Welcome, welcome! Since Moreta and Nerilka, we’ve advanced two years to 1988. We’ve gone through two distinct time periods, the Ninth Pass and the Sixth Pass, where some things are different, but a lot is depressingly the same, varying only in matter of degree rather than with one time period having something and the other lacking it. Let’s see if this book has much of the same, or is actually going to be different.
The beginning of the book contains maps, of the kind that would be used in Ninth Pass Pern, despite the story being set in the very origins of the planet. I suspect this is one of those signals meant to say “Yes, this is a Pern novel, don’t worry,” as the structure has shifted again, back to the original form given in Dragonflight, with three Parts instead of chapter designations. The electronic version I’m using has chapter breaks, but the actual text of the book doesn’t explicitly say “Chapter $foo” when those breaks are reached. So with this story, the breaks may not be at official chapter points, but at whatever point in the narrative I think a post has gone on too long or when my bullshit capacity has been reached.
Dragonsdawn, Part One: Content Notes: Gender and Race stereotypes, ableism
Part One is titled “Landing”, and the first line we receive is about probe reports arriving, from someone named Telgar reporting to someone named Benden.
That said, within the first paragraph, there are two named women (Sallah Telgar and Emily Boll) and one named man (Paul Benden), and the two women converse about something other than the man. That’s good. Bechdel-Wallace Test passed. What’s bad is that the man is the fleet admiral and the two women are subordinate officers.
This fleet, the Pern Colonial Expedition, is the culmination of nearly two hundred years of work from the original recommendation from the Exploration and Evaluation team. They’ve also been flying for about fifteen years from their departure point at this juncture of the narrative, which is where we finally receive in-text information that Pern is the third planet of the star Rukbat, whose entire system is surrounded by an Oort cloud of space rocks. This is all in the Sagittarian Sector, so we should probably guess that this planet is orbiting one of the many stars in the constellation Sagittarius, were one looking at it from Terra. The spoiler data of previous volumes is finally starting to stop being spoilers. There are three ships in the expedition – the Yokohama, the Bahrain, and the Buenos Aires. Two cities and a country, because naming consistency is unnecessary, apparently.
Before too much longer, Telgar, Benden, and Boll have a Keroon, as well, and I fully expect the name-dropping to continue fast and furious. While we wait for that, there’s also an introduction to the mission itself.
The trip was one-way–it had to be, considering the cost of getting over six thousand colonists and supplies to such an out-of-the-way sector of the galaxy. Once they reached Pern the fuel left in the great transport ships would be enough only to achieve and maintain a synchronous orbit above their destination while people and cargo were shuttled down to the surface. To be sure, they had homing capsules that would reach the headquarters of the Federated Sentient Planets in a mere five years, but to a retired naval tactician like Paul Benden, a fragile homing capsule did not offer much in the way of an effective backup. The Pern expedition was composed of committed and resourceful people who had chosen to eschew the high-tech societies of the Federated Sentient Planets. They expected to manage on their own. And though their destination in the Rukbat system was rich enough in ores and minerals to support an agriculturally based society, it was poor enough and far enough from the center of the galaxy that it should escape the greed of the technocrats.
This is almost a basket-of-Whatfruit level of NOPE going on here. A highly technically advanced interplanetary federation having enough people who want to play at the pre-tech life…that’s actually believable. As is gathering enough people to basically go on a one-way trip to another planet to live what they think of as a more simple life. I’m having trouble, though, with the idea that these colonists are trained in the techniques that make an agricultural society thrive and succeed – having read about it and having actually done it are two very different things. Plus, the actual work of farming is labor-intensive. I’m not sure how many of that six thousand there would have to be farmers to feed everyone, because I have no idea whether their insistence on being out of the way means no energy-requiring machines at all or only some machines doing that work. And that’s assuming that Federation crops and animals will take hold on Pern and flourish. Presumably, the evaluation that happened has figured this out. Or so we hope.
As it turns out, both Benden and Boll are trying to get away from a society that considers them war heroes (“charismatic” ones, no less). They are supposedly ideal leaders for this expedition:
He hated the interminable debate over minor points that seemed to obsess those in charge of the landing operation. He preferred to make quick decisions and implement them immediately, instead of talking them to death.
So that’s where his namesake Weyrleaders get their impulsiveness from.
