Dragonsdawn: Make Like A Tree and GTFO

Last time, there was birth, reckless disregard for rules that turned out okay, and a sign of life from something that the colonists really, really don’t want to be waking up. Good thing there’s someone already preparing a place for them to go when they need to bug out.

Dragonsdawn, Part Three: Content Notes: Blatant Hypocrisy, Blinkered Thinking

This segment opens with Pol being distracted from this work by Mary Tubberman.

“Please don’t turn away an old friend away unheard.”
“Mary,” Pol said kindly, “you weren’t shunned.” He shared the earpiece with Bay, who nodded in vigorous approval.
“I might as well have been.” The woman’s tone was bitter, then her voice broke on a tremulous note and both Ray [sic] and Pol could hear her weeping. “Look, Pol, something’s happened to Ted. Those creatures of his are loose. I’ve pulled down the Thread shutters, but they’re still prowling about and making awful noises.”
“Creatures? What creatures?” Pol locked glances with Bay. Beyond them, their dragonets roused from a doze and chirped in empathic anxiety.
“The beasts he’s been rearing.” Mary sounded as if she thought Pol knew what she was talking about and was being deliberately obtuse. “He-he stole some frozen in-vitros from veterinary and he used Kitti’s program on them to make them obey him, but they’re still… things. His masterpiece does nothing to stop them.” Again her bitterness was trenchant.
[…Bay and Pol agree to come help her, after finding out that Ned’s not available and neither is her first choices…]
“Sue and Chuck moved north, Mary, after that first bad rock shower from Picchu.” Bay was patient with her. The woman had a right to sound paranoid, living in seclusion as she had for so long, with an unbalanced husband and so many earthshocks and volcanic rumblings.

This does not sound like paranoia to me. This sounds like someone who is scared for their existence and is trying to get someone to help them survive. Also, there are still people within the blast zone of the volcano? What kind of person stays within that death zone with evidence that it will, in fact, try hard to kill you? (…then again, Mt. Saint Helens. And more than a few other eruptions. Although in this case, everyone can pack up and move out of the zone. So not as much “can’t” as “don’t”.) Or, if I wait a few lines, I find that Bay is ready to move northward and not deal with the ash, so premature condemnation on my part.

As it is, Bay summons Sean and Sorka to investigate what’s going on at the Tubbermans, so that everything can be kept unofficial. And spends significant amounts of time during the flight cursing and condemning Ted Tubberman for having done generic experimentation.

but for Ted Tubberman, disgruntled botanist, to tinker with ova – and he had not understood the techniques or the process – to make independent alterations was intolerable to her, both professionally and personally. Bay knew herself to be a tolerant person, friendly and considerate, but if Ted Tubberman was dead, she would be tremendously relieved. And she would not be the only one. Just thinking about the man produced symptoms of agitation and pure fury which made Bay lose her professional detachment, and that annoyed her even more. There she was on dragonback, with only the noise of the wind in her ears, with all Jordan spread below her, and she was wasting contemplative time on Ted Tubberman.

I can’t really believe that anyone that would describe themselves as knowing they are tolerant, friendly, and considerate as actually being any of those adjectives. Especially when right before this self-delusion, Bay dismisses the thought that Ted might be able to understand the Ping program based solely on his profession as a botanist. Who hold the distinction, in Terran history, of being the first people to figure out genetics and how to breed specific traits into organisms. Ted is very much qualified to understand what Kitti Ping’s program does and how one might use it, even if he’s not experienced at the actual running of it. Plus, he’s done something like this before, with the thing that Ned was reporting on earlier. The extent of what Ted was doing may be surprising, but that he was doing things should not be.

As the dragons arrive, they see a building with significant damage, as if something had burst out of it, and the dragonets sent out to scout return with pictures of a very large spotted beast, which let up a yowl when the dragonets encountered it, and something else that is bigger, but apparently silent. Mary and her three children accept an offer to be moved somewhere safer, and the youngest, Peter, asks the blunt question about whether his dad is dead, and is unimpressed by Bay’s response.

