Dragonquest: Empathizing with One’s Ancestors

Last time, the narrative gave us a Two Minutes Hate with regard to Kylara and Meron, but also, fire-lizard eggs hatched and presumably, Kylara and Meron both got one.

Dragonquest: Chapter VII: Content Notes: Subtle Sexism

Chapter VII opens with a trip to see Fandarel – the blacksmith Terry from the opening chapter is hale, hearty, and entirely sleep-deprived, just like F’lar. Who ignores the news from F’nor about fire-lizards before knowing what it was. We get confirmation the Mastersmith does have a sense of humor and a demonstration of a loudspeaker for communication in the Crafthall.

Wait, what? For a medieval pastiche, we have telegraph wires and devices, and an interoffice communication system, which no doubt requires some amount of transmission of audio over a wire. If it weren’t for the dragons, we’d be firmly in steampunk territory with Pern. As it is, it’s now really quite the mishmash of technology and feudal obligations, and the clash is starting to grind, because the technology already being deployed would easily adapt to a military use in case the subjects decided they didn’t want to serve under awful Lord Holders. With Thread falling outside, it would be easy to arrange an “accident” where an unpopular Lord would be outside his Hold, with no way back in and the rain coming. Get the assistance of a dragonrider and you’re all set. Of course, you still have to deal with the dragonriders if you want a proper democratic entity, even if you can flamethrower your liege at any time.

Then comes the distance-writer demonstration. Fandarel explains the chemistry: metal-acid reaction produces energy, which both drives the machine and allows the messages to be sent either or both of the two places the wires have been run to. To engage the system, acid from the telegraph arm presses on litmus, making marks and sending the electric signal to the destination, Or received electric signals actuate the arm and print messages from the other locales. During the demonstration, Lessa accidentally touches the paper, drawing a quip from F’lar about her acidity in word and deed. Leesa invites F’lar to try the same trick in response.

Mostly, though, this entire interlude serves to tell me the only way to figure out what sort of time period, or even type of novel, we’re in… is to say “oh, fuck this” and stop trying to figure it out. Because the presence of electricity, even if it is DC, should mean a lot of possibilities just opened up for the Smiths to explore. Anyway, over a meal, we find that telegraph communication is not quite that easy, even if it is faster-than-dragon (which it really isn’t, because dragons can time-travel and arrive in time for someone to get the message as it is dispatched) because constructing appropriate wire (which is being strung above ground for now) is difficult and the Holders are more interested in weapons than logistics.

At least, until Lessa tastes the food, at which point, the saboteur of Fax’s dinners declares a need for a better kitchen staff.

Lessa had taken a sip of the klah and barely managed to swallow the acid stuff. The bread was lumpy and half-baked, the sausage within composed of huge, inedible chunks, yet both Terry and Fandarel ate with great appetite. Indifferent service was one matter; but decent food quite another.

“If this is the food he [the local Lord Holder] barters you for flamethrowers, I’d refuse,” she exclaimed. “Even the fruit is rotten.”

“What’s your wife’s name?” [Lessa asked]

“Lessa,” F’lar repeated, more urgently.

“No wife,” the Smith mumbled,…

“Well, even a headwoman ought to be able to manage better than this.”

Terry cleared his mouth to explain. “Our headwoman is a good enough cook but she’s so much better at bringing up faded ink on the skins we’ve been studying that she’s been doing that instead.”

“Surely one of the other wives…”

Terry made a grimace. “We’ve been so pressed for help, with all these additional projects,…that anyone who can has turned crafter…”

Lessa declares she’ll send over some of her excess women to cook, under strict orders nor to get engaged in crafting, and thunders off to make a proper pot of klah.

Which conveniently leaves the men to discuss manly matters. I have to say, though, this is a nice call back to Lessa’s previous life as a kitchen drudge involved in food preparation. It conjures an image of the recently-made Weyrwoman, many years ago, confronting the kitchen staff about technique and spicing and making sure that the food she was served would always be high-quality. But it also subtly reinforces the idea that cooking is women’s work. Lessa runs down the people who should be cooking – a wife, a headwoman, excess women in her Weyr. No suggestion made for the men to handle their cooking, in case there’s someone with an aptitude.

