Dragonsdawn: Pulling Up Stakes

Last time, a shuttle crashed with the last hope of knowing what Thread is and how it works in deep space, the care and feeding of dragons began to produce a distinct group of people with very different needs than the standard colony population, and some volcanic rumbles convinced everyone that it was time to abandon the original point of Landing in favor of natural cave structures on the northern continent.

Dragonsdawn, Part Three: Content Notes: Population with Idiot Ball

We have a timestamp! 11.18.08 Pern. Which means that the entirety of Part Two took place over seven months. Eight years of inaction, basically, and then seven months of furious action. That makes no sense.

This part begins with Telgar and assistants examining a very large cave system that looks like it can house several hundred chambers, as well as provide air vents, fresh water, and geothermal heating. With a burned-out volcano caldera nearby to house the dragons and their humans, pasture land close to surface caves, and stone that can be used to seal the place up and turn it into “an impregnable fort.” Welcome to the future Fort Hold and Weyr, everyone, which will be built in the caves where Sallah and Tarvi first made love. Lest we spend too much time there, the narrative shifts over to Sorka waking up to both a hum and pain, which she deduces are related, and calls for the midwife, Greta. Who arrives almost as soon as she’s asked for, having properly read the summoning fair of dragonets flying past her window. Sorka is interested that Faranth picked up on an unconscious preference as to which midwife she would like attending her birth, but she can’t pursue the thought much because the pains of labor being her back to being focused on the body. Which has the side effect of agitating Faranth. An epidural calms Faranth by taking away Sorka’s contraction pains, and a little walking around gets her into the next phase.

Sorka’s water burst then, and outside the humming went up a few notes and deepened in intensity.
“I think I’d better check you, Sorka,” Greta said.
Sean stared at her. “Do you deliver to dragonsong?”
Greta gave a low chuckle. “They’ve an instinct for birth, Sean, and I know you vets have been aware of it, too. Let’s get her back to the bed.”

Um, Landing has known about this particular dragonet trait for the majority of this book. There’s no real reason for anyone to be skeptical at anyone who can take those signals and interpret them. Especially not you, Sean.

Sorka’s labor goes without complications, and she gives birth to a son, with very red hair. Then the narrative goes a little bit farther into the future, with Sean’s impatience at not getting to ride the dragons yet. And the news that Wind Blossom is still running the Ping program, although with much less success – her first four attempts have produced no viable eggs. Sean doesn’t have much faith in Wind Blossom, and Paul Benden is anxious about whether or not the current crop can perform according to the specifications.

It also turns out the dragons need both space and distance from Landing so as to be good neighbors, so on the way back from a hunting trip, Sean and Carenath both decide to buck the program a bit and take a short mounted flight.

It was also not the time for second thoughts. He took a compulsive hold with legs made strong from years of riding and shoved his buttocks as deeply into the natural saddle [between two neck ridges] as he could.
“Let’s fly, Carenath. Let’s do it now!”
We will fly, Carenath said with ineffable calm. He tilted forward off the ridge.
Despite years of staying astride bucking horses, sliding horses, and jumping horses, the sensation that Sean Connell experienced in that seemingly endless moment was totally different and completely new. A brief memory of a girl’s voice urging him to think of Spacer Yves flitted through his move. He was falling through space again. A very short space. What sort of a nerd-brain was he to have attempted this?
Faranth wants to know what we are doing, Carenath said calmly.
Before Sean’s staggered mind registered the query, Carenath’s wings had finished their downstroke and they were rising. Sean felt the sudden return of gravity, felt Carenath’s neck under him, felt the weight and the return of the confidence that had been totally in abeyance during the endless-seeming initial drop.

Sean and Carenath fly around a bit, and while Carenath is quite sure he won’t dump Sean, Sean realizes the need for something to keep him firmly attached to the dragon. Sorka tells them both they need to get down right now, even though Carenath doesn’t want to. After reassuring all the dragon riders that assembled quickly after his demonstration that their dragons can fly, Sean sketches out the kind of safety gear they’re going to need to stay firmly seated on the dragons, as well as the need for glasses to protect the eyes from the wind.

