The Renegades of Pern: Social Discontent

Hello again! It’s 1989, according to my copyright date for the electronic copy of this book, which means we’ve advanced a good long time since the publication of the original novels. There’s a new Spoiler Data introduction now, so let’s start with that.

The Renegades of Pern: Introduction and Prologue: Content Notes: Ableism, Sexism, Arranged Marriages, Incestuous Implications, Murder, Abuse, Animal Abuse

Rather than talking about the long colony ship and Landing and the heroics there, it’s a much more practical issue about the presence of Thread, its weaknesses, the creation of dragons, their special status and powers, and the eventual division into the three castes and the forgetting of their origins. To set the stage for our current book, however, we appear to be stuck in a time of the Idiot Ball.

There were long intervals, too, when no Thread ravaged the land, when the dragonriders in their Weyrs kept faith with their mighty friends until they would be needed once more to protect the people they were pledged to serve.
One such long interval is coming to a close at the opening of our story; though with a decade to go before another Pass of the Red Star, few are yet aware of its ominous approach. Indeed, few believe Thread will ever fall again. And in the false comfort of that belief, people have grown complacent. With that complacency, discord has arisen in Hold and Hall, setting in motion a chain of events that results in renegades on Pern!

I realize that four hundred years is a long time to maintain vigilance against a threat that doesn’t materialize. The United States has enough trouble with the knowledge of the devastation wrought by an atomic weapon, and that’s only been seventy years or so. And that’s with documentation and education about the horror of atomic weapons. Pern has time-shifting dragonriders and Harpers who are supposed to be the Keepers of a static social order and the some source of approved education, so they would supposedly have an easier time of keeping things in mind. Or bringing back proof that Thread will come again, since Moreta proved you could go forward in time as well as back.

The reason that this hasn’t happened, though, as the prologue opens, is because this is the end time of the Long Interval during the reign of Fax, where there is but one Weyr, Benden, and it is, at best, understaffed because Lessa has brought forward the other Weyrs to the time where they are needed. We are running a prologue somewhat concurrently with an already-written novel, and that makes my retcon hairs stand on end. It’s not near Fax, but instead focuses on Lemos Hold (so they’re villains) where Felleck is being given the boot for not coming up with a satisfactory tithe, despite all the help that Lord Gedenase has provided to him of better grain, working tools, and even an animal to help plow fields. Felleck, as he leaves, sees the new tenants of his hold already arriving, and swears revenge for everyone at Lemos for his humiliation. There’s a quick time shift as Fax’s successful campaign spreads and other Holds put defenses up on their borders, before the action spirals down to…Barla and Dowell, who we just met in the previous story, receiving the messenging troop that started their trek away from their home to avoid the lewd advances of Fax and his men, which Barla does at this point because she’s already pregnant.

“Fax is Lord Holder of Ruatha?” Dowell muttered. “Lord Kale was in excellent health when…” He trailed off, shaking his head.
“They murdered him. I know it. That Fax! I heard about that jumped-up High Reacher. He married Lady Gemma, and it was an unpopular hurried wedding. That much the harpers said…quietly. They called him ambitious, ruthless.” Barla shuddered at the thought. “Could be have murdered all in Ruatha Hold? His lady? Lessa and her brothers?” She turned scared eyes on him, her expression bleak.

Lessa mentioned by name seems weird, especially for second cousins once removed, as they are, but maybe it’s a thing about the royal family of Ruatha.

I note the swiftness of which Fax’s legitimacy is discarded as a person who is not of proper Blood, but instead an ambitious and ruthless foreigner. And also that the Harpers, who presumably would have control over such things, have legitimized the marriage and only speak quietly of their concerns. Admittedly, Fax would probably kill all of them for suggesting such a thing, but this is one of those situations where are more closely defined idea of how Pern’s feudalism works would help. We’ve had Craft walkouts threatened and done in Moreta / Nerilka, so there’s precedent, and the Harpers, as historians, would know of this. I’m surprised that this time, there isn’t extra data about the general lack of Craft anything in Fax’s territory, as the rest of the allied Holds try to starve him out or inspire rebellion.

