Dragondrums: Only A Plank Between One and Perdition

Last time, the antagonism against Piemur escalated to new heights, and all the adults around who could do something about it were otherwise occupied, unknowing, prevented by the narrative from acting, or actively aiding and abetting the drum apprentices in their campaign against Piemur.

As one might guess, at some point, these things must come to a head.

Dragonflight: Chapter 5: Content Notes: Attempted Murder, Willfully Neglectful Adults

Chapter Five begins with Piemur having to run a message to Master Oldive as Nabol has requested his presence to attend to the dying Lord Meron. Rokayas, the journeyman on duty, is suspicious that Piemur is always running messages, but he ships him off to collect Master Oldive’s reply. After collecting the response, Piemur heads back up the stairs to the heights.

He was halfway up the second flight when he felt his right foot slide on the stone. He tried to catch himself, but his forward motion and the stretch of his legs were such that he hadn’t a hope of saving himself from a fall. He tried to grab the stone railing with his right hand but it, too, was slick. He was thrown hard against the stone risers, wrenching thighs and hips, cracking his ribs painfully as he slid. He could have sworn that he heard a muffled laugh. His last conscious thought as his chin hit the stone and bit his tongue hard was that someone had greased the rail and steps.
[…Dirzan roughly wakes Piemur and is unsympathetic to his plight…]
“Greased! Greased?” Dirzan exclaimed in acid disbelief. “A likely notion. You’re always pelting up and down these steps. It’s a wonder you haven’t hurt yourself before now. Can’t you get up?”
[…Piemur wants to reply, but he’s fighting the urge to vomit over everything…]
“You said it was greased?” Dirzan’s voice came from about his head. The agitated tone hurt Piemur’s skull.
“Step there and handrail…” Piemur gestured with one hand.
“There’s not a sign of grease! On your feet!” Dirzan sounded angrier than ever.
“Did you find him, Dirzan?” Rokayas called. The voice of the duty journeyman made Piemur’s head throb like a message drum. “What happened to him?”
“He fell down the steps and knocked himself between. Dirzan was thoroughly disgusted. “Get up, Piemur!”
“No, Piemur, stay where you are,” said Rokayas, and his voice was unexpectedly concerned.

Freeze it.

Okay, so Dirzan is not, apparently, very smart, or his antagonism to Piemur is so strong that it prevents him from noticing something that Rokayas is able to pick up on immediately – Piemur is concussed. I doubt that Piemur is exhibiting subtle signs of his head injury to both of them and that Rokayas is using a hidden knowledge store collected from Silvina to determine this. Dirzan’s lack of concern for an apprentice in his care should raise big red flags about how he was able to become a journeyman in the first place, and even bigger ones about whether he will be able to maintain that rank in the face of this latest incident. By this point, yes, asshole seems to be the default personality, but there should be at least a little bit of practical or self-serving concern on Dirzan’s part.

“He said it was greased! Feel it yourself, Rokayas, clean as a drum!”
“Too clean! And if Piemur fell on his way back, he was between a long time. Too long for a mere slip. We’d better get him to Silvina.”
[…Dirzan complains, but helps Rokayas get Piemur to Silvina, while Rokayas insinuates Dirzan has been complicit in the bullying of Piemur…]
“He knocked himself between, Silvina, probably for a good twenty minutes or more.” Rokayas was saying, his urgent tine cutting through Dirzan’s petulant complaint.
“He claimed there was grease!”
“There was grease,” said Silvina. “Look at his right shoe, Dirzan. Piemur, do you feel nauseated?”

Yes, yes he does, and he proceeds to vomit all of the contents of his stomach when someone unwisely sits him up. Again, Silvina notices what Dirzan hasn’t or chooses not to. And yet, Dirzan persists in the face of conclusive evidence to the contrary. Like he has ignored the other signs that things are, well, getting out of hand. And in the same manner that the narrative has made Menolly unable to put two and three together, Silvina appears to be not allowed to draw on her own past experience (including Menolly) to drive to the correct conclusion until something flagrant happens that cannot be ignored.

The following blocks take place after Piemur has properly passed out again from his concussion.

“How could you let matters get so out of hand, Dirzan?” she demanded, working on the astonished journeyman. “What sort of prank is that for apprentices to try on anyone? Piemur’s not been himself, but I put that down to losing his voice and adjusting to the disappointment over the music. But this…this is…criminal!” Silvina brandished Piemur’s begreased boot at Dirzan, backing the astonished journeyman against the wall, oblivious to Master Robinton’s repeated query about Piemur’s condition, to Menolly’s precipitous arrival, her face flushed and furrowed with anxiety, and to Rokayas’ delighted and amused observation.

Okay, Rokayas, you’re an asshole, too, for taking schadenfreude in this situation, instead of being concerned about Piemur.

Robinton tries to take control, and Silvina will have none of it, but she does tell everyone assembled that Piemur is not head-injured past shock, concussion, and bruises and scrapes. Modern-sounding medical knowledge in an Italian city-state pastiche is odd, especially since we haven’t really explored the damage a concussion can do at the time of publication for this book, but like so many other things, we’re just supposed to accept it and move on.