Sean is a little less exuberant when called before the council of Landing to account for his reckless behavior, even though it now proves that bronze dragons, at least, can fly at just about a year old, and that the dragons should start having their own clutches at three years of age. Cherry Duff is not happy about the timetable, but everyone else accepts the requirements for flying gear (tanned hide and plastics goggles) and produces them for flight training to start ten days afterward.

The next scene opens with something that continues to have me question the intelligence of the residents of Pern. Beyond all the things that have already been pointed out in the comments all along the way.

Landing had grown accustomed over the past year and a half to the grumblings and rumblings underfoot. In the morning of the second day of the fourth month of their ninth spring on Pern, early risers sleepily noted the curl of smoke, and the significance did not register.
Sean and Sorka, emerging from their cave with Carenath and Faranth, also noticed it.
Why does the mountain smoke? Faranth wanted to know.
“The mountain what?” Sorka demanded, waking up enough to absorb her dragon’s words. “Jays, Sean, look!”
Sean gave a long hard look. “It’s not Garben. It’s Picchu Peak. Patrice de Broglie was wrong! Or was he?”

No, I don’t think people are going to be like “Oh, huh. That volcano that we thought was dormant has started to smoke. Clearly this isn’t important enough or weird enough to make any sort of impact on our brains. Especially not since the ground has been shaking regularly for the last 18 months.” That kind of ignorance of natural disaster impending only happens because the plot demands it. Landing has Thread to deal with already, so I would have thought they would be extra-sensitive to extra disaster incoming. Landing should be on really high alert that they’re going to end up toast before they have the opportunity to get everything out of the path of the volcano. Because Pompeii is hopefully still in their history. But they’ll spend three more days before the council convenes to talk about the increased volcanic activity. In the meantime, Wind Blossom’s fifth attempt at a clutch hatches, but turn out to be afraid of light, signaling them as the ancestors to the watch-whers that guard places at night, and Sean is unsure on how to teach the dragons to teleport, even as they have taught the dragons to chew the phosphine rock that will produce fire to char Thread.

Cherry Duff, magistrate and vox populi for this session, is very concerned about the volcano, but is able to successfully follow the thought of “Landing has to move” to “and there’s a place waiting for us, isn’t there?”, stealing the thunder of Benden and Boll and getting to see the announcement that will talk about the move and the logistics thereof. Cherry moves on to the fighting power of the still maturing dragons and is reassured that everything is progressing according to plan, especially in light of Wind Blossom’s inability to reproduce Kitti Ping’s work. There’s also a report from Telgar on the progress of construction of the fort hold and associated weyr. The only thing that could get in the way would be if the volcano decided it didn’t like their timetables and fired off prematurely.

Now that I look at it, it seems like Landing and its administrators under-react to problems, not actually treating them with the respect they deserve to have. Thread might have been the only one that got proper panic, but only after seeing what it did. Avril, Ted, the volcano, Nabol’s crash, all of those things seem to catch the administrators by surprise. I’d believe it a bit more if Landing had already transitioned to the lower-tech society they were aiming for, but there’s no indication that this has happened in any way, and so everyone should be equipped with sufficient technology to try and anticipate these actions. 18 months of rumbles is more than enough time to figure out the plan of pulling up stakes and getting the fuck out and preparing for it to happen at the first sign that things are getting worse. Like a plume of smoke from a volcano that was thought dead.

Next time, maybe the exodus actually begins?

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13 thoughts on “Dragonsdawn: Pulling Up Stakes

  1. genesistrine August 18, 2016 at 2:41 pm

    Sooo… gunners falling out of sleds isn’t worth inventing seatbelts for, but dragonriding is?

    Wind Blossom’s fifth attempt at a clutch hatches, but turn out to be afraid of light, signaling them as the ancestors to the watch-whers that guard places at night

    Riiight. And people are going to bring these failed tries at dragons along on a panicked exodus when the volcano inevitably blows up because….

    Except they’re going to have to leave some behind, because there are wild wher variants in the Ninth Pass South Continent. Why can’t whers just be a native creature?

  2. Firedrake August 18, 2016 at 3:35 pm

    Yeah, after all, fire-lizards didn’t have to be invented by the Damaged Genius™, they were already there.

  3. genesistrine August 19, 2016 at 1:18 am

    And it makes the ecology of Pern even more weirdly sparse. It has fire lizards, wherries, tunnel snakes, grubs and fish. And that’s it. It has plains of grass and forests with no native grazers or browsers; rivers with no equivalent to hippos and crocodiles. The only large predator seems to be the wherry, but what do they eat when they’re not trying to attack humans?