Anyway, after Dowell and Barla resolve to leave, we skip up five Turns to a man named Dushik being punished for killing his third man in drunken brawling. Lord Oterel delivers the punishment and tells his steward to set Dushik loose in Fax’s territory. Then seven Turns after Fax attacks, the narrative anticipates my questions about the Harpers.

After seven Turns, Fax’s usurpation has become more or less accepted — except by the Harper Hall. The Masterharper, Robinton, had been hearing unsettling reports from his harpers that make him mistrust this uneasy peace. Fax is ambitious, and with all but Ruatha Hold prospering under his harsh management, it is entirely possible that he will look eastward, to the broad and fertile plains and the mines of Telgar. As if aware of Harper Hall scrutiny, Fax has begun to turn harpers out of his Holds and Halls for the most spurious reasons. Whatever teachings the harpers have provided, Fax says, the young will learn from his deputies. He has challenged authority — and succeeded. What will he challenge next?

I am unimpressed with Robinton at this point, considering how much the other books have made him to be an excellent spy master and very set in his ways that the Harpers are the education system and inviolable. That Robinton has let Fax exist for seven years and be able to have prosperous Holds suggests that nobody is actually doing anything to try and remove Fax from power. Despite the armed presence on Fax’s borders from all of his neighbors that are not feeling secure about their borders. If nobody considers Fax legitimate, then it should be no trouble at all to raise an alliance of soldiers and Crafters and rebellious subjects and overthrow Fax. Instead, because of the previous books requirement that Lessa trick the Benden Weyrleader into killing Fax, before being usurped herself by Jaxom, it makes it sound like everyone is cool with what Fax has been doing, like the old Randian rules of sovereignty still apply all these thousands of years later. If we’re going to keep Fax, we really need to have some reason why everyone isn’t ganging up on him. The fact that he controls the remaining dragon Weyr and nobody knows whether the dragonriders will fly at his command would be a really good one.

Anyway, this segment is about Toric also defying family authority and leaving High Palisades Island to make his own fortune on the mainland of Pern. Since he will eventually become Southern Holder, clearly Toric was able to overcome any punishment or sanction he would have received by leaving the Fisherman’s Hall.

There’s a quick paragraph, advancing time again, about a woman, Keita, who stole a loaf of bread, considered more than she needs, and is going to be turned out and made holdless in the middle of winter, with the final punctuation being that the wife thinks Keita is a slut. An entirely unnecessary slur, and again, positioned so that it comes out of the mouth of another woman. Which is then followed by another about a fisherman being turned out for being “footless”, meaning either amputated or otherwise malformed, as the clock advances another year. This time, though, someone recognizes the ableism.

“Now let’s not be bitter, fisherman. I’m doing my best for you. It’s a tough enough life for an ablebodied man, let alone…”
“Say it, Masterfisherman, say it. Let alone for a cripple!”
“I wish you wouldn’t be so bitter!”
“Leave it to me, then, Master, and get back to your ablebodied fisherfolk! You’ll be missing the tide if you wait too long!”

Points to the author for recognizing ableism, and if they were living in the States at the time, they did it a year before the Americans With Disabilities act that we know of gets passed. Including the part where the able-bodied one accuses the disabled one of being bitter about being discriminated against. Less, of course, for the sexism right before it, but this is pretty much a great example of the reasons intersectionality exists. In any case, another holdless person.

The next two vignettes advance another year and are about people who believe in the return of Thread outside of the dragonriders in their single Weyr, and the stewards and Holders that want to squelch such “gossip”. A fruit picker bribes the steward to stay the winter, rather than have to go back to Ruatha or on to Keroon. A traveling craftsman discusses logistics with a crafter in a Hold about what to do if Thread returns. They make a wager about it.

The clock moves forward again, to beyond the death of Fax and the resurgence of the remaining Weyr, but there’s a power vacuum to be filled with Fax gone, and the displaced are going back to make their profit. An artist gives their goodbye.

Two more Turns advance and we finally get to one of the major players in the last story – Lady Thella, the older sister of Lord Larad of Telgar.

“Larad, I’m your sister–your older sister!…you will not marry me off to some niggardly, foul-mouthed, snaggle-toothed senile old man, just because Father agreed to such a travesty in his dotage.”