Actually, the Smthcrafthall is doing some interesting things regarding equality. Fandarel’s quest for efficiency provides excellent cover for getting women and others who might be stuck in a role they don’t like or aren’t the best at to change and do what they’re good at in service of the Craft, putting the best people to work on things. If his ideas escape his Crafthall and get in to others…

…which might be something F’lar is about to help with the pollination of, suggesting that the Masterharper could send copy scribes to help with the transcription of old Records, freeing up some personnel to go back to their Smithcraft. Terry espouses a view that knowledge should be preserved for all, a position that I applaud, and the Mastersmith thinks the scribes could be delivered by dragon for maximum efficiency and speed. Terry is thankful for the extra help, and expresses both his thanks and his assessment of what it’s like to work with the time-skipped Weyrs.

“I see it this way, and I’ve seen riders from every Weyr by now. The Oldtimers have been fighting Thread since their birth. That’s all they’ve known. They’re tired, and not just from skipping forward in time four hundred Turns. They’re heart-tired, bone-tired. They’ve had too much rising to alarms, seen too many friends and dragons die, Threadscored. They rest on custom, because that’s safest and takes the least energy. And they feel entitled to whatever they want. Their minds may be numb with too much time between, though they think fast enough to talk you out of anything. As far as they’re concerned, there’s always been Thread. There’s nothing else to look forward to. They don’t remember, they can’t really conceive of a time, of four hundred Turns without Thread. We can. Our fathers could, and their fathers. We live at a different rhythm because Hold and Craft alike threw off that ancient fear and grew, in other ways and other paths, which we can’t give up now. We exist only because the Oldtimers lived in their Time and in ours. And fought in both Times. We can see a way out, a life without Thread. They knew only one thing and they’ve taught us that. How to fight Thread. They simply can’t see that we, that anyone, could take it just one step further and destroy Thread forever.”

“I hadn’t seen the Oldtimers in just that light,” he [F’lar] said slowly.

And that, F’lar, is why you’re the figurehead. You get to play the translator role between modernity and the time-skipped, and, assuming you don’t let your ego get in the way, you’ll be the one who can forge the understanding and help bring around the others to the new reality. After Terry finishes, Lessa enters with the pot of klah, and the spell is broken, but not without a geater understanding. How long did MCU Captain America have to spend acclimating himself to the idea that he had lost sixty years of time? Or Aang, having been frozen in ice for a hundred years? Change is painful, even for those who live through it. Hiw much more painful it must be to have had a complete change happen without you being there to live it, or to get adjused to it? Time marches on, but for people invested in the past, it’s always a pain to have to let go.

Having increased their empathy and sympathy for the time-skipped Weyrs, F’lar reads F’nor’s message about fire-lizards. And for…the third time, I think, when someone mentions fire-lizards are Impressable, someone else asks if they can be trained as messengers. Either the narrative is tryig really hard to alert us to a plot point, or people on Pern have remarkably similar ideas about novelty. Lessa and F’lar decide they might want to explore Fort Weyr for more hidden rooms, and…all that empathy they had just obtained in the absract goes right out the window when having to consider the specifics of acually dealing with Mardra and T’ron. Ah, well, chapter’s over.


18 thoughts on “Dragonquest: Empathizing with One’s Ancestors

  1. Only Some Stardust September 4, 2014 at 11:19 am

    Captain America or Aang the dragon rider would be a very different story.

  2. depizan September 4, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    The threadfall patern confuses me, so I looked it up in the Pern wiki. 200 year interval, 50 years of intermittent threadfall. There are no Oldtimers older than 60? Though it wouldn’t even take that, because the Oldtimers parents or at least grandparents should have lived through some of the previous interval. They may, depending on their age, have no personal experience with an interval, but they should know they exist.

    Now being depressed that they got zapped from the end of a threadfall to the beginning of one, meaning they will never now know an interval, when they should have…that could explain some of their jackassery. They agreed to do it, but the reality might still be upsetting.

    Then again, tradition seemed to be big in the last book, after 200 years of no threadfall, so all in all the general sentiment seems on target, but the reasoning is wonky.

    (Though I don’t understand why a turn is half a year, or why there was an interval that lasted twice as long as normal. Retcon?)

  3. Kitsuneko September 4, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    Depizan: One turn=one year, plus or minus a couple days, supposedly. But close enough to be the same. Sometimes the red star doesn’t pass close enough to Pern to drop Thread because reasons, so there’s an extra 250 years in a long interval. (It should actually be 450 turns since the Oldtimers left: interval +missed pass+interval. Author mistake I guess.)

