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.