Dragonsdawn: Hope In An Eggshell

Last time, Avril decided she had to make a break for it with her gems, after having spent far too long not doing anything about it. She killed the pilot and severely hurt the spymaster, then tortured the woman that followed her on and left her to die, only to find out that she had been anticipated and that her plot would go all for nothing, with the ship crashing and killing her at the end if it all.

Landing mourned the dead, and Sallah’s husband took her name as a memorial to her.

Dragonsdawn, Part Two: Content Notes: Gender essentialism

So, before we start, I’m still a bit leery about how Avril was all passion and anger at the end, there, because she was also previously described as being a very ethnic woman and all sexual passion and manipulation. That didn’t change her characterization away from the idea of the emotional black woman at all, but instead just changed her emotional passion from sex and manipulation to rage. It’s not a good mark on the narrative at all that it gave Avril almost no dimension, even as it used her as an antagonist.

I still think this entire sequence should have been earlier in the book, and especially now, with the plot of “disgruntled colonists” continuing after Avril’s death. Ted Tubberman, Bart Lemos, and Stev Kimmer are poking themselves in places where they’re not welcome, taking and requisitioning things that are not in their usual specialties, and spreading rumors meant to undermine the leadership, like “Avril and Kenjo were going for help and Ongola killed them to stop it.” Most of the people in charge of labs and supplies ask Benden and Boll for permission to exclude them from those areas, or have already banned them from coming. Benden wants to know what the plan is, if possible, but isn’t willing to go so far as to restrict Ted, Bart, or Stev to their stakes, claiming he doesn’t have the authority to do that.

Yet the administration seems surprised when Tubberman and accomplices put together a distress beacon and launch it into space. Benden and Boll haul Ted into custody and then want to know who gave him help in assembling and launching the thing. Ted is unhelpful, believing himself in the right for doing it, but the administration suspects Kimmer, Nabol, and Lemos assisted.

When figuring out a suitable punishment for Ted, Boll suggests shunning, which is permissible under the charter’s rules that forbid corporal punishment and is an effective excuse for everyone to ignore Ted. Benden likes it and has it promulgated. We spend a scene in the labs, where Wind Blossom points out that the beacon launch might actually be good, because now nobody can claim that all options weren’t exercised. A small tremor has everyone in the lab exceedingly unhappy, even though the shock absorbers that are protecting the artificial dragon wombs do absorb the shock. A quick shift to Benden and Boll receiving a visit from Jim Tillek, telling them that the dolphins have reported an active volcano close enough by to bring ash to Landing on the wind, probing the rumor mill, and offering to take a look at the readings from the probes Sallah sent before dying. Benden and Boll take him up on the offer, and Tillek goes off to see Keroon. Who is hip-deep in complete confusion – all the probes and the spacecraft Avril was on were destroyed before impact on the surface of the Red Star. So there’s something up there that’s hostile to the probes and spacecraft, if only they could figure it out. And Stev Kimmer is gone, of course, with supplies enough to stay gone for a long while, stolen from Landing, poking about, possibly looking for Kenjo’s second secret stash. Of course, none of the shuttles would work to get away, anyway.

The administration decides that they could send someone up in a shuttle to examine the trail of the wanderer and see if that’s where the danger is, or whether it’s the planet. They convince Nabol to do it by promising to make him a charterer and to give him Avril’s old stake. He demands Lemos also get charterer status and be his copilot, which also happens. This would be the biggest piece of news on Landing, except that twenty-seven eggs have just been moved to their Hatching Ground in the lab, with Sean and Sorka as the seniormost apprentices on the project. Sorka’s pregnant with Sean’s child, but she hasn’t told him yet. And then he finds out just by looking at her, and says that while he’s thrilled, he wasn’t sure this was the right time for it. And that they’re going before the magistrate to swear out their marriage as soon as possible.

