The Renegades of Pern: Rob From The Rich… To Enrich Myself

Last time, the dreaded Threadfall returned to Pern after a long Interval, and we got to experience it from the perspective of a terrified wagon train, who were attacked and then abused by birth the dragonrider that helped them and the Holder that took them in after Thread destroyed nearly everything they had. This continues to be in the vein of showing us how people end up holdless or enslaved and ready for rebellion. Being Pern, however, the other shoe, where we find out how evil the people organizing the holdless are, has yet to drop.

The Renegades of Pern: Chapter Two – Content Notes: Sexism, Attempted Murder, Murder

(PP 02.04.12)

That’s a ten Turn timeskip, by the way, and so if Jayge or any of the members of his train never show up again in a plot-important manner, that first chapter was a complete waste.

Because Chapter Two starts with Thella, who is already well into her plan to live holdless and free and raiding various Holds for supplies. And, as it turns out, to build her own Hold, where she hopes to attract others to work for her. The arrival of Thread threw off her timetable by a full Turn, and we are told that Thella did not do well with failures, and suffered a deep depression at being thwarted by nature. She appears to have recovered nicely by this point, however.

I’m also going to flag up now that Thella’s ambition of having a Hold to herself is not an immediate disqualifier for being a hero of the proles, nor, necessarily, is her stealing from the Holds, but the narrative is likely not going to be sympathetic to her, so we should keep an eye on how it characterizes her actions.

Thella lucked out into finding her Hold – all of the previous residents had perished before she arrived, but they left their furniture and accessories behind. Thella knows that sometimes people die from plague, but she is willing to take the risk. There’s some about the logistics of Thella’s frustration and bad luck, but also some useful data.

But the hold could have been completely reestablished and hers! Hers! If she had just had the Turn or two. The ancient Contract Law of Pern gave her that right. She could have insisted that the Conclave of Lord Holders permit it, once she could prove her competence. Her father had told her, in answers to discreet questions, that anyone could form a hold, so long as it proved to be self-sufficient and remained well managed.

I’m sure that this is true…if you’re a dude. Because Thella has already been thrown out by the Bros of the Conclave for trying to assert her birthright, I somehow doubt that she would somehow be accepted as one of the peerage just for demonstrating that she has the same capabilities that they do and is part of the bloodlines. There’s really no way that Thella would be able to be a Lord Holder – or the Conclave would basically give her Hold away to the first dude that could make a claim on her, whether she consented or not. Sorry, Thella.

Also, the narrative is starting to help with turning us away from the idea that Thella is heroic and more toward the idea that she is someone’s trope of a woman that is universally described as negative. First, it talks about her quest for boots and clothes, because her foot size is pretty unique, and then we get into other logistics.

She took only new trousers and shirts, of course – not even in extremity would Thella of Telgar wear used clothing.[…]These supplies, along with the food she took, were after all no more than a modest portion of the tithe due a Lord Holder’s family, so she had no compunction about her acquisitions; she merely did not wish to be seen – yet. But boots…boots were another matter, and she might have foregone principle to get decent boots.
A journey to Igen Hold for a Gather would be the best way to end the footwear problem and satisfy one or two other minor needs that would fulfill the rudimentary requirements of her prospective holders. Perhaps she would be able to hire a likely herdsmen, preferably one with a family to supply her with drudges. They could camp in the beasthold section and not interfere with her privacy.

So, now it’s not so much about surviving to stick it in the eye of those that want to marry her off as it is establishing her own hold to give herself the lifestyle she’s accustomed to, just without a man to do it with? That’s not un-feminist, I suppose, but the part where she wants to hire someone and then use their family as her unpaid servants and give them no protections against her…yeah. I think I have to abandon the idea that Thella is secretly a hero of the people, much as it was nice to have it for the first few chapters.

The narrative continues with Thella’s journey to the Gather, trying not to be seen or interact with others, and her breakfast there, where she feels she is overcharged for a bad mug so that she can have a drink. It stays in her head through much of the day until she picks a rock up and chucks it behind herself at the vendor that sold it to her, striking and breaking many of his wares. Having revenged herself (and who would be willing to sell themselves into her service with a temper like that?), Thella heads to get her boots. She nearly has another fit when passed off to a journeyman, but the deferential attitude of her cobbler soothes her, and Thella has a couple pairs of boots and a third on the way. She notices that there’s a large gathering of the holdless just outside the formal Gather, including a large aloof man that has some money to spend. She hides her purse a bit more securely, and muses on how appropriate it is for everyone to be worthy of the shelter being provided to them against Thread, essentially endorsing the exploitative practice of Holders during Fall. Since she expects to be one, I suspect. If she had no expectation of being on the top, I would hope her attitude would shift sufficiently.

