Last time, we had the actual beginning of the book, in terms of proper action and conflict, and the first encounter with a fire lizard and two children.
Dragonsdawn: Part One – Content Notes: Racism, sex-negativity
This segment starts with a paragraph indicating both Sean and Sorka’s families disapprove of the friendship between the two, a surefire way of making sure they continue to hang out with each other, as they both observe the gold fire lizard. It’s hatching day for the eggs, so Sean and Sorka get to hear the fire lizard singing about the impending hatching, soon to be joined by other fire lizards in song. And then, feeding, as all the fire lizards create a supply line and food stash. Some tunnel snakes get bold and try for a hatchling, but get beat back by the dragonets whomping on them.
Some of the newborns make their way over to where Sean and Sorka are. Unlike Menolly, who was just trying to protect hatchlings from Threadfall, Sorka stands to up to feed them because she can feel their hunger. Sean can, too, but he has no interest in getting poked by the fire lizards. Sorka feeds a hatchling by hand, Sean has two, and before all is said and done, the two humans have Impressed three fire-lizards, not that they know this. Sean thinks about all the Travellers looking to get their own, as well as how the colonies are adapting to scavenging reptiles attacking children in their homes at night. The reptiles have bitten children in blankets, and attempts at using them as a foodstuff failed – snake flesh is poisonous and causes swelling in the mouth. So the word goes out among the Travellers that the snakes get killed, and the Travellers put in a request for dogs so as to help with that problem. The Travellers are unconvinced that the fire lizards will be all that helpful in dealing with the snakes, but they let Sean keep and look after them. Sorka’s family is much more enthusiastic about the presence of the fire lizard, and several scientists stop by to help examine it as well.
“Were you the only lucky one?” her father asked her in a low voice while the two biologists were engrossed in photographing the sleeping creature.
“Sean took two brown ones home. They have an awful time with snakes in their camp.”
“There’re homes waiting on the Canadian Square,” her father reminded her. “And they’d have the place to themselves.”
All the ethnic nomads in the colony’s complement had been duly alloted living quarters, thoughtfully set to the edge of Landing, where they might not feel so enclosed. But after a few nights, they had all gone, melting into the unexplored lands beyond the settlement.
Of course they disappeared. Since you all think of them as “ethnic nomads” and believe that they would be happy living together on the edge of town, part of the world they reject and only interact with on occasion, happy to shoulder the burden of being “those people” that everyone silently or openly accuses of being the cause of societal ills.
This is just another symptom of the racism of the Federated Sentient Planets. The language choices when discussing race to this point all try to get across the idea that racism and several other -isms are the problems of the distant past, the subjects of antiseptic language, certainly not applicable to today’s time. It sounds like White people talking about how racism ended and slavery ended and all these things of the past should be gotten rid of, because they aren’t needed any more. Because, of course, the White people don’t see it, or because the White people use definitions that say it’s done, even though it’s pretty clear that there’s something going on. If you accused anyone from the colony groups of being racists, they’d flatly deny it. And then arrange things so that all the nomadic groups are all together in the edge of town, because that would make them feel less constrained by the people who don’t understand any of them at all. Funny how future society manages to reflect the moral sensibilities of 1980s Terra.
On the plot again, the scientists, for their part, want to take and examine the fire lizard, which distresses Sorka and prompts an intervention from her father, asking for time to have the lizard acclimate to Sorka. The scientists describe the kind of observations they’d like Sorka to make, and she correctly deduces that the fire lizard attached to her because of how hungry it was when it hatched.
These bits of knowledge that the colonists are discovering that are already woven completely into the fabric of later Pern run the risk of seeming too clever, like an author winking at us in the ninth book, instead of things coming to a more natural discovery. Also, it turns out that we should have been paying more attention to the fact that the author is living in Ireland. Sorka’s Irish, but that seemed like just one of those elements for flavor, until…
“Good work, Sorka. Just shows what old Irish know-how can achieve.”
