The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall: The Second Weyr: Mythology-Building

Last time, we were treated to a shaggy dog story, of sorts, about the founding of Ruatha Hold by Red Hanrahan, whose daughter, Sorka, is the first Weyrwoman of Pern, and now has to make a decision about where to put another base of operations to cover the ever-increasing amount of land and caves being taken over by the settlers.

The Second Weyr: Content Notes: Sexism

The short stories are getting longer as we go along – this is the longest one yet. The plot opens with Sorka giving Torene, another queen rider, a little grief about scouting out the possible location for a second Weyr to house the increasing dragon population and to provide more land for Fort residents to GTFO. The need is pretty urgent:

Establishing another Weyr was no longer an idle notion but an urgent need. Fort’s accommodations were terribly overcrowded, even when they sent wings to live temporarily in the less-than-comfortable cavern systems at Telgar; and due to the stress and the greater risk of accidents, they had begun sending mating and clutching queens to the nearly tropical Big Island. Sorka gave a little shudder, remembering last year’s disaster and how close they had come to losing three queens in an aerial battle that left all three wounded. The bronzes and browns who had finally separated them had not come away unscathed either.
The entire Weyr had learned a terrible lesson: one queen in heat could precipitate the condition in those also near their season. No queen would share bronze and brown followers with each other. Tarrie Chernoff still woke up with nightmares in which Porth was going between and she couldn’t follow. Evenath, the first queen that Faranth had produced, had lost an eye as well as the use of one wing, and Catherine’s Siglath had so much wing fabric destroyed that neither could fly in the queens’ wing again. There were still queens enough to do the low flying with flamethrowers, joined as they usually were by any green rider in the first or third trimesters of pregnancy, when constant dropping into the cold of between might cause miscarriage.

So the secret knowledge of miscarriage is a thing already known (and that has been passed down secretly among those who might not want to be pregnant all the time – I wonder about those green riders and how much they take advantage of it) and there’s already knowledge of queens fighting if they get in each other’s space during mating.

So tell me again why, other than the narrative’s need to punish Kylara for a perceived fault, Wirenth and Prideth needed to fight each other? Prideth was at Nabol, Wirenth at High Reaches, so there shouldn’t have been that much proximity to set each other off. It seems like this is one of those pieces of knowledge that should be so firmly ingrained to know where everyone is going to be on any given day, especially near a mating cycle, that something like that shouldn’t have happened. Or that the queens of the Weyrs are specifically chosen in such a way that their mating cycles do not interact with each other (assuming that’s possible). Pern continues to be a place where even the most basic of safety procedures seem to be ignored at least as often as they are followed, and the fights, such as they are, between Sean and Sorka are about balancing reducing the accident and death rate of dragonriders and trainees through discipline and training and remembering that people still have to live a life as dragonriders, instead of being solely focused on the job.

There’s also some more building of custom and tradition displayed. After the narrative tells us Sean picked the brain of everyone that he could about tactics and strategy for fighting in the air, we see how he structures the fighting squadrons.

As the numbers of available fighting dragons increased, he had decided on the appropriate and handiest number for smaller units: wings of thirty-three dragons, each with a Wingleader and two Wingseconds so that, even if the Wingleader and his dragon had to drop out because of injuries, there would be a secondary rider prepared to take charge. This was especially necessary, he felt, when the numbers of the smaller dragons, the blues and greens, increased. The Wingleader should know each dragon in his wing well enough to see signs of strain and send the pair back to the Weyr to rest. Some blue and green riders, determined to prove that their partners were every bit as good as the larger dragons, took risks and rode their lighter, less sturdy beasts beyond their endurance.
“Even a dragon has limits,” Sean repeated and repeated during weyrling training. “Respect them! And yours! We don’t need heroes in every Fall. We need dragonriders every Fall.”
The fortunately rare deaths, either rider or dragon, or both, had a sobering effect on even the most audacious. Injuries, so often due to carelessness, always dropped off after a death or a bad accident. Those that happened during weyrling training were the ones that Sorka hated the most – because they would haunt Sean through his dreams and turn him into an implacable martinet during his waking hours. Sorka would, however, take him to task when he became too autocratic. She made herself always approachable by any rider and never assumed a judgmental attitude.
“You upset morale throughout the Weyr,” she’d tell him firmly.
“I’m trying to improve discipline throughout the Weyr,” he’d shout back at her. “So we won’t have more deaths. I can’t stand the deaths! Especially the dragons! They are so special, and we need every one of them.”