The next Threadfall is off of predictions, which causes a mad scramble and a reinforcement of orders that nobody gets to help Ted Tubberman defend his stake. In the aftermath, though, Ned Tubberman, Ted’s son, comes up to point out that Ted has found a way of protecting his stake without the need for fire. And the flying captain of the day confirms that there was a patch of grass unharmed despite the Thread.

This should be momentous news and a giant scientific discovery for Landing, but…

There was a long silence, which Emily finally broke. “Ned, we do not doubt you, or Drake’s verification, but as your father said, shunning works both ways.”
“Are you too proud to ask him what he’s done?” Ned demanded, his skin blanched under his tan, and his nostrils flaring with indignation.
“Pride is not involved,” Emily said gently. “Safety is. He was shunned because he defied the will of the colony. If you can honestly say that he has changed his attitude, then we can discuss reinstatement.”
Ned flushed, his eyes dropping away from Emily’s tolerant gaze. He sighed deeply. “He doesn’t want anything to do with Landing or anyone on it.” Then he gripped the edge of the table and leaned across it toward the governor. “But he’s done something incredible. Drake saw it.”

He did, indeed, and everyone is interested in trying to get that information without breaking the shunning, hoping to work on the one confidant Ted has, who claims he is sworn to secrecy.

The day of the shuttle launch, which goes successfully, the eggs are ready to hatch. The signal is the convergence of dragonets on the lab where the Hatching Ground is. The candidates are already arranged and ready for the very first hatching of Pern.

The young people in the circle stood their ground, and Emily marveled at their courage, for that awkward creature was not the graceful being she had been expecting, a beast remembered from old legends and illustrations held in library treasures. She caught herself holding her breath, and exhaled quickly.
The creature extended its wings; they were wider and thinner than she had expected. It was so spindly, so ungainly, and its very oddly constructed eyes were flashing with red and yellow. Emily felt a flush of alarm. The creature gave a desperate cry, and was answered reassuringly by the multivoiced choir above. It lurched forward, its voice pleading, and then the cry alerts to one of joy, held on a high sweet note. It staggered another step and then fell at the feet of David Catarel, who bent to help it.
He looked up with eyes wide with wonder. “He wants me!”
“Then accept him!” Pol bellowed, gesturing for one of the stewards to come forward with a bowl of food. “Feed him! No, don’t anyone else help you. The bond should be made now!”

And there we have it. The bronze’s name is Polenth.

Several other eggs hatch and Impress upon their possible candidates, and all the observers cluster around Wind Blossom and Pol to talk about what happens next, after Pol is informed that the shuttle launch was successful, but it will take a week of drifting in space before it arrives at the right place for measurements. Then we find out something about the way that the dragons have been engineered.

“Do they always go female to female?” Emily asked Pol. “And male to male?”
“Since the males are expected to be fighters and the females egg-carriers, Kitti made it logical.”
“Logical to her,” Emily said, a trifle bemused. “There aren’t any blues or greens among them,” she suddenly realized.
“Kitti programmed the heavier males, but I believe they’re to carry sperm for the entire range. The greens will be the smallest, the fighters; the blues sturdier, with more staying power; the browns sort of anchor fighters with even more endurance. They’ll have to fight four to six hours, remember! The bronzes are leaders and the golds…”
“Waiting at home to be egg carriers.”
Pol gave Emily a long look, his tired face reflecting astonishment at her sarcasm.
“In the wild, greens don’t have good maternal instincts. The golds do,” Bay put in, giving the governor an odd glance. “Kitti Ping kept as much natural instinct as possible. Or so her program reads.”



Cocowhat by depizan

There’s a rather large problem here – because green dragons are females. The front-line fighters, according to the program Kitti Ping out in, are going to be women. Women who apparently have poor maternal instincts, and can therefore be sacrificed to the ravenous Thread. Women with good maternal instincts will get the gold dragons, instead. And only men get to be leaders, because bronzes Impress to men only.

This is supposedly the logical order to Kitti Ping, and I love that Governor Emily Boll is throwing as much shade on this as she can, since nobody else seems to have thought all that much about it. Or the part where someone could very easily be depleting necessary genetic diversity for the colony by sending out women to fight and die.

