Dragonsong: And, Back To One

(by Silver Adept)

Well, after the ball of fail and triggers that was Dragonquest, we return to the world of Pern for an entirely different trilogy, the Harper Hall trilogy.

Worth noting here is that, despite being the third Pern book written, chronologically speaking, it is likely to be the first book that readers encounter involving the world. This is thanks to bookstores, libraries, and others marketing this trilogy in their children’s and teens sections, due to the age of the primary protagonists. Does this mean that these stories will be more like the boys’ adventure story chapters that we saw with Jaxom and Felessan?

Well, the main character of this book is Menolly, a young woman. So let’s say my expectations are not very high. Time to get underway.

This version of the book opens with the same spoiler data as the previous two, another fairly clear addition based on current continuity, rather than the likely available material at publication. The only important thing to note is that Dragonsong starts seven Turns after the time skip. So it’s set concurrently to the events of Dragonquest, theoretically. Let’s see if the timelines stay lined up.

Dragonsong: Chapter One: Content Notes: Sexism ahoy, domestic abuse

Chapter One opens with the preparations for a funerary rite. Which suggests that the will be more worldbuilding in this particular chapter than there has been in the two previous books. That will be… refreshing. Anyway, the Harper attached to the Half-Circle Sea Hold has died, and it falls to the Sea Holder, Yanus, to ensure his funeral goes appropriately, including the singing of the correct songs. Yanus has asked around of all the people in the Hold with musical talent, and had been told the same thing – not I, but your youngest daughter, Menolly, she can. Which aggravates Yanus and his wife, Mavi, because neither of them is fond of the thought that Menolly wants to become a Harper, instead of taking an interest in those things that are proper for a young girl in a Sea Hold.

Given the way the narrative has treated women who have ideas about breaking out of “traditional” roles and doing what they want to do so far, I would place a money bet that Menolly is going to be injured, killed, or psychologically scarred by her parents before the book is over. If not her parents, then a random event will do it, instead. This is also making me wonder whether the classification as a kid or teen book is because they saw the age of the protagonist and forgot to read the actual content.

After the brief interlude of how her parents disapprove of her career aspirations, we go to the actual burial at sea. Menolly is able to perform the Deathsong, but collapses in tears afterward, with a brief memory of the Harper, Petiron, who is definitely a progressive voice on Pern. Petiron sent some compositions of Menolly’s to Robinton, a sure sign of his respect for her talent. Alas, gender roles have already taken hold in Menolly’s mind.

“Women can’t be Harpers,” she’d said to Petiron, astonished and awed.

“One in ten hundred have perfect pitch,” Petiron had said in one of his evasive replies. “One in ten thousand can build an acceptable melody with meaningful words. We’re you only a lad, there’d be no problem at all.”
“Well, we’re stuck with me being a girl.”
“You’d make a fine big strong lad, you would,” Petiron had replied exasperatingly.
“And what’s wrong with being a fine big strong girl?” Menolly had been half-teasing, half-annoyed.
“Nothing, surely. Nothing.”

For which the end of days for this brilliant man were either dementia or Alzheimer’s or another neurological disease. Even in the secondary characters, the narrative punishes the progressives. Also, based on this exchange, I’m imagining Menolly as a tall, broad-shouldered, solidly built and muscular woman until the narrative says otherwise. And even then, I might tell the narrative to fuck off. Because, if the narrative seems to be setting Menolly up as a tomboy, I don’t want her to look small and weak so that the narrative can try to make us believe she deserves the abuse she’s going to get.

Having sung her elegy, the boat returns, Menolly steps off, and the work of fishing begins immediately after. Life continues, and Yanus is orchestrating the moving-on as fast as he can. Mavi is doing her part to erase any trace of the Harper by organizing the children that would be receiving instruction into work crews to take care of errands at the Hold. Menolly runs her appointed task (checking to make sure all the glows – fungus used as light sources in the caves – are properly topped up so they shine well) with an efficiency of practice that Fandarel would approve of, which puts her at the Harper’s door in time to hear an argument between her mother and Soreel, the wife of another Holder, about who will teach the children, since it’s unlikely a new Harper will arrive until spring. Both Mavi and Yanus don’t want Menolly in that role, because sexism and because Menolly, not yet fifteen, has a knack for improvising earworms outside of the official canon. Yanus can’t find a way to put someone else in charge, though, and neither can Mavi, because apparently doing MANLY THINGS like the tasks of fishing removes your ability to play complex rhythms and callouses your hands in the wrong way, so Menolly gets the job, but not without threats from Yanus.

“But I’ll have no more of those finger-twiddlings of yours.”
“I sang my songs when Petiron was alive and you never minded them…”
Yanus frowned down at his tall daughter.
“Petiron was alive. He’s dead now, and you’ll obey me in this…”
Over her father’s shoulders, Menolly saw her mother’s drowning face, saw her warning headshake, and held back a quick reply.
“You’ll bear in mind what I’ve said!” And Yanus fingered the wide belt he wore. “No tuning!”
“Yes, Yanus.”
[…]
Once in the hallway, Mavi gripped her daughter’s arm hard. “Don’t disobey him, girl.”
“There’s no harm in my tunes, mother. You know what Petiron said…”
“I’ll remind you the old man’s dead. And that changes everything that went on during his life. Behave yourself while you stand in a man’s place. No tuning! Too bed now, and mind you turn the glowbaskets. No sense wasting light no eye needs.”