So now we know who set everything up, and the beginning of the dynamic where the Weyrwoman is responsible for the happiness in the Weyr and the Weyrleader is responsible for the leadership and battle preparations. We also find out that Sorka has the ability to hear all dragons, which is why she knows what Torene has been up to.

I’m beginning to wonder why all the exposition and worldbuilding is being put in these short stories, when it seems like there’s a way of binding them together in a more novel-length narrative. The only one that hasn’t really fit was Survey P.E.R.N., and that could probably stay a short story. If it wasn’t for collections like this one, most of the major information about Pern would be a matter of having been able to purchase the right magazines at the right time, while they were in print. Or at least, they would have been, had this book not been designed to be a book to start with. Still, the idea of putting all your major worldbuilding into diet stories seems like a really bad way of going about your mythology creation. The fans would probably put up scans of the few remaining copies and circulate them as much as possible, once the material goes out of print.

Then again, that assumes these books and stories were part of the plan from the beginning, when the likely reality is that Ninth and Sixth Pass Pern came first, and these later books are welding something else on to a structure previously established. Which means there’s a lot of extra backstory to suddenly have to deal with. Perhaps Pern was an unexpected success and the clamoring for more work put the author in a situation where they needed to resurrect Holmes from Reichenbach.

In any case, the explosion of exposition in the short stories is really weird.

Getting back to plot, Torene tells Sorka that they want a new Weyr because Sean is just too perfect as a Weyrleader and nobody else will get to be in charge if that continues.

Sorka is also apparently jealous of Torene’s beauty.

It was slightly unfair, Sorka thought, for a girl to have such long eyelashes as well as a beautiful face, an elegant – Sean said “sexy” – figure, and personality and brains, as well. Even her short hair, close-cropped to be more comfortable under the skull-fitting helmets they wore, formed exquisite curls that framed her high-cheeked and distinctive countenance.

Jealousy and beauty generally combine to create villainy on Pern. The question is whether Torene will turn out to be the evil one or Sorka will. Considering the investment in Sorka to this point, it’s probably Torene, although we are reassured almost immediately after Sorka describes Torene that she’s without guile or malice and that she discounts her own beauty. So she’s supposed to be in the Brekke mold instead of the Kylara one?

Torene waxes poetic to Sorka about their chosen spot and the need to claim it and get the cutters to work on it, before someone else does and the cutters give out for good, while Sorka feels jealousy both about Faranth’s daughter being bigger than her and in inquiring of Torene who she thinks will be Weyrleader with her at the proposed second Weyr, trying to figure out who it might be herself. Problem is, Torene shows no favor to anybody. Although Sean and Sorka’s son, Michael, seems to be giving her the cold shoulder. In any case, we also get the information that the tradition of “whomever flies the queen becomes Weyrleader” is yet another one of Sean’s opinions gone unchallenged, the contraction of names comes from having to shout and speak very quickly during the Fall, and the opinion of holders by dragonriders is already strongly dismissive. (Seriously, the traditions are coming on thickly, and apparently in the forms that will stay unchanged for two thousand years.)

Sean crashes the gathering, Torene tells him what she’s planned, and Sean reassures her that the new space will be theirs. Sean and Sorka retire to bed and talk about what’s going on and how fast they will have to go, now that things have been set in motion. Because there will be new Weyrs, plural, rather than a new Weyr. And there was a lot of fighting with the management to get the needed material and tools for all of this, because Joel Lillienkamp replaced Benden on the council after Benden died. (Clearly, time has moved forward again. Also, Zi Ongola’s hold is named Tillek, and Telgar has put a Hold on top of his mining veins, with the same name.)

There’s a short discussion of who would be the best young riders to be in charge of the new Weyrs, apart from their son, who is dragon-obsessed and clearly trying very hard to be the best rider ever. They want to avoid nepotism, but it’s pretty clear that Mihall is going to be in charge somewhere. Sorka has a few thoughts about her son and that role.