With good reason – Tubberman’s corpse is discovered inside the damaged compound, having been gnawed and mauled, but not so badly that it wasn’t clear that fangs and claws hurt him, and Tubberman’s back was broken by what killed him. Sean calls Tubberman insane for working on big predators, and the team gets to work collecting all of Ted’s notes and data, as well as finding sufficient material to cremate Ted’s body. They also collect a sample of grubs and grass to analyze and see if they can figure out how Ted made Thread-resistant things. After having seen the family off, Sean and Pol light the cremating pyre and then fly off under “yet another shower of the volcanic dust which would eventually bury Landing.” There’s going to have to be a lot of that dust to provide enough cover and stop the Thread from burrowing in and destroying everything, so that their descendants can find the preserved remains two thousand years later. While nobody can apparently force anyone to go, it’s pretty clear at this point that staying is a death sentence.

The narrative wants to stay with the Tubberman theme, as it picks up with Pol trying to break the cipher that Ted put on his research and failing frustratingly.

“Judging by the DNA/RNA, he was experimenting with felines, but I cannot imagine why. There’re already enough running wild here at Landing. Unless-” Pol broke off and pinched his lower lip nervously, grimacing as his thoughts followed uneasy paths. “We know-” He paused to bang the table in emphasis. “-that felines do not take mentasynth well. He knew that, too. Why would he repeat mistakes?”

Ted’s motivations are unclear, at this point, but given that he was an exile from Landing, big predatory animals probably works pretty well as a defense system. Cats being extremely intelligent animals, getting an empathetic or telepathic bond with them and being able to direct them would be pretty interesting as a defense troop or as a set of assistants. Or as pest control, as we find out from Tubberman’s son. Ted was directing the cheetahs that he had used the mentasynth on to hunt tunnel snakes. Ted may have been working on cats just as a way of proving himself to be the superior mind, too. We can’t ask him, though.

Wind Blossom’s watch-wher ancestors are still reviled by everyone but her, whom they adore, incidentally.

Ted working on predator cats means that the excuse of “sea feline” is now a bit more plausible, even though it turned out to be untrue. Is there anything that’s still on the list of things that need to be explicitly foreshadowed or created before we finish the book?

As everyone tries to decipher the notes on the cats and the grubs, the narrative shifts to the administrative offices, where one of the seismologists bursts in and tells Emily [spelled Emilie at first] that the big volcano that Landing is sitting in the shadow of is about to blast its top, and so everybody needs to go, NOW. Ash production has increased significantly, and continues to the point of darkening the sky in ash as everyone executes the evacuation plan already devised. Humans, animals, and technology all get herded on to the shuttles, with one away and safely and the other just barely beating the actual volcanic eruption that very swiftly buries much of Landing in hot lava. No casualties, remarkably, with everyone either safely away from the lava or holed up in the caves away from the lava. But that also means the final link to the spacecraft still in orbit will be severed, as it cannot make the journey. The dragons and their riders surreptitiously grab some sheep from the stocks to feed the dragons before Emily comes over to ask them to be airlifters of cargo to the new settlement. While discussing, one of the sled drivers is on a collision course with a dragon and rider, who avoid the collision by popping into hyperspace. And falling to return, sending the dragons and fire lizards info grief keening and the dragonriders and administration scrambling to figure out a solution so as to avoid this scenario happening again. The decision made is to start really observing and figuring out how to consistently direct the fire lizards to use their teleportation skills, so that they can then translate those skills into commanding the dragons to do the same, so that even in a startle situation, dragons and riders don’t get lost to hyperspace.