Because everyone knows that threatening your daughter with a beating is completely the right way to enforce discipline. Fuck you, Yanus, you shit-eating asshole.

Also, it is apparently a rule of Pern that named men in relationships with named women abuse their women in some way, usually physically. The way that Mavi warns Menolly off of crossing Yanus makes it sound entirely like this is not the first time Yanus had used the belt on Mavi and Menolly. Assuming that Yanus uses the belt and doesn’t just beat Menolly and Mavi with his hands.

Because it’s a children’s book, it’s only a threat, but it’s the kind of threat that leaves nothing to the imagination. And I have a sinking feeling it’s not going to be a threat before we’re done.

Secondly, Yanus and Mavi are supposed to be Menolly’s parents. So what’s with the exceedingly formal address between daughter and parents? Yes, Yanus. No harm, mother. Don’t cross him, girl. Not a familiar address in the whole sequence, so the implication here is that nobody in the family is particularly fond of each other. Not like we need any familial bonds or anything when things that can kill you are falling on irregular patterns outside.

There is one nice thing – nailed it on Menolly’s height. Although she’s not so tall as to be taller than Yanus, so that he can still be scary and intimidating and exert his patriarchal authority on her. If she was taller than him, well, then she might get it in her head to punch him out or something for his abuse. The narrative couldn’t have that, even though I’m desperately hoping she does just that to Yanus, and soon.

I really was hoping for something different, but it seems like we’re only going to get more of the same. Places, everyone.

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47 thoughts on “Dragonsong: And, Back To One

  1. alexseanchai October 30, 2014 at 10:19 am

    This is also making me wonder whether the classification as a kid or teen book is because they saw the age of the protagonist and forgot to read the actual content.

    I’ve got a friend who wrote a novel that she identifies as “family-focused fantasy” or some such thing. It got a review that identified it as “YA fantasy” because the protags are eighteen, and then complained about all the things in the book that weren’t right for YA.

    I remember Menolly pretty well, I think. I said in one of my school assignments the other year that reading the books about her might be one of the first steps I took towards feminism. And I identified with her real hard as a teen. Redhead girl who writes and who feels alienated from her family? Yeah. And I’m remembering spoilers, and…ugh.

  2. depizan October 30, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    Ah, Dragonsong. The only Pern book I’d actually read before you started tackling them. Of course, I read it when I was fourteen, so I don’t remember it all that well. But it certainly didn’t prompt me to seek out more of Pern. It did make me wonder why books aimed at women/teen girls were so unremittingly awful. I was (and still am) into escapism – I wanted books where people got to do awesome things and had fun doing them. Not books where people were abused and bullied and the sexism was even worse than reality. That wasn’t/isn’t my idea of escapism. (Though it seems to work for plenty of people.)

    neither of them is fond of the thought that Menolly wants to become a Harper

    But why? I don’t remember this ever being explained beyond SEXISM! er, I mean TRADITION! But I could have forgotten. Because it seems like being a Harper is a valued and valuable career.

    “…We’re you only a lad, there’d be no problem at all.”

    “You’d make a fine big strong lad, you would,” Petiron had replied exasperatingly.

    I don’t remember anything coming of this later, but my god it sounds like Petiron was trying to convince her to go to Harper Hall disguised as a boy. Only he didn’t want to come right out and say it, since her parents would be really pissed off if she did, and he’d be in enough trouble without them knowing he’d suggested it. Sadly, she didn’t realize what he was saying.

    “But I’ll have no more of those finger-twiddlings of yours.”

    Again, why? Why would he care if she were making up her own songs as long as it wasn’t interfering with whatever else she was supposed to do? It’s like he’s a horrible asshole just because.

  3. Firedrake October 30, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    Depizan: for some writers, the parents need to be Terrible in order to let the heroine shine. Or something. Mark Heiman and John Burridge tackled the Mercedes Lackey version:

    http://www-users.cs.york.ac.uk/susan/sf/filk/lackey.htm

  4. depizan October 30, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    @Firedrake,

    Yeah. I read Arrows of the Queen around the same time. It wasn’t just Dragonsong that had me WTFing other people’s idea of escapism. And despite being aimed at Lackey, that filk is fitting for rather too many “escapist” books for women/teen girls. Yeah, sure, you get your dragons or telepathic horses or whatever, but my god are you punished for wanting them.

    In fact, it’s a damn rare book in any genre that stars a woman and doesn’t punish her for…whatever it is she does. One starts to think that escapism is for men only. (And,yeah, bad stuff happens to male heroes, too. But it’s rarely personal and nasty in the way that the bad stuff that happens to female heroes is. … No, not just personal and nasty, but more… Adult Fear type things. (TV Trope, but it’s safer not to link. You can lose whole days in there.) Things that could happen to you, the reader, not just the character in the book – things you already worry about and/or deal with. That’s just not escapist to me.)

  5. genesistrine October 30, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    @ depizan: and if someone writes a story with a female protagonist who isn’t punished for coolness and adventurousness and heroism then all too often the cries of “Mary Sue!” go up unto Heaven.