There wasn’t a girl in the Weyr who wouldn’t be proud to have her queen flown by Brianth and to be able to stay in Mihall’s company as his Weyrwoman. Ah, but would her handsome redheaded son, who had shown himself as willing to bed a holder as a rider, be willing to settle to one? The Weyrleadership had to be stable, or the Weyr would be disrupted. What behavior Sean would condone in his son in his current capacity would alter once Mihall became a Weyrleader. It was time for the boy to settle anyway, she thought firmly, and on the end of that, decided she would not interfere with a word to the wise to him. Mihall was man enough now to recognize a need for fidelity.

Cocowhat by depizan

And you see, this is where I get confused, because those things do not follow from each other. We’ve already seen that dragon appetites drag their riders along through the mating process, regardless of what the riders are thinking at the time. If the strength of the Weyr hinges on sexual fidelity between two riders, then they’re going to have to account for the mating flights of every other dragon in the Weyr, so that they can be together every time. That’s impossible. There has to be a certain level of tolerance for sex outside of declared pairings or groupings, or the Weyrs would be unable to function. And that would have to include women or men in Holds, as well, despite the already calcified attitude that holders are inferior to dragonriders.

Strong leadership is entirely possible without the need for a monogamous kind of relationship between the military leader and the captain of morale. That it works for Sean and Sorka doesn’t make it a universal constant. In fact, it should probably be seen as really weird, given how dragons and riders operate. If Mihall is going to play the field, then that shouldn’t reflect on his ability to lead. (And again, dragons having sex is no basis for a system of governance.) Sorka might want her son to settle down, but ascribing the success of the Weyr to it is thinking like a Terran author, not a Pernese dragonrider.

No conclusions are reached on the question of who will lead, although Sorka approves of the use of younger riders to go out and establish the new Weyrs. While she and Sean sleep, the native shifts to Torene, who is being discreet about her conversation, and F’mar, one of her more persistent suitors. F’mar is in charge of the mechanical devices for the Weyrs (a pedigree collected from his father, Fulmar Stone Sr.), and the suitor that Torene likes the best, but at this point, Torene wants her first time to be a special occasion, so she doesn’t let on about her preference. The two of them head to the kitchen to help prepare and then eat dinner, and Torene is smart enough to observe how the current system works very well in her favor.

Slowly but surely, the task of provisioning the Weyr was being handled by the Holds, so one way or another, the dragonriders often ate far better than holders. That, and the glamor of being a dragonrider, were reasons why so many young people were ready to take their chances on the Hatching Ground even though their parents might have had other careers in mind for their children. In the early days, Sean and Sorka had been forced to act rather autocratically in demanding enough boys and girls to stand on the Hatching Ground, especially older boys, who would be mature enough to fly in Fall as soon as their dragons were old enough. Gradually, however, to have a son or daughter become a dragonrider became a mark of prestige for the family.

This is Hunger Games logic, at least for the districts that are relatively affluent. Sending someone up to the dragonriders potentially means they get better food and the prestige of having a dragonrider in the family. The only downside is that you lose the child to the riders, but if you have an heir and a spare, or you’ve been “cursed” with daughters that will require dowries and you’re not sure they can be taken up as official mistresses or get married to other Holders, send them to the dragonriders! If they get chosen, you get to host them and brag that you have riders in the family. In later Passes, Search seems more like the lottery system that the Hunger Games will use, even though these works predate the entire dystopia movement by decades. There has to be a downside, or there wouldn’t be Holders trying to shield their children from the riders? Is the thought of injury and death fighting Thread enough of a downside to make the bargain less obvious? As we keep asking, what happens to candidates that don’t Impress?

Torene joins her friends, who are pretty certain about what she already knows about new Weyrs, although she doesn’t confirm it and instead heads off to make music and then sleep. We also have mention of our first gay blue rider, who doesn’t warrant a name, just “Dagmath’s rider”, and that Sean is considering sending three other gay men with him to a new Weyr. So as to cut down on the pregnancies of green riders, we’re told. Well, at least it wasn’t “ew, icky gay people”, but the stated justification sucks. Would be better to just say “Hey, we don’t want anyone to be unhappy or unable to find someone to cavort with.”

The next morning has Thread scheduled to fall in their area, so there’s preparations for fighting up first, as well as Torene remembering how her “can hear all dragons” ability was exposed – she launched before Sorka did, because she heard Carenath say to follow and did it without understanding. During the actual fight, along with the flamethrower work, we see another important function of the queens’ wing – guiding injured dragons to a safe landing using their own mass and wings as support, then ferrying them to medics at the Weyr or Hold that have the facilities and knowledge. The evening meal has the riders pretty sure that Sean will be giving them a talking-to because of how many injuries they suffered. In their defense, the Thread was clumping, and clumping Thread is the most difficult to fight, apparently.

