Dragonsdawn: Practical Education

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.


15 thoughts on “Dragonsdawn: Practical Education

  1. WanderingUndine June 9, 2016 at 7:47 am

    How old are Sean and Sorka here? Looking at this post and spoilery timelines, I’m guessing around 10-11.

  2. genesistrine June 9, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    Yeahhh, Travellers. I didn’t get on to the Travellers last week, what with going on about orbits and all, but… Travellers. Let’s talk about the Travellers.

    What do Travellers really, really need? Along with wagons and horses?

    Roads. They need roads. So who’s going to be building and maintaining this essential infrastructure? Is it to be a free-market kind of thing, where the people who build and look after their roads (and were allotted a convenient location when the land grants were handed out) get more of whatever services the Travellers were brought in to supply*, and those who don’t, or got land behind a big swamp or nasty desert or whacking great mountain range or whatever do without?

    *I’m assuming Sean and his family didn’t have the money to buy themselves in so they’re there as contractors, which seems a safe bet. Why they were brought in was presumably experience with horses and/or as tinkers to fix stuff in settlements too small to maintain a professional smith. Though I wouldn’t put it past the admissions committee to take them on purely as part of the atmosphere of their super-private back-to-the-Good-Old-Days space LARP…

  3. emmy June 9, 2016 at 3:08 pm

    Or simply as ‘genetic stock used to rough conditions, won’t complain as much about colony life and will hopefully breed like rabbits’

  4. genesistrine June 9, 2016 at 3:22 pm

    Wouldn’t peasant farmers be a better prospect in that case, though?

  5. WanderingUndine June 9, 2016 at 8:10 pm

    Sorka may be similar to Menolly, but appears to have a different background, in temperament of family as well as planet of origin.

    How old are Sean and Sorka here? From vague memory, I’m guessing about 10-11.

  6. Madame Canard June 11, 2016 at 6:58 am

    I seem to remember something icky in the text that alluded to the various traveller communities being forced on to the Pern expedition. It’s a commentary from Sallah or Emily Boll or something. That FSP made the expedition take the travellers as a condition or getting approval for the mission.

    Unless I made it up!

  7. Silver Adept June 11, 2016 at 8:21 am

    @ WanderingUndine –

    I think you’re right – Sean and Sorka are still young, before their teens.

    As for the Travellers themselves, Pern doesn’t, and likely won’t, have the kind of infrastructure needed for them for years, if not generations, because there’s no self-interest in building roads until someone wants a way of transporting their goods faster to other places in their land. What will more likely happen is that the Travellers and other nomads will create trails through various lands, which will then be eventually turned into roads many generations later. Perhaps the nomads were brought on board to be an organic method of finding the most efficient routes between places. And possibly also to be the moving tinkers and repair people, although the clear prejudices still on display makes me think they’re not going to easily slot into that role. It would certainly be a better reason than “because the home worlds don’t want them and forced them into the colony ships,” even though that seems like the more likely option.

    Franky, I’m still not sure how Pern is going FYI build a working, useful infrastructure in this attempt at Rand’s Paradise, mostly because infrastructure usually requires people to avoid the tragedy of the commons, and everyone here is being set up to basically live out the fantasy of rugged individualism and self-reliance once they get past the initial phases of establishing themselves on the planet. Nobody yet really knows how labor-intensive subsistence farming really is, though, without mechanical advantage, so all the contractors brought on to ply their trades are going to be unavailable for anyone while they’re tending to their own lands.

    It’s inevitable that alliances and cooperatives are going to form, just for survival. After that will come cities, raiding, conquering, and the eventual establishment of a government of some sort, whether it’s collectivism or monarchy. Because nobody really seems to get the necessity of infrastructure that one might take for granted on developed planets.

  8. genesistrine June 11, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    @Madame Canard: a quick keyword search on nomad and traveler didn’t bring up anything like that, but if it does show up, well, damn.

    @Silver Adept: they’ll create trails, naturally, but whether they’ll be between places that are going to be settled and want to trade is another thing entirely*. Not to mention what happens when the nice wide plains they’re herding whatever particular beasts they herd over are seen as desirable farming land. How do the settler land grants apply to nomads? And how enforcable are they going to be a few generations down the line?

    I do not think this colony was well planned in the slightest.

    Not that this makes it necessarily implausible; there’s no reason a Traveller or other nomad family couldn’t be over-optimistic ill-informed Libertarian-utopian twits too.

    *it did work pretty much that way on Earth, but are the Pernese going to be picking their land grants with an eye to non-technical transport between them or are they going to be grabbing the biggest richest furthest-away-from-the-neighbours bit they can? I know what my bet is….

  9. Madame Canard June 11, 2016 at 6:27 pm

    Darn it, that’s going to bug me now! I would check my copy except it’s boxed.

  10. emmy June 13, 2016 at 10:56 am

    @Madame Canard
    My dim memory offers a faint suggestion that they got, like, extra Federation funding for the expedition by agreeing to take a handful of these “lower class” people with them. Like one of those ‘affordable housing’ clauses when people are building new properties.

    I could be totally wrong about that though.

  11. Madame Canard June 21, 2016 at 4:40 pm


    I thought so too but having dug out my old copy I cannot find reference to it at all! Unless it’s in a prologue somewhere. Admittedly I’m skimming.

    I know it was 1990 but having begun my re-read, I’m getting way squicked by the repeated use of the word “ethnic”

  12. Madame Canard June 21, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    OK, I found it! It was not a figment of my imagination. From the Pern encyclopaedia (www.pern.nl):

    The contignent of nomads among the Pern colonists, 721 persons in total, consisted of Jensche, Tuareg, gypsies and Irish traveling folk. They had resisted every kind of assimilation program of Earth’s ever increasing high-tech society and were therefor no longer welcome on their home planet. Taking the nomads on the colony program has been a prerequisite of the Federation of Sentient Planets (FSP) and was mentioned in the original charter.

    (Source: Dragonlover’s Guide to Pern)

  13. genesistrine June 22, 2016 at 12:01 am

    So hang on, they had to take ALL THE NOMADS LEFT ON THE PLANET? Did the ones who didn’t agree get tranked and dumped on the spaceships?

    No wonder they’ve all vanished from the colony, holy crap. Forced migration. Yay a new way Pern sucks.

    And who are Jensche? Googling only brings up personal names and Pern references.

  14. Silver Adept June 24, 2016 at 4:34 pm

    Yet again, reasons meant to explain what happened and why people are where they are make the narrative worse instead of better. Perhaps it is a form of mercy that we generally aren’t including the supplemental materials as we walk our way through things.

  15. genesistrine June 26, 2016 at 1:56 pm

    Yeah. I found the Jensche, BTW; they’re these guys: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yenish_people

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