  6. depizan October 30, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    @ genesistrine

    Hell, they can’t even be a female supporting character who isn’t punished for being part of the adventure without that happening. :\

  7. Only Some Stardust October 30, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    I have vaguely fond memories of this, but I was pretty young when I read it. I liked it better than the other novels, and I suppose I interpreted the author as going with over the top sexism, and the one nice male character being progressive even if he dies early, as to show it as ‘wrong’. Sexism was still fresh enough (and distant enough, being home-schooled) to be fascinating rather than exhausting, depressing and boring.

    …and that sounded like he wanted her to disguise herself as a boy to me too, lol.

  8. Silver Adept October 30, 2014 at 7:16 pm

    @ depizan –

    It totally is SEXISM, I mean, TRADITION. Best I can guess, Holders see themselves and their families as superior to the Crafts, as would befit a pastiche of the Italian city-states right about the time the merchants are buying their way into titles and the nobility. So that’s one strike. The bigger one, though, I think, is that Menolly is, as Yanus’s daughter, supposed to just be meek and obedient until she’s married off to A Holder’s son somewhere to cement an alliance. Interests past those that land her a good husband, or worse, being skilled at something better than her prospective husband might make her a poor match or unmarriageable.

    Which is to say, SEXISM, err, TRADITION. Maybe Petiron was trying to get her to go as a boy. Which would be a different Comedy of Errors, I suppose.

  9. depizan October 30, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    @Silver Adept

    That seems like a stunning lack of imagination on Yanus’s part (not, perhaps, shocking on Pern). You would think musical talent and creativity would be selling points in a world where that is pretty much the only existing entertainment. Why wouldn’t you want a wife who could sing and play an instrument?

    I think what I find so confusing about Pern’s social structure is that it feels like such a random mix and match and mostly whatever’s convenient for making the women in the plot miserable. The world feels too small for all these not that well laid out social strata. The holders feel like they’re supposed to simultaneously be nobles and peasants. Exactly where the craft halls fit in doesn’t seem that clear. And the dragonriders are jackasses to everyone.

  10. genesistrine October 31, 2014 at 3:29 am

    @Silver Adept: Menolly is, as Yanus’s daughter, supposed to just be meek and obedient until she’s married off to A Holder’s son somewhere to cement an alliance

    She probably is, but there’s never a hint that ambition in a girl who isn’t would be any more acceptable. Harpering is NO GIRLS ALLOWED. BECAUSE, that’s why.

    @depizan: Why wouldn’t you want a wife who could sing and play an instrument?

    Especially in a Sea Hold, where apparently ALL the males past puberty go out fishing and fishing destroys all musical ability BECAUSE, that’s why.

    (Though in that case it’d be interesting to know who Menolly learned the complex drum dance beats and seaholder songs she wows the Harper Hall with later from, wouldn’t it….)

    DS is a very teenage book. “Oh I’m so special but everyone hates me and never lets me do what I want!” I suspect a version written by anyone else involved would involve more annoying teenage attitude and less of every single circumstance ganging up to kick Menolly. Though I do find her parents convincing, the “I’m the only person who knows anything about MUUUSIC here!” thing is a big step too far.

    Pern’s social structure is that it feels like such a random mix and match and mostly whatever’s convenient for making the women in the plot miserable

    Half-Circle Sea Hold is a particularly good example – it’s supposed to be the biggest sea hold on Pern, but the Holder’s immediate relatives are sent out on food-gathering expeditions and have to gut fish?

    Though maybe Yanus is meant to be a complete fruitcake and we just don’t have a basis for comparison. That could be why no fosterlings – “Shard, Fred, you can’t send our son there! That Yanus is a nut! He’ll have him fixing nets and gutting fish and that’s not the kind of stuff we send our kids out to learn! Tell him… tell him Thread! Too far to travel! Very sorry!”

    (Argh, and now I’m seeing Yanus as an egalitarian and rebel against the Traditional Pernese order and developing sympathy for him. Other than his threats of domestic violence, at least….)

  11. Silver Adept October 31, 2014 at 10:45 am

    The Holders are both peasants (to the military government of the dragonriders) and nobles (to the merchant class of the Crafthalls), which puts them in the weirdest position on the planet.

    We’ll see later on that there are some women who go to the Harpers for musical instruction, but they’re basically given to the youngest journeyman (and probably the one who is most on the Master Instrument Maker’s shit list) and expected to learn rudimentary things to impress men with, while the real work of composition and performance happens elsewhere.

    Menolly picks up the songs because there’s a lot of group singing at Half-Circle and on the fishing boats – it’s not any good to trained ears, but it happens enough that Menolly’s musical abilities allow her to memorize the songs.

    Yanus is basically meant to be just as, if not more, obsessed with TRADITION than the Benden Weyrleader – to prove, perhaps, that the obsession is not limited to the dragonriders.

