Last segment, the colonists arrived, the landing parties touched down, and the great exodus began.
Oh, and there’s a conspiracy afoot, possibly involving greed and gemstones.
Dragonsdawn, Part I: Content Notes: Racial stereotypes
We open with Sorka in school, delighted that education is about getting the kids ready for life on Pern – tools and equipment to use, plants to avoid, plants to gather as foodstuffs. (Gathering is going to be a task for the young children. Even in Ninth Pass Pern.)
The younglings will get the opportunity to work with the specialists to see if any of their work has the spark that a child would want to do as their own profession through an apprentice system. The reward for the kids at the end of this will be land grants for their own selves when they’re ready to live independently. When one of the kids points out that the charterers are likely to take all the good land, the instructor says that first pick is all they get, and everyone has to prove they can handle the land, before changing the subject.
At this point, Sorka has determined that the older girls are too old and excluding her, and that the younger girls are too young, so she wants to hang out with Sean, the Traveler from the previous segment, but he’s not immediately visible.
The education lesson concludes with the procedure for requisition of goods, a short lecture on moderation (since theoretically everything is available, if the stores have it), and then it’s time for lunch.
The physical activities after lunch have the older girls, the “city lilies”, “appalled to be put to rough labor”, while Sorka relishes it. And apparently has enough knack for everything that the adults and specialists try to court her as an apprentice, away from the family business as a vet, and gives her independent work with other kids that prove they can work independently.
Am I the only one here seeing the Menolly archetype at work with Sorka? And that my paranoia is starting to kick in about what might happen to her if Sorka is going to end up following in the footsteps of all the other independent and confident women in a Pern story?
After being shooed away from the boys trying to capture marine life in a tide pool, Sorka goes exploring, finding a lovely rock formation after musing on another girl getting a cave system named after her when she accidentally fell into them. And then, Sorka spots a fire-lizard. Not that she knows what it is, of course. She sees the lizard for a bit, and then it dives behind the rock formation and disappears. Hoping that it would come back, Sorka settles in to wait, but isn’t rewarded for patience. So she grabs some redfruit from a tree and:
Two things happened at once: she nearly stepped into a large hollow that was occupied by a number of pale, mottled eggs, and something dove at her, its claws just missing her head.
Sorka dropped to the stone surface, peering anxiously about to see what had attacked her. It zoomed in on her again, talons extended, and she waited, as she had done once with an angry bull, to roll away at the last moment. A wave of anger and outrage swept over her, so intense that Sorka inadvertently called out.
Confused by the unexpected emotions but fully aware of her immediate danger, Sorka scrambled to her feet and ran, half-crouched, to the cliff edge. Screams of rage and frustration split the air and lent speed to Sorka’s descent. She heard a whoosh of air and ducked instinctively to evade another attack, then edged under a rocky overhang. Flattening herself against the rock face, she had an all too vivid look at her assailant, something dominated by eyes that rippled with red and orange fire. The creature’s body was gold; its almost translucent wings were a paler shade against the green-blue sky, their dark frames clearly outlined.
The creature screamed in confusion and surprise, and soared up, out of sight.
[…Sorka gets splashed by the tide, heads to the beach, slips, hurts, and finds her cries of pain echoed by the fire-lizard…]
“Are you making fun of me?” Sorka suddenly felt as irritated as if one of her peer group had taunted her. “Well, are you?” she demanded of the golden creature. Abruptly it disappeared.
“Wow!” Sorka blinked, then scanned the sky for the creature, amazed by the speed with which it had disappeared from sight. “Wow! Faster than light.”
Oh, yeah, she’s Menolly, all right.
Also, I believe we have a winner for “this is where the book itself should begin” – a compelling mystery, a short amount of information about the world, and a main character that has some agency to explore and enough curiosity to want to. If there are important things in the previous sequences, they can probably be brought forth into later ones instead.
We can also add on “some amount of action and/or violence” as another reason why this should be the start of the book, as Sean gives Sorka an earful about spoiling his plans for the fire-lizard.
You fecking gobshite, you iggerant townie. You skeered her away!” […Sean gets closer…] “I’ve been lying doggo since dawn, hoping she’d walk into my snare, and you, you blow it all on me. Fecking useless you are!”
“You’d snare her? That lovely creature? And keep her from her eggs?” Appalled, Sorka flung herself on Sean, her hands automatically flattening, her fingers tight as she sliced at the boy in hard blows. “Don’t you dare! Don’t you dare harm her!”