Which is actually weird, as the fire lizards startle and go somewhere without human direction. One would think that the dragons would also have a space they would reflexively go to in the instance of being startled or needing to self-preserve. So, even if the human blanks, the dragon should have a default space to go to. The more we learn about how the dragons were designed and have evolved, the more I wonder why Kitti Ping would not put basic safety protocols in place so as to protect the investment of time and materials into the dragons. Or to install a dead man switch such that the connection between dragon and human is severed in case of the death of mental damage of one of the partners. For designed and genetically manipulated organisms, there’s a significant lack of having passed the plan through the five-year-old test. (“One of my advisors will be an average five-year-old child. Any flaws in my plan that he is able to spot will be corrected before implementation.”) A world that has been deliberately built on No OSHA Compliance (which also has an entry in the Evil Overlord List, incidentally) sounds exciting to anyone who thinks they’re a protagonist, but really is just going to cause problems like the one that killed Moreta and that just killed one of this first generation of dragons. It’s even worse when you remember that dragons were meant to protect life from Thread. Designing a savior that can just as easily kill as save seems like a really dumb idea.

Returning to the plot, the dragonriders realize in fairly short order the inklings that the dragonets are visual on their teleport power, and devise an experiment to time how long it takes for the dragonets to teleport over distance. It’s pretty consistent that no matter what the distance is to teleport, it takes the dragonets eight seconds to complete the trip to whatever location they are sent to. So long as the picture sent is clear enough for the dragonet to use, anyway. To alleviate boredom, the dragonriders practice flying in formations so as to be able to pop out of hyperspace in the correct positions, ready to attack Thread. They decide three sections are best, with six as a full complement, needing three leaders – Sean, Sorka, and Dave are swiftly elected squadron leaders.

There’s also a useful comment suggesting that dragonets and dragons are likely to be very long-lived and disease resistant. If they didn’t have such a tight bond causing dragons to kill themselves, it would be possible for them to transfer their bond to another person. What a world that would be, if one could pass a dragon down through the generations, accumulating the minds and memories of an entire family of riders. Imagine if every dragonrider became a Dax, of sorts, or had the connection of the Avatar (of The Last Airbender / Korra) such that their dragons were a conduit to the past and continuity. That would be really awesome.

Eventually, Sean gets asked to have the dragons transport some Thread-sensitive equipment northward when they head that way on Benden’s request. Sean initially bristles at being treated like pack animal riders, but he quickly realizes that cooperation is better and agrees to do it, selling it to the other riders as a way of getting pictures in their head they’ll need layer to fight Thread with.

On a hunt in the morning, as he did with every other discovery, Sean accidentally finds the way to direct dragon teleportation.

“All right, Carenath,” he said, thinking ahead with relief to the last loads at Landing. “Let’s get back to the tower as fast as we can and get this over with!”
He raised his arm and dropped it.
The next instant he and Carenath were enveloped in a blackness that was so absolute that Sean was certain his heart had stopped.
I will not panic! he thought fiercely, pushing the memory of Marco and Duluth to the back of his mind. His heart raced, and he was aware of the stunning cold of the black nothingness.
I am here!
Where are we, Carenath?
But Sean already knew. They were between. He focused intense thoughts on their destination, remembering the curious ash-filtered light around Landing, the shape of the meteorology tower, the flatness of the grid beyond it, and the bundles awaiting them there.
We are at the tower, Carenath said, somewhat surprised. And in that instant, they were. Sean cried aloud with relief.
[…Having seen it done, the rest of the wing materializes behind Sean, everyone arriving safely…]
It was easy, you know. You thought me where to go, and I went. You did tell me to go as fast as possible. Carenath’s tone was mildly reproving.
“If that is all there is to it, what took us so long?” Otto asked.
“Anyone got a spare set of pants?” Nora asked plaintively. “I was so scared I wet myself. But we did it!”
Catherine giggled. The sound brought Sean to his senses, and he allowed himself to smile.
“We were ready to try!” he said, shrugging nonchalantly as he unbuckled his riding straps. Then he realized that he, too, would need to find a clean pair of pants.