Emily Boll’s perspective is also used to describe Benden – after assuring us that he is not her type, the narrative has her describe his thick blonde hair, blunt nose, forceful jaw, and his mouth, and his general good health after having apparently pushed himself to the limit (seventy straight hours awake) in defense against an invasion. When Benden is used to return the favor later, she’s described as a lean, bony woman with shoulder-length gray and naturally wavy hair, but what he likes most is her wiry physical and mental strength, personal vitally, and ruthlessness. “Just being in her presence gave one’s spirits a lift.” So the man is described primarily in terms of his physical features and abilities, the woman primarily in terms of her non-physical qualities. And then, to prove it’s not necessarily just sexism at work, the head agronomer, Mar Dook, is described as “a small man whose Earth Asiatic ancestry was evident in features, skin tone, and physiology: he was wiry, lean, and slightly bowed in the shoulders, but his black eyes gleamed with eager intelligence and the excitement of the challenge.”
The sight of Pern turns Boll’s attention to the planet itself, which was apparently named after…something. Not too soon after that, after an oath to “the Holies” to not botch this planet, Emily thinks about the current set of problems:
She thought of the friction she had sensed between the charterers, who had raised the staggering credits needed to finance the Pern expedition, and the contractors, the specialists hired to round out the basic skills required for the undertaking. Each could end up with a largeous amount of land or mineral rights on this new world, but the fact that the charterers would get first choice was a bone of contention.
Differences! Why did there always have to be distinctions, arrogantly displayed as superiororities, or derided as inferiorities? Everyone would have the same opportunity, no matter how many stake acres they could claim as charterer or had been granted as contractor. On Pern, it would truly be up to the individual to succeed, to prove his claim and to manage as much land as he and his cared for. That would be the catholic distinction. Once we’ve landed, everyone will be too bloody busy to fret over “differences”, she consoled herself, […and watches the weather.]
The contractors have a point – if this is supposed to be an egalitarian planet, and everyone just left to till their land and survive as the first successful Randian experiment in millenia, if the charterers get first dibs, they get an advantage that, if properly exploited, will mean the contractors won’t ever be able to be on even footing with them. The paradise of John Galt will be dead before it starts. And, if Terran history is any indicator, those with big plots of land will be able to eventually turf out the smaller ones and put them in a vassalage relationship, if not outright slavery. We’re already seeing the seeds of what will eventually be the Pernese aristocracy and caste system. Because the people that put up the money are expecting the best things as the financiers. The rich and the working classes, already at odds with each other. So who gets to own the means of production in Pern?
The actual story continues with the probe data of the planet and how that matches with the plans to colonize the planet and the previous survey – lots of arable farmland in the south, good for Terran crops reported to be compatible, some edible native plants, some edible native marine life (but plans for boats and introducing fish and dolphins, with whom the colonists can converse into the ecosystem that they don’t think will impact the native Pernese species. That’s not possible.), and what looks to be tougher sledding for the animals like the cows and horses, because native grass is incompatible with them. Were it not for the grudgingly approved Eridani-sourced genetic manipulation techniques used to make sure the animals would adapt to their new home, the settlers might very well have had to try and tame a native creature.
The data seems to give a green light for landing, as well as the origin of the name of the wherries. “Because they resemble airborne barges-squat, fat, and full.” As the data comes through, the effects of what we now know as Thread rain are discussed, along with glows, and there’s much complaining that there’s a lot more growth in those spots that were barren than the survey pointed out. Some of the scientists want to pursue the phenomenon of the pockmarks and the growth, while others are very concerned about the adaptability of crops.
In all of this activity, at the center of everything, is Kitti Ping, “the most eminent geneticist in the Federated Sentient Planets–the only human that had been trained by the Eridanis.” Who may be coming to practice selective memory, like many of the others, referring to incidents only tangentially mentioned. Ping’s presence makes lots of people confident of the colony’s success, because they can get her to change the genes of the plants and animals to match the planet if needed.
In rumination about the landing, Benden chooses a plateau in the shadow of volcanoes, worries about a safe debarkation, and, in reviewing the methods the main pilot has been using to train the colony ship pilots, lets slip that the Federated Sentient Planets are -ists against cyborgs, where “cyborgs” means “people with pseudoflesh prosthetics”, and that all the cyborgs in the military were shunted into administration and desk jobs and only “whole” people are allowed to go out in the Exploration and Evaluation Corps. Thus, both Benden (fingers) and the main pilot, Fusaiyuki (leg) know what their career pathways were going to be if they didn’t come on the colony ships.
