Dragonsdawn: The Final Nail

Last time, dragons hatched and Impressed, and everyone got a little bit better idea about what it was going to take to raise them, a shuttle went up to examine what’s up with the wandering planet, and a man was exiled, giving him time to develop a way of keeping the grass safe from Thread. If only the colonists could harness such an invention without having to break their punishment.

Dragonsdawn, Part Two: Content Notes: None visible

We pick up with the report that the shuttle has obtained its target pods of Thread, although Ongola is suspicious of the amount of time taken to do so. And then a rather large earthquake rumble that wakes the sleeping colonists. The sensors can’t tell where a volcano is going to pop, but they know one is going to soon. And then one does, safely away from Landing – pops up completely out of the sea. Telgar, the seismologist, reassures everyone that the big volcano they built the settlement on is in no danger of blasting itself, even if all the new activity is on the same tectonic plate that the big volcano is on. And then he and several others go off to take a look at things and make sure their confidence is warranted. And to have a place in mind in case the colony has to pick itself up and go in a hurry.

Our next scene is the return of the shuttle…with Ongola calling Benden to say Nabol is coming in poorly, even though Nabol thinks he’s fine, at least according to what he says the instruments are reading. The data returned from the shuttle so far indicates the wanderer wobbles into orbit and out of orbit, but that the reason for Threadfall is likely the wandering planet capturing the Thread in the cloud of material surrounding the system in its gravitational well and then giving it up to Pern’s stronger gravitational pull, so Thread will always be there, generally on intervals of two hundred and fifty years, give or take the interference of the other moons in the system. The shuttle has a payload of Thread pods to confirm this hypothesis…if they can touch down safely.

As Benden attempts to talk sense into Nabol, the truth of their descent makes itself clear, and there’s not enough fuel left to try and abort the reentry. The shuttle breaks itself apart over the sea, losing the lives of Nabol and Lemos, as well as their cargo. The dolphins find no survivors, nor the scoop that would contain their cargo.

I again wonder why Lemos, Bitra, and Nabol Hold exist, considering that they have not done anything the colony itself would consider noble or praiseworthy and deserving of memorialization. They’re not around to establish themselves afterward, either, so I would assume that there would be no reason for anyone to keep their memories alive. Unless as a warning to others, and generally speaking, you don’t name entire towns after people you want to be villains. Maybe the places that will become those Holds started out as penal colonies, in the vein of Australia, before becoming population centers. That said, with the way that Thread is basically lethal, I would expect less of colonies of exiles and more of people staked out in the path of Thread as a warning against those who would defy X, Y, or Z.

There is also an interesting problem here, but the colonists are out of options on how to study it – probes and ships that have gotten near the Thread pods are either destroyed or damaged to the point of instrument malfunction. I wonder how both the survey team and the colony ships themselves managed to avoid encountering this issue, since proximity is enough to cause problems with spacefaring objects. I also have a feeling it will become important again later on.

I also wonder how much of Nabol insisting things are fine was instrument malfunction and how much it was him being a jerk to the tower. F’rex:

“Tower to Moth, do you read me? Benden here. Moth, respond.”
“Good morning, Admiral Benden,” Nabhi responded promptly and insolently. “We are on course and reentering at a good angle.”
[…Benden gives him proper readings…]
But Nabhi seemed undisturbed by Paul’s information, and he did indeed report readings consonant with a good reentry.

So Nabol trusts his own instruments instead of the tower, which seems like a very bad idea, but then again, as the narrative characterizes him, he’s not really all that interested in listening to the tower or the people inside. One would think things feel wrong to him, but I have no idea what a bad entry would feel like to a pilot, especially one flying by wire. Airline pilots and spacefarers probably would know whether you can tell if something is bad just by the way the craft is. Either way, Nabol gets himself and Lemos killed by not trusting the people who have better eyes on his descent. That’s enough by itself to tell that he’s not as good a pilot as he thought he was.

As it is, the administrative council of Pern meets to discuss their options – survival and adaptation win, along with the idea of moving into the cave systems to conserve resources. When Benden suggests restructuring Landing, Ongola tells him it would be better to move off their location and go north. Tillek agrees, given the most recent seismic activity has everyone nervous, and thinks that Telgar has the right idea of where to resettle. All the supplies that can be carried will be used to cross the sea.

