The White Dragon: …same as the old age.

Earlier in the chapter, the true nature of the Dawn Sisters became apparent with a powerful telescope, and Jaxom, accompanied by Menolly, Piemur, and Sharra, discovered what are likely to be the ruins of the first settlement on Pern, before having to fight off Thread and the anger of everyone else for just going off and exploring. The discovery has basically summoned everyone that is everyone to the South, and it’s here that we pick up again…

The White Dragon, Chapter XIX, Part Two: Content Notes: Misogyny

(Still 15.10.16)

In the hours that followed, Jaxom was grateful that Sharra had thought to feed him breakfast. He didn’t get much time for more food. The moment he entered the main Hall, questions were thrown at him by the Weyrleaders and Craftmasters assembled. Piemur had been very busy during Fall because Master Robinton had already completed a sketch of the southeastern face of the mountain to show the incredulous visitors, and a rough, small-scale map of this section of Southern. From the almost rhythmic way Menolly described their jaunt, Jaxom decided she had already repeated the account many times.
What Jaxom remembered most of that session was feeling sorry that the Masterharper was unable to see the mountain first hand. But, if Jaxom had waited until Master Oldive permitted the Harper to fly between

…and the Benden Weyrleader is asking Jaxom to send him the coordinates so he can take a look with everybody else, a move N’ton squashes after laughing at “the look on your [Jaxom’s] face”, which isn’t described, but presumably is either crestfallen or utterly pissed off at the Benden Weyrleader wanting to steal his thunder so completely and transparently.

So Jaxom leads the others to the site of the ruins, where the Benden Weyrleader trues to dig through the ash and uncover the path…with his belt knife. T’bor (High Reaches Weyrleader, still) points out that erupting volcanoes tend to cover everything in their path in lots of ash before a sun-blotting grouping of fire-lizards arrives, exuberant that men have returned to them. After they all vanish when asked about the volcano and everyone with a fire lizard gets vivid imagery of the eruption, the Benden Weyrleader is still openly skeptical of the idea that fire lizards have a way of preserving memory from previous times.

Because it’s not like he lives in a society that preserves memory, albeit imperfectly, in crafts, songs, and traditions, or anything like that.

“Of course men were here. They’re not telling us anything we didn’t know. But for them to say they remembered?” F’lar was scornful. “I could accept your finding D’ram in the Cove with their aid…but that was only a matter of twenty-five Turns in the past. But…” For want of an appropriate expression of his skepticism, F’lar merely gestured at the dead volcanoes and the long-covered traces of a settlement.

I should probably mention that at least one of those depictions of memory was detailed enough to allow for a time jump, and it survived more than four hundred and fifty Turns so that it could be used for the purpose of that hop, along with a song that would provide the key for its use. There’s skepticism, oh great thief of credit due others, and then there’s what you’re doing. None of this is mentioned, but a defense is mounted:

“Two points, F’lar,” Menolly said, boldly contradicting the Benden Weyrleader, “no fire-lizard in this time knew the Red Star, but they were, nonetheless, all afraid of it. They also…” Menolly paused, and Jaxom was certain she had been about to bring up the fire-lizard dreams about Ramoth’s egg. He hastily interrupted.
“Fire-lizards must be able to remember, F’lar. Ever since I’ve been in the Cove, I’ve been troubled with dreams. At first I thought it was leftover from fire-head fever. The other night I found out that Sharra and Piemur have had similar nightmares…about the mountain. This side of it, not the one facing the Cove.”
“Ruth always sleeps with fire-lizards at night, F’lar,” Menolly said, pressing their case. “He could be relaying those dreams to Jaxom! And our fire-lizards to us!”
F’lar nodded, as if granting them this possibility.

He never fully agrees with it, as Fandarel offers some sound advice on what to do next – dig. Lots. Much like the proverbial child in a candy shop, the Mastersmith has a lot of new problems to solve and knowledge to gain, and he’ll borrow the best diggers from the Masterminer to excavate.

Jaxom takes his leave, and an afternoon nap, before Mirrim and Sharra wake him up to send him in to Robinton for a report. Jaxom is rude and cross with Mirrim, before trying to turn the charm on for Sharra.

“You are my true friend, Sharra,” Jaxom said. “Mirrim irritates me so! Menolly told me that once Path had flown, she’d improve. I haven’t noticed any sign.”

Sharra doesn’t take the bait, and Jaxom is soon set to the task of trying to get information from the fire-lizards about where would be a good spot to focus the digging efforts. After Robinton deduces that Jaxom was the one that stole Ramoth’s egg back from the south, that is, now that the whole picture is laid out before him of what fire-lizards can do.