“A few days’ rest will see him right, I’m sure. But I mean rest!”[…]”Right there! Nowhere near those murdering louts in the drumheights!”
“Murdering?” Dirzan gasped an objection to her term.
“He could have been killed. You know how Piemur climbs steps,” she said, scowling fiercely at the journeyman.
“But…but there wasn’t a trace of grease on those steps or the railing. I tested them all myself!”
“Too clean,” said Rokayas, and earned a reprimanding glare from Dirzan. “Too clean!” Rokayas reiterated and then said to Silvina, “Piemur’s decidedly [an] odd man. He learns too quickly.”
“And spouts off what he hears!” Dirzan spoke sharply, determined that Piemur should share responsibility for this untoward incident.

And then Dirzan is very quickly corrected on his view about that, being forced to admit Piemur has a knack for learning, with the others understanding that Piemur probably knows more than he lets on.

Here, though, you can see Dirzan’s position cracking, partially because the narrative is now ready for it to do so, but also because the narrative cannot sustain such a persistent denial in the face of the evidence provided. Murderous is exactly the right word to use to describe this scenario, and it doesn’t matter a whit whether Piemur takes the steps one at a time or three at a time. There will be no victim-blaming here.

So, the drumheights are obviously a ways up from ground level. The steps leading up and the railings have been carved out of stone. Someone has greased both steps and rails to ensure that Piemur slips and falls. Starting with the obvious, a head injury against stone, or, for that matter, an untreated broken bone from the fall could easily cause Piemur to bleed internally or externally until he dies. Piemur could break his neck or spinal column in a headfirst strike. Assuming he survives the initial contact, head injuries have the possibility of causing brain swelling, which is likely going to be fatal if untreated, especially with the Master Healer away.

That’s just assuming that Piemur falls and injures himself and stops moving from that point. If Piemur retains momentum, or lands poorly on the steps, since the greased steps are about two-thirds of the way up, it’s possible Piemur can fall off the staircase entirely, if the rails are carved in such a way that there are gaps between the posts. (There’s no detail to this point that says how the rails and steps are carved.) Which is a very swift trip down, risking more injuries or death, depending on how sheer the drop is. Or, Piemur could bounce his way back down all those unyielding stone steps to the bottom, with the attendant risk of broken bones, bleeding, organ damage, or a broken neck with each new impact.

If you’d like to recreate the possibilities of what kind of damage an unconscious person could do to themselves with enough force, I recommend Stair Dismount as a primer – sure, it’s a ragdoll, but even small amounts of force can produce big scores if applied just so.

With the history of malicious pranks leading up to this, I think it wouldn’t be very hard to charge the apprentices with attempted murder and Dirzan with anything from negligence to being an accessory to the attempt. His paper-thin defense (“Piemur blabs!”) is a non-sequitur to the act, and even so, wouldn’t justify things rising to the level of the pissed-on furs. Dirzan intends to victim-blame, first because he believes Piemur deserves it, and then increasingly to save himself from the consequences of his own inaction.

One of the constants of Pern, however, is that you do not get on the bad side of the Headwoman unless you want the full wrath of everyone to rain down upon you. I wish it were something more like “Doing bad things nets you appropriate punishment when found out,” but that’s not anywhere close to the reality that we’ve seen so far, and that injustice will continue as we find out what the punishment is.

“Rokayas, would you help Menolly collect Piemur’s things from the drumheights?” asked the Harper. His voice was mild, his manner unexceptional but, unmistakably his attitude informed Dirzan that he had misjudged Piemur’s standing in the eyes of the most important people of the Hall.
Dirzan offered to do the small task himself, and was denied; offered to help Menolly, who awarded him with a cool look. He desisted then, but the set look in his mouth and the controlled anger in his eyes suggested that he was going to deal sternly with the apprentices who had put him in such an invidious position. When he was unexpectedly placed on duty for the entire Feastday, he knew why the roster had been changed. He also knew better than to blame Piemur.

Oh, for fuck’s sake…

Cocowhat by depizan

Robinton, why haven’t you expelled all of them on the spot? The apprentices attempted murder, and the journeyman responsible for the apprentices let it happen. You can’t get much bigger in terms of misconduct. Expulsion would be the least that you should do to them. If you’re feeling charitable, send them back home. If not, let them work out the issues of living holdless, or send them to work in another Crafthall known for hard labor and very little prestige (the farmers, maybe?) Instead, Dirzan stays in the Harper Hall, just with his customary liberty revoked, and he’s left to discipline the apprentices, which, based on what his outlook appears to be, is probably going to involve a lot of abuse, most likely physical. Because the person who is made to look bad like that, and that had let all that abuse happen already, is not likely to be above getting their hands dirty when it comes to taking out their frustration on the subordinates responsible for making them lose face.

