Dragonsdawn: Through The Eyes of Children

Last time, the Pern colony officially passed the point of no returning to space, the planet continued to be as advertised, and the process of bringing a full ecosystem online hit some bumps along the way, as various species of plants (like the cucumber family) and animals aren’t adapting as well as had been hoped, or are being actively attacked by the Pernese ecosystem.

And Sorka’s fire lizard was the talk of the town, Sallah wrestled with how to get Avril in trouble for her greed, Avril continued with her plan on how to get off the rock with enough gems to live in luxury, and Pern mentioned that it was the kind of world that had earthquakes.

Dragonsdawn: Part One: Content Notes: Speciesism, Anti-transhumanist sentiment

We’re picking up into a chapter (an ebook chapter, anyway), after the status reports, with Sorka noticing what seems to be puffs of fire coming from her bronze as the colony’s dragonets regularly go out and keep the wherries away from the chickens and other possible wherry prey. Everyone else is impressed with the tactical and team coordination abilities of the dragonets, with open speculation that the dragonets are communicating with each other, even though there’s no visible signs of that. So the scientists come by to talk to Sorka, who believes the bronze is the leader of the assault team. And has strong opinions about whether the dragonets are friends or pets (friends). The scientists ask for the notes that Sorka has been keeping about feeding habits and the size of Duke, when she mentions them. Then, there’s this:

“Really, you know, this is a fascinating evolution. Especially if those plankton eaters the dolphins report could represent a common ancestor for the tunnel snakes and dragonets.”
Mairi was surprised. “Tunnel snakes and dragonets?”

I’m also interested in this, but not because they have a common ancestor, but because they’re calling them tunnel snakes. so, apparently even the colonists have forgotten that snakes generally don’t have limbs. Tunnel lizards, I would believe, but not snakes. Especially as they are described:

“Yes, an aquatic eellike ancestor, in fact. With six limbs. The first pair -” He pointed at the dragonet still clutching his morsel in his front pincers. “-originally were nets for catching. See the action of the front claw against the stationary back pair? The dragonets dropped the net in favor of three digits. They opted for wings instead of stabilizing middle fins, while the hind pair are for propulsion. The dry-land adaptation, our tunnel snake, was to make the front pair diggers, the middle set remained balancers, especially when they have food in the front pair, and the rear limbs are for steering or holding on.”

So they’re hexapods, not snakes, not really. And considering they are considered pests and things that need to be killed or shooed away, I would have assumed the natural name for them would be “hexes”, given the etymology. But I’m not writing this, so I don’t count.

The scientists are looking for a clutch and ask if Sorka knows where one is, as well as the behavior of the older dragonets regarding protecting and imprinting of the hatchlings. And to see whether or not Sean would help them.

Sorka regarded the zoologist for a long moment. He had always kept his word to her, and he had been very good about Duke that first day. She decided that she could trust him, but she was also aware of his high rank in Landing, and what he might be able to do for Sean.
“If you promise, promise – and I’d vouch for you, too – that his family gets one of the first horses, he’ll do just about anything for you.”
“Sorka!” Mairi was embarrassed by her daughter’s proposal. The girl spent entirely too much time with that boy and was learning some bad habits from him. But to her amazement, Pol smiled cheerfully and patted Sorka’s arm.
“Now, now, Mairi, your daughter has good instincts. Barter is already practiced as an exchange system on Pern, you know.” He regarded Sorka with proper solemnity. “He’s one of the Connells, is he not?” When she nodded solemnly, he went on briskly. “In point of fact, this is the first name on the list to receive equines. Or oxen, if they prefer.”

I don’t quite understand why there is such revulsion at striking deals, since there’s no money to facilitate exchange. If it’s about currying favors with the scientists, well, that spirit of communal cooperation between people with diverse skill sets is pretty much what the whole colony needs to be successful. If it’s because there’s some overarching desire to stamp out the idea of power differentials and get everyone into a nice socialist paradise, then the whole idea of “everyone gets their own piece of land and all the products they can coax from it” has already pretty well screwed the socialist paradise idea completely. If, instead, it’s supposed to be about teaching Sorka that she has to be able to do everything herself, then her training should be more than just to join one guild. It very much seems like there are competing philosophical ideas here on Pern, and barring some sort of impending disaster, the colonies are set up to let those competing ideas try and succeed.

The bargain struck, Pol and Sorka go to find Sean and consult with him about eggs. Pol figures that he can treat Sean like any other opinionated young man, like the ones he had to deal with in academia before coming to Pern, and so, instead of offering a bonfire, which he knows won’t work, he gets Sean to talk about the horse he had back on Terra, and then promises Sean an identical horse from the eggs, thanks to his ability to genetically manipulate the eggs. Sean takes the offer, and soon after, Pol, Sean and Sorka are on a ship looking for clutches on the coastline, along with an extra scientist (that turns out to suffer from motion sickness) and Captain Tillek and his crew. Sean is also a little nauseous, but Sorka is happy and Tillek is giddy to be sailing. Sorka inquires about why Tillek’s map is mostly uncolored, and he explains it as a way of knowing what’s unexplored, and points out the additional markings he’s adding that indicate wind and current.