    The Oldtimers DO know about intervals, but it’s like your second paragraph: they spent 50 years fighting thread and now they’re doing it again and have effectively no retirement, so yeah, I bet some of them are bitter. (It’s not exactly like the average rider could have chosen to stay behind, it seems.)

  4. genesistrine September 4, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    I can see why most Pernese would think “they could carry messages!” early on; Lord Holders have runners and messengers, and Harpers have their drum network, but we’re never told how much access the average Pernese has to those. If your relatives have moved to another Hold or Hall how do you get in touch with them? Can you get in touch with them?

    The thing that puzzles me is why it’s dragonriders thinking that. Theoretically they’re just 2 degrees away from any other dragonrider – ask your dragon to ask X’s dragon to tell him whatever, though it doesn’t seem to work like that in practice – for example, the scene where Ramoth’s about to rise, and F’nor tries to demand that F’lar and K’net are called in. Apparently, only a bronze can get in touch with another bronze? (When Ramoth’s asleep, at least) So (AAARGH!) it must presumably be a colour-based thing – the lower-ranked colours can’t initiate contact with higher-ranked ones.

    But in that case how can blues and greens be watchdragons if they can’t yell for help?

  5. depizan September 4, 2014 at 6:18 pm

    Thanks! I’d forgotten it was an unusually long interval.

    And, yeah, some number of people wouldn’t have had much choice. I wonder if the particularly difficult riders were ones who didn’t have a choice. Though that raises another question – they couldn’t have brought much in the way of support staff with them, so their arrival has to be putting more of a strain on the farmers, crafters, drudges, etc. That sounds like a recipe for resentment in both directions to me. And there was already a lot of stress between the holders and the single weyr.

    I have a feeling things would be going smoother if someone like Terry had been in charge of helping everyone adjust. I have a suspicion that F’lar just thought everything would be fine and didn’t make any effort.

  6. genesistrine September 4, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    Yeah, no need to bring any of the cooks or cleaners, we’ll just pick up new ones when we get there!

    Sounds plausible…

  7. J. Random Scribbler September 4, 2014 at 8:56 pm

    I think they were meant to have brought all their support staff when they came forward, never mind the impossible logistics. If they had left all those people behind, it would hardly be a mystery where all the dragons went, and the secret of time travel would’ve been widely known.

    Though I guess if you can’t take everybody with you, but you can’t leave them to create time paradoxes, truly evil people could come up with another solution.

    Of course I’m putting WAY more thought into this than AM seems to have. In her world, common people aren’t much more than wisps and figments, so you could easily carry twenty or thirty per dragon.</snark>

    And then there’s the whole technology thing. Never mind that nobody rediscovered electricity or the telegraph in two thousand years, the plot needs it now, so up it pops. True, some of the implications are explored as time goes on, but I better not finish this sentence the way I first intended because spoilers.

    I’m looking forward to your reactions to the next few chapters!

  8. genesistrine September 5, 2014 at 2:59 am

    I like to imagine that the Smithcrafthall has had electricity all along, and that 100% of all gold doodads they’ve sold are actually electroplated.

    Is it ever explained what “glows” actually are and how they’re made/powered/recharged etc? Are they bioluminescent, radioactive, a relative of glowsticks? Smithcraft-manufactured, Farmer-grown, a ~~DEEEEEP MYSTERY~~ of the hearthwomen?

  9. Firedrake September 5, 2014 at 7:15 am

    I think they were implied to be bioluminescent and possibly engineered, but it’s been a fair few years since I read these.

  10. Silver Adept September 5, 2014 at 8:04 am

    Regarding the grumbles of the time-skipped, I can’t remember if Lessa appealed to their sense of duty to get them, or whether they were just gung-ho about fighting Thread again, because it casts their grumbling in different lights depending on why they came forward.

    As for the logistics, I’ll bet each rider brought their favorite servant or two with them, and the rest have forgotten they were ever there, like all the other convenient forgetting that has gone on to this point. After finding out that wasn’t enough to actually run the place, the time-skipped Weyrs started raiding the nearby Holds and Crafts for their drudges. Which F’lar entirely would be okay with, given his willingness to hold Hold women hostage to get what he wanted.