    AMC may be trying for the implication that anything that can’t fly, teleport or run like hell isn’t going to survive Thread, but in that case the plant life’s going to be in severe trouble with nothing to eat it back, breathe out CO2 for it, fertilise it, spread its seeds etc etc.

  4. Michael I August 19, 2016 at 6:10 am

    @genesistrine “plant life’s going to be in severe trouble with nothing to eat it back, breathe out CO2 for it, fertilise it, spread its seeds etc etc.”

    I don’t think plant life is necessarily an issue. Lots of plants don’t NEED any sort of animals for fertilization or dispersal. And microbes will do just fine as a source of CO2 and a way to prevent overgrowth (overgrowth will also be prevented by competition between plants).

    There is still the question of whether Thread alone is enough to close off what would seem to be an open ecological niche.

  5. Firedrake August 19, 2016 at 6:40 am

    genesistrine: a fix could extend the timescale. Have fire-lizards, whers, and all the rest native to Pern, including a pre-dragon that’s flying and fire-breathing but not big enough to ride. Threadfall happens, and they fight the full pass successfully with sleds, but they aren’t going to have sleds next time round (power supplies, maintenance in general). So they start breeding (and engineering) the pre-dragons up into dragons.

    This does present the problem that you can’t have the same viewpoint characters all the way through.

  6. genesistrine August 19, 2016 at 3:37 pm

    @Michael I: OK, fair enough as to the plant stuff, but as to whether Thread would be enough to close off that ecological niche, we already know it’s not from Dragondrums – Ninth Pass Southern has wild horse herds at the very least; we know that from Piemur finding Stupid when his mother was killed.

    (I might believe herdbeasts brought for food had escaped from Southern and been left to run wild, but I can’t see that happening with horses.)

    @Firedrake: I love the thought of Ruth being a throwback rather than a runt! But I think any pre-dragon would have to be a wher, otherwise where are they in the later Passes? All of them couldn’t have been engineered into dragons; there must have been some left.

    As for changing viewpoint characters I don’t see that as a major issue. Family sagas are a thing, after all, and a family saga-type narrative dealing with settling a planet, dealing with a set of horrific foulups and accidents and keeping everything together enough to plan for the future of their descendants could be really cool.

  7. Lodrelhai (@Lodrelhai) August 21, 2016 at 3:03 am

    I see chewing firestone mentioned here, but I’m not sure if this is the point I remember, so possible spoilers. But if it IS the point I remember, it turns out here the queens can’t chew firestone. Unlike firelizards, gold dragons produce no flame and only barf up the chewed mess after a while. This is attributed again to Kitti Ping’s “logical” sorting of queens as mothers who will be at home caring for the clutches, despite that the hatchlings will be tended by their riders and that firelizard queens are very active in defending their territory from invaders and Thread.

    I suppose if Kitti adjusted golds so they could not produce flames, she also adjusted greens so they could not produce clutches, which somewhat answers the questions raised earlier about why golds had this gender bias against being fighters but greens do not – greens aren’t “real” females. How she programmed in their gender-selectivity in Impressing I have no idea – I seem to remember a first-Pass short story that said early greenriders were frequently female, but there was encouragement for gay men to Impress them as well, with the implication this would lead to the eventual situation that only men were Searched for anything but a gold. I’ve gotten into a few discussions on the possibility that being a gay man greatly increases your chance of getting Searched, since greens make up half of a Weyr’s fighting force (not to mention that riders of every male dragon have to be bi or otherwise open to the possibility of taking part in same-sex encounters). So the ratio of gay to straight men in a Weyr should be much, much higher than in an average population.

    I’d also be interested in an alternate take on the gender-specific Impression – if in the early years it was hard-coded into greens as well, would that indicate that Mirrim is trans or gender-fluid in some way? Could a trans woman be Searched and Impress a queen? Combining the two possibilities, so sexual orientation can/does affect Impression odds, would most Searched lesbians end up with bronzes, since they are the only dragon to generally mate with the golds and their female (whether cis or trans) riders? Would blues, who are unlikely to win mating flights against the stronger browns and bronzes, more often Impress asexual riders of any gender? Or could the rider’s sexual preferences influence their dragon so that a dragon with an asexual rider rarely rises to mate, even if the dragon is a bronze?

