The White Dragon: While You Were Out

Last chapter, Ruth and Jaxom passed their flying exam, bringing to a head the situation that had been something for many Turns now.

The White Dragon, Chapter 2: Content Notes: None

Chapter Two is in “Present Pass, Thirteenth Turn”, so anywhere from a few months to an entire Turn plus has passed since Chapter One. The action opens with Toric and Robinton approaching a meeting with the Benden Weyrleaders, with Toric amazed at the size of Mnementh and Robinton pleased that Mnementh responded to his polite greeting.

Also of note is that Robinton is complaining of chest pains that don’t go away with rest. Lacking cardiologists, though, there’s no apparent way to Robinton to know that he’s exhibiting a classic sign of incoming cardiac arrest. Surely a Healer has examined him, with Oldive right there at the Hall to tell him what’s about to happen. That assumes, of course, that Robinton has actually been to see a Healer recently.

The meeting begins with some good-natured ribbing of Robinton about a recent trip of his to the South where he got caught in a giant squall and would likely have died, but for Menolly.

Robinton suddenly realized his adventure had had disturbing repercussions in this Weyr. He was both gratified and chagrined. True, at the time of the gale, he’d been far too occupied with his rebellious stomach to think beyond the next wave that crashed over their little boat. Menolly’s skill had kept him from realizing the acute danger they were in. Afterward he had come to appreciate their position and wondered if Menolly had suppressed her own fear lest she lose honor in his eyes. She’d gone about her seamanship, managing to save most of the wind-torn sail, rigging a sea anchor, lashing him to the mast as he’d been made weak by nausea and retching.

Or, perhaps, because Menolly was raised in a Sea Hold and made much of her life by sailing, she actually knew what she was doing and went about it with the practice someone does when they’ve been in that situation before. It has nothing to do with you, Robinton. Even if, as we learn in the future, in Dragondrums, Menolly does have feelings for Robinton.

This is another regrettable example of informed abilities – Menolly had two books to herself to show off lots of things, but they focused on her musical talent over all the other skills she had, unless those skills were directly relevant, like being able to hunt up food for fire lizards. And the future scene in Dragondrums will be about fire lizard mating – apart from making skiffs for Weyr children, there has been almost nothing of Menolly sailing that we see directly – instead, we hear about how good she is from others after the fact. Because girls can’t be sailors, like they can’t be Harpers, like they can’t fly fighting dragons, like they can’t be Holders, like they can’t have people that treat them well? The chain of events here is not a good one.

The meeting is actually to talk about the problems that Toric has with the Southern Weyr – they don’t help Toric explore the continent, they don’t fly to fight Thread, and they demand that the Holders keep them properly supplied in fruit and game.

“What?” Lessa exploded, but F’lar touched her shoulder.

“I’d wondered about that, Toric.”

“How dare they?” Lessa continued, her gray eyes flashing. Ramoth stirred on her couch.

“They dare, all right,” Toric said, looking nervously at the queen.

However, Robinton could see that Lessa’s appalled reaction to the Oldtimers’ delinquency gratified the man.

Cocowhat by depizan

Wait, this is entirely wrong. The roles here should be reversed – the Benden Weyrleader is the one who goes off on people defying the traditions and Lessa is the more levelheaded one. We’re supposed to believe that in the years since, they’ve flipped positions?

Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-NO. Because that plays way too much against the type that has been established for Mr. Tradition in the previous two books focusing on him and Lessa. And because it also removes Lessa from the “smart and capable women” category that she was heading up before the narrative started chomping away at each of them though contrivances.

But this exchange continues in the same vein and the Benden Weyrleader asks Toric what he wants to try and change the subject – forged metal, flamethrower parts, and to apprentice Sharra, his sister, to Master Oldive. That will get her set into position to find Piemur on the Southern Continent in Dragondrums on her healing ingredient run. Toric could also apparently use some sturdy and strong young men to help him with the Southern Hold, implying that he could help with the problem of the young men who would otherwise fight each other. There’s one last bit of business to conclude – when they were blown off course, Robinton and Menolly found a beautiful cove with a giant cone-shaped mountain in the distance. That took them nine days to sail back from to get to Southern, so there’s a lot of land on the continent for Toric to send the young men out to settle and call their own. And that’s the chapter.

