Dragonsdawn: A Martial Display

Last time, Landing’s evacuation timetable was accelerated by the eruption of the main volcano near Landing, and after losing one of their own, the dragonriders successfully figured out how to harness the teleportation power of their dragons. The only untested elements of Kitti Ping’s program are flamethrowing and reproduction.

Ted Tubberman died by his own creations, attempting to breed and genetically manipulate directable cheetahs as tunnel snake defense. Stev Kimmer is still around somewhere, potentially dangerous but not a priority in anyone’s mind because of the need to move and to fight Thread.

Dragonsdawn, Part Three: Content Notes:

It’s the home stretch for us! If there’s anything of ancient Pernese history still to be observed, this is it.

Which is why I’m interested that this segment opens up with Benden putting a gag order on the extent of Boll’s injuries, and even whether or not Boll will survive, when the big sled she was on suffered a severe gyro malfunction and crashed. Everyone working on the sleds and cargo haul blames themselves for the accident, and the stress of everything is only compounded by the accident.

A narrative switch has Sorka winding up to chew Sean out for having done the hyperspace hop, but the truth of how it happened stops her from unloading on him. Instead, it becomes more about training in teleportation, including the need to be able to skip around so as to avoid getting walloped by Thread, and the cargo haul assignment provides perfect cover for practicing the teleportation.

Jumping back to Fort Hold (which has acquired the majuscules by the last chapter), the aerial sled commanders are worried about their power packs for the sleds failing out, and all that Benden has to offer is a request for patience with the dragons – in five years there should be enough to be an aerial fighting force – and the news that Wind Blossom successfully hatched six more dragons. When privately with Ongola, he asks about whether the flotilla that Tillek was commanding grabbed back everything that was lost when a storm capsized nine boats – Tillek is fairly confident they will get it all back. Benden also orders that the staff assisting Wind Blossom be reassigned to other duties, as there’s not enough people now to allow for continued experimentation.

Back to dragonriders, who are about to perform their first live-fire test. Carenath chews carefully, as does Faranth, but Porth bites her tongue trying to chew up the rock, and so does Tenneth, right before Polenth burps a small and stinky flame. Carenath follows suit with a much better attempt, and Manooth charcoals a bush with his exhortation. An hour later, all the male dragons have flamed, but the golds have just thrown up after trying to eat the phosphine rock. Sorka has a sneaking suspicion she knows why…

Sorka was frowning, though, an expression unusual enough to her that Tarrie inquired as to its cause.
“I was just thinking. Kit Ping was such a traditionalist…” Sorka regarded her husband for a long moment, until he ducked his head, unable to maintain the eye contact. “All right, Sean, you know every symbol in that program. Did Kit Ping introduce a gender discrimination?”
“A what?” Tarrie asked. The other queen riders gathered close, while the young men took discreet backward steps.
“A gender inhibition…meaning the queens lay eggs, and the other colors fight!” Sorka was disgusted.
“It may just be that the queens aren’t mature enough yet,” Sean said, temporizing. “I haven’t been able to figure out some of Kit Ping’s equations. Maybe the flame production is a mature ability. I don’t know why the queens all barfed. We’ll have to ask Pol and Bay when we get to Fort. But I tell you what, there’s no reason you girls can’t use flamethrowers. With wands a bit longer, you wouldn’t singe your dragon by mistake.”
His suggestion did much to mollify the queen riders for the time being, but Sean hoped fervently that Pol and Bay could give a more acceptable verdict. Seventeen dragons made a more impressive display than seven. And he was determined to impress when the dragonriders flew into Fort Hold. The only burdens dragons should ever carry again were their riders and firestone!

And there’s the first official notation of firestone. As well as a marked shift in Sean’s attitude – we can now see where dragonriders get their opinion of Inherent Superiority from. And Sorka is also going to throw shade on Kitti Ping’s decision to make queen riders unable to chew firestone, which makes me very happy. A tradition of independent-minded queen riders should have been a thing on Pern. Except for the narrative squelching them and killing them everywhere they appear, they would have been. We’re laying the groundwork fit the social structure of Pern, right here, right now.

Another narrative flit, back to Telgar and two of his subordinates discussing with Benden and Pol that the watch-wher prototypes are excellent in caves, able to discern tunnels and pitfalls that the humans can’t.