When the ship puts in for the night at a cove, Sean tells Sorka to go east while he goes west, which tweaks Tillek the wrong way about how he does it, but Pol stops Tillek from delivering a reprimand. Probably because Pol is more interested in the deal. But it’s nice to see there’s someone who wants to speak up for the women, even if he hasn’t done it yet. Sean and Sorka soon return with four possible clutch locations, two likely laid by greens, two by golds. Pol and Bay (the seasick scientist) are just looking for a couple specimens, one or two of each color, to bring back and analyze, rather than trying to cart off whole clutches. We’re also treated to a lecture from Pol about how poorly designed the dragonets are and how humans are even more poorly designed, with vulnerable brains and air pipes crossing food pipes in such a way that humans can choke. Tillek points out that other species have other problems, especially in the genitalia, to which Pol retorts:

“So you think having the playground between the sewers makes sense?”
“Didn’t say that, Pol,” Jim Tillek answered hurriedly with a glance at the two children, though neither were paying the adults much heed. “It’s a bit handier for us, though.”
“And more vulnerable. Oh my, oh my, there I go again, falling into the lecture attitude. But there are endless ways in which we humans could be profitably improved…”

Pol, I don’t think you know particularly well what getting hit between the legs is like for women. Or, for that matter, getting hit in the chest for anyone with child-nursing mammaries. If you want to talk vulnerabilities, there’s plenty to go around for every body type.

Continuing on.

“But we can’t do much yet, of course, with the laws that the Pure Humans forced through to prevent drastic changes.”
“Who’d want to?” Tillek asked with a frown.
“Not us,” Bay assured him hastily. “We don’t have that kind of need on this world. But I sometimes feel that the Pure Human Life Group was wrong to oppose alterations that would permit humans to use those water worlds in Ceti IV. Lungs exchanged for gills and webbing on hands and feet is not that great or blasphemous an adaptation. The fetus still goes through a similar stage in utero, and there’s good evidence for a more aquatic past for adults. Think how many planets would be open to humans if we weren’t so limited to land areas that met our gravitational and atmospheric requirements! Even if we could provide special enzymes for some of the dangerous gases. Cyanides have kept us out of so many places. Why…” She threw up her hands as words failed her.

Hrm. There was hopefully a very interesting discussion that happened between the Pure Humans and the transhumans about what makes humans humans and whether or not persons with those adaptations would be treated as having full human rights under the law or whether there would have been another series of angry conflicts regarding rights and privileged people and possible slavery. In the best case, the Pure Humans passed through a bill that said “no, you don’t get to alter humans unless you pass bills that say the altered humans are still humans and will not be discriminated against at all.” In the worst, the Pure Humans passed the bill to ensure that only unaltered humans would be called humans, showing their speciesist selves to their most xenophobic, and preventing the discussion from happening in the first place, condemning everyone to yet another iteration of the “we hate and want to try and subjugate those who are different than us” bullshit.

The plot continues with Sean getting up very early to sneak off and Sorka following after Sean leaves the cave. Sorka almost trips over the cache in a daydream about wanting to find the most beautiful spot, and almost gets so distracted by the hatching dance that she wouldn’t get the egg she swipes back to Bay. Having managed to get things in the right place at the right time, Bay ends up Impressing a gold, and then Sean comes back to camp with two dragonet corpses in tow. Everyone settles in to food, having achieved the mission they intended.

The narrative is about to shift characters again, so here’s a good stopping point. We’ll pick up with the Avril plot next time.

8 thoughts on “Dragonsdawn: Through The Eyes of Children

  1. WanderingUndine June 23, 2016 at 7:08 am

    Interesting. When I read this at 14, I didn’t question or assess the contrasting philosophies underlying the colonization expedition. They settled the planet because why not, lived on it as best they could, and found interesting wildlife, whee. Now I’m wondering how the society might have been different in the absence of Thread and (consequently) dragons.

    I’m glad they proposed an evolutionary explanation for the fire-lizards having six limbs. Most stories with six-limbed dragons don’t. Though since this is another planet, there’s no reason for non-fish vertebrates to necessarily be tetrapods, as they happen to be on Earth.

    I have mixed feelings about the Pure Human Life Group. On one hand, any entity that prevents humans from being made aquatic is evil and must be destroyed. On the other, human aquaticness in a story is very envy-making and should be averted lest I go around hitting things. You can’t win with me. :-p

  2. Silver Adept June 24, 2016 at 10:24 am

    Coming back to the stories you read as a child or teen often produces this entire other book that you didn’t realize was there the first time. It’s the space that the Suck Fairy specializes in.

    I’m okay with hexapodal creatures. I just don’t think they fit the definition of snakes, and enough scientists around would presumably squash the widespread adoption of an incorrect descriptor.

    I would have liked more information about what exactly happened with the Pure Human Life Group. They sound like xenophobes from the name and what they did, but a little textual confirmation wouldn’t hurt.

  3. WanderingUndine June 24, 2016 at 7:41 pm

    I don’t mind the added complexity here. It’s interesting.

