Dragondrums: Rhapsody In Blue

Last chapter, Piemur found his southern paradise invaded by herb-gatherers, and in his attempts to get away, comes across a girl with the same adventurous spirit and distaste for cooking numbweed. Could it be the first signs of love blossoming as they collect herbs from the countryside?

Dragondrums: Chapter 11: Content Notes: Dragon-influenced sex

…we’ll have to wait for another book to find out about that, as this chapter sticks firmly with Menolly and Sebell. The action, or rather, lack thereof, has Menolly and Sebell in a calm out on the seas as they sail toward Southern Hold, and Sebell is quite irritable at this point. After a couple snaps that are uncharacteristic for him, Menolly deduces the cause.

Suddenly, she glanced skyward, where the fire lizards were aerially following the skiff in swoops and glides. She watched them for a long moment, frowning slightly as she saw one dive into the waves. Sebell, puzzled by her abrupt curiosity, identified the fisher as his own Kimi and smiled indulgently as she brought the neatly captured yellowtail back to the prow of the ship. Sebell wondered why the other three fire lizards didn’t come to share the feast, but the thought didn’t absorb him long. The ferocity with which Kimi ate fascinated him; he felt as if he were somehow involved in tearing the strips, as if he could savor the warm salty flesh in his mouth, as if-
“I’m sending Beauty to Toric at Southern Hold. She can’t stay here now, Sebell.”

This is good characterization, although I’m pretty sure Menolly didn’t have to deal with this particular problem on-camera at any point in the previous books, so we would have to assume her familiarity is from previous times that such things have happened. Considering Menolly has nine, and at least once of each color, I’m guessing she has been able to settle such issues internally, if needed. Unless the fire lizards have an innate sense of avoiding their own clutch mates. Then, I’m guessing someone has to go off and find a wild one or someone else’s fire lizard to satisfy those urges. Which, now that I think about it, has to have some consequences somewhere. Why haven’t we seen any of this, especially in Nabol where all the fire lizards are?

Sebell eventually understands what’s going on.

Kimi was about to fly. And it was Menolly’s bronzes who would fly her. A surge of elation swept Sebell, who could scarcely believe his good fortune. And yet…
“Menolly?” He turned to her, hands outstretched, palms up, pleading with her and apologizing for what he knew was about to happen since there were only the two of them on this becalmed boat in the middle of the windstill sea. He hadn’t wanted Menolly coerced, as she now must be; he’d wanted to be in full command of himself, not overridden by the mating instinct of Kimi.
“It’s all right, Sebell. It’s all right.”
Smiling, Menolly put her hands in his and let herself be drawn into his arms where he had so yearned to have her.

And there is a mating flight, and there are two humans mating on the boat while their fire lizards do.

There’s good things about this: I think this is the closest we have gotten to two adults, aware of what is about to happen, giving express consent for sex while their fire lizards/dragons mate, for example. Sebell needs to articulate more, but if this is his first time experiencing the mating instinct, the confusion makes sense. And it is much easier to read Menolly as consenting with what she says to Sebell than any attempt to this point for any other person affected by this urge.

Sebell’s attraction to Menolly outside of Kimi’s urges appears out of left field for me, but they’ve been together and done enough things that I’m willing to give the narrative the benefit of the doubt on this. Sebell’s desire to have done this uncoerced is refreshing, compared the dragonriders, who are significantly more “whatevs” when it comes to what mating instinct does to them.

There is one seriously bad thing going on, here, though, and I guess it’s meta at this point in the narrative – in whatever process was used to breed dragons out of fire-lizards, wouldn’t someone have figured out that the strong emphatic bonds the fire lizards formed would be inconvenient around mating time and tried to breed traits in the fire lizards that encouraged not sharing that time, or not so strongly? Or some form of training, perhaps? So that we don’t have situations where people are having sex without having consciously consented to it while not under the influence? After all this time, nobody has come up with a solution to this problem?

It could be as simple as giving the humans a dose of an anti-aphrodisiac, should they exist. Maybe fellis. Someone, whether a queen rider or a green rider, has to have at least tried to figure out some way of suppressing the urge for them, if not for their dragon.

