All The Weyrs Of Pern: Skepticism Abounds

Last chapter, the AI went to work in earnest, detailing what would be needed to give it more power, to create more workstations for access, and what kind of knowledge would have to be relearned so as to make good on the threat to defeat Thread permanently.

And a lot of people were introduced to AIVAS, many of whom are not convinced it holds the solutions…

All The Weyrs of Pern: Chapter Three: Content Notes: Homophobia

The conference the last chapter alluded to opens this chapter, with open skepticism that AIVAS (a “talking wall”) has anything useful for the planet at all. Robinton and Fandarel shut down that line of attack, and Lessa indicates the Lords are here mostly as a convenience and to avoid any accusations that anyone is hiding anything. Two Lords ask why AIVAS didn’t do anything about defeating Thread earlier in time, to which the Benden Weyrleader points out the problem of the volcanoes altering plans.

This is the right question, but it’s being asked of the wrong people. At this point, Lessa’s Ride is most likely part of the Teaching Song canon, which means every Lord should know that dragons can do the time warp again. And so they should be asking why future dragonriders haven’t already gone back in time and destroyed the Red Star before it could plague Pern. (Paradox notwithstanding, this is an excellent question, and deserves an answer, but that would mean explaining how the time travel works, which is more detail than anyone with narrative power wants to give about anything related to Pern.)

The questions continue, about why the dragonriders are so eager to put themselves out of planet-protection duty, and the wisdom of waiting until the quarterly meeting of the Lords Holder so that they can decide on whether to be on board with the plan. The Benden Weyrleader says that the Lords and the Craftmasters can make their own decisions, but delay is not a good idea on making use of AIVAS.

Master Glass-smith Norist, however, is more staunchly for TRADITION than even the Benden Weyrleader has been in the past.

“What that Aivas suggested I do in the Craft which I have Mastered, and efficiently, for the past thirty Turns, goes against every established procedure of my Hall!” Norist wasn’t going to give an inch.
“Including the now illegible ones in your oldest Records?” Master Robinton asked gently. “And here is Master Fandarel, fretting to get on with the restoration of an ancestral power station, quite willing to accept new principles from Aivas.”
Something akin to a sneer curled Norist’s thick, scarred lip. “We all know that Master Fandarel is endlessly fiddling about with gadgets and gimmicks.”
“Always efficient ones,” Master Fandarel replied, ignoring the disparagement. “I can plainly see that every Craft can benefit from the knowledge stored in Aivas. This morning Bendarek was given invaluable advice on how to improve his paper, Aivas called it, and speed up its production.[…] Bendarek immediately saw the possibilities and has gone back to Lemos to develop this much more efficient method. That’s why he’s not here.”
“You and Bendarek,” Norist said, a flick of his fingers dismissing the newest Mastercraftsman’s products, “may exercise your prerogatives. I prefer to concentrate on maintaining the high standards of my Halls without dissipating effort on frivolous pursuits.”
[…Asgenar calls Norist out as a hypocrite, since Norist has no trouble benefiting from progress, even as he resists it…]
“Glass is glass, made of sand, potash, and red lead,” Norist stated stubbornly. “You can’t improve on it.”
“But Aivas suggested ways to do just that,” Master Robinton said at his most reasonable and persuasive.
“I’ve wasted enough time here already.” Norist stood up and stalked off down the hall.
“Damned fool,” Asgenar muttered under his breath.

To put it mildly, this is what happens when a story escapes the original boundaries put on it. So long as Pern remains a closed world with demon rain that happens every so often, the world can stay static. You can get good narrative out of following the exceptional person that appears every so often before the rain comes that resets everything, because having innovation persist past everyone going into survival mode takes doing.

Once you’ve introduced the sci-fi component and allowed the AI to be revitalized, though, there has to be some role redefinition. The most consistent characterization would be to put the Benden Weyrleader at the head of the faction resisting change, because TRADITION and that the dragonriders have the most to lose from a new order. With help from Robinton, who’s already admitted to the Harper role in trying to keep things static. Maybe against Fandarel’s invention squad, assisted from the inside by Menolly and Mirrim, possibly also Lessa and Brekke, who are in favor of a new world for women. (Piemur and Jaxom could also help, occasionally, just because they want to keep their unique selves.) This storyline would have followed on from a better handling of Thella and the “Renegades” who would be fighting the established society. And would have been much less shy about showing off all the bad things about static Pern. And with the discovery of an AI, an immediate fight would break out for control.