Unless there’s a retcon afoot, and green dragons have now always been males, despite Path having already been written. At which point, the glaring gender essentialism still shines through brightly – men as fighters, women as nurturers. This is only logical to a society that has ingrained these ideas into its fabric. The Pern colony does not appear to have those ideas that tightly wound, considering the sheer number of women in important positions we have seen.

In any case, Kitti Ping has condemned Pern’s dragonriders to sexism all the days of their lives. It casts aspersions on Mirrim and Path, that the tomboy nature of Mirrim makes her an unfit parent.

Women can’t fucking win on this planet, can they?

After a short interlude in space, where Nabol gloats about his fuel efficiency so that he can position the shuttle to collect whatever gems and metals that survived the destruction of Avril’s craft (call forward to Meron’s greed, to show how well-suited he is, and to show that the jumped-up steward is also following in Nabol’s lead about ascending to the position from humble beginnings), we see everyone keeping watch, with Sean nudging Sorka awake from a nap, right before more of the eggs hatch. Sean Impresses a bronze, Carenath, and Sorka Impresses a gold, Faranth, after someone has to tell her to look, since she’s been passing bowls of food to Sean since he Impressed. Thus, Sean and Sorka continue on their narrative, from exploration to dragonets to dragonriders.

The next scene is the debriefing, enter everyone but Wind Blossom ready to congratulate themselves on a job well done regarding the dragons, and everyone anxious to see whether or not the dragons will breathe fire and teleport (already referred to as going between at this point). Wind Blossom is unsure as to whether the hatchlings will be able to survive, flame, teleport, and reproduce, so she’s going to take what was learned from the dragon eggs that didn’t survive and stay a new program for another generation of eggs. She’s basically right, as a scientific principle goes – don’t assume, and when your antagonist is life-devouring, always have a backup plan or five.

Beyond that, we get a scene of the care and bathing of dragons, with oiling and itching and Carenath splashing Faranth with a sweep of his wings. Useful information about dragons learned: Their bones are made of boron and silicon, instead of calcium. And their fingerlike appendages are an improvement to the dragonets pincer claws. They also generally can bring the shy, fearful, and taciturn out and make them more outgoing, happy, and affectionate. Sean and Sorka settle into the practicalities of dragon-raising – what’s going to happen when they grow up, where will they be housed, are they going to have to get rid of the horses (yes), is this going to affect Sorka’s pregnancy (shrug), and so forth.

Here’s a good place to stop. Because you know a disaster has to follow something good, or it wouldn’t be Pern.

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13 thoughts on “Dragonsdawn: Hope In An Eggshell

  1. depizan August 4, 2016 at 11:26 am

    I realize people aren’t always rational, but I just can’t figure out why anyone’s considering sending for help or going for help as a possibility. Isn’t help years away? Wouldn’t the more likely panic response be to try to figure out how to abandon the colony and go back? Not to send for help that’s likely to arrive far too late?

    There’s just something really off about the colony’s response to this. Part of it’s the ongoing inconsistency regarding how dangerous Thread is. (And a seeming lack of acknowledgement of secondary problems. Like, didn’t they lose all their crops? Are they planing on surviving on fish and nothing else indefinitely? Won’t they run into health problems doing that? Are there things like edible seaweed that might help them avoid scurvy and the like? Does this come up at all???)

    Part of it’s that everyone is super dim and probably should never have been trusted with starships in the first place. (They’re basically engineering dragons because the colonists are too incompetent to fly sleds and flame thread at the same time. I hope someone reminds them they’ll need harnesses/saddles to stay on the dragons or this isn’t going to help as much as people thought.)

    And part of it is that the disgruntled colonists response doesn’t fit. I swear in every other similar sort of situation in fiction that I can think of the argument is stay or go, not call for help or not call for help. See, that problem of help taking years to arrive means you have to stay and survive in the meantime. It just… ngh… these people aren’t acting like colonists stuck in the ass end of nowhere, they’re acting like a group of highschool kids who’s van went off the road in a swamp with really bad mosquitoes or something. “Let’s just call for help!” “No, man, my parent’s’ll kill me. We can get it back on the road.” “Fucking mosquitoes are going to eat us alive!” “No, no, we got this.”