The fact that the fire lizards also have this power makes Benden and others that are giving them away as pets and gifts seem a lot shadier. “Here, have this cute thing that will drag you into an uncontrollable urge to have sex with someone every so often, whether you want to or not.” Which was the problem with dragons, but dragons are controlled in supply. There’s nothing stopping someone else from doing as Meron did and saturating the area around them with fire lizards and the associated problems that come with it. Then again, the Weyr culture we’ve seen probably thinks that’s a good outcome, as it gives them more potential people to rape and claim it was their fire lizard.

The ancients don’t seem to have thought this idea through very well, and their descendants are following firmly in those footsteps.

A couple of extra revelations come from this unexpected mating:

“It wasn’t just Kimi’s need,” he said in a hurried voice, “you know that, don’t you?”
“Of course I know, dear Sebell.” Her fingers lingered on his cheek, his lips. “But you always stand back and defer to our Master.” She did not hide from Sebell then how much she loved Master Robinton, nor would that ever come between then since they each loved the man in their separate ways. “…but I have so wished-”
[…a swinging boom interrupts the tender moment, as the wind has returned…]
“Where did Rocky go?” [Sebell] asked Menolly, who frowned slightly in thought.
“He either joined Beauty…or found himself a wild green. I suspect the latter.”
“Wouldn’t you know?” asked Sebell, surprised.
Menolly shook her head from side to side, with a half-smile, and Sebell realized she’d been unaware of anything except their rapport with their two fire lizards. He relaxed, thoroughly content with their new understanding.

Uh, Sebell, that’s the worst way of asking “now that it’s over, do you still consent to what happened?” Because confessing your pantsfeels to the woman who gave an ambiguous consent signal at best could backfire spectacularly. As in “I hope you can swim to Southern, you asshole. Taking advantage of me like that.” You’re lucky Menolly returns your affections. Even though she’s apparently carrying a torch for Robinton. And, if you squint just right, it’s possible that Sebell loves him the same way, but would also never confess such a thing. Not that the narrative really allows for the possibility – it tried pretty hard to make Kylara into something unsympathetic, instead of ketting her be kinky and feminist-y, so it’s unlikely to allow for the possibility that Sebell could be bi. Which is a tragedy, because fantasy pastiches really can stand to be more inclusive, instead of less.

Second, how did Menolly ever manage to get anything done at the Harper Hall, having nine fire lizards, if one of them being in the mating throes is enough to completely take up her attention? Admittedly, Dragonsinger only took seven days, but there’s been plenty of time before that and afterward, between Dragonsinger and Dragondrums, for this sort of thing to have already happened. I had been handwaving it before this point as “fire lizards don’t have as strong a bond, so people can handle their urges more easily”, but that is apparently not the case. Also, for everyone who received a fire lizard or two from the Weyrs or Meron, we’re sorry, you’re going to have the same problems the dragonriders do, but without the implicit ability to get away with it because dragon. I wonder how many regional conflicts will start because of fire lizards boinking. We’ve had three turns of the planet so far, so there should have been more than enough opportunities for these kinds of things to have happened and to have stories of the conflicts that resulted.

Finally, I feel markedly more uncomfortable about Weyr culture in relation to what Menolly just said about Rocky. I didn’t think that was possible, but it is. Since the fire lizards seem to be able to do what the dragons do, and at the same strength, what happens with all the other bronze dragons that don’t get to mate with the queen? Do they all go off and find greens, leaving their riders to find whomever is nearest to assault in dragon-sex-feels? Are there enough greens in the mating mood to manage that? Do dragon or rider actually care whether their partner wants to mate? (No.) Blurgh.

Fire lizards now seem like some sort of gambit by the Weyrs to make all the rest of Pern behave and think like them.