Robinton also gets to articulate the main question that has been in our minds since we could piece together that the Ancients were highly technologically advanced and possibly a space-faring race:

“…Surely people who could hold the Dawn Sisters in the sky in a stationary position for who knows how many Turns ought to be wise enough to identify an active volcano. My surmise is that the eruption was spontaneous, totally unexpected. The people were caught going about their daily tasks in cot, hold, crafthall. If you can get Ruth to focus those disparate views, perhaps we could identify which of the mounds were important from the numbers of people coming from it, or them.”

Knowing Robinton’s character design, he’ll turn out to be right, but the question itself is important – why would a space-faring group be caught unawares by an active volcano? Unless there were no seismologists or computers and sensors to monitor the activity, at which point I’m surprised they didn’t completely wipe out when Thread first arrived. If us Terrans have had the technology to monitor activity for decades at this point, it seems reasonable to believe so would any settlement in the blast zone of any volcano. So I’m going to guess that Robinton is correct, but that the Ancients brought it on themselves by doing something seismically dangerous.

Mirrim volunteers herself and Path to help with focusing the fire lizards after Menolly, Jaxom, and Sharra are set to start tomorrow. Now, we’ve already been set up earlier in this part, and in earlier books, to understand Mirrim as sharp-tongued and generally headstrong. With that in mind:

“I can arrange to come, too,” Mirrim said.
Jaxom caught Sharra’s closed expression and realized that Mirrim’s presence would be as unwelcome to her as to himself.
“I don’t think that would work, Mirrim. Path would scare the Southern fire-lizards away!”
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous, Jaxom,” Mirrim replied, brushing aside the argument.
“He’s right, Mirrim. Look out in the Cove right now. Not a single fire-lizard that isn’t banded,” Menolly said. “They all disappear the minute they see any other dragon but Ruth.”
“It’s ridiculous. I have three of the best-trained fire-lizards in Pern…”
“I must agree with Jaxom,” the Harper said, smiling with sincere apology to the Benden dragongirl. “And, though I quite agree that yours are undoubtedly the best-trained fire-lizards in Pern, we don’t have time for the Southern ones to get used to Path.”
“Path needn’t be in evidence–”
“Mirrim, the decision has been made,” Robinton said firmly, with no trace of a smile now.
“Well, that’s plain enough. Since I’m not needed here…” She stalked out of the hall.

You know what? I’d love to see the book called Dragongirl…written by someone who doesn’t have a deep and abiding hated for women who stand up for themselves and are assertive. Otherwise, the use of that term instead of “dragonrider” pretty well cements what the narrative, and most likely all the other riders, think of their first female fighting rider. Mirrim deserves more than a brush-off and a convenient excuse that pretty well indicates that she’s not wanted. If Jaxom can read Sharra’s body language, Mirrim probably can, too.

And as extra topping on this shit sundae, Robinton reaches for the most convenient and sexist excuse possible.

Jaxom noticed the Harper’s gaze following her [Mirrim], and he felt acutely embarrassed by her display of temperament. He could see that Menolly was also disturbed.
“Is her Path proddy today?” the Harper asked Menolly quietly.
“I don’t think so, Master Robinton.”

So our options appear to be that Mirrim is either raggedy because her dragon is having a PMS-equivalent, or that Mirrim is just naturally bitchy. Way to go on the false choice there. *thbbbbpth*

After Mirrim is sent off, Brekke and the Brown Rider Rapist arrive, Brekke to chide Robinton for not taking his retirement easy, the Brown Rider Rapist to chide Mirrim (if he can find her) for bothering Robinton. Piemur calls for a swim, and the gang head to the water, Jaxom asking how Robinton knew, and Menolly pointing out that someone could follow the logic chain to Jaxom, and that more people will, now that the crisis of the South is finished and they don’t need to believe in nonexistent goodwill.

There is another joke at Mirrim’s expense about her trying to stay on and see if the fire-lizards will react to Path.

“And what do you bet Mirrim tries to stay there [with Wansor star-watching] the night, too, to see if Path does keep away the Southern fire-lizards?” Piemur asked, a slightly malicious grin on his face.
“Mirrim does have well-trained fire-lizards,” Menolly said.
“And they sound just like her when they scold everyone else’s friends,” Piemur added.
“Now that’s not fair,” Menolly said. “Mirrim’s a good friend of mine…”
“And as her best friend you ought to explain to her that she can’t manage everyone on Pern!”
As Menolly prepared to take umbrage, dragons began popping into the air over the Cove, and with their bugling no one could hear anything else.

