Last time, scientists and children went hunting for dragonets to study. Sean brought back corpses, Sorka brought back a dragonet egg that hatched and Impressed on one of the scientists.
Dragonsdawn: Part One: Content Notes: Colonialism, dubious consent
The action starts with Benden, Boll, and Ongola having a meeting about Telgar’s discoveries. Before settling into the description, though, we learn a little bit more about what the intended form of government for the Pern colony is.
Once the colonists took up their stake acres and Landing’s purpose had been accomplished, the ostensible leaders would turn consultants, with no more authority than other stakeholders. The council would convene regularly to discuss broad topics and redress problems that affected the entire colony. A yearly democratic meeting would vote on any issues that required the consent of all. Magistrate Cherry Duff [the historian and librarian] administered justice at Landing and would have a circuit for grievances and any litigation. By the terms of the Pern Charter, charterers and contractors alike would be autonomous on their stake acres. The plan was idealistic, perhaps, but as Benden repeatedly insisted, there were more than enough plans and resources to allow everyone plenty of latitude.
I’d almost say that sounds like Soviet-style organization, but really, it’s more a model of Athenian democracy than anything. Most interesting, though, is the presence of the magistrate to handle issues between the autonomous landowners. I can see at least one creative exception – anyone smart enough to lead the other party in to their land can do whatever they want to do to them, it seems, including lovely things like lies, cheats, and thievery. Or possibly even murder. There, dispute resolved. Presumably, the presence of the Council and the magistrate are supposed to be a signal that the sovereign autonomy of the plots of land is limited in some method and subservient to a higher power, but outside the context of Landing, there’s not any explicit acknowledgement of anyone being a higher power on someone’s private property, elected or no, once the actual charter kicks in. Which seems to be a great seeding point for the system of Lords that is in place later on.
In the interim, the colony council has set up an arbitration board to handle grievances, stake acres and contract issues, persuaded by Boll that disputes are best settled by impartial bodies and juries by recalling to their minds the amount of war they had suffered through and the reality that they are the only humans on Pern, so that’s more than enough space for everyone to thrive without the need for greed.
The next paragraph tells us that Boll is not such an idealist as to believe everyone agrees with her, but she hopes that people who would otherwise cause trouble will get too involved in building their own lives on the planet to cause trouble for others. Which is itself followed by two paragraphs about whether or not the colonies need a penal code – Benden favors immediate justice based on shaming people who act against the common good, and so far, it seems to be working. Both Benden and Boll keep office hours for six days a week (the week itself, along with the day of rest, having been established at one of the mass meetings where Boll suggests that the “old Judean Bible used by some of the old religious sects” has plenty of sensible suggestions for an agrarian society that can be taken without having to them take all the rest of the religious material that goes with it.
If you’re familiar with that work, there are also sections in our about not harvesting to the very edge of your fields, so that those less fortunate than you can find things to eat, that debts should be forgiven on a regular basis, and that every so often, one should let the land rest completely, and not harvest anything that should appear for that entire year, leaving it for the poor and nature. (Also, Judean Bible? What the blistering fuck is that?) There’s a lot in there about hospitality and how to treat other people. Looking at the future world of Pern, it seems those parts were not kept and passed forward.
While the two leaders understood that even that loose form of democratic government might be untenable once the settlers had spread out from Landing to their own acres, they did hope that the habits acquired would suffice. Early American pioneers on that western push had exhibited a keen sense of independence and mutual assistance. The late Australian and New Zealand communities had risen above tyrannical governors and isolation to build people of character, resource, and incredible adaptability. The first international Moonbase had refined the art of independence, cooperation, and resourcefulness. The original settlers on First had largely been the progeny of ingenious Moon and asteroid-belt miner parents, and the Pern colony included many descendants of those original pioneering groups.
Paul and Emily proposed to institute yearly congregations of many people from the isolated settlements as possible to reaffirm the basic tenets of the colony, acknowledge progress, and apply the minds of many to address any general problems. Such a gathering would also be the occasion for trading and social festivities.
So, here we see the seeds of what will eventually become the Gather festival, and the inclusion of the Conclave of Lord Holders on those days – although I suspect the Gathers of later Passes happen more than just once a year.
Beyond that, though, there is this genealogy of the Pernese settlement, tracing its history back to the American West, a heavily romanticized period. I’m not as familiar with the history of Australia and New Zealand, but I suspect there’s a similar thread of narrative involving Intrepid White People finding a land full of indigenous peoples and “civilizing” it through systematic occupation, oppression, and disenfranchisement, and then creating their own narrative that the place was “wild and untamed” that needed Strong, Rugged Frontiersmen. The Moonbase is the odd entity out and the closest to the actual Pern settlement, since we know that Luna has no indigenous humanoids. (First Centauri, I would guess, did, and there was a lot of war involved in that encounter.) When combined with the racism in the colony and the willingness to overlook that racism, the colony is likely to get some rude reminders of the past they have not yet overcome. Instead of admitting they are there to get away from a lifestyle and worlds they no longer believe in, they want to recast themselves as explorers and the people looking to discover the unknown. It’s a bit surreal to be watching this kind of colonialism play out in an actual colony that is supposed to be beyond those kinds of ideas, being a future society and all that.