The plot advances with the ship landing at Southern and Toric greeting them. The message is faithfully delivered to Toric about the new Lord Deckter and his lack of willingness to deal with the Southern Weyr. Toric mentions that Mardra was inflamed about a half-empty sack, which piques the curiosity of the Harpers, and they explain what Piemur did, and how that action set in motion the Rube Goldberg machine that led to the current situation at Nabol. Which could cause headaches once Southern needs another supplier, and Toric doesn’t want to jeopardize his relationship with Benden.

Then we spend several pages of Menolly and Sebell trying to convince Toric that Piemur is crafty enough to survive outside in Thread. Even though Menolly, who has done it, is talking, and Toric admits that there are some from the north who have adapted to living outside the Hold. Unfortunately, it’s another missed opportunity to tell tales of Piemur’s exploits, and so Toric’s unwillingness to believe the harpers feels more like a narrative ploy to keep everyone at Southern Hold so that we can resolve the story, instead of an organic reason to keep everyone from going off on their own.

And there is watermelon. Not described by that name, of course, but watermelon all the same.

Sebell finally hits on a unique solution to pull Piemur out, if he’s in the Hold or around it.

“Drums! Piemur will answer a call on drums!”
“Drums?” Toric threw back his head in an honest guffaw of surprise.
“Yes, drums,” said Sebell, beginning to find Toric’s attitude offensive. “Where’s your drumheights?”
“Why would we need drumheights in Southern?”
It took the astonished harpers a little while to understand that drumheights, traditional in every hills on the north, had never been installed in the [South’s] single hold.

See, this is how you keep people in place for the plot to advance, by giving them an actual problem to have to solve. Sebell meets Saneter, the Hold Harper, and finds the complete complement of drums available in the Hold are small dance assistance drums with no resonance at all. Toric, however, has some ideas about how to build a proper message drum. He describes an impossibly large tree trunk that could have a hide stretched over it to make a giant drum, to which Sebell is skeptical, and then Toric shows him that he’s not exaggerating at all.

Saneter, who had come with them, stooped to pick up a thick, knobby-ended branch and pounded the tree trunk experimentally. Everyone was surprised at the hollow boom that resulted. The fire lizards, who’d been perched on the surface, lifted with shrieks of protest.
Grinning, Sebell held out his hand to Saneter for the stick. He beat out the phrase “Apprentice, report!” He grinned more broadly as the majestic tones echoed through the forest and started a veritable shower of tree-dwelling insects and snakes, shaken from their perches by the unexpected loud reverberations.

Toric cuts an appropriate size drum, and they haul it back to Southern Hold, have a bath (where Sebell starts ducking Menolly to let her fire lizards pull her back to the surface), and…

Suddenly a sound paralyzed them: the sharp thudding of a practiced hand against what could only be the newly-acquired drum round. A practiced hand that beat a measure, “Harper here, anyone else?” and the staccato that was a question.
“It has to be Piemur!” Menolly’s cry was half-gasp half-scream, but the words weren’t quite out of her mouth before both harpers were on their feet and running towards the ramp up from the harbor.
“What’s the matter?” they heard Toric yelling after them.
“That was Piemur!” Sebell managed to gasp out as he charged a bare stride ahead of Menolly. But when they skidded to a halt on the shell-strewn area before the cavern, the was no one about.
Sebell cupped his hands about his mouth. “PIEMUR! REPORT!”
“Beauty! Rocky! Where is he?” gasped Menolly, half-angry with Piemur for the heart-stopping shock.
The harper’s name echoed and re-echoed coming from the cavern. Sebell and Menolly were halfway there when a tanned, bare-legged, shock-haired figure ran straight into them.

It’s Piemur, and there is much happy dancing, and introductions all around, and Piemur tells Toric how he survived out in the wilds. Sebell gets another brilliant idea – to keep Piemur occupied, he’ll install Piemur as the Hold drummer at Southern, assuming Toric is okay with it. Toric is okay with it, so long as Robinton is okay with it. Piemur almost jumps at the opportunity to stay with Farli and Stupid (and Sharra?) and to have his energy expended in the exploration and discovery of the Southern Continent. Menolly and Sebell both silently give Piemur the “you’re a man now” appraisal, noticing his getting taller and broader of shoulders, and give their blessing to him.

