The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall: The Dolphins’ Bell: Full Stop

Last time, the flotilla of ships carrying supplies from Landing navigated their way toward their destination. The worst and deepest-water travel is yet to come, and the crews haven’t yet field-tested their recent decision to provide plastic helmets to everybody to protect them from Thread while they wait out any Falls that happen on the journey.

The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall: The Dolphins’ Bell: Content Notes: Reckless Behavior

The ships get underway again at this point, with the bigger ships eventually outdistancing the smaller ones on the way. Tillek continues to tell stories, thinking that he enjoys telling Theo because she listens. There’s a snark possible here about young women being forced to listen to old men talk, but the narrative told us earlier that Theo likes hearing Tillek’s stories. This time, the tale is of refugees from Asian nations sailing away from war on whatever they could get to float. Emergencies keep calling Theo away before Jim can say too much, and then Tillek and Keroon both notice that there’s going to be Thread in their vicinity and decide that now is a good time to test the safety equipment, since they’re only going to be exposed for about 30 minutes. Everybody jumps into the water to see whether or not it’s going to work. To pass the time, Tillek asks Theo whether she liked being a pilot more than a dolphineer (no), and whether she wanted to be a dragonrider (no, because she felt too old). When Tillek mentions that she’s not old, she points out that he’s not exactly young. He’s in his fifties, and she’s in her twenties, so clearly he’s just old.

Thread passes without incident or damage, so the new helmets appear to be working, and Tillek thinks that he’s really enjoying Theo’s company.

She was a sort of…comfortable person. He grinned again. That was not the sort of compliment a woman would appreciate.

I still don’t think you know what women want, Jim. Some people might take comfortable as a compliment for good friendship. Maybe not if you’re trying for something more than that, but that kind if thing requires reciprocation and mutual interest.

The next day produces a sudden tropical storm that lightning-blasts his ship’s main mast and throws lots of waves at the ship that threaten to capsize it, roll a few of the smaller boats, and generally wreck and sink the cargo that was on board all of the ships. Once the storm is gone, Jim has a broken arm, just about everyone else has injuries, and Fort sends out sleds to collect the severely injured and transport them ahead. Nobody is dead immediately, although some have life-threatening injuries and conditions, and the rescue of the cargo proceeds as much as possible, so as to get it up on the beach and beyond the tide lines. Eventually the medics catch up to him and knock him out with a hypospray (yay, technology), remarking that he really doesn’t know when to take a break.

When he returns to consciousness, he’s in a makeshift shelter with Theo, both of whom are supposed to be resting and relaxing, and while Theo calls for food, Tillek has to get up and see what’s going on, which only proves to everyone that he has to recover, which apparently means staying put, because Theo’s dolphin refuses to work with someone else, and Benden suggested that Tillek would have problems with anyone trying to sail his ship. (In context, the shuttle carrying Emily Boll has crashed and she is now recovering from her injuries.) So they both get escorted to Tillek’s ship and he is set to the supervisory role while another captain does the tasks of assigning people to recovery efforts and reloading the cargo the dolphins retrieve. He enjoys Theo’s company, does some of the cooking, and then, several days later, has both a communication from the other captain and from the dolphin that another strong storm is coming, so Theo and he make proper preparations against a new storm. The storm itself catches them a little before they have fully prepared themselves for rolling decks.

Just as she reached the cabin, the Cross pitched again and Theo fell against him. Instinctively, he grabbed and held her close, a lifetime of experience helping him to balance them both against the erratic movement. She wrapped her left arm about his waist, hugging herself to him. He could feel her trembling and the smoothness of her skin against his, and he tightened his arm, surprised by a number of conflicting and long-forgotten emotions.
“It won’t be as bad a blow as the other one,” he said to reassure her. Though why Theo would need reassurance…
“I’m not scared, you iggerant old fool,” she said in a taut voice. Switching her left arm to around his neck, she hauled his head down to hers and kissed him so thoroughly that he lost his balance and they both tumbled into the cabin as the Cross pitched them forward. Nor would Theo let go of him even after they had fallen across one of the smaller bunks.
“Your legs? Your arm,” Jim began without lessening the pressure of his arm around her. “I’d hurt you…”
“There are ways, damn it, Jim Tillek, there are ways!”
Despite the rolling and pitching of the Cross, which sometimes worked to their advantage, he discovered that indeed there were ways and very little hurting. In fact, Jim decided that the next hour could be termed therapeutic – among other adjectives that he had no occasion to employ for too long a time.