I should note at this time that the narrative has already classed Thella as “rebellious” before we began this segment, and that Larad is “trying to make a suitable disposition” for her. Because the world they live in prizes sons and not daughters and uses their daughters as pawns without thinking about it, and the women are supposed to just accept this as their lot in life and not complain.

Anyway…

“Derabal is not senile or snaggle-toothed, and at thirty-four he is scarcely old.” Larad replied behind clenched teeth. Being a brother, even half-brother, he did not appreciate the defiant stance of her magnificently proportioned body, athletic and fit in her riding gear. To him, the high color in her cheeks, the flash of her hazel eyes, and the contemptuous curve of her sensuous mouth meant merely another stormy session with her. It did not help that she was within a half span of his own height, so that in the high-heeled long riding boots she preferred she was eye-to-eye with him. At that moment he would have liked to throttle her challenge and reduce her to compliance with the good beating that was long overdue. But Lord Holders did not thrash dependent kinswomen.

Cocowhat by depizan

AH-HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHANO.

Lord Holders thrash their dependents all the time. Yanus proved that, and really, all of Menolly and Piemur’s adventures pretty much give the lie to that. And Jaxom, too, and the Benden Weyrleader proves it’s not just the Holders.

Also, is it me, or is the description here supposed to be implying, if not outright stating, that Larad finds his stepsister sexually attractive? And that his preferred form of expressing that might be to abuse her? Because we didn’t already have enough screwed up things about Pern and its inhabitants.

As we get into the description of Thella, we find her cut in much the same mold as Kylara, Menolly, and Mirrim, women who are not taking their assigned lot in life lying down. The narrative is working overtime to make Thella out to be wrong for this, describing how much Thella was encouraged to defy convention, learning hunting, riding, and exporting. Thella challenged Larad’s right to become Lord Holder, since she was the oldest child of her father. The Lord Holders told her “politely, in most cases, and dismissively in others, told to take her ‘rightful’ place with her stepmother, sisters, and aunts.” Thella has no intention of marrying someone she considers beneath her as a minor holder, and definitely not going as “a meekly submissive bride.”

Things that are warning flags for Thella: She was not chastised for beating a drudge to death, but was taken to task for running a runnerbeast to death. (Because animals are more important than people here.) Both of those things are significant flags of a cruel streak. Which is confirmed by the way she treats the drudges after being told to go away from the Lords Holder – “The drudges bore new lash marks daily as she vented her frustration, and some fled the main Hold on any pretext they could invent.”

So Larad has had enough, and locks Thella in her bedroom. Thella disappears the next day with runnerbeasts, riding gear, food, equipment, and quite a bit of cash from the Hold.

Right at the end, after Thread falls, and a suspicious string of thefts from merchants traveling a specific road, one of Thella’s sisters, Fira, suspects she knows who is masterminding it. Larad, however, is pretty pig-headed about it and chooses to blame only those who are holdless or dissenters or the expelled, the [title drop!] renegades of Pern.

Thus ends our prologue.

Here’s the thing. Just knowing this little bit about Thella makes me reinterpret The Girl Who Heard Dragons. Instead of being a Fax-like person who styled themselves as a leader and planned on exploiting a population for their own profits or advancement, Thella is now a woman fighting the society that wants to marry her off and have her be controlled by a man. Aramina’s skill as a dragon-talker is an integral part of succeeding at that plan, so that Thella can avoid patrols and Threadfall, and possibly gather intelligence about where is the best place to camp to survive and what caravans will be coming through so that she can keep supplied. Thella is potentially building a place for herself and others where they can live properly free lives outside the constricting social structures of their world.

The more I think about it, Pern stories that aren’t set in the First Pass have a pattern. The characters are in a social role they are poorly suited to, they end up in a situation where they are able to step outside that role, and then they reintegrate, to greater or lesser degrees, back into that society, depending on whether their new roles are a better fit or not. Lessa is better as a Weyrwoman, although still subjected to the Benden Weyrleader. Menolly is now a Harper, Jaxom and Mirrim dragonriders, and Piemur an explorer. Unfortunately, Brekke was put through the wringer and Kylara got killed, so it’s not a perfect match for these things, but Brekke and Kylara were also sacrificed to make a point about sexual behavior and trying to fit your role or step completely beyond it. So Thella is going to fit the pattern, I’m guessing, in the Avril/Kylara method where her disobedience to her assigned husband and rejection of her social role will result in her harm and being put under the control of men. And, most likely, the narrative will take every opportunity it can to remind us of what kind of horrible, horrible person she is for doing this. Despite having also set up for us that she has cruelty issues that could easily make her a horrible person to be in charge of anybody.