As for the actual plot, there’s some recalcitrance among the executive committee about their secret observations of people who might turn out to be troublemakers for the colony. Benden is okay with it as part of necessary intelligence-gathering. Boll thinks of it as too close to the secret police and other tactics of other worlds and times. Ongola stalls out the argument before it goes too far by indicating that the only craft that could go has already been sabotaged and there’s always things in the way of a clear takeoff for the craft anyway. Feeling like any potential mischief has been managed, the executive team talks a little about Kenjo’s fuel efficiency, but they have no idea why he did it or how he plans to move it to his own property. Then they talk about volcanoes and tremors, the death of a dolphin, and the general state of the colony and the nomads, as Boll hopes for a quick conclusion so that she can get to a nice dinner with Pierre, the head chef for the colony, muses on the nature of calligraphy and analog memory aids, and Benden enjoys brandy.
We do get a nice peek at how one institution has changed from Terra.
In order to widen the gene pool in the next generation, the charter permitted unions of varying lengths, first insuring the support of a gravid woman and the early years of the resultant child. Prospective partners could choose which conditions suited their requirements, but there were severe penalties, up to the loss of all stake acres, for failing to fulfill whatever contract had been agreed and signed before the requisite number of witnesses.
Which makes me wonder what gets put into contracts, if the penalties are that severe. And whether anyone has yet created caskets of silver, gold, and lead.
Ongola boasts about his marriage and the resultant pregnancy, which makes Benden relieved that Ongola is not holding on to his grief of lost wife and family in the Nathi war. Ongola then asks whether Boll has managed to snag Pierre yet, which flusters her and she deflects on to Benden and asks if he’s going to do this, too. He provides no answer, and then the narrative shifts over to Sallah, who is still courting Tarvi, and has finally managed to go out on a mission with him alone.
Sallah was playing it cautiously, concentrating on making herself so professionally indispensable to Tarvi that an opportunity to project her femininity would not force him to retreat into his usual utterly courteous, utterly impersonal shell. She had seen other women who made a determined play for the handsome, charming geologist rebuffed by his demeanor; they were surprised, puzzled, and sometimes hurt by the way he eluded their ploys. For a while, Sallah had wondered if Tarvi liked women at all, but he had shown no preference for the acknowledged male lovers in Landing. He treated everyone, man, woman, and child, with the same charming affability and understanding. And whatever his sexual preference, he was nonetheless expected to add to the next generation. Sallah was already determined to be the medium and would find the moment.
Cocowhat by depizan
Yes, I realize that we’re several decades in front of the popular culture coming to realize that asexuality is a thing, but surely it’s possible that if Tarvi’s not interested in women, and not interested in men, and presumably not interested in anyone who doesn’t fit either of those identities, then maybe Tarvi isn’t fucking interested in fucking. So this bit about expectations of the next generation and Sallah’s determination to fulfill them…it makes me worry that the author decided that the new! exciting! thing for this story is that the rape of the unwilling will be a woman committing it on a man. Please, please, let me be wrong.
Sallah is hoping to entice Tarvi with the prospect of caves to explore. Officially, it’s confirming the presence of metals and ores, as well as photographing interesting sites for people to choose as their locations, where a short digression indicates that the wine-growers are looking for specific lands to put their grapes on. Tarvi bites on the exploration part, and apparently is unaware as he steamrolls her plans for romance by being far more interested in climbing cliffs and exploring the great giant cave system that looks like it would make a great Great Hall and supporting structures. And then drawing accurate maps and dimensions of the system as well. When they stop for the evening meal, Sallah spikes Tarvi’s food with something the pharmacists say is an aphrodisiac, which… seems to do nothing at all, as Tarvi continues to talk about how the cave system itself would make a great fortress. Tarvi appears to be stiff, so Sallah gives him a massage to work out the kinks of the climbing, which she eventually stops as a massage and just turns into caresses. Eventually, he catches her hands, but it’s not a passionate embrace or a declaration of love.
“Perhaps this is the time,” he mused as if alone. “There will never be a better. And it must be done.”
With the suppleness that was as much a trademark of Tarvi Andiyar as his ineffable charm, he gathered her in his arms, pulling her across his lap. His expression, oddly detached as if examining her for the first time, was not quite the tender, loving expression she had so wished to evoke. His expressive and large brown eyes were almost sad, though his perfectly shaped lips curved in an infinitely gentle smile – as if, the thought intruded on Sallah’s delight in her progress, he did not wish to frighten her.
“So, Sallah,” he said in his rich low and sensual voice, “it is you.”
She knew she should interpret that cryptic remark, but then he began to kiss her, his hands suddenly displaying an exceedingly erotic mind of their own, and she no longer wished to interpret anything.
Cocowhat by depizan
Cocowhat by depizan
That doesn’t look like any sort of consent, or even really lust or desire, on Tarvi’s part. If the aphrodisiac is really responsible for this behavior, then Sallah, you took advantage of him. Using basically the same idea that someone might use in trying to get a woman too drunk to be able to fight back or spiking her drink with a date rape drug. Which should receive all the condemnation possible, but Tarvi doesn’t necessarily know and there aren’t any other witnesses.
And the narrative is going to spiral away from this back somewhere else, rather than deal with the morning after.
I dislike being right about this. Strongly.