Robinton gives his permission for Piemur to stay in Southern, and promotes Piemur to journeyman. And the loud jubilation is where this book ends, again with a promotion, and we’ve completed the reversal. Menolly started in a Hold out in the middle of nowhere as one of two musicians, Piemur finishes in a Hold out in the middle of nowhere as one of two musicians there. They’ve both suffered horrible abuse at the hands of Harpers in the middle, and both of them are still with the Harpers anyway.

I was hoping that this trilogy would give us insight into what life was like for people not dragonriders or Lord Holders or nobility. I was also hoping that the rampant abuse present in the Weyrs wasn’t replicated elsewhere on the planet, but I was wrong there. And I’m not sure that the Harpers are sufficiently down the scale of nobility to give us insight into how the non-nobles live on Pern. Piemur-as-herdsman would probably have been the right place to start for that, but we didn’t get to see that. Just adventures and training as musicians. I suppose it’s a function of the narrative, but if the result was going to be that Piemur got to go to the Hall, that would make a reasonably good narrative to work with.

I was also hoping that this trilogy would give us more of the overall plot so that the detour would be justified, instead of having interrupted one trilogy for no reason. I don’t think this trilogy did that. So, next time, we go back to the dragonriders and finish up the original trilogy of the Dragonriders of Pern, by following the thread of the only character who is both Lord Holder and dragonrider.

In the meantime, enjoy the playlist of the Harper Hall trilogy – I put some thought into the titles of the posts so that everyone would have a good musical experience through these sometimes rough situations.


25 thoughts on “Dragondrums: Rhapsody In Blue

  1. Michael I June 4, 2015 at 5:25 am

    On Sebell’s attraction to Menolly.

    There’s a passage earlier in this book (at least I think it’s in this book) where Sebell meets Menolly and Piemur and the three of them are walking along with Sebell having one arm across Piemur’s shoulders and the other arm around Menolly’s shoulders.

    And Piemur realizes that the “companionable arm” around his shoulders is basically an excuse for the arm around Menolly’s shoulders.

  2. boutet June 4, 2015 at 1:57 pm

    White Dragon will give you some very regrettable answers to your questions on what the non-mating-with-queen dragons get up to.

    Piemur is promoted to Journeyman Harper… on the power of his skills that have basically nothing to do with music. He hasn’t shown that he can sing again, drum messaging is only tangentially related to music (and useless if only Southern H has a drum. Who are they drumming to? The people out in the wild? But they’re not supposed to understand drum messaging, that’s Harper business). So he’s a Journeyman musician who was promoted based on his ability to steal from people the Harpers don’t like, muck around the wild, and play drum messages to nobody. Robinton, your graduation processes are nonsensical!

  3. Silver Adept June 4, 2015 at 2:04 pm

    That’s in this book, yes, but considering that Menolly is still the Exceptional Girl Harper, with nobody else like her in the Hall, three Turns after, that gesture could be just as easily interpreted as using Piemur for a convenient excuse to touch the girl in a plausibly-deniable way, affection or otherwise. And Menolly is supposed to be pretty, too, so even better. Maybe if there were other women, or we weren’t working in a world where the rules appear to be playing the idea of men as irrepressibly horny completely straight, the companionable shoulder would be a sign of affection. Here, though, I can’t make that assumption.

  4. genesistrine June 4, 2015 at 3:52 pm

    Inappropriate mating-flight-induced sex is nothing new to the general populace of Pern, even without fire lizards. Remember this quote from the beginning of DQ?

    “It made no difference whatsoever that a green dragon was sterile because she chewed firestone. Her lust could affect even the most insensitive commoners with sexual cravings. A mating female dragon broadcast her emotions on a wide band. Some green-brown pairings were as loud as bronze-gold. Herdbeasts within range stampeded wildly and fowls, wherries and whers went into witless hysterics. Humans were susceptible, too, and innocent Hold youngsters often responded with embarrassing consequences. That particular aspect of dragon matings didn’t bother weyrfolk who had long since disregarded sexual inhibitions.”

