member pointed out that being mind-controlled into wanting sex is not at all the same thing as actually wanting sex. In our club canon we stated that candidates were informed about this stuff before they stood for their first Hatching, and had the chance to go back home. This is far from a perfect solution, but it was pretty much the best we could do given the constraints on Pern fandom at the time. We also stated that both riders are pretty much out of their heads, regardless of how many flights they’ve been through, so at least there wouldn’t be conscious abuse.

    As described in Dragonflight, though, F’lar is clearly more conscious than Lessa, and we know Lessa wasn’t told what to expect at any point. (If it was anywhere in the endless lessons with R’gul and S’lel, it obviously wasn’t clear enough.) Seriously squicky.

    And re the abortion thing, it is clearly stated later that a rider can intentionally abort by jumping between at the right stage. IIRC, the early books never explicitly stated that it was caused by the cold, just that people believed it was. I don’t remember anything about dragons having this problem, and pregnant queens are shown jumping around and fighting Thread.

  11. Only Some Stardust June 3, 2014 at 10:28 am

    You know, there’s another read here: that ‘go between’ here means ‘potential death/suicide’. Going between is dangerous and can get you lost forever if I remember correctly. But mating flights causing the dragons to kill themselves is even crazier than the abortion idea. A species so dumb it can’t even breed unassisted without killing itself?

  12. Silver Adept June 3, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    @ J. Random Scribbler –

    That sticks us back to square one about how the abortion thing happens in humans. And it’s a nice fix attempt for your group, in terms of trying to make things less squicky. Which it totally is, logarithmically more, when you know that F’lar knows what’s going on and Lessa doesn’t.

    @ Only Some Stardust –

    I don’t know about dumb, but if the Lessa-Ramoth gestalt is normal, it might be more a case of revenge – you caught me, bronze, you lesser being, but I’ll take you with me to deny you the satisfaction of a successful mating. Which is still a horrible idea and makes us question just what was being bred for in dragons, but that at least avoids calling the dragons fundamentally stupid.

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