“Peter Oliver Plunkett Hanrahan,” his wife immediately chided him. “Start thinking Pernese. Pernese. Pernese.” With each repetition she raised her voice in mock emphasis.
“Pernese, not Irish. We’re Pernese,” Red obediently chanted. Grinning unrepentantly, he did a dance step out of the house to the tempo of “Pernese, Pernese.”
…oh, right. Clearly, those people hoping that stepping on to a new world would erase differences between ethnic groups, races, and religious beliefs are deluding themselves. To the credit of the author, there aren’t all that many people on this colonization trip that did think that. Most people here have instead been motivated by self-interest and greed.
Sorka’s discovery nets her the honor of lighting the evening bonfire to the cheers of the colonists and her incredible embarrassment. Even Boll and Benden are in attendance, cheering along. Sorka tries to give credit where it’s due by indicating that Sean has them, too, but she understands that such things will fall unheard and unremarked. After that, as it did in the Ninth Pass, there’s a run on “dragonets”, as they are officially named by the colonists. Sorka names her bronze Duke, and the colonists have to deal with the voracious appetite and the skin-cracking growth, for which her father makes a salve of “local fish oils” with a pediatrician and a biologist assisting – it’s super effective, and the pediatrician has the pharmacist make more for dry skin generally. The biologists keep trying to examine Duke with equipment, except Duke keeps disappearing every time someone wants to get their hands on them. When the biologists try, Duke hyperspace hops and settles on Sorka, very angry and very unwilling to move. This makes the biologists very “Hrm. SCIENCE?” about it, but Duke is pretty adamant about not being examined by anything, and eventually, Sorka heads off to meet Sean at the place where the eggs hatched.
The narrative shifts back to Telgar, who is settling in as the other viewpoint character for this narrative (yay, two women as main characters!), as she is contemplating how to get rid of an unwanted suitor, while that suitor performs aerial stunts on an air sled. Others in the area remark on the foolishness of the stunts, but Telgar beats a hasty retreat when one of the other women, Svenda, appears. Svenda does want the suitor and takes to “snide, jealous remarks” about the matter, despite Telgar assuring us that she’s not doing anything to encourage him. Her interests are apparently with a lanky engineer and miner of India-type descent, but she can’t seem to get him to acknowledge her feelings in the same way that she can’t get her suitor to go away.
As Telgar gets status reports from the mining team, she makes a funny and very accurate observation, prompted by seeing one of the team with a drink in hand.
One of the first things human settlers seemed to do on any new world was to make an immediate and intensive search for fermentables, and to devise am alcoholic beverage on the quickest possible time. Every lab at Landing, no matter what its basic function, had experimented with distilling and fermenting local fruits into potable beverages. The quikal still had been the first piece of equipment assembled when the mining expedition had set up its base camp, and no one had objected when Cobbler and Ozzie had spent the first day producing imbibables from the fermented juices they had brought along. Svenda had berated them fiercely, while Tarvi and Sallah had merely carried on with the surveying. That first evening in the camp the drink had been more than a tradition: it was an achievement.
Alcohol has some interesting properties, most importantly as an antimicrobial agent (at least for Terran microbes) – if you’re not sure whether the water is safe to drink, there’s a good chance you can kill most, if not all, of the hostile stuff in it by using it to make alcoholic drinks. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be particularly strong stuff to do the job. So, while it seems like a funny story or a thing to poke fun at people with, a working still is a useful survival tool. You can’t get all your nutrition that way, of course, but it does mean being able to drink in fluids.
The talk at the mining camp is that the current site is definitely going to work as a place to establish refineries and mine metals and minerals, and then use the waterways to transport the refined metals to Landing for use. At the level of technology established by the charter, which Svenda is unhappy with and considers foolish. The other news is that everyone is requested to go back to Landing for a Thanksgiving celebration, since the last load of starship material has touched down on Pern. Sallah is unimpressed, and her suitor pinches her chin while complimenting her work ethic as an attempt at a prelude to a kiss.