    Of course it’s only boring old prudish sexual inhibitions that could possibly lead anyone to object to a sudden uncontrollable sexual urge, and not, for example, some of the really horrifying possibilities of who you might find you’d had unconscious brutish sex with.

  5. depizan June 4, 2015 at 6:55 pm


    There’s a lot of horrible packed into that one tiny excerpt, almost all of which boils down to – someone designed this (or accidentally amplified what the firelizards do and didn’t care). Even though there are thread eating grubs that provide an alternative fix to Pern, the original settlers chose to make it Planet Rape. And even if you ignore that bit of horror, stampeding herdbeasts and flaking out wildlife are both terrible ideas for a stable world.

    At this point, I think it makes more sense to assume the genetic engineers were actually actively, intentionally evil than to try and explain this as mistakes.

  6. Nothing June 4, 2015 at 11:42 pm

    Well, since you mentioned the dragon mating issue… This is one of the problems I meant to go into some detail about during your deconstruction of The White Dragon.

    Anne apparently was a subscriber to that age-old adage and excuse, “men have needs.” So much so that she imagined male dragons unable to mate would be very frustrated/difficult to deal with–nevermind that their own sex drives would be more likely to align with any particular “season” for mating the females have. So to solve this problem, she had the green dragons, lesser creatures that mated much more frequently than golds but without the ability to lay eggs (and since they can’t be mothers they are expendable and can fight). Male dragons have needs, after all–clearly they can’t just have a sex drive during certain times of the year, etc. I suspect that’s the real reason for all the green dragons, especially since only bronze can fly gold. It was also later retconned that they’re sterile due to firestone. Rather, it was said later that they’re sterile because they are engineered to be, and, more troubling, gold firelizards can process firestone but gold dragons can’t. It doesn’t render the lizards sterile, either. Gold dragons were intentionally made less capable of fighting.

    As for Menolly and Sebell… It was barely foreshadowed, and that bothered me even the first time I read this book. But wait until later and I have more to say about that relationship, since there is a pattern with McCaffrey’s writing.

    Robinton and Menolly also need to be discussed, at a later time when pointing out how creepy it is will be less spoilery.

    Oh yes, and, firelizards are somehow seen as appropriate pets for children. Dragons mature around two years of age, but can be Impressed by someone as young as 11 or 12. It’s beyond creepy, because you just know the animals’ instincts are not going to be overridden by their owners’/riders’ lack of understanding. I don’t think I need to explain how wrong that is! And it may be especially bad for young boys and girls who get green dragons.

  7. genesistrine June 5, 2015 at 4:23 am

    @depizan: well, the 3rd option is that it was an unwanted effect but the genetic engineers didn’t have the time/resources/ability to engineer it out. Which isn’t unfeasible; enlarging fire lizards wouldn’t be a matter of insert bike pump, inflate.

    But how the wider society reacts to that is the really telling thing, and that they went with the “hurr, stop being so repressed, PRUDES” option rather than the “no mating flights over inhabited territory”/”none of this rape culture crap KNOCK IT OFF”/”consent, people, GET CONSENT!” ones says a lot. Probably mostly that dragonriders got to define what’s acceptable and they’re awful people.

    @Nothing: Apparently AMC never considered the option of gelding every dragon except the bronzes. Which you would think would be the logical non-rapey ahahaha why was I thinking that last option would appeal oh god the 70s were a strange and terrible time that bred strange and terrible writers.

    But anyway. I’m assuming her horse-breeding experience with stallions factored into that, since I gather they’re pretty obnoxious to deal with and that’s is exactly why working male horses are gelded. If dragon physiology makes it difficult to surgically geld males then, if the engineers could make greens sterile, why not make the browns and blues ditto?

    Menolly and Sebell: I find that scene creepy as hell. Hey, we don’t have to talk about our feelings, no-one has to risk the “hey, I don’t want to mess up our friendship/working relationship but I’ve got feelings for you and I was kind of hoping you might feel the same way,” thing; just fire-lizard fiat and boom-bang-a-bang magic relationship time.