Also, how is it that Dirzan takes away from this encounter that things were only like this because Piemur had an in with the important people of the Hall? That is skull-crushingly Too Dumb To Live territory, which, admittedly, fits Dirzan’s characterization, but someone who had enough smarts to become a journeyman and be trusted with the care of apprentices should be able to draw the correct conclusion from this incident, which had nothing to do with his social status and everything to do with the apprentices in his care trying to kill someone. Of course, it would help if the punishment met the severity of the crime – if all such murder attempts as these are only punished lightly, perhaps Dirzan has a point in thinking the greatest casualty of this affair is his social status.

It really does feel like these chapters are just gender-flipped versions of what Pona, Dunca, and the Men Girl Squad did to Menolly in the last book. The idea isn’t a problem, but the lazy execution that doesn’t take into account the previous characterization established makes this painful to read on top of all the fractal Wrong actually happening.

I don’t think we’re going to see the consequences of that decision, though, because, after some recriminations about how their advice to Piemur to be discreet put the idea in his head that he didn’t have any allies to face the bullying with, the narrative pivots immediately to the next plot point once Silvina and Robinton return to his office. Oldive went to Lord Meron, who is dying, but most irritatingly to the Harpers, he refuses to name a successor, preferring a war between all the possible candidates instead of an orderly transition of power. Also, the logistics problem we mentioned a few chapters ago about T’ron gathering gemstones collects a resolution.

“Several disquieting rumors have come to my notice. The most worrying, the fact that Nabol abounds with fire lizards…”
“Nabol has no shoreline and scarcely any friends in Holds that do acquire what fire lizards are found.”
Robinton agreed. “They have also been ordering, and paying for, large quantities of fine cloth, wines, the delicacies of Nerat, Tillek, and Keroon, not to mention every sort of mongery from the Smithcrafthall that can be bought or bartered, quantities and qualities enough to garb, feed and supply amply every holder, cot and hold in Nabol…and don’t!”
“The Oldtimers!” Silvina emphasized that guess with a snap off her fingers. “T’kul and Meron were always two cuts from the same rib.”
“What I cannot figure out is what besides fire lizards the association gains Meron…”
“You can’t?” Silvina was frankly skeptical. “Spite! Malice! Scoring off Benden!”

Really, Robinton, that’s not hard to guess, in both cases. If someone is buying up large quantities of things, but nobody there appears to be benefiting from them, there are a few logical conclusions to start with:

  • They’re being stockpiled in the belief that those goods will become rare and valuable (which Robinton would likely already know about).
  • It’s an attempt to monopolize the market so that everyone must buy through them (which is unlikely, given the way the Crafthalls scatter themselves).
  • The goods are going somewhere else as their final destination, likely as a smuggling run.

So Meron is acting as the fence, the launderer, and the middleman for the exiled dragonriders. Except, of course, people don’t like and are suspicious of Meron from the last two books. Surely someone else, other than Piemur and Silvina, has come to the correct conclusion or suspicion. Maybe not F’lar, but Lessa-of-Dragonflight certainly would, since that kind of subterfuge was her trade for many years. And with someone being suspicious, they, or someone else, should be able to connect the dots about a story involving an extortion run with regard to gems from the miners and some merchant making a big sale to another that paid in gems. Or any sales at all that are paid in fire lizard eggs, since those are officially rare and tightly controlled objects. Meron would have to have a very impressive network of merchants to obfuscate the transactions enough that suspicion about what he is doing doesn’t connect immediately.

Or, there’s a significant amount of Holders, Crafters, and possibly even dragonriders in the North that are sympathetic to the South and either directly aid them or deliberately don’t care where their goods are going or how they are being paid for. That’s the possibility that Robinton is worried about, and he’s going to send Piemur in to listen at Meron’s Gather. That’s conveniently being held at the same time as the Fort Hold Gather where the new music piece that started this book will be premiered.

That’s how Chapter Five ends – Piemur unconscious, having survived a murder attempt from his peers, Dirzan likely to perpetuate the cycle of abuse that’s endemic to the Harper Hall on those peers, and Robinton, under the guise of empathy at Piemur’s voice change, ready to send Piemur back into dangerous situations as soon as possible. Have I mentioned lately how much this world really should have no reason at all to appeal to people?


30 thoughts on “Dragondrums: Only A Plank Between One and Perdition

  1. depizan April 23, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    What’s really horrifying is that it is very clearly attempted murder, and all the authority figures do is take Piemur out of the situation. And why? What has Piemur done that would make people try to kill him? This isn’t bullying gone wrong. What the fuck is going on up in the drum heights? Why doesn’t any one care?

    Also, if the exiles are stealing stuff, what is up with the hold that’s fencing stuff to them? I am so confused. Is it that gems are somehow unprotected enough to be stolen but everything else is too protected and so has to be bought through a fence? (And how could they possibly think no one would notice? This world is too small for this to go unnoticed.)

    Also… Team Thread.

  2. genesistrine April 23, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    @Silver Adept: It really does feel like these chapters are just gender-flipped versions of what Pona, Dunca, and the Men Girl Squad did to Menolly in the last book.