Pants-wetting terror aside, yet another accidental discovery for Sean Connell. Which seems to be a major theme in Pern – rarely is anything accomplished through dogged pursuit and methodical experimentation and refinement leading to a breakthrough – instead we have geniuses and accidents of fortune that advance knowledge or restore list knowledge back to the people that are there. The scientific method is another casualty to the lost knowledge of Pern. Unless perhaps Fandarel has rediscovered this in the Ninth Pass in working on his distance writer.

This is a good break point for us, with a good thing happening to give hope to the colony after a sequence of disasters. I’m pretty sure, however, that this happy point is a blip and we’ll be back to bad things soon enough. After all, Stev Kimmer is still out there and hasn’t had his attempt at revenge yet, and we’re getting close to the end of the book.

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18 thoughts on “Dragonsdawn: Make Like A Tree and GTFO

  1. genesistrine August 25, 2016 at 2:16 pm

    I… cheetahs? To hunt burrowing snakes?

    Every time I think this damn book has hit the zenith of stupid it outdoes itself.

    Is there anything that’s still on the list of things that need to be explicitly foreshadowed or created before we finish the book?

    There’s Ruth!

    For designed and genetically manipulated organisms, there’s a significant lack of having passed the plan through the five-year-old test.

    Which is only a problem because Ping apparently has the power to dictate every single nuance of behaviour and ability in dragons. It’d be perfectly reasonable to have unforeseen consequences to inflating fire lizards to dragon size and boosting their telepathy, but for some reason AMC can’t seem to bear the thought of things Just Happening – everything has to be explicitly because A Wizard Did It.

  2. depizan August 25, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    “Mary,” Pol said kindly, “you weren’t shunned.”

    Given the way this colony is set up, yes, effectively, she was.

    he stole some frozen in-vitros from veterinary and he used Kitti’s program on them to make them obey him,

    Wow, much security. Very safe.

    How is this guy, who has been SHUNNED, and shouldn’t even be in these places, popping into “veterinary” and stealing…wait…why did the colony even have wild cat embryos for him to steal? What the fuck? *boggles* Were these native species they experimented on? (Why?) Did they bring them from Earth/wherever? (Why???)

    How did he get Kitti’s program?

    Sean calls Tubberman insane for working on big predators

    He got the ova from the colony veterinary! What the hell were THEY doing with them!?

    Humans, animals, and technology all get herded on to the shuttles, with one away and safely and the other just barely beating the actual volcanic eruption that very swiftly buries much of Landing in hot lava

    WHY? Why did they wait this long? Usually this sort of thing happens because people are taken by surprise or because they have no where to go. (Or the eruption exceeds what was expected.) But these guys just kind of chill in the eruption path for no apparent reason.

    They…they made teleporting dragons before they studied the fire lizards’ teleportation? What if it had turned out that humans couldn’t survive the teleport? Do any of these people think anything through?

  3. Michael I August 25, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    @genestrine

    It’d be perfectly reasonable to have unforeseen consequences to inflating fire lizards to dragon size and boosting their telepathy

    In fact, it’d be fairly surprising if there weren’t any unforeseen consequences.

  4. Michael I August 25, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    Second paragraph should be in regular text, as it is not a quote.

  5. Digitalis August 25, 2016 at 4:51 pm

    Not just cheetahs even. In other books there are felines implied to be lions, as well as an offhand remark about a striped fur hide, so…tigers too, I guess? Just because? It’s not clear why he didn’t just use terriers and the like instead; we already know they brought dogs to Pern, and they’re already bred to hunt burrowing animals.

    On that note, did the colonists even bother to bring regular housecats with them? Those would be far more useful than wild big cats, yet I don’t remember any mention of them.

    So, anyway, I’m enjoying the reviews. I’ll be interested to see what happens when you get to Todd McCaffrey’s books, if you get that far. He (mostly) got rid of the most offensive aspects of Pern, except for the creepy age differences between characters, but overall he’s a worse writer than his mother.