  8. genesistrine June 5, 2015 at 5:14 am

    Oops, sorry. When I said, I’m assuming her horse-breeding experience with stallions factored into that I meant factored into the frustrated male dragons thing – it’s a bit unclear there.

  9. Nothing June 5, 2015 at 6:53 am

    @genesistrine: Aside from the suspicion that McCaffrey for some reason thought neutering dragons would be awful (never minding that most never even get to reproduce), there are bronzes who never manage to mate with golds, so of course the greens service them too. Again, it stems from a creepy mindset where men or male anything have to have sex or else. And, I just can’t see McCaffrey deciding that neutering any of the precious bronzes was acceptable.

    As for Menolly and Sebell, the issue I have isn’t directly related to their relationship. Though breaking the ice with mating flight sex is… Definitely an issue. Especially since Menolly at least never shows an interest until then. One problem I had with the relationship that is not spoilery is that Sebell never got much character development. He might later on, that I can’t remember, but in my opinion, it’s lazy writing to randomly hook up a major character with someone whose personality you never intend to address. Worse is that he did appear previously, so the opportunity to build a relationship was there but was passed by, though he was her senior in rank, so… Authority issues with consent if it happened then? And later on… Well, again, I’ll save it for another novel due to spoilers.

    I will also mention that Sebell was thrilled he’d get mating flight sex with Menolly, to judge by that passage (I don’t remember the books all that well). He may not have wanted to force it, but he still considered himself fortunate that it would happen regardless. Asking for her consent appears to be a formality, and that’s creepy, especially since he felt that sex was inevitable.

    The consent issue of dragon mating sex is not addressed until much, much later in the series, and not dealt with satisfactorily then.

  10. Nothing June 5, 2015 at 6:56 am

    Oh yes, I need to also point out that Menolly was seemingly below the acceptable age of consent on arrival at Harper Hall, so a relationship then may have been avoided due to that. However Sebell’s personality should still have been fleshed out.

  11. depizan June 5, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    @ genesistrine

    well, the 3rd option is that it was an unwanted effect but the genetic engineers didn’t have the time/resources/ability to engineer it out. Which isn’t unfeasible; enlarging fire lizards wouldn’t be a matter of insert bike pump, inflate.

    The problem is the grubs. Their existence means that dragons were never the only option. (And, in fact, aren’t even necessary.) … Oh, for fucks sake. I googled and the grubs are also the result of genetic engineering. Maybe we already covered that and I blocked it due to the massive what the fuckery of it.

    Pern doesn’t have dragons because they were the only, or even the best choice for fighting Thread. Pern has dragons because the genetic engineers – at best – wanted to create the dragon rider aristocracy, and all its assorted problems. Which casts a lot of suspicion on their motives and ethics. They wasted time and effort enlarging the lizards despite having also come up with a better solution.

    I have this horrible suspicion that engineering out the dragon pheromones (or whatever exactly it is) was not even remotely on their to do list.

  12. Nothing June 5, 2015 at 9:13 pm

    @depizan: Spoiler, but the grubs were created after the dragons, by an outcast from the rest of the colony. Though they seem to be the more effective solution, I suppose psychologically it’s supposed to be better knowing there are people out during Threadfall fighting and dying to keep everyone safe. Or something. I agree though, grubs render dragons moot as long as people can find shelter.

    As for “why” dragons cause these problems, they are telepathic/telempathic, and were engineered to be more so than fire lizards. I guess that boosted their sex signal too. Maybe no one thought of that problem?

    Really, though, Pern would have been better as fantasy. There are more holes in the science and its consistency than there are in the average sieve. Granted, fantasy also has to be thought out and maintain consistency with its own in-world rules, but, we wouldn’t have all the sloppy science and magical genetic engineering that somehow also is supposed to stop the natural process of evolution.

  13. genesistrine June 6, 2015 at 3:00 am

    @depizan: Again, it’s probably kind of handwaveable – the grubs have had a couple of millennia to spread over the Southern Continent and get to the density they are there now. Though it is stupid that we’re told they were engineered too – how is Pern vegetation supposed to have survived all the long aeons of regular Threadfall until the Noble Colonists showed up and bred grubs?