Also, I realize that the book promises us only the Renegades of Pern, but it would have been nice to have a viewpoint character for the whole book that wasn’t from the aristocracy. Thella is still trying to be an aristocrat, even though she doesn’t have all the means yet. It would be so much better to have, say, Jayge, who has never been part of the societal system, to help us with the outside perspective and critique of the system. Thella wants to replicate it. Jayge wants revenge against it. His story is the one I want told, so, so much more. Or Thella’s quest to dismantle the system instead of replicate it.

Thella continues to study the holdless, thinking she can exploit their fear to get them to come to her hold and have at least shelter. She hears about Lessa’s time hop and gets very pissed off about the presence and attitude of the time-shifted dragonriders not being properly deferential, nor Benden riders being too eager to please.

Thella collects her boots, and then goes to find a place for a nap while the heat rages on. Then wakes up to someone trying to cut the purse of the person next to her, stabs them in the thigh with her knife, causing them to flee, and then chastises the possible victim for having their purse displayed too obviously. Who then flirts with her and offers her money for her companionship for the evening. Thella thinks it’s a good idea, while planning to knock the man out and rob him of his purse and more. She spots the big man again as he snags a piece of meat that’s fallen and runs off with it to consume it.

The person she thinks of as an easy mark turns out to be running a con to get women drunk, lure them away from the Gather, kill them, and take their money. Thella, trusting her suspicions, ends up shoving the mark into the path of the killer’s blade, and then she overpowers the killer. With her weapon ready to kill him, he tells her about the plan, and basically begs her to either kill him or offer him shelter in a Hold, which he will repay with great loyalty. Thella accepts.

It’s Dushik, the man excluded for fighting, and he gratefully accepts the task of finding loyal people among the holdless for her. Thella has her first vassal, and thus ends Chapter Two.

Well, the narrative has definitely removed any hope we had of Thella being a great person getting a raw deal in the stories. Which annoys me, because it’s right there as a possibility. Perhaps not as easy to do in 1989. Or in a world that has been little more than contemptuous for women who have tried to go beyond their assigned role in life. But it’s right there, all the same.

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15 thoughts on “The Renegades of Pern: Rob From The Rich… To Enrich Myself

  1. genesistrine December 8, 2016 at 8:29 pm

    That’s a ten Turn timeskip, by the way, and so if Jayge or any of the members of his train never show up again in a plot-important manner, that first chapter was a complete waste.

    IMHO it was well worth it for the chance to finally see Thread really strut its stuff!

    And convenient empty Hold is convenient. Isn’t the population pressure supposed to be so bad that desperate people will (or maybe already have) start heading for the Southern Continent in anything they think’ll float for long enough? How come some other Holdless haven’t found it first and settled down? Could it possibly be that we’re supposed to think they’re all so feckless and lazy that they don’t want to do the work of setting up a Hold, even with free furniture?

    That’s my suspicion anyway….

    Hmm, anyone could form a hold, so long as it proved to be self-sufficient and remained well managed

    How are we defining “self-sufficient” here? And who’s “we”? Because I bet it can be elided in all kinds of ways to get rid of someone “we” – presumably the Conclave – don’t approve of. We’ve already seen the trader trains bringing stuff to Holds that can’t make it themselves; does that make them not self-sufficient enough if someone higher up the social ranking decides they want them out?

    Well, the narrative has definitely removed any hope we had of Thella being a great person getting a raw deal in the stories. Which annoys me, because it’s right there as a possibility. Perhaps not as easy to do in 1989. Or in a world that has been little more than contemptuous for women who have tried to go beyond their assigned role in life. But it’s right there, all the same.

    Yeah, it’s a pity. But I call shenanigans on “Perhaps not as easy to do in 1989”; I’ve recently been rereading some childhood faves of mine – Barbara Willard’s historical Mantlemass novels – and got to The Iron Lily, which is from 1973.

    Lilias, the protagonist, is not a particularly pleasant person, but she’s that way for very understandable reasons and it’s not difficult to sympathise with her. She’s the teenage daughter of a respectable small-time merchant, who’s threatened with being kicked out of the house by her stepmother when her father dies on the grounds that she wasn’t his daughter, and won’t inherit anything (including her mother’s property). She has no allies with any ability to help her, and no prospect of marrying to get out of the situation since she has no dowry and what I assume is scoliosis (one shoulder higher than the other – other characters tend to call her a hunchback). So she runs away to the nearest noble house who take her on as a servant.