    Except the Mean Girls were expelled.

    For something, let’s not forget, that didn’t involve ATTEMPTED BLOODY MURDER. The very first time it gets physical with the girls then wham, right back to your parents in disgrace young ladies.

    It’s strange, but I seem to see the words, “well, we wouldn’t want to ruin the lives of these young men over a prank that went a bit wrong, would we?” hovering over the pages.

  3. depizan April 23, 2015 at 3:28 pm


    there’s actually an even worse possibility. Dirzan himself may have done this. It would explain his utter lack of concern for Piemur and quick dismissal that the steps had been greased.

    The facts of the “accident” are: at least one stair step and part of the railing was greased. Piemur falls. The grease was cleaned away while Piemur lay unconscious (and possibly bleeding).

    Things we can extrapolate: whoever did it was reasonably confident that it would be Piemur who fell. Whoever did it was reasonably confident they wouldn’t be discovered cleaning up the grease (which would take longer than placing it), and confident enough to do so with Piemur’s unconscious and, for all they know, dying body right there. Which means that they had to have intended serious injury or death. (If it were just a prank gone wrong, they’d freak when he didn’t wake up right away. Unless they are, for some reason, Sith Lords. There’s a huge step between being a bully and being wiling to kill someone.)

    It’s not impossible that an apprentice did it. But they’d be taking huge risks that someone else might instead fall into their trap, and that they would be caught bringing the cleaning materials to the stairs, cleaning the stairs, and taking the cleaning material away.

    It would almost have to be all of the apprentices, if it was an apprentice. I just don’t see how one person could pull this off. And they’d have to all be okay with the potential of death and keep their calm and… I just have trouble buying that.

    But Dirzan could see to it that no one else used the stairs – he could invent errands in the drum heights or lecture people or whatever it might take to keep them off the stairs. And he could have a fair amount of confidence that he could use his power over the apprentices to keep them quiet if they saw him doing anything. (I’m not sure about the matter of the cleaning supplies, but I’m not quite sure how anyone could pull that off. They’d have to have fetched the soap and water or whatever ahead of time and had a place to keep it – which, again, seems to point toward someone higher up than the apprentices who have no privacy.)

  4. genesistrine April 24, 2015 at 4:37 am

    @depizan: Well, it would explain why no official action’s taken against the apprentices. On the other hand, in that case we have a man who deliberately tries to seriously injure and quite possibly cripple or kill a boy in his care, and the reaction is to leave him in charge and not let him come to the next big party. What would have happened if he’d done that to an apprentice who didn’t have friends in the hierarchy? No dessert that evening?

    I know Pern is full to the brim of WTF of many shades, but this situation is a quantum leap to a whole new level of WTFness. Was AMC past the stage of being edited at this point? Did no-one notice?

  5. depizan April 24, 2015 at 8:11 am

    Well, for all that Silvina calls it criminal and (more or less) attempted murder, I don’t think there’s really been any evidence that Pern has criminal laws. (Or possibly even laws at all.) So I’m not sure what, exactly, they could do about an attempted murderer. (Except arrange an “accident” for him.)

    And, while McCaffrey throws in Silvina’s line about how Piemur climbs steps, it doesn’t really help with the fact that this would be dangerous to anyone on the stairs. It might be marginally more dangerous to someone with a habit of racing up and down them, but anyone who fell on that would be at risk of serious injury or death. So if that was supposed to help with the idea that an apprentice or all of them did it, it doesn’t.

    So yeah, I don’t know if we’re supposed to think Dirzan might have done it (or that the apprentices/an apprentice/whatever did it with his knowledge), or if nobody really paid attention. Or the apprentices are meant to all be down with murder. Or…

    I don’t know, but it is very weird to see a book use what is really clearly actual attempted murder and then dismiss it like this.

  6. Funaria April 24, 2015 at 10:54 am

    What really messes me up from this is the fact that when I read it as a kid/teenager, my takeaway was something along the lines of ‘it was a cruel prank, but Silvina is exaggerating with the “murderous” accusation’ which seems to be supported by Dirzan’s mild punishment.

    On the plus side, at least these deconstructions are helping me make space on my bookshelves….

  7. genesistrine April 24, 2015 at 4:41 pm

    @depizan: I can’t imagine a human society that doesn’t have some organised method of dealing with one person who kills another, even if it’s as basic as blood feud. Given Pern’s pseudofeudal society I’d assume the Lords are the ones who deal with legal cases, though there might be some kind of benefit-of-clergy type thing with crafters; have it so they can only be judged by the Mastercraftsman.

    And if Pern hasn’t got murder laws then I think that’s pretty decisive proof that the genetic engineers had a good go at colonist neuropsychiatry as well as fire lizard physiology.

  8. bekabot April 24, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    Except the Mean Girls were expelled.