Both he [Pol] and his eye had tried to reason with the indignant Wind Blossom when she had been requested to suspend the dragon program. Though she maintained that the emergency transfer from Landing to Fort had damaged many of the eggs in the clutch age had manipulated, Pol and Bay had seen the autopsy reports and knew the claim to be spurious. They had been lucky to hatch six live creatures.

Benden insists that the watch-whers have very controlled breeding, even in the face of knowledge that they guard doorways, can carry more than their own weight, and are basically omnivores. Which will be taken care of, apparently.

So let’s talk about Wind Blossom. The narrative and the characters have been consistently negative and distrustful of her ability to carry on the dragon program, although every time we’ve seen her at work, she is apparently working on trying to improve the program, rather than just trying to replicate it. If Kitti Ping didn’t leave detailed enough instructions on how to replicate her work, that’s Kitti’s fault, not Wind Blossom’s. Kitti was also described as guarding the knowledge she had fairly closely, so it’s possible that the Ping program has things obfuscated or deliberately left out so that others can’t actually use her instructions to replicate or adapt the program. Which would make Ted Tubberman quite smart and qualified if he created both grubs and felines from a program that has deliberate holes in it. Wind Blossom also wasn’t directly trained by the beings that used this kind of genetic power, the narrative has been pointing out every chance it gets, so her knowledge base isn’t the same as Kitti Ping’s.

That her first successes are the watch-whers, whom everyone apparently finds repulsive, doesn’t endear her to anyone, but are signs that she can do the job, as are the six viable dragons. But then there’s this:

“Tom Patrick says Wind Blossom chooses to distrust the male half of this leadership.” Paul grinned. Actually he did find the situation ludicrous, but since Wind Blossom had immured herself in her quarters until she “had a fair hearing,” he had grasped the opportunity to transfer personnel to a more productive employment. Most of them had been grateful.

This sounds like narrative justification of a prejudice that developed from a lack of confidence in Wind Blossom’s abilities. Wind Blossom may not actually know how to run a lab and keep the scientists inside happy – Kitti Ping may have been waiting on that for later, or may have been thinking that others would take over the lead of the dragon program when she passed away. The narrative is been careful only to tell us about the results of what’s going on in there and not to actually spend time inside so that we can see how the lab is being run and what setbacks are plaguing them. There are a lot of reasons why things might not be working out for Wind Blossom that aren’t actually her fault. And if most of that blame is coming from Benden and Pol, then Wind Blossom has a good reason to feel like the men have a bias against her and are looking for excuses to stop her.

After receiving a status update about the dragons from Pol, Bended asks if there are enough grubs to test their effectiveness on northern soil and receives an affirmative, before Pol asks if it’s true that Benden isn’t going to fight the whole Fall. He’s not, because they don’t have the aircraft to roast everything. Benden is also worried about logistics of power and many other things lasting to the end of the Pass.

Narrative flit to the dragonriders, who are receiving their own updates about how things are going at Fort, including Boll’s injuries, and the general idea that Thread over Fort today isn’t going to have a whole lot of defense at all. This gives Sean the opening he’s looking for, so he requisitions ten flamethrowers for the queens, pictures of the new harbor installed on Fort, and starts having the other dragons load up on firestone. The dragonriders go through a preflight check of both equipment and airspace distance, and then vault off and teleport to Fort for their inaugural fighting flight. Which is picked up on by cameras around Fort, so Ongola and Benden get to see the action as it happens. Which springs Benden to the garage to request that the sleds in service get airborne to help the dragons, and that all the cameras record as much as they can, as he hops into one of the sleds and sallies forth to assist. Then we get the actual fighting from Sean and Carenath’s perspective as they flame, dodge, reload (which needs practice) and pop in and out of hyperspace to shake off Thread that finds its way to them. After clearing the airspace above Fort, and exhausting the supplies of firestone they brought with them, Sean calls a halt.

Flit once more to Boll, receiving the news of the dragons fighting and flaming, and trying to sit up so that she can watch it herself. Flit again to the welcome home party that’s turned out for the dragonriders as they land themselves at Fort Hold. After much cheering and rejoicing, there is finally enough order to get the medics in to tend to the wounds of the dragons and their riders, while Sean takes the data of the fight and starts mentally drafting new drills and formations to maximize the effective output of the dragons and the minimization of injuries. Once patched, the seventeen riders step forward to meet with Benden, Ongola, and Keroon, each dressed in their formal military dress, standing at the top of a ramp.