    On a different tack, I seem to remember way back in Dragonflight they believed chewing firestone was why greens were sterile, so golds weren’t even allowed to try. But it never comes up again and I kind of wish it would. When did golds being unable to produce flames become part of the lost knowledge of the Ancients? How was that idea challenged when firelizards were rediscovered in Ninth Pass, and people saw that both gold and green firelizards chewed firestone but laid clutches? How did the Ninth Pass dragonriders – particularly queen- and greenriders – feel when they found out the firestone and breeding restrictions on their dragons had nothing to do with one affecting the other, but was the purposeful manipulation of one woman with very strict views on social roles?

  8. Digitalis August 21, 2016 at 11:34 am

    (I don’t actually remember when the firestone conversation happens either, so I’m sorry if this ends up having spoilers.)

    @Lodrelhai: The question of whether or not greens are sterile is not very clear, and Anne McCaffrey gave different answers at different times, so it has been a subject of debate in the fandom for decades. It does finally get a concrete answer in the latest books, though.

    If you think about it, Kitti programming the greens to Impress women in the first place doesn’t make much sense either. If she’s so traditional about gender roles, why is she apparently okay with lots of women fighting Thread directly on greens? Wouldn’t that be a “man’s job” while the women stay home and raise the kids? According to the books though, green dragons Impressing men had more to do with a lack of female candidates than anything involving sexuality, originally. I don’t see why a woman’s sexuality would affect her Impression of a green. (I mean…all the male dragons are ridden by men. A fair percentage of which will NOT be gay, according to statistics.) A Pern fan-site put together a really interesting and coherent theory about how dragons choose their riders which makes more sense than anything McCaffrey tried to say: http://www.dragonchoice.com/134/impression/introduction/

    Actually, I will be very interested to read the posts for Todd McCaffrey’s books eventually, after he took over writing the series from his mother. He’s better about (mostly) dropping the most offensive aspects of Pern, but to be honest, he’s a worse writer than his mother, his plots are a mess, and the romances are creepy as hell, so I expect to see plenty of coco-whats. 😀

  9. emmy August 22, 2016 at 10:52 am

    greenriders – IIRC one of the early-pass stories had it so that originally green riders were all female, but while green dragons for whatever reason apparently don’t lay clutches they still have the urge to mate all the time, and this led to the green riders getting pregnant all the time and screwing up the flight rosters. So when someone discovered that gay men were acceptable candidates for green dragons, they began pushing hard to find more of them, in order to avoid the inconvenience of fighters on maternity leave.

    Because contraception is a sin, you know. (Never actually stated, but apparently so deeply engrained in the entire population of Pern that no one would think of that as a possible solution.)

  10. Firedrake August 23, 2016 at 9:29 am

    Reliable contraception is hard to achieve without a pharmaceutical industry. But, while I can admire a fanfic writer for spotting a problem with the world and trying to fix or explain it, it doesn’t feel right for the original author to do the same; you wrote it, you have to stand by it, and if it doesn’t fit in the modern world maybe you should move on.

  11. genesistrine August 23, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    But… going between is an abortifacient. Lessa effectively ran an abortion clinic that way, and Kylara used it as pretty much the Pernese equivalent of the morning-after pill. Were these female green riders all pro-life and going on strike when they thought they might be pregnant?

  12. Firedrake August 24, 2016 at 5:07 pm

    Oh, good point, I’d forgotten that.

    Another problem with this sort of fixfic is that it shifts the style of the setting from “this is the way things are, shut up and get on with the story” (as in the original books) to “things have changed to become this way from something more sensible”, with the implication that they could be changed back.

  13. genesistrine August 25, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    I dunno, I don’t necessarily mind “things have changed from something more sensible”, but I do object to silly reasons. And it’s not even necessary. Since Kitti Ping is obviously able to magically set dragons to do whatever she wants through all eternity and she’s a gender-essentialist, why can’t she have set greens to imprint preferentially on men?

    (Which could imply that Mirrim’s trans or genderqueer in some way, but might also imply that some dragons are capable of overcoming Ping’s programming.)

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