    But yeah, what we see on Pern doesn’t reflect at all well on the first colonists.

    There’s room for a really interesting origin story; panic, rushed/bad/badly-thought-out decisions, resourcing battles, stopgaps, bodges and foulups, heroic all-nighters over steaming vats of protoplasm… but AFAIR this is not what we get when we get to Dragonsdawn.

    @Nothing: Better as honest porn, I think. (Hmmm, where did the planet’s name come from, again?) At least then it could be tagged as nonconsensual, mind/emotional control, etc etc.

  14. Silver Adept June 6, 2015 at 7:11 am

    @ boutet –

    If we had spent this book, and some of the last ones, actually detailing what Piemur had done to get his reputation in the Harper Hall, then we might have a better idea of why it’s a good decision to leave Piemur out in the frontier, where he can burn his energy in pursuit of exploration, instead of having to scratch our heads as to why he deserves the promotion and this assignment.

    @ genesistrine –

    Oh, goodness. I had forgotten that quote, but it raises so many other questions, like why nobody really talks about it, why the narrative never mentions it happening (not even an offhand “Oh, Lord X can’t make it today, there’s a mating flight that has him serially boinking everyone until it’s over”), why there’s no rules in place as to minimize effects (because the Lords and Crafters can surely figure out how to ask the dragonriders not to do those things while they’re in the middle of delicate operations) and what kind of sadists these genetic engineers are to have left something like that in place. If they knew what the fire lizards could do…

    And now I have a picture in my head of fire lizards being used by parents to avoid having the talk about sex…or as a cruel prank between children, hoping that they’ll be around when the mating instinct goes off.

  15. genesistrine June 6, 2015 at 9:44 am

    It’s actually possible that the urge isn’t so overwhelming as we’re told and what we’re seeing is a combination of “it wasn’t intentional rape m’lud I was overcome with passion” (after all, F’lar in DF could have restrained himself on the first mating flight and chose not to*) and acting-out-expectation in the case of fire lizard owners (they’re small dragons and dragonriders can’t control themselves in a mating flight therefore I can’t either RAAAR!)

    The genetic engineers might not have considered it a major problem if they weren’t embedded in the modern Pernese rape-culture view of “I am sexually aroused therefore I’m entitled to sex RIGHT THIS MINUTE”. If they regarded fire-lizard rising as something that could be dealt with by a cold shower or a quick 5-minute private break they wouldn’t have considered the effect societal changes could have….

    [*because he didn’t think Lessa was a virgin, in case anyone had forgotten what a charmer he is.]

  16. depizan June 6, 2015 at 10:05 am


    If it were just those bonded to a dragon or firelizard who were affected, that would make sense. The problem is (unless it got retconned) that quoted bit has dragon mating affecting everyone in some unknown radius of the act. And causing livestock to stampede and other problems.

    Unless the designers thought everyone would stick to the coast and make sure their dragons went out to sea to mate?

    It just seems really weird both in-universe (were there really no better options??? wouldn’t the grubs have to have already existed in some form for there even to be land life on Pern?) and out-of-universe (WTF, McCaffrey???). Okay, sure, as a set up for porn, like you said. But for anything else? Especially when the the narrative isn’t taking the repercussions at all seriously. (Except when they can be used to maim uppity women.)

  17. emmy June 6, 2015 at 10:54 am

    “how is Pern vegetation supposed to have survived all the long aeons of regular Threadfall until the Noble Colonists showed up and bred grubs?”

    As I recall, there were a lot of hints and possibilities vaguely suggested early on but never quite confirmed. Possibly she was just setting herself up with a range of options to play with if she ever felt like getting back to it.

    It’s clearly specified at some point that early surveys/images of Pern had unusual bare patches sprinkled around the planet, and that those patches were later grown over. Something was doing impressive damage to plants, but only in certain areas, and over time (during intervals) they would regrow. We’re left with an impression that there is some phenomenon that is quite destructive but, like a forest fire, only temporarily destructive.