Time to find out whether I’m going to be right, yet again.

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2 thoughts on “The Renegades of Pern: Social Discontent

  1. genesistrine November 24, 2016 at 4:44 pm

    Or bringing back proof that Thread will come again, since Moreta proved you could go forward in time as well as back.

    Don’t forget that the dragonriders managed to completely forget that dragons can time-between sometime between the Sixth Pass and the Eighth Pass (since it apparently came as a complete surprise to the Oldtimers too).

    there is but one Weyr, Benden, and it is, at best, understaffed because Lessa has brought forward the other Weyrs to the time where they are needed.

    I think you missed out a “not yet” there?

    Lessa mentioned by name seems weird, especially for second cousins once removed, as they are, but maybe it’s a thing about the royal family of Ruatha.

    It seems a lot more like “can’t be bothered to come up with names for Lessa’s brothers and mother” to me – we see from the way Thella’s treated that even oldest daughters aren’t of much importance, so I’d expect Barla to be thinking either of all her distant cousins’ names or maybe just the heir. Or their mother – she and Barla could be close in age or at least acquainted.

    If we’re going to keep Fax, we really need to have some reason why everyone isn’t ganging up on him. The fact that he controls the remaining dragon Weyr and nobody knows whether the dragonriders will fly at his command would be a really good one.

    If you remember from the first book, Benden Weyr’s isolationist policy was down to R’gul misinterpreting whatever F’lar’s dad’s Cunning Plan for the last few years before Threadfall was, and though it’s never stated as such this policy has to be the reason why Fax gets away with taking over multiple Holds for so long.

    He can’t possibly be the first person in 450 years to have the idea of conquest, so the obvious conclusion is that the Weyr used to jump on anyone who tried taking over another Hold, But they haven’t done it with Fax because R’gul, so everyone’s holding fire, waiting for the dragonriders to intervene and trying to figure out why they haven’t already.

    Re Thella, it’s worth pointing out that she’s also Kylara’s half-sister – the father who ignored her beating a drudge to death is also the one who dumped Kylara and Larad’s mother when he fancied a change. A real charmer.

    It’s a pity we’re already past the time when we were told Kylara would go back and watch herself – I always wanted to find out more about that.

    is it me, or is the description here supposed to be implying, if not outright stating, that Larad finds his stepsister sexually attractive?

    It’s stating the opposite – “Being a brother, even half-brother, he did not appreciate the defiant stance of her magnificently proportioned body,” blahdeblah. He just wants to hit her without being sexually attracted to her, so… I dunno, is that an improvement on most Pernese male protagonists, or just a difference?

    Instead of being a Fax-like person who styled themselves as a leader and planned on exploiting a population for their own profits or advancement, Thella is now a woman fighting the society that wants to marry her off and have her be controlled by a man. Aramina’s skill as a dragon-talker is an integral part of succeeding at that plan, so that Thella can avoid patrols and Threadfall, and possibly gather intelligence about where is the best place to camp to survive and what caravans will be coming through so that she can keep supplied. Thella is potentially building a place for herself and others where they can live properly free lives outside the constricting social structures of their world.

    Well, unfortunately, just because someone’s fighting social strictures doesn’t mean they’re not an arsehole who’s perfectly happy for those or worse social strictures to be applied to anyone who isn’t them. Given her long-standing habit of abusing/killing drudges I can’t see any Thella-sanctioned social structure being an improvement for anyone who isn’t Thella or doesn’t make themselves useful to her.

  2. genesistrine November 29, 2016 at 2:28 pm

    Mentioning peasant uprisings, I just ran across https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ikk%C5%8D-ikki – I knew about the various Leveller etc rebellions in the UK, but I didn’t know there was a Japanese equivalent.

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