    And the timing of all this is so weird. Aren’t they – shouldn’t they, assuming they have any competence at all, figure out how to fight Thread from sleds without losing people to stupidity all the time by the time the dragons hatch? (Shouldn’t turning the lizards into dragons take years, anyway? This genetic engineering feels really magic!science to me.) And why was calling for help presented like an alternative to dealing with it now?

    “Pride is not involved,” Emily said gently. “Safety is.

    Dude, this is a planetary emergency, you do not have time for this. You need to know what the hell he came up with. He didn’t risk anyone’s safety, all he did was send a distress call. What the fuck.

    “In the wild, greens don’t have good maternal instincts. The golds do,”

    Either maternal instincts aren’t actually important to the survival of the lizards or this doesn’t make sense. Wouldn’t greens die out if they’re less successful at reproducing than golds? (I mean, this whole one color makes better mommies thing seems dubious biologically anyway, but if it’s true…)

  2. genesistrine August 4, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    @depizan: Either maternal instincts aren’t actually important to the survival of the lizards or this doesn’t make sense. Wouldn’t greens die out if they’re less successful at reproducing than golds? (I mean, this whole one color makes better mommies thing seems dubious biologically anyway, but if it’s true…)

    Whether it’s true or not it couldn’t be less relevant. Dragons aren’t in the wild. They’re being bred as domesticated. And the big, big advantage of being domesticated is having people to deal with stuff for you. No dragon is ever going to have to look after its own eggs. Whether or not it has maternal instincts doesn’t matter at all.

    It does make a horrible, hilarious sense that the whole rapey sexism thing is because of one ghastly old bat with god-knows-what horrifying issues and fixations deciding that That Was How It Should Be… and now I desperately want to know what other horrors Kitti Ping was responsible for thanks to her fixed ideas.

    I swear it makes most sense to me that these people are actually fleeing war criminals; maybe they hijacked an actual colonist ship and that’s where the nomads and some of the more sensible colonists are from, but the rest of them – they headed to the arse-end of nowhere because of what was going to happen to them if they got caught and tried, and that’s exactly why they don’t want any news of where they are getting back. That’s why there are all these people who hate the idea of farming; Avril’s plan was half “grab jewels” and half “tell the War Crimes commission where they are when I get back in return for a pardon and getting to keep my cargo”, that’s why they’re not sending for help (and coming up with excuses to stop the actual colonists from trying it; those are the guys they want doing their hard work in perpetuity) and that’s why they have this monstrous geneticist on staff.

  3. Firedrake August 4, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    depizan: and what was the plan for if things went wrong? I mean, this is a whole alien world, alien biochemistry that’s more or less compatible with human – what happens if there’s some insect-analogue which has a venom that causes terminal anaphylactic shock when it bites humans? Or if there’s some creature which hibernates for years at a time but eats plastic when it wakes up? You couldn’t expect even a really good survey (and at this point the lousiness of the survey hasn’t yet been written) to find every single possibility like that. So smart colonists would have a plan for how to survive if the planet suddenly decides to kill them, and that plan at the very least is going to involve living in the ships for a while.

    Or, if the tech doesn’t allow that, then maybe they should have done better surveys before saying “OK, Objectivist nut-cult, this planet is All Yours”. Though one can see the appeal to a bureaucrat of just letting them all wipe themselves out on an immovable object.

    genesistrine: “It does make a horrible, hilarious sense that the whole rapey sexism thing is because of one ghastly old bat with god-knows-what horrifying issues and fixations deciding that That Was How It Should Be…” Oh, how my Doylist mind re-interprets that!

  4. genesistrine August 4, 2016 at 2:41 pm

    @Firedrake: Oh, how my Doylist mind re-interprets that!