    True, but the Mean Girls weren’t performing any necessary function, which is where they differ from the Boys (though there may be more to the Boys than meets the eye). The Mean Girls probably brought some money with them in the form of fees provided for their training (remember: they were acquiring an accomplishment, not following a vocation) but Harper Hall seems solvent and not like it depends on baksheesh paid by anxious parents who want their daughters to marry well. Keeping the communications network running, OTOH, is the reason for Harper Hall’s existence, a function it can’t get away with not performing, and the Drummer Boys have a genuine role to play in that respect. The Drummer Boys have real work to do but the Mean Girls were only being trained to be more decorative. So, IMO, apples to oranges.

  9. Silver Adept April 24, 2015 at 9:30 pm

    Only Pona was confirmed expelled by the narrative – Audiva was still around to become Menolly’s genuine female friend before disappearing because girls are icky and it’s time for a boy book, and I’m guessing the other Girls continued on, under Talmor’s poor instruction and Dunca’s fanaticism. Still, that hovering text is quite visible about which double standards are being applied here. Whether the apprentices or Dirzan or both (and again, it’s super-disturbing that someone is apparently down with the idea of killing someone, or at least their reaction to having possibly killed someone is to clean up the crime scene and tell nobody), clearly only Silvina (the emotional woman) thinks of it as a problem and all the men in charge are just like “whatevs”. That’s a giant WTF in so many ways.

    As for a legal code, I’ve never seen a reeve, sheriff, baliff, or other law enforcement officer mentioned at a Hold, nor any need for someone to sit court. It probably means that the Lord Holder (or their chosen officer) is in charge of all disputes and in making the law of their own Hold – there’s an earlier or later throwaway line establishing character for Meron that he forces all of his residents to burn expensive coal for heat, which they can only buy from him. At the Crafthalls, presumably discipline is the province of the guildmaster or seniormost Mastercraftsman, but Menolly’s water ration bit in the previous chapter suggests that in practice, it’s more that “I outrank you, therefore you are subject to whatever I think is appropriate discipline, with no review process.” Not that we’ll get anything definitive from anyone about this, in this book or any other.

    Regarding the fencing, I really have no idea why this is happening that way. I’m sure it must have a Plot reason, but the whole dragons that warp through time and space thing really makes it a confusing thing – the riders should be able to get the stuff they want more directly, unless there’s no point during shipping and manufacture where the goods are vulnerable to being stolen. That doesn’t make sense, unless goods are only shipped by dragons or given dragon escorts these days. Why the riders are working with a Holder in the first place is puzzling, unless somehow everyone feels like they’re getting the benefit of the deal – I can see the obvious benefits for Meron, but what do the dragonriders get from the partnership? Is it that they just prefer to have someone else collect what’s on their shopping list?

  10. genesistrine April 25, 2015 at 1:56 am

    @Silver Adept: easier to have the bulk stuff collected in one place for shipping, I suppose, especially if they’re trying to stay under the radar. Gems are small and valuable and easy to hide, which is why T’ron went right to the source.

    @bekabot: they’re apprentices – trainees, in other words. Is the Harper Hall happy to train up and send out message drummers who are OK with potentially murdering someone because he’s a bit of an outsider? This isn’t going to bring them into disrepute in any way? Apparently not, according to the narrative, but still….

    It’s possible that they don’t want message drummers going rogue – anyone who can understand message drums would be at a premium for anyone involved in dodgy stuff. But in that case you don’t train people until they’ve reached journeyman level, demonstrated good judgement, got testimonials from 15 respected members of the community and the Pope of Pern etc.

  11. genesistrine April 25, 2015 at 4:41 am

    @Silver Adept: re legal code and law enforcement, we’re both wrong. I just remembered, very first book, very first section; the court of appeal is… dragonriders. ‘Cos they’re so noble and disinterested and all that.

    Lessa and F’lar:

    “Ruatha is mine,” she insisted in a tense, low voice.

    “Aye, and it would have been had you approached me directly when the wing arrived here.”

    Her eyes widened. “What do you mean?”

    “A dragonman may champion anyone whose grievance is just. By the time we reached Ruatha Hold, my lady, I was quite ready to challenge Fax given any reasonable cause, despite the Search.” This was not the whole truth, but F’lar must teach this girl the folly of trying to control dragonmen. “Had you paid any attention to your harper’s songs, you’d know your rights. […]”

    And there’s all the “heard and witnessed” stuff in the same section; Jaxom is the heir to Ruatha because F’lar and his wing witnessed Fax’s oath.

    So… yeah. Any legal troubles check with your local Citizens’ Advice Harper and flag down the first passing dragonrider you see. Oh god I can’t stop laughing. Someone’s got to write a legal procedural fanfic for Pern.

  12. bekabot April 25, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    Well — I was just saying that the Drummer Boys (trainees) aren’t going to be dealt with in the same way the Mean Girls are because (although the Drummer Boys may or may not be betraying their training) they’re being trained to do real stuff, which the Mean Girls aren’t. Hence the Drummer Boys represent the more serious investment (by far). That’s a major point in the power-politics background of Dragonsinger: Menolly is at Harper Hall to be trained for real work but the other girls are there to be trained for show. That and not her bloodline is the real reason Menolly outranks them (and they demonstrate by concentrating on their ancestry that they don’t grasp the reality of their situation).