They reached the ramp, and somehow the queen riders had dropped a step behind the others and Sean stood in the center. When they halted, he took a step forward and saluted. It seemed the correct thing to do. Admiral Benden, tears in his eyes, proudly returned the salute.
“Admiral Benden, sir,” said Sean, rider of bronze Carenath, “may I present the Dragonriders of Pern?”

And that’s it. No afterword, nor any major disaster to follow, and, unlike other books, it didn’t end with a Hatching.

I note with amusement that the narrative has decided to use the standard construction for dragonriders here at the end, expressing its approval and satisfaction that this set of riders are fully ready for the title.

I note with suspicion and shade that the dragonriders somehow naturally sorted themselves so that the queen riders, who participated just as much in the fighting as the others, are a step back, diminishing themselves in the formation, as if they believe in Kitti Ping’s gender segregation. I would have expected Sean and Sorka presenting together, especially with the way that Sorka was unhappy about the queen dragons being unable to chew firestone, and the way that they normally did things as a couple before the narrative started ignoring Sorka and treating her as secondary.

The last few segments have focused almost exclusively on Sean, even though Sorka was also elected as a leader. Coming off of both Moreta and Nerilka, it seems like someone slipping back into old habits. But given the construction of the book into parts, instead of explicit chapters, I wonder whether Dragonsdawn was written before Moreta and Nerilka, even though it is published afterward, or whether Dragonsdawn was constructed in the same way that Dragonflight was, by stitching together novellas and/or short stories into a whole. Because a lot of it feels like a throwback in style.

Past the end of the narrative, there is a map of the Stakes of Landing, a map and chronicle of the first twelve Threadfall locations, the dedication, acknowledgement of the assistance of a professor of reproductive biology that helped give science to the myths and a naval engineer that helped configure the patterns of how Thread falls based on piecing together what had been said about them in previous books.

Finally, the ebook version I have been using for this is clearly based on a reprint or updated version, as it lists books by Todd McCaffrey in the back matter and acknowledges the death of Anne McCaffrey in the author biography section. Your versions may differ in the back.

Next time, we take a skip forward in publication order and tag a collection of short stories all around the same time period chronicled here in Dragonsdawn, so as to avoid awkwardly spinning back to it after doing the Renegades of Pern for two books. The problem in trying to keep a coherent narrative now is that publication orders and recommended reading orders are going to start bouncing back and forth between early and later Passes.

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12 thoughts on “Dragonsdawn: A Martial Display

  1. genesistrine September 1, 2016 at 2:01 am

    The front-and-centring of Sean is interesting to contrast with History as the Ninth Pass remembers it. All they seem to remember is Faranth’s name.

    They don’t remember the names of any bronze riders, and only a couple of queen riders. In a way it’s very chivalric-ideal – lots of going on about idealised feminine figures. Gold dragons as the Feminine Ideal?

  2. Firedrake September 1, 2016 at 4:15 am

    I’ve never heard it suggested that Dragonsdawn was written out of order, and I think it likely (though of course not certain) that I would have if it had been in general discussion at the time; also, Anne was short enough of money that I don’t think she’d have sat on a spare Pern book for five years. It certainly didn’t have segments published piecemeal the way Dragonflight was. There have been elements here that felt like fixfic for Moreta…

    Wind Blossom is not a Damaged Genius, but refuses to accept this, so her narrative role is to be Wrong.

    As far as I remember, this book was mildly divisive; people who read widely in SF and fantasy tended to be put off by it, and started falling away from the series, while dedicated Pern fans (of whom there were quite a lot) stuck with it. (Moreta started this process, but this and the next few pushed it further.)

  3. emmy September 1, 2016 at 5:52 am

    I’d be interested to hear any more details on how/why it was divisive, if you remember. I didn’t have any actual contact with fandom back then.

  4. WanderingUndine September 1, 2016 at 7:09 am

    “majuscules”? *looks it up* I just learned a word.

    Reading in chronological vs. publishing order can really matter. I read Dragonsdawn first and then wondered why chronologically-later books contradicted what it seemed to have established. The truth was the reverse, of course.

    Cocowhat count for Dragonsdawn: 6

    Fewer cocowhats than Dragonquest, Moreta, or The White Dragon; more than the rest.

