Thanks for the votes of confidence. There’s been five years since the last book and this one coming out, so there has been time for reflection, and so this foray into Pern is likely more deliberate. The Author’s Note at the beginning of my Ballantine ebook says that the original thought that brought Pern into existence was to write one short story about an equal relationship between people and aliens, and to put dragons in a good light. Then came six books. The Author’s Note also says up front that this book is explicitly the past, not the future, so no resolutions to the scenario left hanging at the end of The White Dragon.
The Note itself concludes with an interesting thing:
For readers who have extrapolated themselves and their wishes onto Pern, I have probably NOT written the adventure you hoped might be presented within these covers. With all the best intentions in the world, I doubt I could write such a broadly-pleasing, all-encompassing, wish-fulfilling novel. In a roundabout way, that is a compliment to you, the reader, not a fault in me, for you have put more of yourself on Pern than I could ever imagine for your sake. I appreciate your enthusiasm and I also appreciate the list of dragon names which have been sent to me.
Well, clearly there’s a fandom that’s developed in this interval (or rather, in this interval, the fandom has been the only thing sustaining Pern). The Note seems to suggest that the decision to write Moreta is much like Arthur Conan Doyle’s decision to resurrect Holmes after throwing him off the Falls – the popular demand is just too much. But there’s the immediate disclaimer that this story is not going to be the story that all the fans have imagined, which is probably supposed to be an ass-covering move, but which also suggests to me that the fandom that has developed in this time is already starting to diverge with the canon presented in the books. Considering how much we have already looked at in relation to how absolutely screwed up Pern is, this divergence is likely inevitable, as fixing the problems is almost a prerequisite to making the world work for those who want to inhabit it. While one could conceivably have an entire society composed of nobility, as some reenactment groups make their conceit, the more likely fixing, in addition to needing better gender equality, would be to make all three classes more equal, and possibly even bring in the non-nobles into the game as somewhat equals. They may have also started noticing some of the less consensual options with regard to mating flights and be working to rectify those as well.
If that’s the case, then the disclaimer is meant to signal that no such things will be forthcoming in the original canon. That’s somewhat disappointing if this turns out to be true.
After the note, we have a prologue that still feels like it has been added to the original tale. It still appears mostly the same as before, but now that we actually know more about the Ancients that arrived on the planet through canon discovery of the South’s landing site and preserved dwellings, the prologue is less spoilery for us. There is also a section that describes for us how the various divisions of labor came to be.
The rest of the population agreed to tithe support to the Weyrs since the dragonmen did not have arable land in their volcanic homes, could not afford to take time away from nurturing their dragons to learn other trades during peacetime, and could not take time away from protecting the planet during Passes.
Eh, okay. During the intervals, though, it would make sense for dragonriders to learn crafts and such, as they’re more like reservists than active duty.
Settlements, called holds, developed wherever natural caves were found – some, of course, more extensive or strategically placed than others. It took a strong man to execute control over terrified people during Thread attacks; it took wise administration to conserve victuals when nothing could be safely grown, and it took extraordinary measures to control population and keep it productive and healthy until such time as the menace passed
Cocowhat by depizan
*spit-take* Population control? Since they only way we know of right now to abort is to go dragonback on a hyperspace hop, what other methods are being used for this “population control”, especially in situations where food supposedly cannot be grown and has to be conserved. Sending someone to the dragonriders? Locking them outside during a Fall?
…And now I have to wonder if this was in all the other prologue spoilers, too.
And the “nothing safely grown” bit doesn’t make sense, either, because the giant flaming dragons are supposed to make it possible to grow things, even when threatened by Thread. As a justification for the existence of Holders, this is pretty slim.