    There are apparently natural limits on how much damage a clump of Thread can do. Despite human fears that it will, it doesn’t actually grow wildly out of control when it hits vegetation and devour the whole landscape. Instead, it either disappears into the ground (after damaging things on the way down) or eats and grows so much that it hits a point of instability and collapses in upon itself. (both of these things are described happening at certain points).

    However, it’s also suggested that thread may be some sort of alien bioweapon which has been used to completely strip other planets of organic life in the past, and Pern is a rare case where it doesn’t seem to have worked completely. If that’s true, the only explanation I can see from the book’s evidence is that the fire lizards, who were already chewing firestone and breathing fire on Thread on their own before humans came along, made just enough difference to keep Thread in the ‘forest fire’ category rather than the ‘planet killer’ category.

    I can’t remember what conclusions were drawn in the book where they were actually able to do some low-temperature experimentation on Thread samples, it’s been too long since I read it.

  18. Only Some Stardust June 6, 2015 at 11:39 am

    I’m inclined to give her a small break in that she clearly wanted to write porn but couldn’t do it and have it be ‘respectable’.

    As a fantasy, it’s better but still very problematic – even if magic made the dragons, that doesn’t explain why no one will do anything to mitigate the problems.

  19. Firedrake June 6, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    OSS, the actual porn attempt was The Thorns of Barevi (1970, so between the first two books of this series); it didn’t sell into that market so she didn’t try it again.

  20. genesistrine June 6, 2015 at 4:26 pm

    @depizan: or it’s just a problem with dragons. I’m imagining Groghe rampaging round Fort Hold begging for the dilz and, while it’s amusing, I have to think that if gold fire lizards really do have that strong an effect on their bonded male owners very few would want one, however high-status they theoretically are….

    @emmy: Um. At least one unfortunate implication of that is that the Our Dragon Saviours stuff has been a Big Lie all along, and people could have got along perfectly well with flamethrowers, watching where they put their feet and no risk of incoming rapey psi-storms….

  21. genesistrine June 6, 2015 at 5:26 pm

    @Firedrake: well, not until she expanded it into a series 3 decades later, at least….

  22. Firedrake June 7, 2015 at 2:58 am

    genesistrine: yeah, but that was aiming for mainstream sale, and she toned down the porn-y parts from the original story when recycling it for the first chapter of the novel. (My word, those books weren’t very good. Even for a fan who could get past all the troubling bits of McCaffrey’s usual style.)

  23. genesistrine June 7, 2015 at 3:52 am

    @Firedrake: Not very much, from what I remember of both, though at least she dropped the enjoying-being-raped aspect. The first book was disgustingly fascinating from the sexual politics angle, but one read was definitely enough for me.

    Kingsley Amis wasn’t far off when he called her the Barbara Cartland of Space; Babs was just keener on Marriage before Shenanigans….

  24. emmy June 7, 2015 at 12:48 pm

    @genesistrine – They tried flamethrowers first but they wanted to be able to burn thread out of the air so it wouldn’t hit the ground at all.

    There’s definitely an argument to be made that the creation of dragons was meant more as a morale-booster than anything else… something like a man-on-the-moon program, a big patriotic dreamy goal to help hold people together while times were hard. Because the initial batch of dragons was way, way too small to have any impact on Thread at all, and the colonists had to go off and live in caves and have a pretty terrible time, and were looking forward to generations of having a terrible time, with only the vague hope that someday in the future there would be so many dragons that people could go outside again.

    Which, as we see with Menolly and much more so with Jayge later, did not happen. Even in areas ‘protected’ by dragons, you can’t walk outside safely on a Threadfall day.

    It’s really quite depressing when you think about it. All that effort and creepy social structure for nothing. (Mostly nothing. The instant teleportation and other powers of dragons can be very useful to society, when they can be bothered to use them for anything other than stealing.)

  25. genesistrine June 10, 2015 at 5:11 pm

    Well, they could be very useful to society if they bothered to use them for anything other than stealing, at least…. 😦

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