    Dragon communication, I think, is implied to be most easily shuttled though queen dragons, where all the hatchlings of one queen can relay between each other. Ramoth, being extra-special, can relay between any two dragons, even those not of her brood. So maybe everyone is thinking of fire lizards as message systems because they appear to not have limitations or code requirements to getting messages across. Actual worldwide communications, for once.

    Glows, I think, are supposed to make us think of bioluminescent moss or fungus that grows and has to be gathered regularly, as it loses its power once picked. Past that, no details are forthcoming, like how the Smith rediscovered electricity, if it was a lost science in the first place. Metal-acid reactions that can be controlled sufficiently to provide a steady DC current is not simple science, and especially not those that can be controlled by a switch. So I’m really beginning to wonder how much Pern was intended to stay a pastiche from the start, or whether there is a goal in mind where Pern becomes a high-technology world, like the Talents series and the Rowan series, even at this stage of existence.

  11. Only Some Stardust September 5, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    20 or 30 people per dragon may not be unrealistic depending on how big these dragons are, and how low the gravity is and how much dragon powers can offset weight.

    In a different set of novels, the Temerarie series, massive dragons with eighty or a hundred foot wingspans cart around huge crews full of gunmen and bombers. Of course, those dragons are basically blimps with gas inside of them, but still.

    Baby dragons are pony sized, greens and blues seem to around that of a giraffe in smaller scales (I know there was some sort of feet/meters mix up?), so I can easily see a bronze carrying 12 people. And a dozen greens all carrying four people each wouldn’t be an insignificant number. If you go with the really insane dragon sizes where a human is like a mouse on their head and the dragon is longer than two buses, I could see a gold carrying thirty or forty people easy.

    Dragons being unable to communicate with one another is very nonsensical; what kind of species can’t talk to a fraction of its own members? If they had different languages and cultures that might make sense, but this is inborn… unless it is cultural?

    On another note, I’m wondering how one doesn’t have serious problems of dragon rider rebellion where a low ranking rider just decides to teleport off where no one can find them and do their own thing. Gold power must be some serious stuff – these riders can even teleport across times until everyone forgets about them if they are determined to get away so if it’s gold influence it’s got to be able to reach across times. It truly is strange we never hear of a single dragon rider going rogue and deciding to find employment somewhere else (unless we do and I don’t remember it?); I’m sure some bandits would love them if they can’t find any holders who can think of a use for a personal dragon rider at their beck and call.

    What would have been pretty cool and interesting would be, I dunno, an alternate culture of nomads and dragon riders, always living on the edge and threatened by thread, fishing and defending tiny bits of turf and herds out far away from the safety of the holds.

    It would seem to me with thread around there would have to be some plant life that develops a defense against it. They drown, so bogs and marsh should be optimal habitat, maybe plant life that specializes in growing out of ponds, so you’d end up tending water fields. Rice paddies would be king if they thought to bring any rice (I don’t see why they wouldn’t, it would be odd not to bring such a staple crop). Plants can release spores and grow rapidly, so logically when thread hits some plants should adapt by releasing thousands of millions of spores into the air, hit down and grow just enough to release more spores again, rinse and repeat. Poison of some sort should work; are we to believe that thread is completely immune to all forms of toxin? If so, what about slime, some animals defend themselves by producing prodigious amounts of slime that is hard to get or move through and (most importantly) breathe through. Or chemical burning substances? If firelizards can evolve fire-breath, why can’t a plant or bug, bacteria or fungi, as those tend to be far more creative than lizards and mammals when it comes to chemical defense?

    ‘Wolffia plants have the fastest population growth rate of any seed plant. Under ideal conditions a single plant of the Indian species Wolffia microscopica may reproduce vegetatively by budding every 30 hours. One minute plant could theoretically give rise to one nonillion plants (one followed by 30 zeros) in about four months’

    Of course, if Pern wasn’t under threat by it, just colonists and some earth crops and animals, we wouldn’t have much of a novel.

  12. genesistrine September 5, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    @ Silver Adept, re grumbles: the impression I get is that the Oldtimers leapt at the chance of jumping forward because, ironically, they were scared of having to adapt to post-Pass Pern and thought that way they could go on exactly as they had been….

    As for the staff, it wouldn’t matter what they said – they’re, well, they’re peasants. No-one’s going to put anything they say in the Records, and all they know is this weird woman on an ill queen showed up and then everyone packed up and left. Where to? Who knows?