But, because it’s already an established law of the universe that dragonriders can’t be wrong, there has to be a shift in thinking or an excuse found to justify why Benden is on board with this. And to displace the insistence on TRADITION to someone else. I can handwave it if I invoke Sith Lessa and claim that she’s been manipulating his mind over the course of their partnership to make him more open to the idea, but it would be nice if the narrative would give some justification past a single-minded devotion to a promise made many decades ago.

As it is, the conference adjourns, with some going back and some going to hear AIVAS tell the story of the colonists. After that, the assembled finally ask AIVAS the actual plan to beat Thread. Which gives them a deadline – in just about five years, there will be an opportunity to nudge the orbit of the Red Star in such a way that it will no longer drop Thread on Pern. The time-skipped dragonriders present ask why this wasn’t done in the distant past, and AIVAS mentions that the conjunctions were wrong and that it didn’t actually know enough to formulate the plan until after everyone fled to the north. (Time-traveling dragons, still.) So the new disciplines have to be learned and mastered, as well as a high degree of cooperation and coordination completed to make the plan work, all within this timeframe. AIVAS notes, accurately, that having the entire planet working on the task would make things easier. As everyone files out, gently but firmly dismissed by Master Terry, who needs to wire in a few more things to AIVAS, Robinton quietly asks whether AIVAS has a sense of humor. AIVAS dodges the question, and the scene shifts.

Fandarel is brought to the site of the hydro dam, and begins immediate work on determining what can be restored and how, accompanied by several other trusted Smiths to help with both physical labor and design ideas. They draft up a water wheel for the building that used to hold the power generation for the dam, and then we jump back to the Benden Weyrleader, who is unhappy at having not convinced all the Holders to sign on, before K’van details a problem with Toric – Toric wants the Weyr’s help to suppress a rebellion. K’van has told him no, that dragons don’t ferry Hold soldiers, don’t act as flying intelligence operatives for the Hold (to which Toric responded by trying to show dissent among the bronze riders about what their new Weyrleader should do as duty to the Holder), and then…

“He tried to bribe one of my blue riders with the promise of finding him a suitable friend.”

Cocowhat by depizan

Oh, there’s so much to unpack there. First, there’s the presumption that this is somehow an effective bribe. Communal Weyr living should mean that there is no lack of companionship and friendliness, unless that rider is particularly adept at irritating everyone to the point of having no friends. So that shouldn’t be a problem.

If this is supposed to be code for something which might be known extratextually, but hasn’t had actual mention in the text, it’s sloppy writing to start with. But also, it hasn’t actually been established that there’s anything different about blue riders. Because I think we’ve had…one? Two? blue riders that weren’t background characters to this point, so we shouldn’t have any reason to generalize.

And yet, even if that were true, and somehow had been set up properly, in the Ninth Pass, at this exact moment, we have exactly one green rider that’s a woman – Mirrim. So, um, men having sex with men should be a complete non-issue in Weyr culture. If, say, it had been established that Holder culture found same-sex relationships to be repugnant and that finding a suitable and discreet friend would be something a Holder son would be very interested in, then there’s a possibility that this makes sense. But the expected reaction from a dragonrider would be to laugh it off in someone’s face. Because everyone on the planet should be sufficiently steeped in dragonrider culture (or rumors about their wild sex parties and what it must be like to live there, if just having one fly over you can make you have sex with whomever is nearest to you) to know that the average rider is probably pansexual, even if they aren’t open about it to everyone. It should be a non-issue.

The Benden Weyrleaders, however, are *pissed*.

“You’d think he’d know better by this time not to try to bully dragonriders,” she said, her voice crisp with anger. When she saw K’van’s apprehensive expression, she gave him a reassuring touch. “It’s scarcely your fault Toric is as greedy as a Bitran.”
“Desperate, more like,” K’van said with a hint of a smile. “Master Idarolan told me that Toric had offered him a small fortune in terms and a fine harbor if he’d sail a punitive force to the Island. But he wouldn’t. And, furthermore, he’s told all the other Shipmasters that they’re not to help Toric in this matter. They won’t, either.”