Sean ducked and managed to evade the full force of her blows.
“Not to harm! To tame!” he yelled, dodging with his hands up to deflect her jabs. “We don’t kill nuthing. I want her. For me!”
In an unexpected lunge, Sean tackled Sorka, sending her sprawling onto the sand where he fell on top of her. His longer and slightly heavier frame effectively pinned her. Recovering her breath, she squirmed, trying to angle her legs to kick at him.
“Don’t be so stupid, girl. I wouldn’t harm her. I’ve been watching her for two days. An’ I haven’t told a soul about her.”
And it’s about this time that I remember they’re children, and therefore I don’t have to worry about this morphing into a sexual assault, as probably would have happened were the two older.
Sean mentions there’s a reward out for the fire lizard, too which Sorka scoffs because this is supposed to be a society without money – everything can be requisitioned from the stores, and nobody brought coins with them except as keepsakes. You can see the cracks in that idea already – if everyone has to prove their own land, at some point, someone is going to have excess and someone is going to have deficit, and it’s not going to always end up where everything is exchanged equally. Somewhere along the way, a convenient medium for exchanging value is going to develop, even if not everyone will agree on what the rates of exchange are. Or, for that matter, whose money is good where.
Sean is ready to get wagons and horses and get as far away from all the rest of these people as he can. The travelers were promised them, but Sorka says it will be almost a year before the horses are ready to go. Sorka also intuits that the fire lizard understands thoughts. After their dust-up, and Sorka reminding Sean that her dad always got on well with “your people” back on the other planet, Sorka heads back and rejoins her team to carry back the samples of wildlife they collected.
I don’t like it when minority characters get the phonetic pronunciation of their accents all that much. Plus, Sorka saying “your people” probably made Sean feel like she doesn’t understand a thing and further confirmed his desire to get away from all the racists in the colony.
Sallah then becomes the viewpoint character for the next scene, expressing suspicion that Bitra, Nabol, and Lemos have volunteered to stay on the ship while others go down and take a weekend break on Pern. Sallah Telgar also volunteers to stay behind, so as to keep an eye on them. And continues to turn over in her head the curious case of fuel hoarding going on. (See? No real need for the first few sets, we’ve already accomplished what we wanted to in terms of setting up plots.) As she patrols the generally empty corridors, stripped of just about everything useful, we’re treated again to some fantastic displays of prejudice:
“Tut-tut,” Boris said with a mock stern expression. “We’re all Pernese now, Sal. But what’s Alaskan?”
“Fardles, you is the most iggerant bastard, Boris, even for a second-generation Centauran. Alaska was a territory on Earth, not far from its Arctic Circle, and cold. Alaskans had a reputation for never throwing anything away. My father never did. Must have been a genetic trait because he was reared on First, although my grandparents were Alaskan.” Sallah sighed with nostalgia. “Dad never threw anything away. I had to chuck the whole nine yards before we shipped out. Eighteen years of accumulated – well, it wasn’t junk, because I got good prices on practically everything in the mountain, but it was some chore. Hercules and the Agean stables were clean in comparison.”
“Never mind,” Sallah said, wondering if Boris was teasing her by pretending ignorance of old Earth legends and peoples. Some people had wanted to throw everything out, literature, legend, language, all the things that had made people so interestingly different from each other. But wiser, more tolerant heads had prevailed. General Cherry Duff, the colony’s official historian and librarian, had insisted that records of all ethnic written and visual cultures be taken to Pern. Those who had craved a completely fresh start consoled themselves with the fact that anything not valid in the new context would eventually fall into disuse as new traditions were established.
“You never know,” Cherry Duff admonished, “when old information becomes new, viable, and valuable. We keep the whole schmear!”
The information professional has a point, here, and a very important one – much of what we might think of as just stories often contain lessons, whether practical or social ones. In new situations, and especially what intends to be a mostly agrarian society, there’s a lot of reason to believe those old stories have useful nuggets in them, even if the reasons why aren’t immediately apparent.
Since she’s a bridge officer, Sallah uses the captain’s chair to spy on what sort of things her three suspects are looking for in the computer – fuel, the locations of things in the storehouses, the nearest planet said to be habitable by humans. Sallah can’t understand why someone would want to leave after they just arrived, but continues to monitor the situation. And with an offhand quip about how the shells of the ships will be nothing more than three points of light in the sky of Pern, heralding the presence of the Dawn Sisters, this segment ends.