All The Weyrs of Pern: Fetch Quests

Last time, we learned a little more about the plan to beat Thread, that Toric is making trouble for K’van, and the first few workstations for AIVAS access came on-line.

And that the AI specifically would like Jaxom to be part of the cohort learning how to use the machines.

All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapter Four: Content Notes: Cancer

Jaxom is on fetch quest duty, a problem of his own making, because he tries to be helpful to requests made of him and Ruth. Back home, Sharra steps in when she feels Jaxom is being taken advantage of, but Sharra’s not here, so Jaxom is doing a lot of running about helping, instead of assembling and programming machines, like he wants to. A stomach rumble reminds him that Sharra also insists that he takes meal breaks. Why isn’t she here? Sharra’s pregnant again, and we know hyperspace has an abortifacent effect. Grabbing food and witnessing the attempts to heal a burnt hand reminds Jaxom that he promised to bring Oldive to AIVAS, so off he goes to collect the Masterhealer, while avoiding the apparent throngs of Harpers that want information or their own rides. Once back to Landing, Jaxom escorts Oldive to the AI, where the three from the last chapter are busily tapping away. Everyone but Oldive eventually removes themselves to another room, so that Jaxom can learn how to assemble a computer properly from components.

Busy disassembling the makeshift table, Piemur shot Master Oldive an indulgent grin. “You’ll get used to a disembodied voice real quick, the kind of sense Aivas talks.”
“Go teach yourself to be sensible for me, Young Piemur,” Aivas said in a jocular tone that startled everyone.
“Yes sir, good Master Aivas, yes, sir,” Piemur quipped, bowing humbly as he backed out of the room, carrying the table board and nearly knocking himself down when he forgot to lower the board to get it through the door.

And thus, the reason why the dodge about whether the AI has a sense of humor – it’s the setup for a joke later.

Alone with the AI, Oldive hears praise from AIVAS about the strength and health of the planet, given the intent for an agrarian society. “To that end, they were receptive to many anti-industrial cultures, like the ancient [Roma], as well as retired military types.”

Oldive demurs the praise, given plague and other things, to which AIVAS points out the survival and strengthening of the whole as the good things, and tries to mollify Oldive by pointing out that plague hit the Ancients hard, too. Leaving the point behind, Oldive gets to querying about the patients with specific symptoms, and we cut away to Jaxom and the other computer people, where Piemur continues to tease Jaxom about his confusion and being behind.

Considering that Piemur nearly died from “pranks” that got nasty, I still find it curious that the narrative continues to insist that he would be mean to someone else about lack of knowledge or otherwise. And that he would use Jaxom, who has spent most of his life being bullied about everything, as his target. Unless we’re supposed to believe that Piemur is still upset with Jaxom for stealing his girl Sharra, even though he has Jancis provided to him by the narrative.

There is much frustration going about learning the computers, with accidental keystrokes erasing work, error messages, and other such things resulting in Benelek and Jancis getting a little upset and Piemur cursing that twilight means the LCDs aren’t easily visible. Lessa pops in to tell Jaxom that Oldive is done, and to rather firmly insist that everyone working at the machines gets some sleep. (Over Benelek’s desire to learn, but AIVAS takes Lessa’s side and remote-shutdowns the machines, assuring them their work is saved.) There is food and drink and Oldive has quite clearly had his mind expanded to the point where there’s a lot more to have to learn than even he knows.

Oldive also asks the next logical question about who to talk to about getting more time with the machine. Nobody appears to have thought that far ahead, and there’s a short squabble about how to use the workstations that have been assembled. Which Lessa cuts off by pointing out how tired everyone is and ordering the lot, including the Weyrleaders, to bed. Jaxom takes Oldive to Ruatha, where Sharra is waiting and pushing them into the office so they can talk. After food and drink.