Paul grinned at Emily. It was much easier when people made to their own minds to do what their leaders has decided was best for them.

And thus ends Part Two, by far the largest part of the book.

As it stands, there’s still two people that could be a problem to the colony – Stev Kimmer, who has not been seen for a while, and Ted Tubberman, who is still shunned from the community. Is anyone going to tell him or help him get moved, since he probably doesn’t have a self-sufficient stake? Ned can, and Ted’s wife can, so I guess we assume they will. Now would also be a good time to ask if Ted is willing to barter his invention for reinstatement to the colony – since everyone is now basically in the same boat, and will have to live in close proximity, they should probably be trying to work together. Ted has something that can survive Thread, and more importantly, can protect plants and grasses from Thread as well, which would give the new colony site an advantage in survival by not having to worry about whether or not their crops will survive the attacks. The colony wants it, and he can use it to leverage himself into a good position.

Stev is the only character left that hasn’t attempted something to the detriment of the colony, so his turn must be coming up soon. That way, only the loyal remain and they can then turn the full attention of Pern to the survival and eventual eradication of Thread. The dragons that they’re betting on haven’t yet proven themselves. We know they will, but there’s still some uncertainty present for the colonists. Plus, there’s already starting to be some segregation between those that have dragons and their space requirements and those that don’t. So the entire social structure could unravel itself before cooperation can be established – or the colonies might run out of resources trying to support the dragons as they grow.

This is why it would have been better for the Avril plot to run first – Landing is dealt a crippling blow by losing pilot and spacecraft, then Thread arrives and forces a hot scramble. While Kitti Ping works on dragonet to dragon work, Ted fires off the beacon, gets shunned, and develops grubs as a giant middle finger to Landing. Then Nabol and Lemos go up and crash down. Dragons hatch, earthquake rumbles, and now we are at the same point, with the colony relocating, believing hard in unproven dragons because dragons and caves are basically where all the marbles are. Even though the outcome is going to happen, there’s enough tension in the how, and whether Stev is going to sabotage the new location over revenge or the fact that he actually loved Avril and has been biding his time until he could exact revenge. That way we get a chain of bad things that seems logical and helps to build the idea that there’s only one feasible way out of this, instead of having to put the Thread plot on hold to handle all the villainous people plots. And if this were all happening within the first, say, two years of the colony, there wouldn’t be such a large unexplained gap of time where things were apparently in stasis before action decided to happen again, either.

Anyway, Part Three begins next week.

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14 thoughts on “Dragonsdawn: The Final Nail

  1. genesistrine August 11, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    probes and ships that have gotten near the Thread pods are either destroyed or damaged to the point of instrument malfunction. I wonder how both the survey team and the colony ships themselves managed to avoid encountering this issue, since proximity is enough to cause problems with spacefaring objects.

    Told you. The Red Star’s extradimensional. It’s warping reality and wrecking electronics. It’s Yuggoth in Hotrod Red.

    And if this were all happening within the first, say, two years of the colony, there wouldn’t be such a large unexplained gap of time where things were apparently in stasis before action decided to happen again, either.

    Anyway, Part Three begins next week.

    Bet we get another time-jump to avoid potentially-interesting setup and conflict.

    (I haven’t looked ahead, so this is pure guesswork. I’ve bogged down completely. I hate this book.)

  2. depizan August 12, 2016 at 10:01 pm

    Reorganizing things as you suggest would help, but, honestly I’d drop a lot of the random evil colonists (or at least the Avril plot). Focusing on the Oh Crap, Thread! plot rather than all this other stuff would make that plot stronger. Have characters we care about in danger instead of a bunch of incompetent assholes, some of whom are just bigger assholes than others.

    I mean, if Nabol were someone we liked, or even just found interesting or compelling in some way, then you could have his attempt to successfully bring the damaged shuttle back with samples as a whole high tension thing. Will he make it!? Will the samples give the colonists the information they need!?

    But we’re not supposed to care about him and it isn’t at all clear to me what the samples are even for, so… eh… who cares?

    Also, I think the plot would work a lot better if the wanderer either was captured by the system (complete with Thread) between the survey and the landing or picked up the Thread (ala their theory) in between. Then you don’t have the survey looking strangely incompetent, there’s not evidence the colonists miss until after the first fall, and the whole thing works as much more of an OMGWTF. But i guess that doesn’t work with the fire lizards. IDK. Trying to salvage this is hard.