The mechanics of having sex on a moving ship cause a bit of a headtilt, even before one then adds into the situation the various injuries and recovering broken bones that would add to the difficulty of finding a position and avoiding grabbing or landing on something that can’t take the pressure or the weight. I’m really not sure how the two of them could have had sex without one of them crying out in pain.

But at least there was something that passed for consent between them.

The next morning, Tillek and Theo are both cleared for light duty, which seems to be deciphering bar codes on the cargo the dolphins bring back. And spending pleasant evenings with each other, until a dolphin gives birth (Carolina gives birth to Atlanta), the new masts are put in place on Tillek’s ship, and Benden recounts the first flying of the Dragonriders of Pern, which Benden found an amusingly impudent title and not so amusingly recounts the demands Sean made for medical supplies before he would meet with Benden about anything.

After that, the voyage begins again, with repaired and reloaded ships, making the continental crossing without incident, finding places to store all the ships near Fort, and then discussing with Theo about what the future holds.

“A honeymoon?” And Theo giggled.
He gave her a quick hug. “Then next year…”
“There’ll be three of us, Jim…”
He pushed himself up to look down at her.” You don’t mean…”
She laughed in great delight at his surprise. “Told you you weren’t beyond it, man. Thought I might be, but seems I got in under the wire.”
At that point, he forgot what other plans he had intended to discuss with her and knew that his decision to harbor the Cross was for the best possible reason.

There’s a trend in Pern stories to end the narratives on births or pregnancies, which I think is supposed to be a sign of hope or progress or some other positive thing, especially following the often-preventable disaster or accident that precedes it. It’s not quite a requirement for a happily ever after, but it does seem like babies is the go-to ending for these stories.

And if it ended here, there would be a pretty big WTF about the bell that was left behind in Monaco Bay. After all, the story is titled “The Dolphins’ Bell”, so something should happen, and in the last paragraph, there’s the sound of a bell and the happy sounds of the dolphins that now have a bell to ring again. It’s not the actual bell from Monaco Bay, but another one that came on one of the other ships. Which suggests the angst and woe over the Monaco Bay bell was…misplaced at best, if everyone knew there was another bell in storage. As a symbol, which is how it was described as everyone left, it has a little more weight, but essentially this story has almost nothing to do with dolphin bells. Which makes it a very curious title to have – something like “Second Crossing” would have been better, so that when it gets mentioned in the story, it’s also a title drop and a call forward.

So that’s two stories down, and three more to go. Next week, we’ll check in with the clan that produced Sorka and her many siblings.


13 thoughts on “The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall: The Dolphins’ Bell: Full Stop

  1. Firedrake September 22, 2016 at 3:09 am

    Funny how often SF that calls back to Earth history mentions something from that author’s time. (“Boat people” were a big part of the news in the 1970s, in the UK at least.)

    Apparently the only compliment a woman wants is to be told she’s beautiful.

  2. WanderingUndine September 22, 2016 at 6:26 pm

    I don’t remember enough about this story to say whether it gets anything wrong about dolphin biology, apart from the obvious Mentasynth stuff. Maybe I’ll notice something in The Dolphins of Pern, though I’m not sure if I’ve read it before.

    Babies Ever After is a well-worn trope, but I don’t generally mind it much. I do get annoyed that so many Pern stories (and much of fantasy, and other fiction genres) end with romances. I’m more OK with it in this particular case because of Theo’s age, evidence that for women as well as men, new love isn’t only for the young. I’m nearly 29 and haven’t found it yet, so that’s comforting. (And yeah, it’s more consensual than many Pern pairings *sigh*)

  3. saidahgilbert September 23, 2016 at 8:45 am

    I have a question. The narrative states that Theo is in the late years of her third decade and Tillek is in his sixth decade. So I took that to mean that Theo is her late twenties and Tillek, in his fifties. However, you state in the post that Theo is in her thirties and Tillek, in his sixties. How then do you count the decades for people?

  4. beappleby September 23, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    I always thought it strange that Tillek would be allowed to hide his boat in storage rather than let it continue to be used. You’d think they could use all the large craft they could get.

