Dragonflight: Exposition! Blessed Exposition!

(by Silver Adept)

When we last left them, F’lar almost admitted to himself, although to nobody else, that he had and continues to traumatize Lessa, who hasn’t been able to recover from the original trauma she suffered at Fax’s hands nearly thirteen years ago – she never got time to decompress and get closure, and the way F’lar treats her is pretty much ensuring she stays in the survival mode she had to adopt for all that time at Ruatha.

Additionally, failing to make the cut for human decency from last week was a comment alleging that sexual assault was so commonplace in the ancient and medieval worlds that we should not be making as big of a deal about it when it appears in a fantasy pastiche-world written into existence in 01968. The exercise of how long and hard to laugh at the premise is left to the reader.

Dragonflight, Part III: Content Notes: Domestic Abuse, Slut-shaming, Classism

We get to put all that aside, though, to finally learn the mechanics of going between and taking advantage of dragons as hyperspace travel entities. Mostly so that F’lar doesn’t have to dwell too long on the wrongness of what he’s doing to Lessa. Apparently, the trick to using the hyperspace drive is to have a very firm picture of where you want to go in your head, and then to command the dragon to go to that spot. So there really isn’t anything stopping dragons from appearing inside holds or other enclosed spaces, except…

“Once we came across a dragon and a rider entombed together in solid rock. They…were…very young.”

So, apparently, there’s either some variance in the actual location relative to the visualization, or the materialization is exactly where the visualization is, without any draconic compensation for size or location. Which, y’know, is kind of stupid that there isn’t a failsafe built in somehow so that situations where the jump is going to be off don’t end so lethally. Also, how do entire wings of dragonriders manage not to telefrag each other if they’re all envisioning the same spot for arrival, if there’s no compensation for where they arrive?

Or, as it turns out, compensation for when they arrive, as Ramoth and Lessa arrive at Ruatha on the day Fax slaughtered everyone but her in her family. And then hop forward to Ruatha on the day Fax dies. And then finally hop back to F’lar in the present. Who is livid, and reacts as F’lar does, by violently shaking Lessa so much that she can’t even organize her thoughts enough to answer his increasingly irate questioning.

She made no move to evade him as he grabbed her shoulders and shook her violently…. He was spitting with anger, punctuating each question that tumbled from his lips with a head-wrenching shake…. She reached out to catch at his arms, but he shook her again….Lessa cried louder, clutching at him distractedly because he kept jerking her off balance. She couldn’t organize her thoughts with him jolting her around.

Lessa is having a time-loop-induced flashback and running a million “what if?” scenarios in her head, but F’lar cannot see her distress, because he has questions that must be answered. Fuck you, F’lar.

Once he finally calms, and Lessa explains, we find ourselves in possession of a time loop – Lessa-of-the-future warns Lessa-of-the-past about Fax, so Lessa saves herself after she’s been saved. Which has us wonder how Lessa saved herself at the initial point of contact, before the loop starts. To stop Lessa from a guilt loop about whether she could have prevented the past, F’lar is callous about her grief. And then runs off to immediately time-jump himself back to a time in his own past and come back. Because anything Lessa can do, F’lar can do better, and the narrative ensures that F’lar always gets what he wants.

The next section is all about studying the records of time past, which is what F’lar uses to reconstruct a general timeline of how Thread will come to fall on Pern. And again, for being a nominal fantasy novel about dragons, there’s an explanation of orbital mechanics (the Red Star has a retrograde rotation compared to Pern), climate effects, and, as it turns out, the ancestors were definitely people of SCIENCE! To the point that they know what Thread actually is – a spore that can apparently survive the cold of space, and then activate at certain temperatures once it reaches Pern. (That information was divulged in the Introduction – see? Spoilers.) And that they have designs of how Thredfall works – up to six hours of attack with a fourteen-hour rest in between attacks. Thus, the placement of Weyrs so that there would always be a fresh complement of dragons, rather, “fire-lizards”, to shoot down the Thread before it touched down.

So F’lar knows a lot about orbital mechanics, instinctively understands the dangers of screwing with the timeline, but is comparably light on metallurgy, biology, and genetics…ish. What, exactly, are they teaching the weyrlings, anyway? Or is F’lar just the special snowflake that understands it all? Again, we find ourselves with gestures and sweeps toward what history is on Pern, but nothing of substance or detail. F’lar is pretty confident that there will be enough dragons and kids for them in time for the Thread, because he assumes Ramoth is going to be exceptionally fertile in the time running up to the Threadfall, and the queens she produces are going to be the same. While again making reference to the promiscuity of green dragons and their riders.