  4. genesistrine June 26, 2016 at 1:50 pm

    I dunno, the whole Pure Human thing seems to be (another) quick authorial fudge of Why the FSP is EEEvilll and Repressive and Nice People Would Want to Get Away. It never seems evil and repressive in a consistent way.

    So far we’ve been told that:

    it let a load of war heroes, rich utopians and their followers potter off to a faraway planet, after a lot of politicking.

    it made them take the 700-odd remaining nomads on Earth with them

    it stops people with prosthetics from being pilots

    it doesn’t allow genetic modification of humans

    it stopped Jim Tillek sailing boats?

    I think that’s the lot so far, and the nomads thing is from supplementary material at that. OK, I prefer post-scarcity type space opera; Iain M Banks, Neil Asher etc, so I’m used to interstellar societies where people can change their physical being pretty much at will, with AI citizens, a lot of individual freedom etc, but still… what are the FSP’s core beliefs? The only way I can make them make vague sense to me is a sort of ultimate OSHA/Health-and-Safety/nanny-state kind of thing, where no-one’s allowed to do anything that might be dangerous, but I still can’t make the nomads’ treatment make any sense. If they’re happy to shove them on to starships headed far far away why weren’t they happy to just stuff them in re-education camps? Public opinion would be OK with them going off on a Space Adventure with Admiral Benden but not into, I dunno, the housing for the 2504 Olympics in Reykjavik?

    It makes a lot more sense to me if we’re looking at the Pure Human Group right here, who took themselves off to a faraway planet so they didn’t have to deal with people having gills or cat ears or waggy tails or bespoke genitalia. It explains why there aren’t any genetically modified humans among the colonists, because come on, SOMEONE must have tried it, and if the FSP’s the way we keep being told they’d’ve been sent off quicker than the 700 nomads who were apparently such a pain to an interstellar government.

    As for what Sorka’s doing to get told off, I think it’s because Nice Girls don’t make deals. She’s being :hushed voice: manipulative.

  5. Silver Adept June 27, 2016 at 5:47 pm

    I’d be willing to go along with the idea of purists founding Pern as a way of trying to avoid all of the genetic engineering thing, excepting that they have the foremost genetic engineer as part of the population going to the pure world. While hypocrisy is nothing new to Pern, it seems like purists would at least be trying to make sure everyone looked okay.

    I’m more inclined to believe the purists won out on Terra and the colonists here are trying to get away from a conception that sees anything other than a particular type of Terran as inferior or inhuman, one that is slowly poisoning the FSP and will likely lead to the need for psychohistorians. But there’s no textual anything to help us figure this out, and that’s frustrating. Since Avril intends on going back with gemstones, she would be the perfect person to extol the virtues of living on an FSP world.

    Re: Sorka, are we supposed to believe that her marriage prospects will somehow be impacted by someone seeing her ability to drive a bargain? Seems like “can run a household and make shrewd deals” would be several points in her favor for marriageability.

  6. genesistrine June 28, 2016 at 3:40 am

    Well, they’re not stupid :coughcoughcoughcough: and Kitti von Frankenstein isn’t working on humans, just adapting domestic animals to an alien world. I can fudge them making a “just this once, and as long as it’s just animals and only when essential” exception for long-term survival.

    And if they do want to get away from the only-a-particular-type-of-human-is-REALLY-human mindset, why aren’t there any adapted/altered humans along as colonists? No water-dwellers along to build New R’lyeh*, no-one with cosmetic furry ears or a prehensile tail etc….

    Re Sorka: I don’t think misogyny is that logical. Outspoken girl! Telling an older man what he should do! Women are allowed to be competent, but they have to keep that competence within very strict bounds.

    *though it would be really cool if there were; after all Thread drowns so they’d be fine….

  7. Silver Adept July 1, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    Yeah, okay, I can see that, but it’s still weird to take the foremost genetic manipulator to a world that is supposed to be pure and pastoral. It seems very counter-philosophical (not that Pern isn’t a hot mess of contradicting philosophies) to do it that way.

    It would be a lot cooler to have this colony world composed of humans and humanoid / non-humanoid creatures working together, rather than just humans and dolphins.

    Yeah, misogyny isn’t that logical, because you’re right that it would read as Sorka telling someone what to do, instead of behaving with an effective negotiating style. The author has maybe Margaret Thatcher as the crude stereotype of the powerful woman to work against, and Mairi Disapproves Strongly of Sorka hanging out with Sean, so maybe they see it as Traveller influence that Sorka’s starting to show signs of shrewdness. In any of these cases, though, there’s clearly a prejudice at work against Sorka. Not yet the narrative, but a clear prejudice.

  8. genesistrine July 3, 2016 at 3:58 am

    Yeah, now you mention it it could as easily be Picking Up Bad Haggling Habits From Undesirable Travellers.

    As for Kitti, I can’t remember whether she’s a financer or contractor, but either way she chose to come, so she wanted the low-tech libertopia thing too. It may have been a matter of “eh, she’s coming, she might as well use her particular skillset.”

    But both are the hot mess of contradicting philosophies, as you said.

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