  3. depizan August 12, 2016 at 10:05 pm

    (And it doesn’t make sense to me to have Nabol unaware of the problems with the shuttle. Even if that’s technically possible, it lacks tension and drama. He should know the shuttle is damaged and be desperately trying to bring it in anyway. That may be cliche, but, gods, it’s cliche for a reason. This “nope, I’m fine” whoopsplosion thing is just flat. And further adds to the “why is there a Nabol Hold again?” problem.)

    And what the hell is the timeframe again? It seems like Ted engineered those grubs awful fast. Unless he just found them and managed to collect enough to protect his place. (Which is still impressive, mind.) But, again, how can he possibly be the only one who noticed them. … You know what, never mind, with these people that’s not really a puzzle.

  4. genesistrine August 13, 2016 at 3:38 am

    Like I’ve said before, the “200 years later” of the original intros works so much better.

    That way Pern can be in ecological equilibrium, perfectly adapted to Thread incursions; so well adapted that the colonists show up just after a Pass is over and don’t notice anything except a lot of fat and sassy grubs and a lot of fat and sassy fish.

    And then in the fine old human tradition they mess it all up by getting rid of creatures they think are icky or useless and replacing them with adapted Earth animals they’re more familiar with.

    So 200 years later when the anti-manna falls from the sky the untouched native-growth areas do pretty well thank you and the croplands and their animal and human inhabitants are chomped down to bare earth by all-devouring horror.

    This book has the worst case of prequelitis I’ve ever seen. OK, we know what’s going to work and what isn’t already, but solving that by having everything that isn’t dragons explode for no particular reason is just lazy. (Or down to time-travelling dragons making sure they come to exist of course :tinfoil hat:)

    Though if we stick to this timeline the random evil colonists thing would work better if they weren’t random evil – they were just people who’d spent 8 years dirt farming and discovered shock horror that it was boring and they hated it, and they wanted to refit one of the ships and head back to civilization.

    I actually liked the basic idea of Kenji, though the “won’t let me fly because I’m bionic, I’ll show them! I’ll go somewhere else and… not fly there too!” execution was, well, NFP (Normal For Pern…). But people having regrets about what they signed up for makes sense – people who went along with partners or parents, people who’ve had a few bad crop years, people who had a romantic idea of what it’s like to run a small farm and found out they hated the reality…

    And they could be opposed for removing resources (human and otherwise), reducing genetic variety, possibly the colony has a reason for not wanting the govt to know where it is, either reasonable or conspiracist woohattery, blah blah. But we don’t get that, because AMC’s protagonists always have to be Completely Right and Reasonable and no-one else’s conflicting opinions are allowed to be anything except EVIL.

  5. depizan August 13, 2016 at 11:42 am

    @genesistrine

    And then in the fine old human tradition they mess it all up by getting rid of creatures they think are icky or useless and replacing them with adapted Earth animals they’re more familiar with.

    That works even better. Now we don’t have people who are too stupid to live, we just have humans making a typical human mistake. And complacently thinking that Earth-like means Earth-like in all ways. You could even have a section of perfectly normal colonization stuff that would have narrative tension because the READER knows that they are screwing themselves over and, worse, knows that they have no way of knowing that.

    I also like your solution to the random evil colonists. And, frankly, if both sides were sympathetic and had likable people on them, you could get good tension/conflict out of it without anyone being awful. Hell, they can even be sympathetic to each other’s feelings and you can still get good conflict out of it.

    Oh… wow, there’s a really missed opportunity there where the colonists who don’t want to stay manage to work it out so they can leave, and then end up using their resources to save the colony instead. Which is sad and heroic and explains why there are holds named after them. (And, yes, it’s kind of cliche. But again, we’re back to cliche is better than what we’ve got. Which really says a lot.)

    Or they could be allowed to go, and go for help, but something happens in the intervening years such that when help shows up, they think the colony is all lost. (Maybe the volcanic eruption?)