    She eventually does a favour for the lady of the house, who uses her patronage to marry Lilias off to an ironmaster; which Lilias accepts to be able to have a home of her own to run, and when her husband dies she takes over his forge and runs it successfully (while trying to force her daughter to marry another ironmaster’s son, but I won’t go into detail, read the books, they’re good).

    The point being that it was perfectly possible for a children’s writer to write a complex, rather unpleasant but nonetheless relatable female character who could shift social barriers in the 70s; so AMC doing “bad bitchy no redeeming features” in the 80s isn’t because it would have been too daring and groundbreaking for the 80s; it’s because she thinks female characters who try and step outside their assigned social roles* are a Bad Thing and must be Bad People.

    *well, assuming those social roles aren’t things like Not Playing Music, of course. It’s interesting to speculate about why a wannabe Lady Harper is OK, but a wannabe Lady Holder has to be a strawman of awfulness….

  2. Wingsrising December 8, 2016 at 10:01 pm

    You’re never going to get a critique of the system, I’m afraid, because as far as I can tell McCaffery thought the system was just swell.

    I mean, can anyone think of a time where something in the books suggested that a problem was due to the intrinsic injustices of a feudal system, or because who has the most virile dragon is a stupid way to choose a leader, rather than because someone was a Bad Person? I can’t.

  3. Firedrake December 9, 2016 at 7:08 am

    I did a quick text search for “Lady Holder”. It’s mentioned in Dragonflight as something Lessa can’t do if she’s going to be Weyrwoman. The White Dragon mentions the title in the sense of “Lord Holder’s wife”, then nothing until Moreta (where it seems to be the storekeeper rather than the political side of the job) and Nerilka’s Story where it might refer to someone ruling in her own right but probably doesn’t.

    Ah, Stock McCaffrey Female Villain strikes again. I don’t even need to number them; there aren’t really distinct types, because they all have the same core traits (love of pretty clothes, concern over appearance in general, willingness to use sex to get ahead). OK, we mostly haven’t seen that last one from Thella yet.

  4. genesistrine December 9, 2016 at 7:54 am

    @Wingsrising: Gold dragons lying in weyrs distributing eggs is no basis for a system of government! Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not some farcical Hatching Ceremony! :disappears in a foof of phosphine:

  5. Silver Adept December 10, 2016 at 2:51 pm

    @genesistrine –

    Good to know that it was possible to write a good story well before then.

    And it’s still such a disappointment that we’re not getting any sort of critique of the system – it’s a perfect setup for the story of how things are when you pull the curtain back and look behind. But when the author believes everything is great at the top and nobody else matters…

    Also, yes, gold dragon eggs are definitely not the basis for a system of government.

  6. emmy December 10, 2016 at 5:15 pm

    They could argue that because the dragons are magical and perfect and psychic and wonderful, they only choose the RIGHT people… but then you run into the Kylara issue, who is very clearly set out by the story as the wrong people?

    Maybe we’re supposed to believe her whole problem is that a good man didn’t take her in hand?

  7. genesistrine December 11, 2016 at 6:05 pm

    @Silver Adept: I bet there’s earlier examples too; Lilias just came to mind because I’d read the book so recently and been amused by the thought that in a bad book she’d be the cliched antagonist, stopping her daughter marrying the clean-cut adopted son out of sheer bitchiness and greed. But it’s sad to see a female SF writer contributing to the ongoing crappy-female-characterisation problem in the genre.

    @emmy: yeah, we’re supposed to believe that Pern is meritocratic, but we’ve already seen that Lord Holder status only goes to relatives (though we’re also told that Meron was a “jumped-up ex-Steward”, though only his relatives seem to have been considered as heirs, so were all the Nabol Blood wiped out? Is that the way to meritocratically get yourself into the upper echelons? While being loathed by everyone else in them?)

    And as for getting out of the drudge class, we got to see one drudge become a Weyrwoman, but we also got to see F’lar not bothering to check out the drudges previously because, well: “Overworked, underfed, scarred by lash and disease, they were just what they were—drudges, fit only for hard, menial labor.”

    So yeah, cheers. You’re drudges and drudges you will stay.

  8. Autumn December 12, 2016 at 10:34 pm

    @ genesistrine: I never did understand the meritocratic claim, given what we’re shown in these books. And this is what Anne had said about drudges: “The ‘drudges’ are not simple. They are people–and you have met them in your life, particularly in cities–who do not care to use any initiative and better their conditions. But they most definitely want to have shelter during Threadfall and are willing to do the less appealing tasks for that shelter, food, and a place to sleep. They constitute a very small portion of the population. Don’t be a bleedy heart–it’s their choice. Ciao, Anne”

    Yet that quote from Dragonflight completely debunks this claim.

