Well, then, we’ve firmly crossed genres now. What started as an exercise in Our Dragons Are Different has fully transformed itself into a hybridized science fiction story and the technology of the Ancients is now rushing in to fill what was a gap. With the rediscovery of the artificial intelligence in the South, clearly Pern is about to undergo a massive change. Not even the Harpers can stop what’s coming next.
All the Weyrs of Pern: Prologue and Chapter One: Content Notes: Misgendering
A mercifully short Prologue (without the backported spoiler data, now that the truth is known) opens with AIVAS returning to awareness after a long sleep, plugging a hole about how it could have stayed functional – occasionally the winds swept the ash and dust off the solar panels so that the batteries could recharge. We’re also told that AIVAS was tasked with the function of destroying Thread before it went to sleep as a primary priority task, which I don’t recall happening anywhere in Dragonsdawn, and also, I find it unlikely that an intelligence that was being used to help run Landing and several other stakes would prioritize Thread over continued operations. Then again, I’m also not a colonist, nor an author fighting with a story that’s clearly a square peg being sanded down to fit the round hole.
AIVAS observes Ruth, and categorizes him as an anomaly, but is as excited and nervous as an AI can be that has been waiting 2525 years for humans to come back, wondering if Thread has already been defeated and what new tasks will await if this is the case.
But then comes Chapter One, and while the AIVAS remains the narrator, sort of, the timekeeping system in place returns to the native Pernese one. Present (Ninth) Pass, 17th Turn. That’s a near-Whatfruit problem by itself, because AIVAS would have no conception of the time, since all it has done at this point is make a magical shift to comprehensiblity and then tell the story of the Ancients that we have collected in Dragonsdawn. There hasn’t been time to learn the strange timekeeping system the descendants have.
Anyway, the narrative picks up as AIVAS is telling the story to an increasing audience of Lords Holder, Craftmasters, and Weyrleaders, with accompanying pictures and graphics to illustrate. Once finished, everyone sits in awe for a moment. Robinton asks why the story stops so abruptly, and AIVAS points out that it received no new inputs. Fandarel wants to know if AIVAS can help rebuild the lost technology of yesteryear (affirmative), and the Benden Weyrleader…wants the place cleared out before more questions can be asked and nobody allowed in without express permission.
It falls to Lessa to be the amazed character, expressing wonder at everything seen and heard (rather than, say, Piemur, who would fit the bill nicely, or Jancis, if it had to be a woman), which AIVAS deflects by asking about whether the dragons are the descendants of Kitti Ping’s efforts. We’re told that Ramoth is the largest dragon on Pern, to Lessa’s discomfort, and the characters find out that AIVAS has external sensors it can access.
And then there’s the question of Ruth.
“And the white one?” Aivas went on. “It–”
“He,” Jaxom said firmly but without rancor, “is Ruth, and I am his rider.”
“Remarkable. The bioengineering report indicated that there were to be five variations, imitating the genetic material of the fire-dragons.”
“Ruth is a sport,” Jaxom replied. He had long since stopped being defensive about his dragon. Ruth had his own special abilities.
On the one hand, hooray for proper pronoun insistence, about twenty or so years before it became a social issue, not that the author could have foreseen it. On the other hand, here’s another one of those impossible slang pieces showing up. Admittedly, my variation of English doesn’t use “sport” to mean “an entity with genetic variance” in common speech, even though it does exist. The only other place I’ve seen it is in A Wrinkle In Time, and there it seems to have a pejorative meaning, even if everyone seems to be using it positively, as Jaxom is here. But there’s no reason for me to believe that the people of the Ninth Pass understand genetics well enough to understand mutations and variations enough to have a slang word for it that matches the slang of 20th c. Terra. Ruth is quite literally the first dragon on record to have a variation like this, after all. Perhaps the Masterfarmers and Beastmasters and herders have a basic grasp, since they likely engage in all sorts of breeding for traits, but there’s no evidence, unless we take it as truth that the Harpers were able to arrest the language so completely, that this word would survive Pern’s environment.