And there’s also this:

Only queens never got official vacation: queens got time off only for clutching. As Alaranth had yet to experience her first mating flight, Torene had been on duty for over two years without a break.

Cocowhat by depizan


Sean has supposedly been talking to great tactical minds and learning and experimenting and yet he somehow manages to not include the queen riders on scheduled shore leave and vacation time? I call bullshit. Terran generals understand the need to rotate troops in and out and mix up deployment with leave and family time. Presumably the admirals and commanders of the Federated Sentient Planets do the same, so there’s no reason to believe Sean would miss that. After two years of nonstop fighting with no vacation, Sean should be staring down a queens’ revolt from Torene and every other rider who thinks that having to get a dragon pregnant for leave time is poor management practice. Just because Sorka and Faranth may be hyperfertile didn’t mean every woman is.

This also feels out of place – up to this point, it seemed like the colonists were at home with the idea of women and men doing important jobs together without significant issue, with the exception of Kitti Ping’s gender essentialism in the creation of who the dragons would pair-bond with. I realize that we have to eventually get to the Sixth and Ninth passes where the sexism has become institutionalized, but the author could choose to spin it that those times are the corrupted and fallen versions of what was a more egalitarian setting.

Also, Sean is repeatedly praised as being clever and smart. This could be his privilege spot making him miss the obvious, but at a certain point, the situation should boil over so obviously that he has to confront it and realize how stupid that policy is.

In any case, the announcement from Sean is a little about bad flying and a lot about the four new Weyrs that will be coming on-line as soon as they can be built. Which is a good place to stop for the moment, and pick back up with the second half next week.


5 thoughts on “The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall: The Second Weyr: Mythology-Building

  1. genesistrine October 6, 2016 at 3:10 am

    Re queen flight deaths, Prideth and Wirenth’s fight can be fixficced as a cockup – Benden had the only queen dragon on Pern for possibly-centuries, so forgot the necessity; the Oldtimers know but don’t realise Benden doesn’t, and the senior Oldtimer queenriders have all just been reshuffled so if any of them was responsible for mating flight traffic control they may have missed out on handing the responsibility over in the confusion.

    If I was fixficcing it I’d make it Mardra’s job – a traditional responsibility of the Fort Weyrwoman, that she forgets to hand over in the panic of Exile and a critically injured partner etc.

    Re Torene, we already know she’s a goodie – her name’s up there with Moreta’s in the super duper Weyrwoman legendry, and no-one’s ever named after anyone else.…

  2. zandilar October 6, 2016 at 6:08 am

    The shortened name thing has bothered me for a while. Women participate in thread fall either via green dragons who flame or gold dragons who carry flamethrowers and “guide injured dragons to safety”. Surely there’d be a need to shorten their names too?

  3. WanderingUndine October 6, 2016 at 8:08 am

    The only thing I liked about this story was the origin of the traditional shortening of dragonrider names — dragons use them while communicating with each other — though it’s weird indeed that they’re only done for men.

    Sean says that “nobody flies Faranth but Carenath.” I hadn’t thought about it before, but you’re right — how could they enforce that??

    I don’t especially like Torene, but Sorka’s thoughts are ridiculous. Why would a woman be considered less likely than a man to have beauty, brains, *and* “personality”? (I know, sexism). Does Sorka believe she herself lacks any of those traits?

  4. Digitalis October 6, 2016 at 12:17 pm

    It’s weird that the lower-ranked dragons’ fighting and endurance abilities are specifically linked to size. The dragons were created to grow larger over generations, and IIRC these first generation dragons are barely the size of a ninth-pass green. Why should size make a difference?

    It would make a lot more sense if the blues and greens had a different conformation built more for speed and agility–slender, thin wings and bodies as opposed to the browns and bronzes being built for strength and endurance. Or that it’s because the fighting style of the greens and blues involve a lot of dashing and dodging that takes a higher physical toll on their bodies.

  5. genesistrine October 7, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    @WanderingUndine: alpha bronze rider getting his own way is one of the Cosmic Laws of Pern, apparently.

    @Digitalis: it would make sense, but readers must never be allowed to forget that blue and greens are very inferior dragons in every way possible.

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