Which is convenient, otherwise we might have to hear someone say something nice about Mirrim, instead of her perpetual Butt Monkey status. We also know that Brekke has been managing everyone since her appearance several books ago, but she apparently isn’t the focus of negative attention any more. Perhaps because the Brown Rider Rapist’s “claim” on her gives her protection so long as she doesn’t step too far out of line.

The arrival of dragons and ships is for a big conference at Cove Hold about what to do with the ruins. The time-skipped are uninterested in the artifacts of the past, and the Masterminer’s analysis suggests that the lava and the ash both avoided the main parts of the settlement and only damaged a small bit.

Heading back to the dragons, Jaxom gets to overhear Mirrim talk with N’ton about Ruth, which is also the narrative teeing up for us a reminder that we should not feel empathy for Mirrim.

“Of course, Wansor’s all right,” Mirrim said, sounding peevish. “He’s got his eyes glued to that tube of his. He never knew I came, never ate the food I brought, never knew I left. And further,” she paused, taking a deep breath, “Path did not scare away the Southern fire-lizards.”
“Why would she?”
I’m not allowed to be on the Plateau when Jaxom and the others try to coax some sense out of the Southerners.”
“Sense? Oh, yes, seeing if Ruth can focus the fire-lizards images. Well, I shouldn’t worry about it, Mirrim. There are so many other things you can do.”

That sounds incredibly patronizing, and it probably is. Considering the context, N’ton and Mirrim are probably both thinking that those “other things” are delivering food, running supplies, and generally the things that women in the Weyr do, not the things that the real dragonriders do. So Mirrim is most likely understandably aggravated, in much the same way Jaxom was, about regularly being sent to the support squadrons. Even so, her rejoinder aims well below the belt.

“At least my dragon is not an unsexed runt, good for nothing but consorting with fire-lizards!”
“Mirrim!”
Jaxom heard the coldness in N’ton’s voice; it matched the sudden freezing in his guts. Mirrim’s petulant comment resounded over and over in his ears.
“You know what I mean, N’ton…”
Just like Mirrim, Jaxom thought, not to heed the warning in N’ton’s voice.
“You ought to,” she went on with the impetus of grievance. “Wasn’t it you who told F’nor and Brekke that you doubted if Ruth would ever mate? Where are you going, N’ton? I thought you were going…”
“You don’t think, Mirrim!”
“What’s the matter, N’ton?” The sudden panic in her voice afforded Jaxom some consolation.
[…N’ton reveals Jaxom within earshot…]
“Jaxom?” Mirrim cried. “Oh no!” Then Jaxom heard her running away, saw the glow basket jolting, heard her weeping. Just like the girl, speak first, think later and weep for days. She’d be repentant and hanging on about him, driving him between with her need to be forgiven her thoughtlessness.

So, I’m very much not sure what to do with this. The brash and unapologetic Mirrim we’ve seen so far wouldn’t crumble at her target overhearing her. At the same time, if the aggressiveness is a front and Mirrim uses it because she sees it as the only way to survive and be on an equal footing with the hypermasculine dragonriders, then the thought of having actually hurt someone might be enough to set her off. That Jaxom groans at this, making it sound like Mirrim does this tears-and-apology routine a lot, suggests that the second interpretation is more likely, which makes Mirrim continually victimized and hurt by the institutional anti-women sentiments embedded deeply in Pern and in the narrative. Once again, the narrative punishes women who get ideas, and it doesn’t permit anyone else to speak positively on their behalf. (Which is interpretation three – Mirrim goes off to cry because men cannot be impugned without swift consequences on Pern.)

After Mirrim leaves, N’ton apologizes and Jaxom dismisses the whole thing – after all, Ruth doesn’t understand and Jaxom’s okay with having an ace dragon. Ruth, on the other hand, is itchy and his concern is what Jaxom can focus on. While retrieving oil for Ruth, Jaxom is annoyed at not ever being treated as a full dragonrider (a Thing that should generate empathy for Mirrim, not scorn), and on his return, he finds that Mirrim has been sent back to Benden and Sharra is itching Ruth.

And to close out this triple-length chapter, it turns out that Jaxom’s penis sense is correct. Sort of. Ruth called Sharra over to get Jaxom to open his mind up again, which Roth apparently has determined means sex. Sharra is apparently up for opening Jaxom’s mind.

Jaxom asks “Will you do that for us, Sharra?” and her reply is “I would do anything for you, Jaxom, anything for you and Ruth!” Which doesn’t actually sound like she’s interested in Jaxom per se, but she is interested in Ruth, and Jaxom is the vehicle for that. Now, it’s entirely possible that Sharra has become affectionate for Jaxom during his recovery, but she’s been giving him a lot of signals that says she thought it was the fever talking and not him. I haven’t seen any change in her that hasn’t been filtered through Jaxom’s desire for her. To have it come to sex at this point seems to be a sign of narrative necessity and not any organic reason that has to do with Jaxom.