  9. Digitalis December 13, 2016 at 12:58 am

    @Autumn: There are SO many reasons I hate that quote, not least because it’s classist as hell. It also doesn’t jive with what we see in the books, and I don’t know if the numbers work out well or not. I never got the impression that drudges were “a very small portion of the population.”

  10. Firedrake December 13, 2016 at 2:37 am

    Ah, they’re the underclass because they’re lazy. Yes Ayn, I mean Anne.

  11. Autumn December 13, 2016 at 11:45 am

    “Don’t be a bleedy heart” especially rankles me since members of this class were often depicted as either mentally disabled or battered women. You’d have to be completely heartless not to feel at least a modicum of sympathy for such people!

  12. genesistrine December 13, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    @Autumn: yeah, meritocracy my sanctified behind. Quite apart from anything else the drudges in DF haven’t had to hide from Thread for centuries. So what’s keeping them doing shitty jobs for dreadful food and sleeping on stone floors rather than heading off to somewhere nicer? COULD THE FUCKING WHIP MARKS BE A CLUE?!

    Not to mention that no-one there seems to have blinked an eye at a pre-teen girl being a drudge. Unless you want to believe that Lessa’s Sith powers were strong enough even then to stop anyone noticing her age, which is possible I guess but doesn’t seem likely to me.

    @Digitalis I don’t know if the numbers work out well or not. I never got the impression that drudges were “a very small portion of the population.”

    Me neither, and given the physical labour involved in housekeeping tasks with no labour-saving equipment there must be a fair number needed to scrub floors, wash dishes, haul heavy crap around, launder stuff etc.

    @Autumn: “Don’t be a bleedy heart” especially rankles me since members of this class were often depicted as either mentally disabled or battered women. You’d have to be completely heartless not to feel at least a modicum of sympathy for such people!

    Once again, FUCKING WHIP MARKS. JFC MCCAFFREY.

  13. Funaria December 13, 2016 at 11:59 pm

    I could possibly accept that as an explanation for the start of the drudge system, in the first pass, when there were still labour-saving devices and there could be people who were so exhausted/emotionally scarred from thread that all they wanted was to be safe and not have to think about the family they lost to thread.
    Then possibly it turned into a class system where children of drudges were looked down on and thus were denied the chance to be anything but drudges except in extreme situations. In that case, it would be easier to enter the drudge class than to leave it, so the number of drudges would rise over the generations, and it would become ingrained in society that drudges ‘deserved’ their place, leading to the situation as described in Dragonflight.

    Of course, that’s not what she said, so it’s just headcanon for how drudges could have arisen despite the theoretical egalitarianism of Dragonsdawn.

  14. genesistrine December 14, 2016 at 4:37 am

    @Funaria: Maybe. I don’t remember anyone that traumatised in DD, but after 10 years or so living in a cave, who knows?

    But it still means there was a point at which someone said: right, your parents had PTSD/your IQ is below x/you don’t have immediately useful skills/we have too many people with your skills/whatever; either you scrub floors for the rest of your life or we put you outside during Threadfall.

    And it must have been someones in a lot of places; Pernese culture is remarkably consistent across Holds; no-one seems to have got creative or gone with rotas for the shitwork during the 50 year periods of hole-up-and-stay-near-cover. Interestingly, the only place where I don’t remember drudges is Half-Circle, where the kitchen duties/housekeeping seem to be done by the kids and the Aunties. Is this a small-Hold thing, a fishing-Hold thing or something unique? Menolly doesn’t seem to be bothered by drudge treatment when she leaves it, though she does note at one point that Camo seems to be promised things that are then conveniently forgotten….

  15. depizan December 14, 2016 at 4:27 pm

    Seconding what everyone’s already said re the drudges, but also…

    “who do not care to use any initiative and better their conditions.”

    Use initiative and better their conditions HOW??? They’re beaten and mistreated and do exhausting, physically intensive work, which would leave them little time and energy for learning something else – assuming that would even be allowed. The crafthalls seem to work on some sort of apprentice system, but, judging from Menolly, you need to already know some of whatever to even get a place as an apprentice. The drudges aren’t searched for potential dragonriders.

    What are the drudges supposed to do? The way the class system is set up, they’re basically trapped short of society-wide revolution. Or, I suppose, a particularly egalitarian/liberal/whatever the right term would be Holder who treated them well, gave them time and access to an education, insisted they be searched for potential dragonriders, sent ones who were interested off to be apprentices at the crafthalls, etc. … And, the more I think about it, the more I think any Holder who tried any of that would be quietly replaced because it would risk society-wide revolution anyway.

    “It’s their choice” my ass!

    *fumes*

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