    Since drumming would be a big part of the Pernese communications net, drummers who were proven to be “screwing around at work” might (plausibly) be punished much more severely (not less) that Pona/the Girls are, and by a means much harsher than mere “expulsion.” My point would be only that the offenses would not be in the same category, nor would they be considered in the same light. That’s all.

  13. Silver Adept April 26, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    That’s right, genesistrine. Although it’s before the Great Cosmic Retcon, something like that probably did survive into the new world, even though it raises more questions than it answers. Like how we’ve had two Harper books so far with no mention of the possible legal responsibilities of a Harper. And what happens when two dragonriders end up on opposite sides of a dispute. (Trial by ordeal is my guess.) And whether there are dragonriders that function as Notaries Public, providing a “heard and witnessed” to all contracts that need the force of giant flamethrowers behind them. There’s so many things mentioned just once and never again…

  14. genesistrine April 26, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    I think it’s trial by combat anyway – F’lar seems to be implying that he’d’ve challenged Fax to a duel on Lessa’s behalf. How this fits in with “no duelling for dragonriders in case they’re injured or killed and their dragon freaks out” is anyone’s guess.

    Presumably no-one tried appealing to Benden Weyr to get involved in the Fax situation because they were doing the isolationist thing at the time, so – were all their adjudication/witnessing duties on hold too?

    It doesn’t seem to be a Great Cosmic Retcon so much as every single book retconning the one before….

  15. depizan April 26, 2015 at 4:44 pm

    I’m not sure we haven’t seen _in book_ retcons. For when retconning just couldn’t wait ’til the next book!

    It makes it very hard to get a sense of how anything works when it changes on a regular basis. (And rarely for the better.) And, honestly, the ever changing rules of the world make the plots kind of hard to follow (despite them not being complicated plots).

    Did whoever tried to kill Piemur break a law? If so, why was nothing done about it? If not, why is there no law against attempted murder in this world? Are the exiles breaking the laws? If so which laws? ARE there laws?

    Are the exiles and Meron just doing something people don’t like, but isn’t actually wrong? (Excepting the gem theft. That seemed like a definite wrong, since they were taking stuff from territory they don’t protect.)

    Ugh. And, you know, I might be willing to go along with an incoherent plot in an incoherent world if like 95% of the people we meet didn’t suck. The morality is mostly protagonist centered. No, wait, it’s not even that. It’s…writer approved authority figure centered? I don’t even know. What I do know is that no one seems to want to do anything about abusive and murderous people. Even when they harm the main characters. No one even wants to acknowledge that something should be done. It is so freaking creepy. In retrospect, I’m shocked Fax was killed and not left to torment other people.

  16. Only Some Stardust April 27, 2015 at 9:21 am

    With so little in the way of punishment for murder, you should get blood feuds out the whackamoo. Why aren’t they worried about Piemur arranging a revenge-killing?

    Is murder only wrong if you actually succeed at it, perhaps?

    There are actually people who think like that, actually. I believe they are called psychopaths or frontal-lobe damage victims. I could buy that Robinton is a high functioning psychopath; not all psychopaths are violent. It would explain why he’s so casual about abuse going on under his nose; it doesn’t register with him at all with any degree of emotion, but he knows how to fake sympathy to his advantage and mime/parrot normal human friendliness.

    If Masterharper positions are politically influenced, chosen by how many think you competent, and the environment is toxic and abusive, then that could easily create the kind of cut-throat competition that charismatic psychopaths thrive on.

  17. Nothing April 27, 2015 at 10:38 pm

    @Only Some Stardust: without going into later book spoilers (though events are retconned in), we will later learn that Robinton is meant to be highly sensitive and maybe also highly empathic. It’s related to dragons and their supposed (we are told this but not often shown it) affinity for people with high levels of empathy/capacity to care for others. Basically, going by world lore, Robinton can’t be a psychopath or sociopath because dragons like him.

    But Robinton only gets more problematic later.

    The issue here is more of his being “writer’s pet;” actually he was, if I remember the story right, based on a good friend of McCaffrey’s. As such he was ascribed tremendous in-story importance and little that he does is shown in a negative light. We appear to be meant to adore him and maybe even hold him in awe, which I suspect is how McCaffrey felt about this friend she wanted to honor and immortalize in her writing. It doesn’t excuse the character’s shady behavior, but it may help in understanding why that behavior is overlooked or completely missed by the writer. He’s based on her friend, so no matter whatever else he does, he gets to be lumped with the heroes. That’s bad, or at least lazy, writing–I won’t excuse or defend it. Just adding input, since that bit of background explains the “but why?” in this situation.

    I was once a huge fan of Pern and McCaffrey, until I started noticing how very problematic Pern, and her other writings, were. I’d say it can be easy to overlook the problems, but I am not sure how they ever escaped my notice, since some now seem glaringly obvious (F’nor’s violence against Brekke in Dragonquest, for instance).