The closing line for the chapter is

They made love in the soft warm darkness, delighting in each other and fully responsive to the moment of ecstasy that came, totally aware that Ruth loved with them.

Which still suggests that Ruth is the interesting thing in their mental threesome and not Jaxom. It would be nice to have more explicit confirmation of this from the text, otherwise it’s basically the narrative rewarding Jaxom for being creepy, possessive, and trying to control Sharra. Which, admittedly, is in character for the narrative, but is still a bad thing.

Now that I look at it, Ruth may, in fact, have a sex drive, but not one that wants to engage in mating flights and the physicality that goes along with it. He’d rather be engaged with the minds in the act than get physical. Being able to peer into Ruth’s head during this would be nice. Instead, all we get is everyone apparently has a good time.

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10 thoughts on “The White Dragon: …same as the old age.

  1. aussiesmurf October 29, 2015 at 3:02 am

    This chapter brings a lot of memories for me, because I read these books in a weird-ass order because of the fact that not all of them were present at my library. I actually read this book BEFORE most of the Menolly trilogy, and definitely before Dragonquest. I always saw Mirrim as an antagonist, and didn’t have a perspective on the friendship she formed with Menolly in Dragonsong (which, actually, was the last book I read before Dragonsdawn etc). Therefore, although (even as a youngster) being fully aware of Jaxom’s many shortcomings, I just viewed Mirrim as a shrew. This deconstruction really highlights the horrible position she is in. Similiarly to Jaxom, she is an ‘outsider’ who has impressed a dragon when she ‘wasn’t meant to’, However, she has very few of Jaxom’s advantages. I fan-canon that her sharpness is essentially due to her friendship-circle falling away from her. Menolly, Jaxom, Piemur – they are all going in different directions. Her dragon is entering, what is essentially adolescence, and she is receiving no support, only isolation and scorn.

    And Jaxom, while having to endure (gasp!) an unkind comment, still gets to do the wild thing with the girl he’s been crushing on for 100+ pages. What a sad life…

  2. genesistrine October 29, 2015 at 10:19 am

    One thing I do love about this bit is the “working round people who are nerding out so hard they’re oblivious to everything else” aspect. Pity it’s the girls doing the working rather than getting to nerd out themselves, but eh….

    Also I forgot to comment before that there’s a nice vignette earlier of Idarolan’s sailors putting up a slate roof-thing over the ship’s decks as Thread protection, though I’m not sure how that works – where’s it stored? What about the masts? They’re protected by fire lizards this time, but what did ships do before fire lizards demythicalized? Collapsible masts?

    the Benden Weyrleader is still openly skeptical of the idea that fire lizards have a way of preserving memory from previous times.

    Well, he does spend a lot of time around Lessa, who (a) despises fire lizards and (b) is a powerful mindbender, so it’s not surprising he’s picked up some of her attitude. Note that neither of them has ever bothered to acquire one….

    “You are my true friend, Sharra,” Jaxom said. “Mirrim irritates me so! …”

    Ugh, what a smarmy little tick he is.

    She sent Mirrim off with supplies for Master Wansor and N’ton, who planned to make an evening of star-watching or, as Piemur said irreverently, the Dusk-Dawn-and-Midnight Sisters.

    “And what do you bet Mirrim tries to stay there the night, too, to see if Path does keep away the Southern fire-lizards?” Piemur asked, a slightly malicious grin on his face.

    And… what. WTF you smarmy little toad. She’s one of the super-special Smithcraft students; is it so gaspingly unbelievable that she might stay up there all night because she’s interested? Because she wants to be involved, and help, and learn? After all, her fellow students have just made it perfectly clear that she’s not included, and not welcome, with them.

    “Now that’s not fair,” Menolly said. “Mirrim’s a good friend of mine…”

    Bollocks she is, Menolly. You haven’t spoken up for her, included her, backed her up or gone after her when she’s obviously upset about the way you and your – and, supposedly, her – friends are deliberately keeping her away from the exciting cool stuff you’re doing. OK, she’s being really annoying at the moment, but don’t friends call friends out on that, try and find out why friends are behaving like that, give friends a break when friends are dealing with shitty, horrifying and depressing life situations?

    Nah, sod that. Send her back to Benden for hurting poor Jaxom’s fee-fees about having an ace dragon, oh the Lovecraftian horror of it all, a male not interested in sex HOW CAN SUCH THINGS BE.