After talking about Ruth, there’s a little bit about proper titles to use when addressing the assembled crowd. AIVAS indicates surprise at the presence of Lemos Hold, considering it knows far more about Bart than the descendants do (just wait until they mention Bitra Hold), but shifts quickly to happiness at the idea of Telgar Hold. The Benden Weyrleader refocuses the discussion by asking AIVAS what it knows about Thread.
The standard scientific explanation of how Thread gets to Pern and its periodic return goes entirely over everyone’s head, including Fandarel. But there is a temporal calibration moment, from Robinton.
“With due respect, Aivas, we do not understand your explanation,” the Harper said wryly. “A great deal of time has passed since Admiral Benden and Governor Boll led the settlers north. We are currently in the seventeenth Turn–what you call a year, I think–of the Ninth Pass of the Red Star.”
No, no, no, no, no! Not just “Noted.” There’s no reference point for that to make any sense. In a non-quoted part of the explanation, AIVAS admits that there’s up to a decade of potential variance between when Passes start and end. All it knows is that there have been eight passes before this one and this one is currently in year seventeen. Eight Passes of fifty years plus 17 = 417 years. Plus eight intervals of 250 years = 2417 years accounted for. AIVAS indicated it had been 2525 years – 2525 – 2417 = 108 years of flux that has to be dealt with. Not to mention that it hasn’t actually been definitively established that the Turn and the year are identical. What if the colonial calendar developed leap years? Or any number of timekeeping oddities that could have developed. The AI should still be getting to relate to things in Landing terms, not Ninth Pass terms.
Anyway, the Benden Weyrleader, after finding out that AIVAS has some theories about how and where Thread comes from, asks the big question – can entropy be reversed…err, is it possible that the threat of Thread can be removed? AIVAS answers in the affirmative – if Pern is willing to relearn what the colonists knew, is willing to reconnect AIVAS to the databases on the starships, and is willing to put in the time and effort to perfect all of this new knowledge.
The Benden Weyrleader is on board, because Sacred Duty. The Lords Holder are definitely on board, because no longer having to pay tribute or defer to the Weyrs would be highly profitable for them.
AIVAS only now asks for the Records of the various Halls and Holds so that it can make an assessment of the planet’s current tech levels and scientific understanding and formulate a plan to get Pern up to an appropriate level to beat Thread. After that, the assembled leaders determine that it would be best to restrict AIVAS to only those present in the room and Jaxom, so as to avoid having everyone making requests of it or getting to monopolize its time. A short discussion breaks out about who gets to use the machine first, when AIVAS points out that it doesn’t have to be limited, assuming some parts of technology are still intact. (They are.) AIVAS shows the necessary parts and says that they can be assembled, if all intact, into twelve workstations, which would both solve the problem of access and provide a foundation of knowledge and application toward building the technology needed to defeat Thread. AIVAS prints the necessary blueprints and component lists, mentions it will need some extra material (and that paper will do in a pinch, causing some grins), and then Lessa insists everyone gets sleep. Robinton will have none of it, of course, but his objection is curtailed by the fact that Piemur spiked his wine cup with fellis juice.
Fandarel takes charge of finding the materials and getting people to assemble everything for the morning, and most of the assembled file out for the night, leaving Piemur alone with the AI for a bit (even though Jancis is sleeping and Menolly and Sebell have arrived). AIVAS tells Piemur that it’s going to need more power than the solar panels to be able to run itself, and suggests rebuilding the hydroelectric facility in some way to do it.
AIVAS also solicits from Piemur, by only understanding what colonists would understand about a harper, and not knowing the extra functions of the Harpers, what exactly the Hall does, Sebell and Menolly, Robinton’s special status as retired Masterharper (and he uses the words heart attack to describe what happened to Robinton – not necessarily wrong, given what little we know of Healer terminology and knowledge, but not necessarily what I would expect someone on Pern to call it), and useful cultural data about who can be addressed without title and who insists on it, as well as new knowledge for AIVAS about the abilities of dragons.