  18. genesistrine April 28, 2015 at 2:51 am

    Well, dragons liked the Oldtimer exiles and badwickedsluttyblondehissboo Kylara too, so, as with so much else on Pern, what the author says is apparently unrelated to what the author writes.

    “Empathy” as a dragon-attracting attribute doesn’t seem to be necessarily related to “ability to care” – as well as the above Lessa’s a powerful telepath who murdered her way though Ruathan warders and, as already mentioned, F’nor’s “empathy” manifests as I Know You Want It.

    Which, to be fair, I do find more convincing than “telepathy makes everyone super-nice and considerate of each other”, but AMC seems to have some weird cognitive dissonance where she believes that it does work that way, without noticing how her characters are acting.

  19. depizan April 28, 2015 at 9:27 am

    Yeah, it does seem like there’s a pretty gigantic gulf between what McCaffrey thought she wrote and what she actually wrote. (Assuming she didn’t intend a character based on her friend to be morally ambiguous at best.)

    I suppose she could have been so cynical that she not only couldn’t imagine a world without deep, deep social problems (and impossible to change), but had that cynicism carry over (possibly unconsciously) to her characters so that they never try to make things better beyond rescuing the occasional protagonist from an abusive situation. But that’s just a differently awful explanation. “The world is/people are inherently awful, the best anyone can do is pull someone out of a situation. Even bullies can’t be stopped, never mind attempted murderers.”

  20. genesistrine April 28, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    I think it’s privilege and solipsism, myself.

    “Oh, you’re out of that horrible situation, be glad of that, everything’s all right now.” The thought of improving that situation for others never comes into it – Yanus will continue to abuse his family, including any future members; the drumheight lads will be free to bully the next newbie. Lessa never speaks up for drudges. Is Menolly going to take on female apprentices? Don’t hold your breath.

    Maybe it’d be a very different story if anyone had ever pushed AMC or someone she loved down the stairs….

  21. depizan April 28, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    Sadly, that’s probably more likely.

    It’s just… I’m not used to seeing that level of “Eh, whatever.” from protagonist and supposedly good authority figures in fiction. Or at least I’m not used to seeing it presented so blatantly and repeatedly and without anyone questioning the situations in any way.

    The only other “rescue the important person, screw everybody else” that comes to mind is in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, where Qui-Gon (a Jedi knight!) has no interest in the fact that Anakin and his mom are slaves (even though Anakin and Shmi are helping them) until he decides Anakin’s the chosen one. And he’s still content to leave Shmi in slavery. And do nothing for the slaves of Tatooine in general.

    But that may have been a sign that the Jedi and the Republic were already failing institutions. (Or so some people theorize.) And Lucas downplayed the slavery. A lot. Nice home, enough food to share with strangers, etc.

    Here we get unquestionably horrible situations and abusers who we have no reason to think will stop. And we get this in book after book. Once is bad writing and privilege and bad enough. Repeatedly is just… it’s… it’s like it’s being done intentionally, but I can’t think why.

    Is the message that you can’t expect anyone to help anyone but you (and then only if you’re special)? That abuse is only bad if it happens to special people? That you shouldn’t try to go after abusers? Why does this keep coming up? Why is the solution never a solution for more than the special protagonist? Why????

  22. emmy April 29, 2015 at 2:07 am

    Considering how frequently abusive parents and authority figures turn up in Pern, the most charitable assumptions I can come up with are that either AMC had a very rough childhood and thought that was normal, or that she was trying to compensate for her femaleness by making the world harsher.

    Possible evidence for the first point – wikipedia says she attended a boarding school, which might have provided inspiration for some of what Menolly faces at Harper Hall.

    Possible evidence for the second point – interviews in which she was very insistent about writing science fiction for ‘unreconstructed’ male readers. there’s a quote: “I had trouble getting male readers to believe I was serious, and a good enough writer to interest them.”

  23. Firedrake April 29, 2015 at 3:23 am

    Silver Adept: “I outrank you, therefore you are subject to whatever I think is appropriate discipline, with no review process.”

    Seems to be very much the RTC viewpoint too: there is a single hierarchy, with God at the top, and you can do whatever you like to anyone below you on it, in return for accepting whatever you get from anyone above you.

    emmy: “interviews in which she was very insistent about writing science fiction for ‘unreconstructed’ male readers”

    Indeed, she was always very insistent that she was writing science fiction, not fantasy (which could be thought of as being for Girls), even though Dragonflight (at least in its original publication which doesn’t have the stuff about the colonists tacked on the front) is clearly more fantasy than SF.

  24. Only Some Stardust April 29, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    I think those two mesh; she was probably writing to an RTC-ish or at least Christian-as-the-norm crowd and she was raised to it?

    Well, if we’re talking empathy as purely being ‘sensitive’ to emotional cues, then psychopaths can be very empathic when it suits them to get at what they want, they notice body language other people don’t and can zero in on potential victims and tell them what they want to hear. They just ‘turn off’ the empathy when it interferes with getting what they want or considering the consequences.