The formal meeting to choose a landing site happens between Benden, Jim Tillek, and Ezra Keroon. (One of Benden’s subordinates, Joel Lilienkamp, has an eidetic memory, for both bets and cargoes, incidentally.) Tillek wants to be close to water, Keroon’s nervous about the volcanoes, which Benden dismissed as “no seismic activity for a couple hundred years”, since it didn’t have any activity during the original survey, and the three agree on Benden’s preferred site in short order, and set the landing process in motion.
The scene switches to Officer Telgar getting some off-duty chow, letting us know how much she just wants a home, having been bounced from post to post before being orphaned in the war. The only available seats are next to Avril Bitra, Bart Lemos, and Nabhi Nabol, who are the people Telgar likes least on the ship. (The name dropping continues until all the Holds are named, right?)
In proper-to-be Pernese tradition, Telgar engages in the trademark “other women are boohissslutty” mental gossip that Kylara will be subjected to much later on. (Previously, Benden had spent a sentence wishing he hasn’t been involved with Bitra so much, but she was a hottie. So, whatevs, admiral? Good to know that it’s only women who are going to be catty to reach other.)
Gossip had it that Avril had spent a good deal of the last five years in Admiral Paul Benden’s bed. Candidly, Sallah could see why a virile man like the admiral would be sexually attracted by the astrogator’s dark and flashing beauty. A mixture of ethnic ancestors had given her the best of all possible features. She was tall, neither willowy nor overripe, with luxuriant black hair that she often wore loose in silky ripples. Her slightly sallow complexion was flawless and her movements gracefully studied, but her eyes, snapping with black fire, indicated a highly intelligent and volatile personality. Avril was not a woman to cross, and Sallah had carefully maintained her distance from Paul Benden, or anyone else seen more than three times in April’s company. If the unkind pointed out Paul Benden’s recent marked absence from Avril’s side, the charitable said that he was needed for long conferences with his staff, and the time for dalliance was over. Those who had been victims of Avril’s sharp tongue said that she had lost her bid to be the admiral’s lady.
Oh, for the Whatfruit’s sake…
Cocowhat by depizan
Let’s see what offensive tropes we have on display here. Hypersexual woman of “ethnic” heritage? Check. Otherwise flawless woman turning out to be a shrew AND a gold digger as her “humanizing” traits? Check. Other woman used as the viewpoint to discuss her flaws in the meanest way possible? Check. The guy in the relationship portrayed as basically having followed his penis without further thought until later? Check.
And this is from a supposedly far future society. That inexplicably has the same morals and descriptors of the time period of the writer, including what looks to be a hefty dose of racial stereotyping. This is a giant worldbuilding failure, even if it is a common complaint against speculative fiction.
The plot continues with the revelation of the landing spot and the resolution of various wagers on that decision. Sallah continues to be offended by Avril’s behavior and wonders why such an apparently city girl would come out on an expedition to the sticks, in between musings about the lack of coffee on the new world (it just doesn’t take) and her own reasons for coming on the expedition. Exiting the lounge, Sallah has a crash-into-hello with a family recently awakened from their deep sleep and stops to help a geologist (Tarvi Andiyar) get their bearings. Tarvi has
one of the most beautiful faces she had ever seen on a man – not Benden’s rugged, warrior features, but a beautiful and sophisticated and subtle arrangement, almost sculpted, like some of the ancient Indic and Cambodian princes on ruined stone murals. She flushed as she remembered what those princes had been doing in the murals.
More race-related imagery, but this time, it’s apparently the men who are doing sexual things instead of the women. Sallah has a lot of sex on the brain, apparently. After one more encounter with someone whose glibness of speech aggravates her, she decides that it’s the presence of all the people that’s aggravating her, and she decides to get away from everything by slipping down to the admiral’s personal craft.
That’s where the ebook has a chapter break, and I suppose it’s as good a place as any to stop. If this entire book is going to be like this, it was probably a bad idea for the origin story of Pern to be written. At the very least, this is probably not the spot to start, because it gives very little action and very much pettiness all around.