Perhaps they are more upset about the ways that Toric tried to manipulate K’van than at this bribe-that-isn’t.

Also, I’m surprised at the restraint shown by the assembled when they had the Lord Holder of Bitra with the AI. Given that “Bitran” seems to be a six-letter word on Pern, and a machine that knew Avril Bitra, that nobody casually asked AIVAS about what the settlers thought of Bitra is a missed opportunity for petty cruelty.

And finally, Idarolan might be incorruptible, but we just spent an entire book pointing out that his subordinates, and many of the other Craft-trained people in the planet, are very much corruptible. Toric has supposedly been building an entire network of contacts and skilled people. If he really wants to invade that island, he probably has the people to do it with, including people who can sail the ships.

K’van tries to allay this last point by claiming that the reason Toric fails is because he can’t muster large enough ships to send a large enough fighting force to take back the island. And the Benden Weyrleaders decide to make a personal visit to inform Toric about all the interesting things going on at Landing. As well as for Lessa to chew Toric out for his behavior.

The scene cuts away to AIVAS giving Piemur instructions for plugging in a workstation. Which fails. And leads to a long recap of how everyone else is also facing trouble getting their machines working, despite having had to learn how to solder and using unfamiliar tools love a screwdriver. That the AI seems to have infinite patience is grinding on Piemur a bit. But he checks, rechecks, blows dust out if the workstation and plugs it in, getting the correct light and a prompt to appear. (No GUI for these interstellar travelers! Although the boot time on the terminal is quite impressive, considering.) After Piemur shouts for not and nearly causes a bad solder for someone else, AIVAS instructs Piemur to RTFM by typing in the README command. Soon Jancis and Benelek are also up and running, and the chapter closes with AIVAS asking if Jaxom will be among the students learning the system and Piemur expressing surprise at the prospect.

Well, of course Ruth should be involved. His timesense is leagues above every other dragon’s. If there’s an opportunity that requires a tight window to execute, Ruth would be the one to arrive at exactly the right time to give everyone enough time to do the right thing at the right time. Whatever that may be.

We’ll see what Jaxom is up to next week.

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6 thoughts on “All The Weyrs Of Pern: Skepticism Abounds

  1. genesistrine April 6, 2017 at 9:14 am

    To be fair to F’lar (which is not a phrase I ever expected to type) his main motivation all along has been “wipe out Thread”. It’s what he was brought up to do, even back when everyone else thought Thread was a myth, and he stuck to it when he only had his brother and his wing backing him up. I can see him being all about Tradition as a side-effect of that, because he believes Tradition is the most effective and time-tested method of killing Thread and keeping people safe (ie clearing vegetation near homes so it can’t attack Thread), but he’s cool with experimentation (agenothree, grubs) and putting in a bit of extra effort for luxuries (protecting Asgenar’s woodlands). Norist is “we do everything perfectly, no point in changing anything, take your talking wall and stuff it”, while F’lar is “kill more Thread? Kill ALL Thread for ever? Yay! How?”.

    I do agree Robinton should be LOT more conflicted though, or will be once he realises what’s at stake. An interesting thing about Pernese Tradition is that it can be defined either as “what we’ve been doing for the last 2500-odd years”* or “what our superduper dragonmaking ancestors set up”**, so in a hearts-and-minds battle for which definition wins the Harpers would be a critical force.

    *or, at least, “what we’re TOLD we’ve been doing for the past 2500-odd years”, which may not be the same considering that history seems to be entirely Harper ballads…

    **which, again, is going to rely on what AIVAS tells them their ancestors wanted, which, since we’ve already seen it lie and manipulate in the prologue is not necessarily going to be the truth either. The fact that the villains in the founding story it tells them (ie, the story of Dragonsdawn) and named after the unpopular Holds Nabol and Bitra makes me wonder if that story was carefully tailored to its audience – how much did it hear while it was being uncovered? Did it pick up slurs on/jokes about both? Did it find out out how little they know their origins, or is it sticking fairly close to the truth in case someone shows up with more information that might contradict it and show it up? We’ve wondered before how come Nabol and especially Bitra got Holds named after them; maybe it’s because AIVAS picked the names because of the existing prejudice and attached them to villains in the story it made up….