Seeing that he meant to kiss her, Sallah ducked away, grinning to take away the sting of rejection.
That’s probably why he is still pursuing you, Sallah – he hasn’t been given a direct and unmistakable enough no to get the hint. That’s not to blame her for her choices – given how well the descendants of these men will treat the women around them, it would probably take detonating a nuclear weapon of NOPE for them to get the hint. Past that, considering that this man is already more than willing to violate her personal space and boundaries for a kiss, despite getting no explicit permissions to even consider it, there may not be any sort of thing Sallah can do to discourage that kind of behavior. So, it might be that Sallah’s self-preservation that keeps her from giving a direct no signal, in case her suitor is the kind that would get violent upon rejection. One would hope that a future society would not still have douchebags like this, but again, we find that the future has the cultural norms of the Terran time period of the book.
As for Sallah’s B-plot, she saw the pilot, Kenjo, continuing to hoard and stash fuel for some unknown purpose. Then she overheard Avril talking about the rich gemstone seams on the planet and their use on “civilized” worlds with Stev Kimmer, convincing him that he wants to use his stake acres to own the island where those gems are. The narrative them reminds us that Avril is supposed to be seen as crude in more than just her avarice.
“I’m not going to live out the rest of my life in this backwater, not when one discovered the means to live the style of life I very much prefer.” Again there was that rippling laugh and then a long silence, broken by the sound of moist lips parting. “But while I’m here, and you’re here, Kimmer, let’s make the most of it. Here and now, under the stars.”
Sallah had slipped away, both embarrassed and disgusted by Avril’s blatant sexuality. Small wonder Paul Benden had not kept the woman in his bed. He was a sensual man, Sallah thought, but unlikely to appreciate Avril’s crude abandon for long. Ju Adjai, elegant and serene, was far more suitable, even if neither appeared to be rushing a noticeable alliance.
But Avril’s voice had dripped with an insatiable greed.
It’s still a pretty standard trope, for whatever reason, to portray a woman with ambition as someone who will sleep with anyone to get her way. Considering the patriarchy that Pern will become, it’s tactically sound to do so, I suppose, but with the descriptor we got of Avril as having ethnic features, this also becomes the trope of the black woman with the voracious sexual appetite, the opposite of Sallah’s disgust and Ju’s likely more repressed or slow-burning variety of interest. Avril’s yet another in a long line of women being disapproved of by the narrative, although this time the narrative is using a character, rather than just stating it directly.
We’re told that the distance between Pern and any of the other members of the FSP wouldn’t bring anyone around to exploit the gemstones and precious metals, but Sallah is confused about why Kenjo is hoarding fuel and wonders how she can report Avril without also having to report Kenjo. She works out which of the senior staff would be best to tell about it, grouses at Avril for being selfish and working against the idea of a “secure, bountiful future, without prejudice,” and then everybody goes back to Landing for the party, where Telgar tells Ongola about the whole thing. It goes over better than expected, because apparently the senior staff has been planning for the eventuality that people will cause trouble, once they realize that there’s no going back and they really did sign on to be there the rest of their lives.
The party itself has a lot of musicians, dancers, and instrumentalists, all taking turns and helping with the music and song… until there’s an earthquake, that is, and everyone scrambles to see what happened and where. It turns out to have been a small quake that did no damage, but now there’s a team on their way to check it out. The next part picks up after the expedition went out, with the dolphins having rung the tsunami bell and complaining that none of the humans actually did anything about it, as well as status reports about the progress of plants, mining sites, and animals – in all cases, some varieties appear to be doing well, others are not thriving, and for the most part, genetic engineering is not being recommended for anyone or anything, as there’s enough diversity of species so far.
At that point, we’ll leave off, before Sorka starts to adventure again and likely makes another major discovery.