“Some green’s getting herself chased again.”

“And that’s another item your so-called all-knowing Records never mention. Why is it that only the gold dragon can reproduce?”

F’lar did not suppress a lascivious chuckle.

“Well, for one thing, firestone inhibits reproduction. If they never chewed stone, greens could lay, but at best they produce small beasts, and we need big ones. And for another thing – … if the greens could reproduce, considering their amorousness and the numbers we have of them, we’d be up to our ears in dragons in next to no time.”

Well, then, that’s interesting. If you’re a green rider, you can basically count out ever being Weyr-in-charge anywhere, and you’re apparently going to be a slut. If you’re not a bronze rider, there’s probably no chance you’ll ever be Weyrleader. What this does, though, is stratify the dragons into the fighting classes and the noble classes that lead them, but don’t actually flame Thread themselves. And we’re supposed to accept this, basically, because the dragons chose the kids they want to Impress upon.

Which says a lot of things, most of them Unfortunate. If you’re not appropriately-minded, you’ll be killed by a dragon. If you are, though, a dragon will select you based on your innate personality. You’ve impressed a Green? Congratulations, you’re a slut. Gold? Excellent, you’re…pure-blooded? Bronze? You’re…ambitious? Ruthless? Willing to sexually assault your Weyrwoman? This does not look good. We have yet to see what the overarching virtue of the other dragon colors, but I’m not holding my breath that it’s anything good.

And oh, look, a convenient distraction – Ramoth’s laying her eggs! Forty-one, to be exact. And F’lar, Traditionalist Extraordinaire, basically throws out all the traditions out the window regarding eggs and candidates and who’s allowed to watch (fathers only, though – F’lar’s upheaval has limits, after all) and…there are no casualties, because the candidates know what to do with awkward dragons. Ramoth’s queen goes to a rival for F’lar’s affection, so Lessa is able to send off a potential usurper to manage their own Weyr, even though the narrative wants to paint Lessa as jealous of others vying for F’lar’s attention, and everything is running smoothly, and the preparations for Thread are going according to plan.

So here’s a good place to stop, because the next section is where the battle plan meets the actual enemy.

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8 thoughts on “Dragonflight: Exposition! Blessed Exposition!

  1. depizan June 19, 2014 at 10:02 pm

    Ow, my brain.

    Okay, setting aside the requirement to envision one’s destination specifically enough to end up where one intends and not somewhere that looks similar, there are so many questions/problems here. If one can teleport through time, how does one avoid time travel when going between. After all, one can only envision a place as it looked the last time one was there…when one was there. (Or, given that the book allows people to transfer mind images through dragons, the last time one’s teacher was there.) After all, Lessa and Ramoth accidentally time traveled. How could they possibly be the first ones? Also, unless Ramoth didn’t get, er, with eggs (pregnant?) until after she and Lessa’s trip…it’s perfectly safe for dragons to go between while pregnant. So WTF was up with F’lar forcing Lessa back into Ramoth’s mind?

    “Some green’s getting herself chased again.”

    Wowwww, that really says everything about F’lar’s attitude toward women. And none of what it says is good. I know we’re supposed to assume the green wants to be chased, but that’s a hell of an assumption for F’lar to make. And if she doesn’t want to be chased… Yeah, this is just a clusterfuck of awful.

    Also, this stereotyping of dragons and riders is damn bizarre when we have Lessa’s predecessor as proof that there’s not a typical Weyrwoman. Hell, the book seems to want us to think that all Lessa and Jora had nothing in common but their gender, and spends some time differentiating F’lar from R’gul. But of course all greens and their riders are just sluts. Sure they are.

  2. Only Some Stardust June 20, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    What exactly would be wrong with the greens breeding so often and how would that lead to being overloaded with dragons? Don’t dragons naturally kill themselves if they don’t impress, and couldn’t you just smash the eggs before they become sapient beings?

    Also, there’s an additional complication: they aren’t just sluts, they’re GAY sluts. If I remember correctly, greens impress males and females. So it isn’t just misogyny here (though demeaning men who act ‘too female’ is definitely misogynist), there’s… is homophobia the word when it isn’t fearful, just condescending? Mishomony? eh.

  3. Firedrake June 20, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    Only Some Stardust, I believe that was one of the Big Problems around when Pern fandom started getting seriously organised: AFAIR the books never talk about male green riders in any detail, but clearly they are going to be having homosexual encounters. So some of the fans asked Anne about this, and, well, she said the thing she said (content warning for homophobia and being just plain wrong).