“The culture and societies of your present-day Pern have evolved and altered considerably from the early days of the colony. It is incumbent on this facility to learn the new protocol and this avoid giving unnecessary offense.
Without intending any offense, is it currently acceptable to maintain the sports of the breed?”
Piemur snorted. “You mean Ruth? He and Jaxom are exceptions–to a lot of rules. He’s a Lord Holder and shouldn’t ever have Impressed a dragon. But he did, and because they thought Ruth wouldn’t survive long, he was allowed to be raised.”
“That is contradictory.”
“I know, but Ruth’s special. He always knows when he is in time.”
[…AIVAS asks for more information, having known about the ability to go through space…]
…So if a dragonrider times it without his Weyrleader’s express permission, he gets royally reamed–if he hasn’t come to grief messing around with timing, that is.”
“Would you be good enough to explain in what circumstances timing is permissible?”
Today is apparently slang day on Pern, as a “reaming” is not something I would expect anyone on far-future Pern to use correctly. But also, it kind of makes sense for it to be Piemur involved in all this casual conversation with AIVAS.
Piemur tells AIVAS the story of Lessa’s Ride, which prompts the AI to ask how many Long Intervals there have been (hey, look, chrono-correction! It’s like someone has been listening to me well before I started). Sebell and Menolly arrived with the records. Piemur hopes to get them to startle when AIVAS talks to them, and so introduces Sebell (described as “browner than ever”, which I can’t decide is a comment about a tan or that Sebell has actually been brown and nobody has thought to mention it) and “Master Menolly, Pern’s ablest composer.” (emphasis mine).
Menolly passed her Master exam! Woo-hoo! Couldn’t we have seen this as the B-story to Renegades, instead of the retreading of Dragondrums? I’m sure it would have been a lot more interesting and told a lot more about Pern.
Belatedly, Piemur remembers the security setup, and so has to ask Menolly and Sebell to leave so that he and Jaxom can feed the records into AIVAS. Menolly drags Piemur to bed, so it’s just Jaxom and AIVAS and a long night of scanning. And talking about Ruth’s time sense and the dangers of hopping about in time, at least to start. AIVAS is them also able to extract a working knowledge of roles, responsibilities, and politics on Pern while Jaxom turns pages. Jancis (who has also apparently passed her Master examination at some point? I thought she was introduced as a Journeywoman in the last book…) takes over for a bit before AIVAS calls a halt due to low energy reserves. Jancis then goes to brew klah and Jaxom and Ruth exchange a worry about whether the dragons will become superfluous when Thread is permanently beaten. And a good example of expected Pernese slang.
“A most felicitous happening, dear friend, not that it matters a lead mark how you and the other dragons came to be,” Jaxom said stoutly.
Although it does raise some other questions, like why Pern considers lead coins to be worthless, since it was supposedly a resource-poor world.
There’s also a little bit more about pronouns in a bit of a reversal of how AIVAS initially treated Ruth.
It? He? Referring to this–this entity–as an ‘it’ seemed impolite. The masculine voice was so rich and lively. Yet Aivas called it/himself a machine, the product of an advanced technological culture and, for all its knowledge, an inanimate device. Jaxom felt more comfortable thinking of Aivas as real, real as his own flesh-and-blood self.
Use the pronouns that the entity prefers, rather than your own ideas, but of course, someone would argue that this particular issue isn’t a relevant thing yet, so how could the author have known?
The rest of the chapter is the arrival of many dragons and important people. Lessa seems a bit put out that AIVAS is asleep when she has all these dignitaries present to see him, and the assembled crowd are told of how Sebell and Menolly couldn’t do anything, prompting the Benden Weyrleader to approve based on the obedience to orders and Fandarel to approve based on the fact that it’s a machine doing exactly as requested.
With no computer to talk to, Fandarel decides to make efficient use of time and go to the caves to gather the materials requested for making workstations.
It’s a magical world out there, once again. Time to go exploring.