Cone-shaped mountain, huh? I’d keep a very close eye on it once I could see it, Toric. Not that you have any seismologists on Pern, but mountains with no top usually got that way explosively. We can probably deduce that the Ancients, whomever they were, probably got on the wrong end of one of those and fled northward to settle up where they were. (If we read the spoiler data, it will confirm our suspicions, but let’s see if the narrative actually does it.)

I’m not going to go into Chapter 3’s narrative at all, but I am going to mention that it is subtitled “Present Pass, 15.5.9”. Which means that again, we’re skipping at least a full Turn forward, if not two or more, between chapters. Which deprives us, yet again, of seeing growth, change, and action for people along the way. The main action of the story is picking up three full rotations of the planet after the first flight of Jaxom and Ruth, which is a huge amount of time and Threadfall for things to happen. If we can construct a full story for Menolly that takes just seven days, why are we spending three Turns setting this one up?

Secondly, this is the first time I’ve seen any sort of calendar-like marking at all in these Pern books. Since it’s not actually in-text, I’m guessing this element is here to help readers figure out where in the Turn we are. But if that’s the case, why have we gone with a Terra-like date system? There’s no evidence to support it – the society here seems more inclined to keep time in increments of seven days (despite having no history of religion, so no Biblical origin stories to set the seven day week with) and in full revolutions of the planet. Maybe there’s an intermediate temporal period related to the seasons, since there must be seasons to grow food and herd animals with, but it seems unlikely they would develop an “arbitrary divisions of time” calendar, unless dragonriders started to demand their tribute on a regular schedule, regardless of the season. That’s contradicted by the panic at the beginning of Dragonflight about skimpy tributes that don’t have enough in them to last the appropriate amount of time.

So, the best I can guess about this notation, based on what the narrative has told us about life on Pern, and the a-historical, counting from the present style, is that the first number refers to the current season (which could be named as simply as Cold, Hot, Rainy, Stormy, Snowy, and so forth, and which might coalesce into a regular calendar cycle) and the second refers to what day it is in that current season.

Alternately, perhaps one of the numbers refers to which Fall this is during the current Turn, and the other number refers to which day it is of the current Fall (of which some arbitrary standard of “if it hasn’t dropped Thread for X days in our region, this particular Fall is over” has been established) – which could loop in the timetables that the Benden Weyrleader was using to predict time and locale of the next drop.

Both of these systems can create calendar variance, but that will likely eventually be smoothed out, now that Benden controls most things, so things are likely to be set in relation to Benden Standard Time. Except, perhaps, in the South, because they would never accept anything Benden.

Timekeeping in Pern has always been important, because time-traveling dragons, but this seems to be handwaving a lot and relying on the audience assuming that things are the same on Pern as they are on Terra, which, y’know, time-traveling dragons.


11 thoughts on “The White Dragon: While You Were Out

  1. boutet June 25, 2015 at 10:35 am

    I admit that my memories are blurry in it but the book that comes out later about Robinton’s young life I seem to remember that he is taught to run a small sailing boat and has already been in at least one terrible storm in his life. So it wasn’t a unique or new experience. I’ curious if McC remembered to bring the sea-sickness aspect in there.

  2. depizan June 25, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    the Benden Weyrleader is the one who goes off on people defying the traditions and Lessa is the more levelheaded one

    I can offer an explanation for this, but it only makes things worse. The Weyrleader isn’t shocked because he knew the Oldtimers would act like this. Meaning he exiled them knowing that the consequences would be unpleasant (at best) for the Southern Hold. Which makes him an even bigger jackass than if he exiled them thinking they would still do their duty. (Although he should have at least known that they would be free to abuse the Holders without fear of reprise. One of the many reasons why the exile solution was a horrible one.)

    And I notice that there’s no attempt to correct the Southern situation. Sure, they’ll give Toric stuff, but they won’t address the jackasses with dragons. Nice. Especially since they’re responsible for that situation.