Men with special skills in metalworking, weaving, animal husbandry, farming, fishing, and mining formed crafthalls in each large Hold and looked to one Master-crafthall where the precepts of their craft were taught and craft skills were preserved and guarded from one generation to another. One Lord Holder could not deny the products of the crafthall situated in his Hold to others, since the Crafts were deemed independent of a Hold affiliation. Each Craftmaster of a hall owed allegiance to the Master of his particular craft–an elected office based on proficiency in the craft and on administrative ability. The Mastercraftsman was responsible for the output of his halls and the distribution, fair and unprejudiced, of all craft products on a planetary rather than parochial basis.
Except, of course, for that whole money part, which introduces inequality by its very nature. Also, it seems highly inefficient for there to be only one hall where the secrets are preserved and passed on. It would be like having one single graduate school for each major on the planet.
I’m also pretty sure that Holders have, at many times, tried to restrict, divert, or otherwise affect the supply of craft goods leaving their zones of control. Yanus seems to have done so somewhat successfully in the previous books, while Meron bought extra supplies by trading in fire-lizards, and the Crafts didn’t seem to care much.
The best is saved for last, though, in talking about how Weyr culture developed as “the greatest social revolution”:
Of the female dragons, only the golden were fertile; the greens were rendered sterile by the chewing of firestone, which was as well since the sexual proclivities of the small greens would have resulted in overpopulation.
[…more on the various colors and the bronze dragons taking primacy in queen mating games due to stamina…]
Consequently the rider of the bronze dragon who flew the senior queen of a Weyr became its Leader and had charge of the fighting Wings during a Pass. The rider of the senior queen dragon, however, held the most responsibility for the Weyr during and after a Pass when it was the Weyrwoman’s job to nurture and preserve the dragons, to sustain and improve the Weyr and all its folk. A strong Weyrwoman was as essential to the survival of the Weyr as dragons were to the survival of Pern.
To her fell the task of supplying the Weyr, fostering its children, and Searching for likely candidates from hall and hold to pair with the newly hatched dragons. As life in the Weyrs was not only prestigious but easier for men and women alike, hold and hall were proud to have their children taken on Search and boasted of the illustrious members of the bloodline who had become dragon riders.
Except, of course, when they don’t, or when they would really rather have that kid around for a marriage, or to inherit, or to help on the household… or any one of a hundred other possible reasons why.
Also, it might be easier for the men, who just have to train themselves and their dragons to fight, and that also get plenty of opportunity for sexual contact of a dubiously consensual nature thanks to mating flights, but check out the laundry list of responsibilities on the Weyrwoman – keep everyone supplied and in good spirits, raise the children, and go find new candidates. If anything goes wrong outside of a battle, it’s her fault. And she doesn’t get to fight, because it would make her sterile (unlike the slutty slut green slutty dragons, who deserve sterilization for their slutty slut behaviors), so conveniently, the only things that a Weyrwoman can do are the things that would make her the idealized housewife in The Past That Never Was. Including the regular sexual availability to potentially many men over her lifetime, all who get to claim ownership of her when she’s their partner.
Maybe it would have been better to skip this as spoiler data like before. Truthfully, though, it’s packed more worldbuilding into a few short pages than the books so far. Surely there could have been a way to incorporate all of this into the narratives, so that the characters could remind us of it at crucial points, rather than having it come out as declarative statements from an omniscient narrator. (Although, doing it Rod Serling or Outer Limits style might impart enough subtext to point out that this apparent utopic social setup was not, in fact, all that it seemed.)
In any case, the last element of the prologue is our single item that places this story into the history of Pern and gives us a chronological point of reference – near the end of the Sixth Pass, either about or exactly 1400 years after the landing of the Ancients. Which says that a full cycle of attack and retreat is a little over two hundred years, if the Ancients landed in the first year of a Pass and there were no anomalies like the Long Interval that Lessa jumped across to bring forth the time-skipped Weyrs, where more than four hundred years went by without a Pass. (So maybe the long interval is just a double-length break?)
Keep that temporal signature in mind, as it will be the last time you see it or any other epoch/era/age marker in this book. Even in the past, the Present Pass system of calendar records is in use, which makes me wonder how anyone in the future can figure out what era their past Records are from.
Next week, we’ll actually get to the action.