  12. Only Some Stardust October 31, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    Okay, so I got curious about the population numbers of Pern, since at low enough numbers society doesn’t organize itself into noble-peasant dichotomies. I found a pretty interesting site that seems to be accurate (don’t visit if you are spoiler obsessed):

    http://www.newsfrombree.co.uk/pern.htm – Pern Demographics
    http://www.newsfrombree.co.uk/dragons.htm – Dragon Demographics

    The original number of colonists is given as 6000, which rapidly increases (not surprising, humans can spread pretty quickly). They start off more democratic, but change to become more feudal as the population increases, which is sadly rather predictable. Later populations number in a few million. The way they got the numbers given in the book to work is by having an itty bitty urban-to-rural population ratio, a ratio that is really far, far too low; it is no wonder that technology is getting lost. But if there really are a few million pernese, and very spread out at that, I find it amazing only a few thousand dragon riders are enough to protect them all. I guess dat thread must conveniently have rather small areas of effect each time. However, knowing that they do in fact miss some thread, I’m starting to have a fridge horror vision of less economically important areas being less protected by dragons and getting thread devoured, or of refugees all piling in to safe spots.

    I don’t find the idea of high yield farming to be problematic, as it would make sense that their invasive species crops would face no or few pests to eat them and thus would have a much higher yield.

    I find two of the quotes they give to be pretty interesting, though, pertaining dragons. One is that dragon flights can be suppressed! In other words, there WAS ZERO reason for the Brown Rider Rapist scene in the previous book, her dragon didn’t even need to fly. Two is that gold dragons are indeed built to dislike other gold dragons and kill each other in flight for ‘population control’ purposes, and to dislike except during passes being around too many golds.

  13. genesistrine October 31, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    @Only Some Stardust: WHAT!?!

    It’s designed into queen dragons – sentient creatures – to kill each other? (And psychologically devastate their riders, if not driving them outright insane, as a side effect.) Someone is supposed to have actually thought that was a good method of population control?

    Yeah, in that case the original designers could absolutely have stupided their descendants. They couldn’t so much as spell ethics.

  14. depizan October 31, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    The whole thing seems more like someone’s horrible sims game (only with real people! :D) than what you’d get if vaguely reasonable people tried to work out how they and their descendants could survive on Pern.

    And, you know, the civilization and dragons of Pern being designed by horrible people could work fine…if I had any sense that we’re supposed to see it that way.

  15. boutet November 1, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    @depizan “And,yeah, bad stuff happens to male heroes, too.” <- I think that a lot of the time the "bad things" that happen to male heroes is that his woman/women get killed/abused/raped rather than bad things happen directly to him. Which is all kinds of problematic for reasons I'm sure you already know. Bad stuff happens to women, even when the bad stuff is "happening" to men.

  16. Silver Adept November 1, 2014 at 3:27 pm

    So wait, I’m supposed to believe that a population that regularly experiences existential threat from the sky reacts to that threat by spreading out as far as it can, instead of trying to bunch itself up as much as possible underground or into those rock cliffs carved out by the ancestors?

    I don’t think so, Tim. Even with the dragons in the sky.

    Also, this instinct to kill each other is only in the gold dragons, the sexually selective ones, and not in the greens, the sexually promiscuous ones? That’s not population control by any definition that I can think of.

    It really is a bunch of horrible people with high technology that founded this world. And apparently had no problem at all with using that technology in unethical ways. Perhaps the descendants will be appropriately horrified when they discover enough about their…oh, who am I kidding?

  17. genesistrine November 1, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    @Only Some Stardust: interesting site though – good find!

    He gets one thing wrong on the dragon demographics page though; we do have one example of a dragon dying naturally before its rider – Nemorth. Her body’s on the Hatching Ground*; if Jora had died first Nemorth would have gone between.

    *And urgh, I wouldn’t want to be the person who got that disposal job….

  18. genesistrine November 1, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    @Silver Adept, re Yanus

    I dunno, obviously TRADITION! plays a big, big part, but there does seem to be something extra weird going on at Half-Circle – he doesn’t appear to have any fosterlings from other Holds, though he’s sent at least one (mentioned in the argument about who can sing the death-song), there’s no mention of appropriately advantageous marriages being considered for Menolly and her older sister, and this whole thing about women not only not being harpers but being apparently forbidden to touch musical instruments at all – fishing may wreck the mens’ hands, but that still leaves half the Hold population, and as depizan pointed out, music and storytelling should be the major source of entertainment. Petiron’s been in failing health for a long time – it’s mentioned that his hands were crippled (rheumatoid arthritis, perhaps?), so there must have been a lot of long, tedious evenings….

    AM kind of shot herself in the foot with the NO RELIGION stricture here; Yanus would work perfectly as a kind of Puritan zealot who believes music is The Devil’s Work and Inflames Whorish Lusts, or if Half-Circle had superstitions about whistling women or noisemaking women in general, but no, Pernese have no superstitions either.

    Still, I daresay if we take it that TRADITION! is, in fact, the religion of Pern (which is certainly how it comes over) then you can get religious zealots who who assume that everything not mentioned in TRADITION! is NOT ALLOWED.

  19. Michael I November 1, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    One note is that the part about it being NOT GOOD for two queens to be in proximity when one of them is rising to mate is apparently also true for fire lizards. At least Menolly is very clear in “Dragondrums” that she HAS to send her fire lizard queen away temporarily when Sebell’s fire lizard queen is preparing to rise.

    There are a LOT of ways in which dragons are basically big fire lizards and many (perhaps most) of them may have just been carried along with the basic “get larger and more attuned to the rider” program.