  4. Silver Adept June 21, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    @ depizan –

    Left out of the quoted bit is that riders can apparently change the visualization to change the time, by changing the position of the sun, so they can theoretically arrive without too much time slippage, or they get a transmitted image from the dragon rider stationed at the destination, relayed through Lessa or something like that.

    I really don’t know about why Lessa had to stay in Ramoth, unless it’s because otherwise Lessa would have fought and possibly come very close to killing F’lar while he was raping her.

    As for greens, yeah, it doesn’t get any better every time the amorous tendencies of green dragons get mentioned. And it seems to only be the greens and their riders that get this particular stereotypes. Extratextual Knowledge tries to rectify this problem, but it doesn’t really manage to do the job.

    @ Only Some Stardust –

    Some Future Knowledge suggests that dragons that don’t impress go feral, assuming they behave in generally the same way as the fire lizards. Which then leaves you with very large predators on the loose. You could smash the eggs, but there’s enough places where a dragon could clutch that presumably not all of the feral ones would die. Perhaps later Future Knowledge will contradict this.

    Yes, there’s also misandry involved when it comes to green riders, as textually, the only female candidates we’ve seen have been standing for the queen. So theoretically, for both of the Impressions we’ve seen so far, the greens have all gone to men, too.

    Now, if Weyr culture really were giving us the impression that they were totally okay with gay relationships, this would be plausible. We’ve received no such reassurances. So, the problems, they compound.

  5. depizan June 21, 2014 at 7:32 pm

    I’m not sure the teleportation, especially with the element of time travel, is salvageable short of “a wizard did it.” As this isn’t actually a fantasy novel, that’s rather problematic.

    Position of the sun (never mind that one has to approximate that, since one can’t look at the sun) might make sure you arrive at the right time of day and the right time of year, but I don’t see how it ensures that you’d arrive in the right year. Having to have a rider at the destination for each jump hasn’t been established and seems not to fit with any of the jumps described so far, or with the lessons. In fact, the lessons that Lessa receives indicates that people memorize images… which means that all jumps are definitely being done based on images from the past.

    Why don’t the riders using those images end up jumping to the time that the image was “taken”? Why did Lessa accidentally time travel, but no one in however many decades or centuries before her do the same? Why doesn’t accidental time travel happen all the time? It doesn’t seem to be any more difficult than travel via dragon hyperspace normally is.

    I mean, I don’t have to worry about how not to time travel when I walk across the room, because that isn’t possible. But if one day I walked across the room and *bamf* I was in last week, I’d damn well want a good understanding of how to control that. And they don’t. Or, rather, what they decide on doesn’t seem to be true.

    F’lar claims you can only time travel if you “remember references peculiar to a significant day.” But that is not what the text says Lessa did. Lessa thought of the weyr before Fax – a state it should have been in on many more days than the one Fax arrived on. Now, one could argue that the travel happened to that day because Lessa did have it in mind in a sense, as the day everything changed. But that’s not a visual reference. And we’re still left with the question of why no other dragonrider has accidentally gone back to a significant moment in their life while traveling to the place that it happened. Unless no dragonrider has had a significant life moment anywhere they’ve then traveled back to, which seems so implausible as to be laughable.

    Never mind that they’re able to time travel without significant personal emotional moments later on in the book. *throws up hands* A wizard did it.

  6. Silver Adept June 24, 2014 at 7:41 am

    @ depizan –

    Quite. Narrative consistency is not the strong suit here, even just within the book, so expect many more of these headdesk moments, I think. The details aren’t important at this level, even if they do cause lots of WTFs.

  7. depizan June 24, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    It wouldn’t be half as frustrating if the plot didn’t hinge on the time travel and other details that McCaffrey just sort of waves her hands at and hopes we won’t think about. I probably wouldn’t even worry about the time travel if the narrative didn’t call attention to it. It’s sort of disconcerting to have the author go: “Look! Shiny! No, wait, I mean don’t look!”

    Though, I will admit that if the protagonists were likable, I’d probably get carried along by the story better and be less likely to notice the flaws and lack of consistency. Since I don’t like them and so don’t care much what happens to them, reading along is more on the order of a chore. Which leaves my brain free to pounce on the WTFs. *sigh*

  8. Silver Adept June 25, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    @ depizan –

    Regrettably, that trend continues. Many, many of the characters here and in forthcoming books waste very little time establishing themselves as disagreeable characters and then do nothing to change that opinion through the book. So there will be plenty of F to WT at as we go along.

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