    Dragon communication is a conceptual mess. F’lar passes commands to his wing through Mnementh, and Mnementh reports back what the dragons are thinking, without any implication that he has trouble doing that. Maybe Canth was asleep when all the bronze riders turned up in that scene…. I don’t remember running across anything that indicates Ramoth is anything unusual in the comms dept as queen dragons go, but I do wonder if Mnementh has the dragon version of Lessa’s ability – there’re a number of instances of him making snarky telepathic remarks to passing humans, and he at least seems to be very much more intelligent than we’re told dragons are….

  13. genesistrine September 5, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    @ Only Some Stardust, re dragon size: Ramoth’s head is described as “man-sized” in the first book, when she’s full-grown, and she’s the largest dragon in existence.

    Re rogue dragons, I was wondering that myself with regard to PTSD/battle fatigue. If a rider decides he’s not risking injuring his beloved dragon by fighting Thread, what can be done to force or coerce him?

    Plants – there’s a thought. Maybe the main body deep enough underwater that Thread would drown, and fast-growing leaves to replace ones that get et?

  14. kisekileia September 6, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    TW: rape, in the paragraph starting with “I don’t know…” only.

    (Note: I have read all of the Pern books written by Anne McCaffrey alone except for the last third of the very last book, most of them multiple times.)

    I don’t know if the person doing the deconstruction has previously read the books or not, but I just want to warn them (and everyone else, especially those who may be reading along) that there’s a really disgusting rape scene not very far ahead, so they should probably prepare themselves. The scene is an example of the old romance novel trope where a scene is written as nonconsensual to allow the victim to have sex with someone she’s interested in while preserving her ‘virtue’. So it’s a product of its time. However, it’s still really, really gross.

    Re: the dragons as messengers: The dragons can and do all communicate with each other. However, I think that with Threadfall currently ongoing, the dragons don’t have a lot of time or energy to relay any messages other than the most important ones. Even when Thread isn’t falling, the dragons are frequently drilling Thread-fighting strategies in order to pass those strategies down through the generations to the next dragons who will have to fight Thread. Fire-lizards aren’t needed for other tasks besides carrying messages, and will thus be more useful for that purpose.

    Dragon communication is also somewhat limited by the cognitive abilities of the dragons. The larger, higher-ranked ones (i.e. the golds and bronzes) are smarter than the lower-ranked ones (i.e. the greens, blues, and to some extent the browns). Dragons also do not have the same profile of cognitive abilities as humans–there are some concepts and tasks that they have difficulty with, including remembering people’s names.
    Re: why the Oldtimers came forward, I believe it was because of a mixture of Lessa presenting a compelling case (possibly with a bit of her mind magic added) and the dragonfighters not knowing what to do with themselves post-Thread.

    With dragon communication in the scene where Ramoth’s about to rise, I would have to look at the scene to be sure, but my guess is that F’nor couldn’t relay a message to F’lar via Mnementh because Mnementh was a bit too preoccupied with Ramoth being about to rise. Bronze dragons (and riders) don’t think all that clearly when a queen’s about to rise or in flight.

    Looking back at the whole series, I don’t think I ever read about a dragon carrying more than about four people at a time, but I think that’s more because of the practicalities of fitting many people in a line on a dragon’s back (including the issue of where they can grip) than because of limits to the dragons’ weight-bearing ability.

  15. kisekileia September 6, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    I *think* dragon communication might also be limited by distance, i.e. it’s harder when the dragons are farther apart, but I can’t remember for sure.

  16. genesistrine September 7, 2014 at 4:31 am

    @ kisekileia, the scene where Ramoth’s about to rise happens when Mnementh and F’lar are away from the Weyr, chasing K’net and his bronze who are off thieving supplies from the Holds, so the problem is neither knows.

    I think for the sake of my sanity I’ll headcanon that Canth was asleep while all this was going on and F’nor was too freaked by all the sweaty, creepy bronze riders stampeding in in a gang to think that someone else would put out an APB for the missing ones. (Though apparently no-one but Lessa did….)

  17. kisekileia September 7, 2014 at 9:05 am

    Genesistrine: Ah, okay. Could be an issue of distance, distraction, or Canth sleeping.

  18. J. Random Scribbler September 9, 2014 at 12:53 am

    FWIW, my “20 or 30” remark was meant purely as an exaggeration to show how normal people are so insignificant in this world. Please forgive my sense of humor in that whole comment, I was operating on too little sleep.

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