  20. genesistrine November 2, 2014 at 3:26 am

    @Michael I: There are a LOT of ways in which dragons are basically big fire lizards and many (perhaps most) of them may have just been carried along with the basic “get larger and more attuned to the rider” program.

    That’s what I always assumed. Sensible engineers would change as little as possible about fire-lizard biology because they wouldn’t be there to fix any problems that showed up a few generations down the line, so you get the unwanted side-effects like mating flights affecting humans in their path. Better than having themselves or their ancestors Thread-eaten, at least, and you can site Weyrs in remote areas and instruct riders to try and avoid inhabited areas to try and minimise the problem.

    I’m hoping that page is a misinterpretation of what the book actually says, but not holding out a lot of hope. The obvious solution to overpopulation would be to have queens switch off their reproductive cycles when there are too many of them in one Weyr, and the equally obvious solution to mating-flight fights is to tweak that so only one queen in a Weyr can come into heat at any one time. But that doesn’t involve horrible things happening to women, so….

  21. Silver Adept November 2, 2014 at 8:59 am

    @ genesistrine –

    Re: Yanus – that makes sense, and Yanus has apparently has taken it to a degree that anything not explicitly spelled out in TRADITION is forbidden. That said, there are a lot of songs and rhythms to still be learned and used on the boats and in evenings at the Sea-Hold (we’ll see one of those evenings in a few chapters), so they’re not lacking for music or entertainment, it’s just that women making instrumental music is forbidden, since that’s the Harper’s job, and Harpers are only men forever because. The best justification is still a flimsy one, because Yanus never explains himself nor does anyone challenge him on it because abuser.

    Re: Dragon Biology – we see that cyclic reproduction with regard to Thread Passes, so clearly there’s a pathway that could be used to figure it how to stop queen dragons from fighting or overpopulating. But I still find it interesting that nothing like that has been done to green dragons – in the time of these books, it’s a well-established fact that chewing firestone sterilizes green dragons, but the people screwing about with the genetics would not have known about that – and greens are where everyone goes to mate. It’s been explicitly acknowledged that without firestone, greens would flood Pern with dragons, and a later book in this series talks about how green fire lizards can be used to saturate an area with fire lizards very quickly.

    Sensible engineers would go after the greens first, then fix the golds. But again, that prevents many opportunities for narrative cruelty to women, so we can only assume the engineers were hardcore misogynists. Or incredibly stupid. Or both.

  22. genesistrine November 2, 2014 at 11:53 am

    @Silver Adept:

    The engineers might have known about the firestone effect beforehand – they at least knew that firestone-chewing allowed fire-lizards to breathe flame, otherwise there wouldn’t have been any point to the breeding-bloody-great-flying-lizards program in the first place. It really depends on how long humans had to observe fire-lizard behaviour (though their name is a hint that fire-breathing was noticed early on). Another reason to prefer the original 200-years-before-Thread-falls scenario rather than the revised soon-after-planetfall one?

    One possible scenario; fire-lizards are observed to congregate at surface deposits of firestone, and someone figures out this is how come they can breathe fire at anything or anyone that menaces their nests. (Which is really the only reason they would; anything that threatens them personally they can just teleport away from.) Queens are observed bullying young greens into chewing firestone.

    Which begs the question, why don’t modern fire-lizards behave this way? Maybe there aren’t any surface deposits of firestone left, and they’re too scared of dragons to try raiding a Weyr?

  23. genesistrine November 2, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    Oh, and re Yanus:

    that’s the Harper’s job, and Harpers are only men forever because. The best justification is still a flimsy one, because Yanus never explains himself nor does anyone challenge him on it because abuser.

    It’s not just Yanus, though, it’s all of Pern. Why can’t women be Harpers?

    Because Harpers are the priests of TRADITION!ism. Menolly wants to preach. And already seems to be worryingly good at it; she’s got the knack of getting people’s attention with catchy tunes already….

  24. Silver Adept November 2, 2014 at 8:46 pm

    @ genesistrine –

    Yeah, the “we’ve had some time to investigate” theory makes more sense, with the caveat that the colonists already know Thread is coming, and therefore hit the ground running in terms of getting the genetic work done.

    I think the modern ones don’t behave this way because the humans abandoned the South, which gives the lizards time to spread out and have their eggs predated on by Thread or predators for population control. I think we’re going to find out that some lizards choose entirely unwisely about where to lay their eggs, and so that helps keep the population in check, too.

    And Menolly-as-forbidden-preacher would map wonderfully to the religion-that-isn’t, because a clearly patriarchal society as Pern would have fits about a woman in any sort of powerful role (and Harper most definitely is). So no women as Holders alone (Lessa), nor as Harpers (Menolly), nor as fighting dragonriders (Brekke thinks Mirrim will fit this).

    …yeah, there’s a religion on Pern, all right.

  25. emmy November 3, 2014 at 4:13 am

    @silver adept

    Hiding themselves in stone tunnels is supposed to be the whole reason that the colonists had to abandon their original settlement plans and huddle together in terror in the cave system they found up north. IIRC that would be Fort Weyr / Fort Hold, the first post-move settlements. Which soon suffered from overcrowding, fighting, and a really nasty outbreak of disease that threatened to destroy what little remained of civilisation.