  6. WanderingUndine August 25, 2016 at 5:59 pm

    Now we can blame Ted for the feline-borne plague, too. Whoo.

    *Duluth* was the first to into frigid darkness forever? What do you have against Minnesota, Anne?

  7. depizan August 25, 2016 at 7:25 pm

    Not just cheetahs even. In other books there are felines implied to be lions, as well as an offhand remark about a striped fur hide, so…tigers too, I guess? Just because?

    … Okay, room on a spacecraft is at a premium. I know these were just fertilized zygotes or some such, but, still, why would they waste any space on bringing random wild animals? I could understand bringing pet type animals just because, but not, might eat your face animals. *continues to boggle*

  8. WanderingUndine August 25, 2016 at 9:45 pm

    It’s not a rogue scientist’s creation unless it kills its creator, right?

    *thinks*

    Er, actually not. From Frankenstein to Crake, many such scientists were *not* killed thusly. Still, it feels nicely trope-y somehow.

  9. Firedrake August 26, 2016 at 2:14 pm

    To me it feels kind of checklisty. “Oh, right, I had a big cat of some sort in Moreta. I’d better explain why there’s one here.”

    I suppose the panicked dragon might experience stress atavism and head for somewhere too small to hold it safely. But, hey, dragons can compensate for velocity, they can get to the ships if there’s a big enough space for them!

    So when you Impress a dragon you condemn it to a premature death. Whoo humans.

  10. Nothing August 26, 2016 at 6:23 pm

    @Digitalis, re: other felines: didn’t a quote or a mention in this post refer to felines overrunning Landing? Presumably those would be your housecats. Not sure if any exist on the northern continent, but I seem to remember in Dolphins of Pern or some other later book a young girl has a pet feline (small) in the South. It’s barely mentioned.

  11. Nothing August 26, 2016 at 6:31 pm

    @Firedrake: except that Holth is pretty clearly aging/elderly in Moreta. McCaffrey was not good with consistency. Dragons age with their riders. Old dragons even seem to be arthritic. Maybe they get that way from empathy; that is unclear. But they don’t seem likely to far outlive their riders even if they could survive without the bond. The “wasteful death” though… It’s intentional. Can’t remember when/where I read it, but apparently the reasoning is that dragons are huge predators and you definitely do not want them running around uncontrolled. It makes more sense when you consider that hatchlings will freely kill humans prior to Impression, and even afterward it seems possible a dragon could be provoked or ordered to kill a human. But generally they don’t, probably because you don’t want your giant firebreathing predatory pets to acquire a taste for humans, such as yourself, your friends, and your family. For all that, Pernese dragons are ridiculously docile for large predators.

  12. Digitalis August 26, 2016 at 7:08 pm

    @Nothing: Huh. I thought that that was talking about more big cats, but rereading the quote, yeah, it makes more sense if whoever was speaking was referring to housecats and not Tubberman’s cats. Wish the characters would just call them cats in that case, instead of muddying the waters calling everything a ‘feline.’ (Of course, the language and word choices in the books could be a whole other rant…)

  13. emmy August 27, 2016 at 9:26 am

    WHY? Why did they wait this long? Usually this sort of thing happens because people are taken by surprise or because they have no where to go.

    IIRC everyone was expecting a particular volcano to blow and keeping an eye on it and it was in danger-zone but not at imminent-blow levels, and then ALL OF A SUDDEN a completely different nearby volcano started giving “imminent eruption” signals and caused the last-minute panic.

    Awfully trusting of them to hang around waiting for it to get more dangerous before running though.

    I think the justification for lost-in-between was intended to be that the dragon has the instincts but the human partner doesn’t, and so during that first accidental teleport, the human partner freaked out and confused the dragon badly enough that it never came back from between. But yes, you’d think they ought to do some basic tests on teleporting BEFORE breeding big dragons!