  5. Firedrake September 1, 2016 at 7:57 am

    emmy, I really didn’t mean to imply anything massive – just, when it was the original books up to about The White Dragon, it was quite usual to be a general SF/fantasy fan who liked Pern as well as lots of other things. As the later ones came out, there was a general feeling that Pern had been rather overdone, so wide readers tended to stop buying new Pern books (they’d go and read something else instead), whereas Pern fans kept on with it. Liking new Pern was something people felt faintly embarrassed to admit to.

    (Usual provisos – this is my own experience on the fringes of fandom in the UK, and what I heard about from other places, and it may have been completely different elsewhere.)

  6. genesistrine September 1, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    @Firedrake: Personally, as one of the SF readers who gave up on Pern then, rather than saying it’s because Pern was rather overdone I’d say it’s because Dawn is bad science fiction. None of the science works, the plotting is perfunctory at best and the characters range from stupid to actively unpleasant.

    The previous books were light enough on the actual science that it didn’t matter – when it’s fantasy-with-science-words you can get away with a lot more; look at Star Wars. But when you’re trying to do Science for people who like Sciency Stuff you’ve got to have more of an idea of how it works than AMC seems to.

    And it doesn’t help that the characters are uninvolving at the very best. (OK, IMHO, but I’ll be astonished if anyone steps up to defend any of them. Except possibly Avril, who deserves a better book to be a villain in.) The earlier books at least had characters you could like, or sympathise with, or enjoy watching.

  7. depizan September 1, 2016 at 4:23 pm

    all the male dragons have flamed, but the golds have just thrown up after trying to eat the phosphine rock

    Wait, weren’t there female green dragons a chapter or two ago? With female riders?

    Benden insists that the watch-whers have very controlled breeding

    Simply because they’re ugly? Everything we know about them says that they’re super freaking useful, especially now that people are going to be living in caves. Why is this guy in charge of anything?

    I continue to boggle at the fact that these people managed to survive long enough for the other books to exist.

    Most of them had been grateful.

    Most is not the same as all.

    On the subject of Wind Blossom and the genetic engineering lot – they’re banking the colony’s survival on genetically engineered creatures. Why are they so eager to alienate the remaining people who have knowledge of genetic engineering? Especially when it doesn’t sound like they have enough dragons yet to address the problems of in-breeding.

  8. Digitalis September 1, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    The first clutch just had gold, bronze and brown dragons. Blues and greens weren’t hatched until the first golds started to mate. But yes, greens it turns out Impress female riders in these early years, despite Kitti Ping being such a traditionalist that she altered the golds to not chew firestone so they’d stay home and have babies. Human females can make up half of the high-risk fighting force and be just fine, but the giant lizards must conform to strict gender roles.

  9. Wingsrising September 1, 2016 at 10:47 pm

    “The only burdens dragons should ever carry again were their riders and firestone!”

    An attitude that annoys me greatly in the later books — that lowly blues and greens might do the most obvious non-Threadfighting work for dragons to do, transporting goods and people, but browns and bronzes and queens are above such menial labor. Rather, they’re apparently supposed to laze in the sun while their riders work at post-Thread jobs that absolutely do not require giant carnivorous flying lizards, so that they can dump massive amounts of meat down said lizard’s throats for… what, exactly?

    It makes no sense whatsoever. Seriously, no pre-industrial society is going to keep an entire planet’s worth of giant carnivorous flying lizards around just for the hey of it.

  10. genesistrine September 2, 2016 at 12:32 am

    I’ve just noticed one hilarious possible reason why AMC cut the story off there. 10 queen dragons and 7 non-queens = compulsory poly! Probably involving protagonists since of course Sean has the bestest bronze!

  11. boutet September 2, 2016 at 2:31 pm

    I keep amusing myself by replacing “Sean” with “S’n” since there aren’t any extra vowel sounds to remove to give him the later-time-period-appropriate rider name. It occurs to me now that it must be awkward for single-syllable-named people to become riders.

  12. beappleby September 5, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    I want to recommend a fanfic called “Dragondays” that is canon, as far as I’m concerned, following the first dragonriders as they begin to experience, and have to deal with, mating flights. Obviously it gets uncomfortable at times, but it is VERY good – all of her other writing is good too.
    http://archiveofourown.org/works/620538/chapters/1119761

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