    (I think. My memory on this stuff is fuzzy.)

    This is supposed to serve as an explanation for both how so much knowledge got lost (the population was nearly wiped out) and the push to set up more weyrs and holds.

    I didn’t mind ‘my parents are oppressing me’ too much as a teen when I read it because, well, common feeling to sympathise with. My problem was that it was so hard to understand WHY Yanus was so freaked out about her music, and particularly the way he was freaked out about it. It seems like there’s this extremely thin and arbitrary line between the musical talent that a female is encouraged to have in order to be decorative, and the musical talent that is sick and wrong and must be beaten out of you.

    The idea of the function of harpers as educators/pseudo-religion makes a lot of sense and slots in neatly to the general Pern world-building. A world that so heavily punishes women for thinking and demands that they learn to follow the rules would WANT them to sing and practice the ‘good’ songs that tell them exactly what to do, but would be extremely insistent that they never make up their own songs. That would involve original thought! And if your songs are good, it could be contagious original thought! Risks undermining the whole system!

    Maybe that is supposed to be the reason, but it didn’t come through clearly in the books when I read them. I kept being puzzled because I was comparing it to other things that controlling figures try to stop young women in stories from doing, and that usually involves either religious impurity, physical danger, or the danger of being believed to be a whore, and none of those seemed to apply to ‘tuning’.

  26. Only Some Stardust November 3, 2014 at 6:34 pm

    If I remember correctly, firestone making green dragons infertile was retconned in a later book about the Colonists. The engineer (yes, there were like, a total of two genetic engineers! and watch-weyrs were a slightly messed up dragon by second apprentice-y one I think in attempt to have nighttime thread fighters) deliberately made them infertile as long as queens are around, and made it so queens can’t chew firestone and risk themselves in a fight. She wanted the greens to be fighters and golds to be mommies.

  27. genesistrine November 4, 2014 at 4:21 am

    @emmy: Maybe that is supposed to be the reason, but it didn’t come through clearly in the books when I read them. I kept being puzzled because I was comparing it to other things that controlling figures try to stop young women in stories from doing, and that usually involves either religious impurity, physical danger, or the danger of being believed to be a whore, and none of those seemed to apply to ‘tuning’.

    I doubt that AM put much thought into it past “girl loves music therefore girl must be oppressed for loving music, with a bit of extra oppression just because”.

    @Only Some Stardust: If I remember correctly, firestone making green dragons infertile was retconned in a later book about the Colonists. The engineer (yes, there were like, a total of two genetic engineers! and watch-weyrs were a slightly messed up dragon by second apprentice-y one I think in attempt to have nighttime thread fighters) deliberately made them infertile as long as queens are around, and made it so queens can’t chew firestone and risk themselves in a fight. She wanted the greens to be fighters and golds to be mommies.

    The later books just sound worse and worse. Why does everything have to been designed in?

  28. emmy November 4, 2014 at 4:45 am

    @genesistrine yeah, i’m not saying she necessarily plotted this out consciously, but it does make a surprising amount of sense given the details that I remember here and there, like (iirc) her mother being especially upset that Menolly’s tunes were memorable so you might find yourself humming one later, and the fact that the harper hall kind of did immediately start using menolly to distribute re-educational material through her music. under the surface, it’s quite political.

  29. genesistrine November 4, 2014 at 6:27 am

    @emmy: no argument there! I find it fascinating that we can read all this stuff into it and it fits so well with the culture of the books, but that it seems to be completely unintentional on the writer’s part, and at some points even opposes what she says explicitly she intended.

  30. Silver Adept November 4, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    Which is why I love having a great comment section like this one.

    I’m still calling bullshit, however, on the colonies getting diseased, because for that to happen, they would be somehow forgetting basic sanitation and health rules just because they’re more compressed into rock caves that were dug out by giant petrol-powered machines. Even if they do it with aqueducts or gravity toilets or some non-electric means, there has to have been a sanitation system in place, or the colonists die long before Thread comes back around.

    And I doubt an indigenous organism would suddenly get this bad and deadly in closer quarters, since it has had more than enough time to try that vector in the landing space.

    A deliberate effort by A Galt-wannabee who thinks most of the people are excess, though, that I will believe. It makes the most sense.

  31. Only Some Stardust November 4, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    Ah, you don’t have to have sanitation problems to get diseases. All you need, actually, is for your antibiotics to fail against resistant strains of bacteria/viruses, possibly ones the colonists were already carrying (all it would take is a harmless flu mutating, and considering the huge number of beneficial bacteria in the body who can mutate and kill us, getting rid of all the pathogens before landing on Pern would likely be physically impossible) and for the disease to be able to spread to other people before it kills the victim.

    Although it’s a creepy possibility, considering everything we know and the fact the designers have no problem whatsoever killing off sapient beings (dragons) for their own benefit, that they might have deliberately planned to let diseases kill off a huge swath of the populace at a certain size.

    I love the comment section too. Actually I love the whole deconstruction community; it’s so hard to find people who make good arguments or speculation without descending into flame wars! So often I find myself the only person actually saying anything interesting, but here everyone tries to be thought provoking, hah. Okay now, enough patting on the back…

    I think there could be a good argument for the Original Colonists to be nearly Godlike figures, hence the emphasis on TRADITIONZ. They are the Designers who designed EVERYTHING, who left nothing alone (even the stuff that really should have been left alone). Usually, when you have an intelligent designer for an entire world, that’s a sign for ‘someone worships this’.