  3. genesistrine October 29, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    why would a space-faring group be caught unawares by an active volcano?

    The settlers themselves may just have been passengers, of course. More fodder for the back-to-the-land anti-science cult theory? Though then we have to worry about what happened to the crew…. Maybe the Dawn Sisters were habitats, hauled by a tug that left them in orbit.

    I think the way we’re supposed to interpret the situation is that the Red Star’s approach brings on vulcanism (it’s mentioned in DF; Ista’s burning mountain and the like), so it reactivated a previously dormant and safe volcano. Presumably we’re still on the “200 years of settlement before the first Threadfall” timeline here, so that’s plenty of time to get into the mindset of “hey, this thing’s never going to erupt, no need to keep an eye on the sensors.”

    Which just raises more questions, as the saying has it – mainly how big is the Red Star supposed to be? If its gravitation can kick off a volcano even before it gets into Thread-shooting range….

    But it doesn’t behave like a normal heavenly body anyway, so maybe it’s some form of exotic matter. Its orbit has nothing to do with normal celestial mechanics; anything on a 250-year orbit should finish a close pass to the inner system in a matter of weeks, not 50 years, but its orbit is obviously predictable – Star Stones and Wansor’s predictions of how other planets affect it prove that.

  4. Only Some Stardust October 29, 2015 at 4:38 pm

    So… Ruth decides it’s time for his humans to breed, maybe with his emotions altering their minds to be more receptive to this, and gets (sexual) enjoyment out of it.

    That’s not creepy at all.

    All hail the dragon overlords, breeding their pet humans.

  5. emmy October 30, 2015 at 6:14 pm

    @OnlySomeStardust – Have you read the Xenogenesis books, by chance?

  6. Only Some Stardust October 30, 2015 at 7:51 pm

    Nope.

  7. Silver Adept November 1, 2015 at 11:11 pm

    @ aussiesmurf –

    Not to mention, at this point, Path has had a mating flight, so Mirrim also knows what much of her sexual experience is going to be like, a thing that might bring empathy from Menolly, based on her fair. But Mirrim really is supposed to be a shrew, according to the narrative, and not someone who deserves sympathy nor someone who might be genuinely interested in these things. And Menolly and Jaxom are going to be railroaded by the narrative’s insistence instead of their characterization.

    Maybe Thread travel longer distances than we think to land on the planet, so that the fifty year Pass starts fairly far away with small amounts, then ramps up to a lot more as more gets pulled in the gravity, and then it lightens up again near the end. And perhaps Intervals aren’t actually that long, but another planet/moon gets in the way, or it all falls on Southern or the ocean, and thus goes unobserved. It doesn’t make any sense normally, so we have to find more farfetched explanations.

  8. genesistrine November 2, 2015 at 8:26 am

    Re Path: has she risen before then? I thought the situation was that she was about the age to but hasn’t yet.

    Re Thread: the problem with alternative explanations is that it’s stated Threadfall starts when the Red Star becomes visible, so the Red Star has to hang around in visible range for far, far longer than is feasible using vanilla celestial mechanics, while still being predictable enough for Wansor to develop his equations.

    Otherwise we could try re-interpreting Threadfall as something like periodic meteor showers – the remains of old comets scatter along their old orbits so we see a shower on the day of the year Earth cuts through that path; maybe the Red Star comes with a sort of surrounding field of Thread spores, and the moons (with occasional planetary interference) deflect/concentrate them into the waves of Threadfall or something. That would probably work better if Rukbat were a red dwarf instead of a G-type though, then the whole inner system could be much closer in and smaller.

    I suspect there’s no way to make the celestial mechanics work without something like the Red Star being Yuggoth’s cousin and Thread being due to the Great Old Ones firing it at Pern though….

  9. Silver Adept November 3, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    Earlier in the book, we had Jaxom and Menolly making fun of Mirrim because Path hadn’t risen yet, but that offhand comment about how Mirrim should be less crabby now that Path has flown is our signal that things have apparently changed.

    You’re right that the orbiting of the Red Star doesn’t work with standard mechanics. Thinking of it as something from the Great Old Ones works just as well as anything else, and might explain the official cult well enough, too. (“Shh! If they see we’ve become too smart, they’ll send down monstrosities to kill us all and start again!”)

  10. genesistrine November 3, 2015 at 5:16 pm

    Re Path: Ah right, I missed that. All the time-jumps in the narrative get confusing….

    Re Great Old Ones sending monstrosities: not as long as the geosynchronous orbiting laser defence forts are operational! (There are 2 sets on opposite sides of the planet.) All they can do is keep firing barrages of Thread spores. 🙂

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