  14. WanderingUndine August 27, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    Fittingly for this section’s timing, this week is the anniversary of Mount Krakatoa’s cataclysmic 1883 eruption: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/1883_eruption_of_Krakatoa

  15. Silver Adept August 27, 2016 at 5:40 pm

    I’d love to say the timing on Krakatoa was intentional, but no, lucky coincidence.

    And yes, the presence of large cats in the loadout for the colony ships doesn’t make any sense. Makes me think that wherever the colonists were planning on going, they intended to wipe out all the indigenous life and replace it with what was familiar to them. It just happened to be that Thread has other ideas about that. Maybe small ones to hunt pests and tunnel snakes, but not the big ones.

    The issues involved in how Ted got the program and the ova suggests that maybe Ned or Mary went and got them for him somehow and brought it back. Or someone else did – maybe that’s what Stev has been up to all this time – trying to seed chaos in the colony in one way or another.

    But at least we don’t have to think too hard about how the spacefaring civilization managed to get to the feudal anti-science world of the Ninth Pass – they were already may of the way there and actively trying to shed the rest.

    So far, none of the villainous people in this book have made a lick of sense to their plans or their motivations.

  16. depizan August 27, 2016 at 6:47 pm

    And the supposedly non-villainous people aren’t doing a whole lot better.

  17. Wingsrising August 28, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    Even more puzzlingly, in later books in the series they make reference to there being lions on the Southern Continent. (Lions which somehow never troubled residents in earlier books.)

    Bringing housecat ova makes sense. I can even see cheetahs — I mean, there’s a long history of people keeping them as pets and hunting animals, if they weren’t so insanely hard to breed in captivity we would surely have domesticated them. But lions?!?

  18. genesistrine August 29, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    I forgot!

    Is there anything that’s still on the list of things that need to be explicitly foreshadowed or created before we finish the book?

    Names! We haven’t had a reason for the traditional shortening of dragonrider names yet and I bet that turns up before the end. And has there been a reason given for why dragon names all end in -th?

    @Firedrake: But, hey, dragons can compensate for velocity, they can get to the ships if there’s a big enough space for them!

    Bets that no-one thinks of that while they’ve got riders who can remember what the inside of the ships looks like and can visualise a jump there?

    @Nothing: hatchlings will freely kill humans prior to Impression

    But will they? The only time we see injuries and possible death is Lessa’s Impression – all the later ones seem to be pretty calm; none of the non-dragonriders in the audience are worriedly asking if their relative/co-worker/whatever’s bleeding to death or going to lose that arm or anything. And Lessa’s Impression is atypical because there’s no queen there – Nemorth’s dead. It’s a reasonable assumption from what we’re shown that the queen can control her hatchlings enough to stop them injuring candidates, or that they panic and get aggressive without her there.

    @Digitalis: Wish the characters would just call them cats in that case, instead of muddying the waters calling everything a ‘feline.’ (Of course, the language and word choices in the books could be a whole other rant…)

    Don’t get me started on the godawful word choices in the whole series! This is SF, so we must use SCIENCE WORDS! Even when they’re ridiculously imprecise and not the words any actual human being would use in any circumstances!

    Oh, that reminds me, isn’t Ted also shown to be responsible for the EUREKA MYCORRHIZA plate that F’lar and Lessa found in the first book? In spite of what it says having no relation whatsoever to his situation or anything he does?

    @Wingsrising: Bringing housecat ova makes sense. I can even see cheetahs – I mean, there’s a long history of people keeping them as pets and hunting animals, if they weren’t so insanely hard to breed in captivity we would surely have domesticated them. But lions?!?

    This could all be fixed with a more, well future-y future – they’ve got genetic engineering, so why not have genetic engineering fix the cheetah-captive-breeding issue so pet cheetahs are A Thing. Mentasynth up wild animals so people have pet giraffes and elephants and lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) and didn’t want to leave them behind when they emigrated to low-tech fetishland.

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