  5. Silver Adept September 23, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    @ Firedrake – Indeed. I think it was LeGuin, but at least I’ve of the Great Names of Science Fiction said at some point that science fiction is always about the time that it’s being written in, just with enough future or aliens or other disguising features that the reader doesn’t realize what they’re reading. They said it gives SF tremendous power in being able to slip past someone’s shields and influence their opinions.

    @ saidahgilbert – Ack, you’re right. I’ll go change it.

    @ beappleby – Pern rules about autonomy, I’m guessing, and also the part where big boats or in Threadfall are liabilities until there are enough dragons. Just a guess, though.

  6. WanderingUndine September 23, 2016 at 7:05 pm

    @saidahgilbert: *facepalm* You’re right. I guess Theo *is* rather young, then. Hmph.

  7. Lodrelhai (@Lodrelhai) September 24, 2016 at 1:03 am

    Um… if Theo is in her late 20s, why does she think she may be past child bearing age? Close friend was in her mid 30s before she had her first child. A cousin had her last in her mid 40s. While I didn’t know the age of another friend’s mom, I know she had her youngest when her oldest was in high school. The trend is that women are having children, even first children, later in life, and I think it has been for some time.

    So what’s happening here? Does Theo have some kind of condition that’ll cause premature sterility? Did she not want to have a child past 30, and her comment reflected that she’d thought she wouldn’t find a partner in time until she met Jim? Did someone in ages past decide women shouldn’t be bearing children past 30, and introduce genetic blockers to a large number of women which have worked their way through most of the population since? I seem to recall a mention of a protest against human genetic manipulation in Dragonsdawn, and given what Kitty Ping did with the dragon queens, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was it…

  8. saidahgilbert September 25, 2016 at 9:55 am

    @Lodrelhai, that confused me too but then I shrugged it off as Anne McCaffrey being a proponent of teenage pregnancy in which case pushing thirty would be too old to be now having babies.

  9. WanderingUndine September 25, 2016 at 11:05 am

    @lodrelhai: My mom had me at 33 and my brother at 39 (albeit through artificial insemination facilitated by fertility drugs), and her own siblings were 10 and 16 years older than her. It definitely happens in our time and place.

  10. genesistrine September 27, 2016 at 11:34 pm

    @Firedrake: (“Boat people” were a big part of the news in the 1970s, in the UK at least.)

    Boat people still are, but these days it’s the ones crossing the Mediterranean.

    I actually got kind of cheesed off by the comparisons to Dunkirk and Vietnamese boat people, especially the latter. They’re having to do this rag-tag fleet thing because they didn’t start ferrying people/supplies until volcano go boom; they’ve got hot baths (specifically mentioned…) and welcome waiting at the other end, no-one’s strafing them, they’ve got magic hat-making thing so Thread can’t eat them (though I’ve apparently missed why it’s not chomping through the ships and can’t be bothered to look back), and they’re on a planet at the arse-end of nowhere with limited resources and no rescue but they chose that.

    I want to see the POV of someone who was brought to Pern by their parents and now has to deal with this crap. I bet they’d have opinions!

    @Lodrelhai: Did someone in ages past decide women shouldn’t be bearing children past 30, and introduce genetic blockers to a large number of women which have worked their way through most of the population since?

    I like the idea, but I think it would have been mentioned as one of the terriblecruelevil things the FedSent does, so yeah, I think we’ve just got authorial opinion sneaking in there.

    @WanderingUndine: my mum was 30 when she had me, and I’m the oldest sibling. No fertility treatment.

  11. emmy September 28, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    I was pretty sure Theo was meant to be in her late thirties, from the way she was characterized as well as the childbearing thing. Without confirmation from the author though it’s hard to tell how we were supposed to interpret “third decade”, as I can certainly see someone writing that to make it sound fancy and not realizing that it literally meant something else.

    Looking around a little other forum discussions on the character have also generally concluded this was probably an author goof and she’s at least 35, based on the experience she has with other things and the characters she appears to be contemporary with.

  12. genesistrine September 28, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    @emmy: I can certainly see someone writing that to make it sound fancy and not realizing that it literally meant something else.

    Yeah, that sounds like AMC’s approach to language all right….

  13. saidahgilbert September 28, 2016 at 7:43 pm

    But even so, weren’t women even as far back as the 70’s able to have children into their forties? It may have been more fraught with risks but they hadn’t reached menopause yet, right? So why would someone in her late thirties be wondering whether or not she is still capable of having children, supposing that she is healthy and is not on birth control?

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