“My dear, your female patient is suffering a gallbladder malfunction,” the old healer told Sharra. “Unfortunately, the man appears to have a cancerous growth, as we suspected. We can cure the one, for I have been given a specific medication for dissolving the gravel within the organ, but we can only ease the other from life.” Master Oldive paused, his eyes wide and bright with excitement. “Aivas has the most extraordinary fund of medical information, which he is quite willing to impart to us. He can even help us revive corrective surgical procedures, which you know I have yearned to do. Our Craft may have been limited to repair surgeries for lack of proper training, but he can help us recover much of that lost skill.”
“That would be wonderful, Master, but would we be able to overcome the prejudice in the Hall about intrusive measures?” Sharra exclaimed, her face mirroring her hope.
“Now that we have a mentor of unquestionable probity, I think that once we have proved the benefits to patients who will not men without dress take measures, we can overcome those scruples.” He drained his cup and resolutely rose to his feet.

The rest of the chapter is Jaxom gushing to Brand, the steward, about how new and exciting everything is, after Sharra and Oldive head to the infirmary, and Brand asking about whether AIVAS knows how to heat cold holds.

What I want to focus on, though, is that quoted passage. Up to this point, the surgeries that we had seen were for dragon wings, not humans. For a society like Pern, however, a distaste for surgery seems incredibly sensible, considering that while there were sterilization options for tools available in the Sixth Pass, there’s no indication those have survived to the Ninth. Furthermore, there’s probably no way of sterilizing the environment around someone, and so it would be very easy for infections to get into surgical sites and kill people. Oldive is right in that people who see no other way out will accept desperate options, but I don’t see that prejudice about surgery going away until there’s sufficient proof and knowledge available for it to be done regularly without complications.

Second, I know that science fiction stories are often excellent reflections in the time period that wrote them, but I was rather hoping that cancerous growths were a thing of the long gone past. I know that this time has been more than long enough for new mutations and methods to appear, but ugh, fatal cancers.

Next week will hopefully have a better ending note.

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7 thoughts on “All The Weyrs of Pern: Fetch Quests

  1. genesistrine April 13, 2017 at 3:51 am

    to which AIVAS points out the survival and strengthening of the whole as the good things

    Yay survival of the fittest! Just the thing to say to someone with scoliosis! (Or whatever it is that Oldive has.)

    Considering that Piemur nearly died from “pranks” that got nasty, I still find it curious that the narrative continues to insist that he would be mean to someone else about lack of knowledge or otherwise.

    He’s a bully and a crawler, and covers it with passive-aggressive “just kidding bro!” to avoid being called out on it. Which is something the Harper Hall culture apparently encourages, so good going Harper Hall training worked I guess.

    I have been given a specific medication for dissolving the gravel within the organ,

    Well, that’s some remarkable chemistry right there. Has AIVAS already analysed the entire Pernese pharmacopoeia and informed itself of their chemical production methods?

    there were sterilization options for tools available in the Sixth Pass, there’s no indication those have survived to the Ninth. Furthermore, there’s probably no way of sterilizing the environment around someone, and so it would be very easy for infections to get into surgical sites and kill people.

    Hot water and soap. They have sufficient chemistry skills to make HNO3, so carbolic soap ought to be possible, not to mention Pernese flora provides a local anaesthetic and a painkiller, so there’s no reason there shouldn’t be antiseptics/antibiotics out there too.

    Plus, given the choice of dying of a ruptured appendix (as a character does in an upcoming earlier-set book…) or risky surgery I know which I’d choose….

  2. depizan77 April 13, 2017 at 5:39 pm

    He can even help us revive corrective surgical procedures, which you know I have yearned to do. Our Craft may have been limited to repair surgeries for lack of proper training,

    *squints* I get, I think, that he’s saying surgeries for things that are not injuries having been not possible for a while, but the meanings of “corrective” and “repair” are close enough that that has a tinge of wordsalad to it.

    (Which is kind of fitting, considering that their medical care is as good or bad as the plot requires, consistency and logical extrapolation be damned.)