  3. Only Some Stardust June 25, 2015 at 12:54 pm


    they might not have a history on pern of religion, but the original settlers did and would have remembered religion. maybe the calendar is a settler artifact.

  4. genesistrine June 26, 2015 at 4:29 am

    because Menolly was raised in a Sea Hold and made much of her life by sailing

    But… did she? Half-Circle seemed heavily gender-segregated; all the fishermen were… men. Women did the cooking and nursing and fish-gutting and net-mending. There doesn’t seem to be any sailing for pleasure (aside from teaching Elgion) or for visiting up and down the coast (“not needful”, presumably), so it seems perfectly possible to me that Menolly would never have learned to sail, in spite of the whole “raised in a Sea Hold” thing.

    The calendar is presumably based on one the settlers set up – if you’re planning to make a life farming then setting up a sensible year-cycle calendar for the planet you’re on is an important step. And the 7-day cycle is so deeply embedded in the cultures descended from or influenced by Judeo-Christian-Islamic peoples it’s not hard to see 7-day weeks staying as the default in future human cultures.

    I would like to know if it’s related to the cycles of Pern’s moons though.

  5. emmy June 26, 2015 at 7:59 am

    @genesistrine – I agree, I don’t think sailing would have been something Menolly did a lot of. She would have known many things about it from hearing sailors talk, and Alemi might have taken her out in a boat because after-the-fact he’s written as that sort of guy, but I don’t think it was a practiced life skill during her time at the sea hold.

    Didn’t Menolly comment on how sailing leaves men’s hands too weathered for instruments?

  6. genesistrine June 26, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    @emmy: yes she does, but they are fishermen, and I can see regular hauling-on-rigging and hauling-on-nets being rough on hands. Though that’s still not going to utterly destroy musical/instrumental abilities; look at Earth sailors’ shanties.

  7. boutet June 26, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    Menolly would have to know how to sail if Robinton doesn’t. Otherwise there would be more people on their boat. It’s not like sailing is something you can ass your way through in nice weather and only get into trouble in a storm.

  8. genesistrine June 27, 2015 at 5:28 am

    Well, this is Pern….

    “I thought you knew how to sail!”

    “I thought you knew how to sail!”

  9. Silver Adept June 29, 2015 at 6:23 pm

    That’s very plausible, depizan, and makes Benden or to be even bigger jerks than usual.

    I think Menolly would have sailing skill in relation to the women also going out and gathering reeds and plants, presumably sailing pretty far out when there’s no immediate Thread threat to get enough for the Hold. But something like this would take a paragraph or two to mention in the right place, and all would be well. Instead, we have to guess.

    The calendar can be a settler artifact, sure, but it seems that drift would be increasingly likely the further away from the settlers you get. Unless the Harpers are more powerful than we give them credit for, and have been able, with the dragonriders, to maintain cultural stasis for years.

    Down with Big Brother!
    Down with Big Brother!
    Down with Benden / Harper control!

  10. genesistrine June 30, 2015 at 3:36 am

    1% of the population has 100% of the dragons! Occupy Pern!

    As for calendars, they’re pretty stable things; as long as they work (and the original settlers were good enough at calendrical mechanics to build Stonehenges that still work millennia later) there’s no particular reason to change them, especially since most Pernese are farmers and only need an “is it time to plant the potatoes tubers yet”/”what year is it? 15 years since that big flood that washed away half of Frerd’s herdbeast pasture” kind of calendar.

    Fax might have got around to calendrical reform if he’d conquered a few more Holds; Year 27 After Fax and whatnot, but without some kind of central authority I don’t see why it wouldn’t carry on essentially unchanged.

  11. Only Some Stardust July 1, 2015 at 9:54 pm

    lol occupy pern.

    Yeah I don’t see the calender changing much if it works. We don’t worship Thor anymore and yet somehow we still have Thur’s Day.

    Her sailing ability seems like one of the author’s worldbuilding-fail moments; a different author would have the character reflect on the day they learned to sail or something and reveal something about the culture in the process.

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