  32. Silver Adept November 5, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    Oh, right, there was that other part I thought about but didn’t say – it seems like if anything the colonists brought with them was going to go loopy or destructive, it would have had time to do so before the mass panic. Then again, I’m not a virologist or in a related field, so it’s possible something’s decided to play the long game on Pern.

    With the way things are, I still am more likely to believe it was an attack than a part of nature.

    It’s true – the colonists were, from what snippets I have been told about later books, basically looking to be the gods of their own domains, so there’s a good chance they set themselves up hagiographically for their descendants to worship. Not religiously, officially, but worship all the same.

  33. genesistrine November 5, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    @Silver Adept: mutation’s random, so a previously harmless bacterium or whatever could theoretically mutate into a dangerous version at any time, and, given Murphy’s Universal Law, it’d be the worst time possible. Any random Social Darwinists hanging around would presumably think that the remaining humans had shown enough fitness to survive by living through Thread, but then again we must remember to never underestimate the dumbshittery of Pernese.

    Still, overcrowded conditions, terrified and traumatised refugees… perfect conditions for anything that did emerge, whether natural, deliberate or (always a possibility to consider on Pern…) a genetic engineer fouling up.

    And, re the gods thing, they gave their names to parts of the planet. And all parts in the Northern Continent, strangely enough; the continent where only a very small part of the population would live if it weren’t for Thread….

  34. Only Some Stardust November 5, 2014 at 10:37 pm

    Yup, plague is a random ticking bomb waiting to go off at any time. Although one of the interesting things about plague is the potential for positive social upheaval as labor gains in value – I don’t think the books cover that though. it just uses plague to make people become moar backward. Hmm, maybe the spreading out and mostly avoiding uber-urban areas is a response to plague? Not grouping in cities is a very good way to prevent plagues going all Black Death style.

    I don’t recall what race(s) they are (Was it ever mentioned? I think one of the genetic engineers was Asian, implying others were not Asian), but, if they are mainly whitey-foo, white people don’t actually do so hot at the equator and warm tropical places, death rates are higher there from skin cancer and stuff. We prefer to live in the cold upper north where we first evolved. 😛 So they gave their names to all the preferable places for white folk. Although eventually, in only a few thousand years really, people would re-evolve dark skin. There might still be social prestige from it. A favored land of the ancestors, bwah!

  35. genesistrine November 6, 2014 at 3:22 am

    I think we can safely assume that all “modern” Pernese are melanin-deficient, since other races hardly existed in SF when the first books were written. Fourth-wall-breaking FTW!

    From what I remember of whatever the first colonists book was called (sorry, I’m coffee-deficient ATM) they were heavy on the Irish…

    … And all of a sudden I’m seeing the stupidity thing as an unsavoury ethnic joke. How many Pernese does it take to screw in a light bulb?

    Blarg.

  36. Mercy November 6, 2014 at 9:03 am

    Only Some Stardust: IIRC, both genetic engineers were Asian, they were like, mother and daughter or something like that.

    (Spoiler?) This was always my favorite of the Pern books growing up, probably for the same reason that I loved The Blue Castle. Growing up with abuse, I loved books about girls/women getting out from abusive situations.

  37. Silver Adept November 6, 2014 at 5:52 pm

    @ Only Some Stardust –

    Seems like a Catch-22. Spread out, die by Thread, if dragons are late or uninterested in your area. Cluster up, die by disease and plague. And with stupid Craft Secret systems, people dying means loss of knowledge, which further lowers survival.

  38. genesistrine November 7, 2014 at 3:10 am

    @Silver Adept: “And with stupid Craft Secret systems, people dying means loss of knowledge, which further lowers survival.”

    And the extra stupid thing is that we’ve already seen one attempt at keeping knowledge safe – Lessa’s metal plate from Fort Weyr. Why aren’t there more of those? With more useful info?

  39. emmy November 7, 2014 at 3:12 am

    @mercy Grandmother / granddaughter, I think? Not sure. I’m pretty sure it was a larger age gap than mother/daughter though.

  40. Silver Adept November 7, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    Got me. Apparently the first to go from the Ancients were etchers and metalworkers? And with the complaints about how poor hide and ink keeps over time, surely someone would be looking for more permanent methods of inscribing knowledge – like clay or other baked media, if they couldn’t hew stone or mark metal.

    It’s like the knowledge lost was carefully orchestrated so as to create maximum damage every time.

  41. Only Some Stardust November 7, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    Well, plague would most of the time be a more immediate potential threat than thread, so I could kinda see at least the masses and their weird spreading out behavior to not be stupidity but just slowly over time unconsciously doing what works for them – which just happens to be the opposite of good when thread comes and also makes it harder to support a large population of nonworkers. It still doesn’t excuse the secrecy of the craft system though, and the numbers frankly are way too small. Even in medieval times, people didn’t let plague stop them from having urban areas above 1%. But then they didn’t know what caused plague, so maybe if they did they’d be less keen.