    And, considering that there’s evidence of surgery (and people surviving it) going back to Neolithic times here on earth and people on Pern not irregularly suffer the kinds of injuries that infection is a concern for, I’m not sure the “no invasive measures” thing is really that logical. (Though it doesn’t seem entirely inconsistent with the general weirdness of Pern.) I mean, Threadscore alone has infection risk written all over it – regardless of whether it’s a burn, a chemical burn, or layers of your skin being nommed off. Seems like antiseptics and antibiotics would be pretty high priority as far as things to maintain or develop go.

  3. genesistrine April 15, 2017 at 7:46 am

    Slight spoiler, but it becomes obvious later on that surgery (in the sense of deliberately cutting into people to fix things rather than sewing up existing injuries) is taboo on Pern.

    I think Silver Adept’s wrong about this being sensible due to the lack of sterilisation options, as I said – we know they have hot water and “soapsand” for starters, and though I don’t think distillation’s ever been mentioned it’s well within the Smithcraft’s capability to produce high-proof alcohol at the very least, and bleach should be pretty simple too. And Menolly managed to run the skin off her soles on a beach without infection setting in, so Pernese have good immune systems. Fair enough there’ll be a risk associated and I can see individuals deciding the risk wasn’t worth it, but this cultural noping out is stupid even for Pern, and in direct contradiction to the “rational people/no religion or superstition” brag on top of that.

    It might be possible to argue that surgical techniques were lost due to Healers dying off in pandemics, but we seemed to see quite a few named ones surviving in Nerilka, so… a problem with the Craft setup of training by apprenticeship? Did all the surgeons and their trainees die? Didn’t they keep manuals? Couldn’t they practice on cadavers, or is dissection forbidden too? Why? And again, how would that lead to the shock-horror-disgust taboo reaction?

  4. depizan77 April 15, 2017 at 11:28 pm

    Depending on their injury repair skills, there’s enough overlap between those and the skills needed to do surgery that it seems fairly bizarre that surgery would become taboo. I mean, I’m pretty sure they mentioned sewing up blood vessels or tendons or something delicate in the bit where Menolly’s mother repairs her hand, but I don’t have the book to double check.

    I don’t understand why you’d want surgery to become taboo, and I’m not sure you could get it to become taboo without effort. Especially not while maintaining the ability to repair injuries. (And how do you even have a taboo without a religion or at least superstition?)

  5. genesistrine April 16, 2017 at 3:57 am

    I think what’s going on is that AMC wanted to up the “pre-science/Scientific Revolution” feel of Pern, knew vaguely about the bans on dissection, decided to up this to “no surgery” and didn’t bother to think it through or inform herself more. But that’s Doylism, so….

    Menolly’s hand you can ahem handwave with “already cut therefore OK to sew up”, but yeah, these people regularly get into god damn knife fights so how come they get precious about surgery? And what surgery? Does amputation count as surgery? (There was a footless sailor in Renegades, but it wasn’t mentioned whether it was amputated by a ship’s Healer because of damage or just snipped off by, say, a hawser. What if it had just been damaged? Would they wait and see if it rotted off? Or is there a class of Healer who walks through wards with a recently-boiled axe whoops oh dear I slipped there went his bad foot mea maxima culpa and 12 Hail Annes for my sin. We were examining this woman when her appendix challenged me to a duel so I had to fight it. With a scalpel.)

    Do they have battlefields for battlefield surgery? They certainly have soldiers; do Holds ever fight between themselves or do the soldiers just sit around waiting for another Bandit Queen to arise?

    I know we’ve said this before but it gets truer and truer; Pern keeps finding new depths of stupid to plumb.

  6. WanderingUndine April 16, 2017 at 6:02 am

    “We were examining this woman when her appendix challeneged me to a duel”…hahahahaha. Remonds me of when I hit a tree trunk with a walking stick for no good reason and, when my hiking companion asked why, said the tree had telepathically challeneged me to a duel.

  7. genesistrine April 16, 2017 at 2:16 pm

    😀

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