  25. genesistrine April 30, 2015 at 3:27 am

    @depizan: Well, it’s not unusual for a story to non-protagonists as mere useful adjuncts; another striking film example is The Illusionist – the film with Edward Norton. Ever seen it?

    The major plot is the protagonist trying to fake the death of his girlfriend, who’s engaged to a Bad Prince. At the climax ur inavfurf sebz n gurnger fgntr nf gur Frperg Cbyvpr ner pybfvat va naq obtf bss gb unccl ergverzrag jvgu fnvq tveysevraq yn yn fb jbznagvp.

    Jung frrzf gb or hggreyl vtaberq vf gung ur yrnirf nyy uvf Puvarfr nffvfgnagf oruvaq jura ur qvfnccrnef. Orfg abg gb fcrphyngr nobhg jung gur frperg cbyvpr ner tbvat gb qb gb gurz. Be jung gurl nyernql qvq gb gur “tlcfl” jub jnf neerfgrq va gur jbbqf jurer gur tveysevraq Zlfgrevbhfyl Qvfnccrnerq rneyvre.

    It’s not like they’re important in this Romantic Tale of Twu Luv. (Which is another reason why I loved The Prestige, which came out at the same time with a superficially similar theme. It doesn’t flinch from showing how much the central obsession wrecks not only the magicians involved but everyone they’re involved with.)

    But there’s something special, even by AMC’s standards, about “there must be some punishment – I know, not going to the next party!”

    Maybe she was secretly writing Libertarian SF all along.

  26. Silver Adept April 30, 2015 at 7:55 pm

    That’s where I’m leaning, too, genesistrine. Pern seems to be the kind of place where John Galt would think he found paradise – no overarching government interfering, no need to think about a suicidal safety net, and everyone operating on the mindset that you get everything you can and give nothing away. Nobody has to be thought about other than yourself, unless you want to work with them, they’re a threat to you, or you want to impose your will on them. And you don’t have to think about consequences for others, only the people who you want to save or use.

    If Pern runs on rules, they’re pretty well alien to any other world or anything we would expect from a social species.

    I also wonder what an unreconstructed reader is, and why that might require this sort of outsized violence. There’s plenty of fantasy and science fiction at this time with that kind of violence and such. Somehow I can’t see the reader that’s going to dismiss her because fantasy or because girl being swayed because the book itself is ultraviolent.

  27. genesistrine May 1, 2015 at 2:31 am

    J’galt, rider of gold Randith. And of bronze Atlath. Yeah, eat it masses, he Impressed two dragons. Because he’s that impressive.

    They even share rapiness, come think of it. Ugh.

    And there’s no overarching government… except when Benden Weyr says no-one must trade with exiled Oldtimers or go South, and then it’s a Rule that only Bad People break.

    Which is idiotic, because the Holds should be lining up to trade with the Oldtimers for fire lizard eggs and exotic fruits fresh from the South and medicinal herbs and THREAD-EATING GRUBS by the bushel goddammit and have we just found out why the Northern dragonriders are interdicting the South?

    Any Lord with a fire lizard should be trying to get it to take messages South to kick off trade of their own. The Oldtimers should have their pick of clients and a constant flow of dragon-carried cargo. (And possibly even paying passengers who want fast travel but don’t have an in with the Approved Weyrs.) And F’lar should be cheering this on, because this is the trial case for what dragons and riders can do for a living when they eradicate Thread from the Red Star.

  28. Silver Adept May 2, 2015 at 11:36 pm

    I think J’galt would have dual bronzes. With the way Pern is set up as a society, I doubt he wants any part of “women’s work”, which having a gold would definitely entail as part of being a Weyrwoman.

    Benden rules because Benden is the strongest Weyr and because his Weyrleader and Wingsecond have a knack for winning or escaping their knife fights intact. There’s no real reason for anyone to respect the interdiction, except that they are worried Benden will turn the dragons on them or let Thread devastate them. (All the more reason for Southern to be exporting as many mature grubs as it can.) Just about everybody should be looking to trade with the South and thumbing their nose at Benden where possible because of all of that plenty. Unless there has been an actual threat, off-page, about what Benden will do to people who don’t respect the exile. Or a demonstration.

  29. genesistrine May 3, 2015 at 2:00 am

    Ask my subconscious. I think it’s a combination of “female figurehead? No way!”, the libertarian ultra-independence thing and me finding the thought of a queen flight becoming frantic masturbation funny.

    Benden rules because apparently no-one else on Pern is capable of power plays or knows how to react to them. It’s Fax all over again….

  30. Silver Adept May 3, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    Your subconscious makes sense to me, especially the last bit. Which seems somewhat amusing and worthwhile.

    I think the real answer is that Benden rules because the author said so. Surely it wouldn’t be that hard for the other Weyrs to keep Benden in a necessary check if they felt things were getting out of line. Or for other Holders to appeal to their Weyrs to get Benden off their back…

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