  6. genesistrine August 13, 2016 at 3:02 pm

    Thanks! Re the wanna-leavers (Prexiters?) – it occurs to me that a lot of them could be kids who were pre-teen or just-teen when their family brought them to Pern. Now they’re old enough to express their opinions some of them want to go to university, hang out at a mall with their friends, see movies, make movies, have medical insurance, be space pilots, eat fast food, see the sun rise over Maui, see Grandma again, whatever. Even before Thread shows up we can have this tension, and once Thread does show up it ramps up between the people going “we all should get out NOW” and the ones saying “you can’t take a ship we need all the resources on them to figure out what this stuff is and how to stop it”. Maybe even keep the limited fuel for the shuttles, so it’s a choice between getting escapees up and getting scientists to the kit in the ships that they might be able to use against Thread; there may be not enough fuel left to evacuate everyone anyway, maybe even not all the people who want to go….

    So we could easily fit in your noble sacrifice idea in there – maybe they compromise by refitting a shuttle for a few people to go back and get help, and the rest of the resources go to trying to keep everyone alive on the surface?

    There’s apparently a story where later surveyors turn up and think everyone’s dead because they’re all living in caves, which is NFP levels of stupid because the Hold cavesystems have farms and fields and roads and firepits and Stonehenges on top and whatall so how the hell any satellite survey is supposed to miss that I’ve no idea.

  7. genesistrine August 14, 2016 at 5:36 am

    On the “too stupid to live” front, I just ran across this article on phreatic volcanic eruptions: https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn26280-japan-eruption-practically-undetectable-in-advance/

    “practically undetectable in advance using current monitoring technology, and could occur at many apparently sleeping volcanoes.”

    So the eruption wiping out the main landing site could genuinely have been unforeseeable….

    Still not smart to have all your important sciency stuff near a volcano, but maybe nowhere near as all-fired stupid as we’ve been thinking, especially if they were using the volcano for geothermal power.

  8. depizan August 14, 2016 at 11:04 am

    Well, it’s not just the volcano that has us thinking the settlers are too stupid to live. But it is good to know that the volcano bit could survive a not-completely-stupid-settlers rewrite.

    (Things like forgetting to secure their flame thrower operators, however…)

  9. genesistrine August 14, 2016 at 4:05 pm

    Yes, the whole “we need dragons because we can’t be bothered with seatbelts” thing has to go in any rewrite. Damn.

  10. WanderingUndine August 15, 2016 at 8:15 am

    Yeah. As a prequel, it *needs* the expected outcome, i.e. dragons. But the reason given for creating them was unnecessarily flimsy.

    Mind you, to a young reader somewhat obsessed with dragons, they didn’t need much of an excuse. They made dragons because…because dragons! That people could ride! I hadn’t encountered dragon-riders in a story before reading this series (though I now know they’re elsewhere) and thought it was awesomesauce.

  11. depizan August 15, 2016 at 11:03 am

    Given the needed outcome (dragons) and the shuttle crash, why not give Thread some kind of low level electromagnetic field or something. Get too much Thread on your vehicle and it starts having technical difficulties. (And the shuttle crashes because the pods they were bringing back started hatching. And with hatching came the interference.)

    I have no idea if that’s plausible, but it seems better for the suspension of disbelief than “whut r seatbelts lol”

  12. Firedrake August 15, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    Or a variant of that: a sled isn’t agile enough to dodge thread, and while thread doesn’t eat the metal skin it does (a) eat the pilot and gunner and (b) stick to the skin and make the sled even harder to manoeuvre (gumming up control surfaces and whatnot), until eventually the crew does get hit.

  13. genesistrine August 15, 2016 at 2:17 pm

    Another solution (that could be used simultaneously) is that the colonists seem to be deliberately going for low-tech for whatever reason. The sleds presumably aren’t a good long-term solution – they’ll need maintenance from trained technicians, replacement parts made by trained machinists/manufacturers with a reliable industrial base and quality control, not to mention whatever the fuel is. Flamethrowers seem to be simple enough to be made by smiths, but I can’t believe sleds are.

    Since the sleds came with them they may even have been designed to last only, say, 10/20 years, to be used to help set up the colony while the colonists sorted out boats and horses and carts and whatever – limited fuel and no access to refills? Electronics (or whatever the future uses) designed to fall apart?

    Hmmm – maybe the low-tech thing is “trying to hide from the govt” again? No radio/electronic/quarkonic emissions to trigger anyone’s detectors?

  14. Silver Adept August 19, 2016 at 9:36 pm

    I just have to say, these solutions are far better and more plausible than what we’ve been getting so far, and I’m so glad the community here is willing to expend time and speculation on making things better, even though they’re all already written. I hope you all get writing contracts and bestsellers forever.

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