    As if I’d imply something like that!

    At least where lawyers might read it…. 😉

  5. depizan August 4, 2016 at 6:35 pm

    @ genesistrine

    No dragon is ever going to have to look after its own eggs.

    … That is an incredibly good point. In fact, if the maternal instinct thing were true at all, you’d want to do the reverse of what Kitti Ping did. Maternal instincts should make the golds really unhappy that people are taking their kids. You’d want the dragons to be totes fine with that.

    I’m pretty sure the Golgafrincham B Ark’s populous could think rings around these guys!

    @Firedrake

    depizan: and what was the plan for if things went wrong?

    I’m becoming less and less certain they had a plan for things going right. Well, okay, yes, we know they did, because we heard that plan. But it relied on reality not working much like reality and people working not much like people and…

  6. WanderingUndine August 7, 2016 at 5:05 pm

    Why are dragon (and fire-lizard?) bones made of boron and silicon instead of calcium, and would that actually work?

  7. depizan August 7, 2016 at 5:20 pm

    Even if it did, wouldn’t it suggest that life on Pern is not entirely the same as Earth life? What does that do to the colonists’ ability to grow crops or eat the native plants and animals?

  8. genesistrine August 7, 2016 at 5:33 pm

    would that actually work?

    I dunno. I guess so, mechanically, but biochemically? Wouldn’t this mean a radically different metabolism? But they eat the same herdbeasts that humans do….

  9. Lodrelhai (@Lodrelhai) August 8, 2016 at 3:58 am

    @dezipan

    re: greens in the wild – it’s established that gold firelizard clutches hatch all colors, including greens. So golds lay them all and take care of them all, while greens… well, I seem to recall that their clutches are smaller as well as not properly tended. I think they only lay greens, but they might also have blues and maybe even browns? I don’t remember.

    I can somewhat see an evolutionary advantage to this – basically, green clutches would be predator bait. A gold firelizard might allow several greens in her territory, and while they have easy-to-find clutches that aren’t guarded, the gold can keep her clutch secluded and secure. I seem to remember that greens mate more frequently as well, which would also help keeping the predators distracted.

    Of course, that many plentiful sources can also boost the predator population, meaning there’s more of them to go hunting for the gold clutch…

    There’s stuff I’d like to discuss about how Kitti Ping “logically” programmed the dragon genetics, but it involves information that comes up later, so I’ll wait until then.

  10. Firedrake August 8, 2016 at 8:52 am

    I think the predator-bait process only holds up if the greens aren’t anywhere near the golds – otherwise the predator will be attracted by the easy-to-find green clutches, eat them, and then be near the gold clutch when it gets hungry again.

    A boron-silicon bone structure – I assume we’re talking about borosilicate glass or something like it – would require a vast increase in dietary boron intake compared with conventional calcium-based bones; and if soil boron levels go above about 2ppm the plants start dying. (And if they don’t, the other animals that eat them do.)

  11. genesistrine August 8, 2016 at 9:17 am

    @Firedrake: Pyrex bones!

    It’s a really cool thought, but why anything would bother to evolve bones that are highly resistant to thermal shock is a mystery – we can’t blame between; it’s not like dragonriders seem to regularly have bones shattering from thermal gradients….

  12. Firedrake August 8, 2016 at 9:26 am

    genesistrine: and if it were just for the high-G aerobatic manoeuvres, there are lots of stronger and lighter biological materials, like limpet teeth and spider silk.

  13. genesistrine August 9, 2016 at 12:15 am

    And, I daresay, bone. Pyrex is a lot of things but I’m pretty sure it’s not mechanically strong in that particular way.

    And the more I think about the boron source the worse it gets. If their eggs are borosilicate too then eating the shells might give them a start (though it dumps the boron-collecting problem directly on the gold), but they don’t get to eat dead dragons’ bones since dead dragons take them into between with them, therefore reducing available boron… ack. Should have gone with carbon fibre bones if they wanted to be weird and cool!

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