    It’s also possible the spreading out is a response to having a huge new continent. Human beings spread very, very quickly across uncolonized continents in prehistoric times, and it takes time for urban centers to appear afterward. Although, those were hunter gatherers, which does bring up the interesting point that it’s often a lot more rewarding to be a hunter gatherer if the land will support it than it is to be an intensive farmer. if these people changed at all like real people do, if Pern is at all rich enough those who get outcast from their holds for whatevers should form new nomadic societies over time, perhaps ones that just take shelter when thread comes but mozey around the rest of the time. Menolly can’t be the only person with the temptation to want to leave Hold society, all you would need is one small group that manages to do it successfully (admittedly that would be hard if shelter is very difficult to get / barter for during thread times or dragon riders decide to kill them for breaking order >_>) and bamf, new society develops.

    It’s making me ponder how one might devise a new home in a metal-scarce society that would be safe from thread, actually. They die in water, and presumably there are acids, poisons they do not like, plus they hate flame. What about an underground house with water stored at the sides, and at thread time you set the ‘roof’ above you on fire? A perfect defense.

    Although it would be intensive, you could also store a lot of plants in pottery and bring them and some livestock inside during thread time, and that plus whatever you have in storage that could tide you over. If it took me a few minutes to come up with it, surely someone else even more motivated would over a few hundred years. I’m above average intelligence sure, but Pern has got to have had at least one genius born to it or even just someone not totally stupid who would have had serious motivation and ambition. Wait, ambition. Maybe I just answered my own question. 😛

    Underwater caves and houses are also a thing, although those are difficult to construct, likely needing air pumps and done wrong would result in the bends / death so probably not under pernese capability. But water stored at the sides in, say, pottery/glass is a definite possibility, though you would need repairs as the thread would eat holes in the sides of the pottery if it came in at the sides rather than above (we’ll say we leave the top open for our thread catcher water device). Perhaps as a backup have several water tanks side by side that the thread would have to eat through to get in.

  42. Silver Adept November 8, 2014 at 10:37 am

    There would still be cities – once you have enough excess population for specialization to take place, then they congregate.

    I’ve been thinking about the house idea – there is at least one known acid (agenothree) that causes Thread to violently explode, and I’m not sure whether Thread can penetrate normally-impermeable substances like rock. If it can, then saturating your house in the explosive acid and remembering to reapply regularly should handle most of the issues. Or building a roof over the area you want to protect and doing the same.

    Really, if we knew more about how much the wind affects Threadfall and how dense the rain is, and how it actually reacts to contact with organic matter, it should be possible to construct an excellent home defense system as well as a way of protecting crops and livestock, and that way, the Holdless aren’t at risk of being discovered by dragonriders and forcibly brought back to the society that they rejected/rejected them.

    More data, even if it is at the Smith level of knowledge, would be very helpful.

  43. genesistrine November 9, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    @Silver Adept: plus they’ve had 450 years with no Thread. It must have taken some ruthless social engineering to stop the Holds becoming de facto cities surrounded by shantytowns in that time.

  44. bekabot November 9, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    The dragonriders have been ruthless, but toward the end of the Long Interval the dragonriders are starting to get sloppy. F’lar, who knows what’s coming, is against all that, and when he visits Fax & Co. he starts shooting orders around, telling the Hold people that they’ve got to grub up all the greenery that’s growing around their Hold or else, etc., etc.

  45. Lodrelhai (@Lodrelhai) November 12, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    Coming to this very late, I know, but I wanted to comment on this:

    “Women can’t be Harpers,” she’d said to Petiron, astonished and awed.
    “One in ten hundred have perfect pitch,” Petiron had said in one of his evasive replies. “One in ten thousand can build an acceptable melody with meaningful words. We’re you only a lad, there’d be no problem at all.”
    “Well, we’re stuck with me being a girl.”
    “You’d make a fine big strong lad, you would,” Petiron had replied exasperatingly.
    “And what’s wrong with being a fine big strong girl?” Menolly had been half-teasing, half-annoyed.
    “Nothing, surely. Nothing.”

    This always struck me as Petiron subtly baiting Menolly to examine her own internalized prejudice. The conversation starts with her being the one to state the traditional, misogynistic issue of “only boys.” Rather than directly dismiss or override her, Petiron talks about what a fine lad she would make.

    And Menolly immediately asks what’s wrong with having those same qualities as a girl. Which, I think, was Petiron’s whole point. There is nothing wrong with a girl having qualities or talents that are designated “male,” whether those are strength and fitness or music and composition. Menolly may not have made the mental connection just yet, but the mind-worm is there to eat away at pre-conceived notions.

    I loved Petiron for this when I first read it, even though a few flashbacks and comments are all we see of him. As a “fine big strong girl” myself at the time, that argument was a constant one in my life.

  46. Silver Adept November 12, 2014 at 10:52 pm

    That’s a good interpretation, too. It would, based on the worldbuilding, make Petiron the smartest person on the planet by at least two hops on a logarithmic scale, but I’d be okay with that. (A bit pissed that the narrative continues to revenge on people that would help bring Pern forward from their pastiche, sure, but otherwise okay.)

    Because he’s right, and being a Harper, would be in a perfect position to spread that meme.

  47. Only Some Stardust November 13, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    Petiron easily wins Favorite Character Award from me, and he’s barely got any lines.

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