    Re K’van’s blue rider, there’s a much nastier interpretation. [CW for this paragraph: sexual coercion] It seems unlikely that Toric would pick some random rider and offer to pressure some random person into sex with them; is he really that confident of his ability to bully anyone a rider names? It looks a lot more like that particular blue rider had been trying to get with someone who wasn’t interested, and Toric’s offer was actually “I can make x be nice to you nudge nudge if you do me a favour in return”.

    Idarolan’s supposed incorruptibility is hilarious considering that Toric spent the last few Ninth Pass books building up a smuggler fleet with his connivance. All the other shipmasters are going to obey him? Suuuure they are.

  2. Brenda A April 6, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    I agree – dragonriders exist to fight Thread. Eliminating Thread entirely is taking that to the max. What will happen to dragonriders after that is a question to be explored later on.

    Toric may have settled half the southern continent illicitly, but the higher-ups in the North knew what was going on and unofficially approved it.

    Also, they’re probably hoping to force him to resolve it relatively peacefully.

  3. saidahgilbert April 6, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    Re: the time-travelling dragons. I don’t remember if the original dragons knew to time-travel but in Lessa’s Ride, it was established that time coordinates are needed. If these dragons are to go back in time and remove the Red Star (ignoring the paradox) they would need to know exactly when to go to. These people barely have any knowledge of astronomy and none of physics. Any time-travelling done so far has been approximate which is good enough if you’re travelling to a place on Pern. In space, I think they would need to be more exact. It’s probably why Anne McCaffery turned the story from fantasy to science fiction. Places on Pern just need approximate time-travel. Blink or wave your hand and you’re there at the place in time, probably. In space, it would be different and a static medieval society would not be able to do that.

  4. Silver Adept April 6, 2017 at 7:51 pm

    I can believe that the Benden Weyrleader is sufficiently zealous about the destruction of Thread to willingly put every dragonrider out of business to achieve that goal. And that he will take any advantage offered to get there. I’m just a bit surprised at the speed of the adoption, given his previous stance on traditions.

    I do like the idea of the AI making careful calculations to steer people in the right direction, and how much skepticism the descendants should have about what it tells them.

    I want to know what the specific details of that threat were – clearly everyone else understands, but it would provide insight to the rest of us.

    @saidahdgilbert – those are sensible restrictions, but nobody is actually asking whether or not the time-traveling dragons can do it and forcing someone to explain it. Even then, it seems sensible that someone could do the jumps in short increments, with coordinates passed up the line using very detailed drawings, so that the chosen dragon gets down safely, and then only has to make one jump across the void to the wanderer and do the thing needed. Paradox notwithstanding, and all. Since dragons are basically venerated as the saviors of the planet, it’s really odd that nobody is asking them to use their skills to rid the world of the threat in the past and to prevent the years of misery.

  5. Eilonwy has an emu (@myemuisemo) April 6, 2017 at 8:19 pm

    @SilverAdept – F’lar’s had something like 20 years of Threadfall to adjust his views on Tradition, and in the first couple of years, he had to flex on that issue for survival. The seven-year gap from DF to DQ gave him plenty of time to see that the [Time-Skipped] dragonriders’ traditions were not necessarily superior to his innovation.That said, this character development is largely buried under new characters and knife fights, so by now it’s been several books in which F’lar has been reduced to a walk-on character.

    One of my early frustrations with the Pern series was that while I finished DF wanting to know what Lessa and F’lar did next and what they thought about it, the books wanted to tell me almost everything except that. I was fine with the existence of Menolly (having been a teenage girl when I read those books) but deeply resented Jaxom and Piemur grabbing focus.

  6. genesistrine April 7, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    F’lar’s always been shown as being keen on technical innovation anyway – grubs, agenothree, distance-writers, distance-viewers, Benelek’s papermaking; his support for AIVAS would be a natural outcome of this. He’s an extreme social conservative and his sexual politics is beyond dreadful, but he’s not an unthinking reactionary.

    An interesting thing to do with this would be to show which way he goes when it becomes obvious that AIVAS’ changes will irrevocably change Pernese society. At the moment he’s “yeah, dragons move to the Southern Continent I guess, everyone lives happily ever after”, but there are going to be a hell of a lot of changes once man-eating Quorn stops falling from the sky and the drudges and renegades aren’t forced to stay near shelter.

    Though then again this will probably affect the people psychically bonded to the giant flying flamethrowers least of all….

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