Last time, more planning to build up AIVAS, more Craftmasters getting useful information, more people refusing help, and more of Piemur making fun of Jaxom.
All The Weyrs of Pern: Chapter Five: Content Notes: Misgendering, sexism
Chapter Five opens with a different entreaty, from the Benden Weyrleader to Robinton, asking him to be the public voice and strongest advocate for doing things the AIVAS way. Robinton doesn’t fully agree to it, because there’s much fuss about him getting sleep, then bathing and eating in the morning, such that it’s past noon when he sits to food with his handlers, D’ram and Lytol. Telling the story of the AI and the plan to beat Thread, Lytol asks the same question about why the colonists couldn’t beat it then, and why they didn’t come back later.
This is the third time the question has been asked of someone, which makes me wonder if someone is being defensive about a thing that’s extratextual, as if the fans of the series had been asking this question and having to settle for this answer. It’s clearly unsatisfactory to a good many people there.
“And yet … a musical instrument can only do what it is constructed to do, or one of Fandarel’s machines. Therefore, a machine, even one as sophisticated as Aivas, could only do what it/he was designed to do. It/he”–I really must make up my mind how I consider the thing, Robinton thought–“is unlikely to tell lies. Though I suspect he,” Robinton said, making up his mind, “does not reveal the whole truth. We’ve had enough trouble absorbing and understanding what he’s already told us.”
AIVAS has a preference for address. If it hasn’t shown that preference in your presence yet, Robinton, it’s because you’re not paying attention, just like Jaxom wasn’t. AIVAS prefers it pronouns, not he. But because humans want to anthropomorphize, we ignore the stated wishes of the intelligent being for our own comfort. This is bad practice, and I would have thought that having made contact with other intelligent species would have had lasting effects.
As it is, Lytol is skeptical, but D’ram is on board and suggests that Lytol come for the history lesson to be convinced. Robinton believes in it, too, although he thinks having to clutch his towel to prevent nudity affects the dignity of his pronouncement. This idly makes me wonder what a dragonrider and a former dragonrider really would think of male nudity, considering their societal requirements and the tendency of everyone to bathe in the local water pool in this place.
Rather than being a two-dimensional villain, though, D’ram lets on that Lytol’s skepticism is entirely warranted:
“He’s too pragmatic. He told me yesterday that we were far too excited to think logically about the repercussions Aivas will have on our lives. Altering the basic structure of our society and its values and all that twaddle.” D’ram’s snort indicated that he did not agree. “He’s been through several upheavals himself. He’s unlikely to welcome another.”
Uh, D’ram? Lytol is exactly right and should be listened to. Robinton should know that intrinsically, even though he’s enthusiastic about the possible changes. Which, actually, is a bit odd by itself, now that I think about it – Harpers have been tasked with making sure nothing changes for millennia, and yet the presence of an AI changes this? Because AIVAS is the most authoritative source on TRADITION there is?
Lytol is right, and so are all the people who have been snarking at the dragonriders about what their retirement plans are. The permanent removal of Thread as a planet-cleansing menace means that everyone will be able to live openly on their land, instead of having to pay protection to dragonriders and tribute to Holders. The cash system already in place could flourish incredibly. Holders might decide to fight each other for land and resources, now that there’s no threat of Thread and dragonriders. The Crafts could finance these wars and then break the entire feudal system by ruining the fortunes of the hereditary nobility and calling in all their markers all at once. The Holdless might stake claims and tell anybody who says this isn’t their land to get lost. An industrial revolution might happen. The Cult of AIVAS might take over and use the Harpers as its propaganda and enforcement arm.
Hell, the dragonriders might decide Pern is still better off under their rule and use their giant war machines to put everyone under their thumb. What’s absolutely true is that the only way to avoid change now is to bury the AI and kill everyone who has any knowledge of it. Since that includes the most powerful people on the planet, including the Benden Weyrleader, change is inevitable. It’s now a question of how well the cabal that has been running the world to this point will continue to do so, and how much resistance they receive from others.
After talking with Lytol, Robinton returns to a much-changed site of the AI, where a kerfuffle is developing because Esselin is not letting in people who are on errands from Miners and Lord Holders to collect the facts about the AI and report back. They have also been told that the AI is already omniscient, rather than having to bring the records of their own Holds to bolster its knowledge. Realizing that there are already too many to fit into a single go, Robinton tasks D’ram with organizing them into groups by lottery, and goes in to see Esselin and convince him that it’s worth letting even the smallest of officials in to see.
“But they’re only Stewards and small miners…”
“There are more of those than Lord Holders and Crafthallmasters and Weyrleaders, Esselin, and every single one of them has the right to approach Aivas.”
“That wasn’t what I was told,” Master Esselin said, resorting to his usual obstructive attitude, thrusting his heavy chin belligerently forward.
Robinton eyed him pityingly for such a long moment that even the thick-skinned Esselin could not fall to notice his behavior was unacceptable to the Harper.
“I think you will find before the day is out that you will be told differently, Master Esselin. Now, if you will excuse me…” And with that Robinton strode down the hall to the Aivas chamber.
Despite being officially retired, of course Robinton still has pull with everyone and can make it happen. If Robinton were a woman, the narrative would be conspiring and the game might be making argument that she has a tendency toward Suedom, but because it’s an old man instead, this persuasive power is unremarked on, and seen as reasonable, since he rose to the office of the Masterharper of the planet.
Also, I think that’s the first time in all of these books that I’ve seen the collective noun for the Crafthallmasters. Why they wouldn’t be the Craftmasters or the Mastercrafters, I don’t know, but there it is, nice big clunky word there.
Robinton peeks in on a much-enlarged AI chamber as the Smiths and Miners are being shown a crucible and being told that they can use it to remelt faulty and damaged items, and that mixing old and new metal often results in an improved final product. AIVAS gets to a stop point, asks Robinton what he needs, and the Smiths and Miners, save Jancis, file out with their new data. Robinton immediately opens the window to circulate out some of the smell. And we have plot development that has happened while we were elsewhere, much to my annoyance.
“And did you get any sleep last night, young woman?”
Her cheeks dimpled in a mischievous smile. “Indeed we did!” And then she colored. “I mean, we both slept. I mean, Piemur feel asleep first–oh, blast!”
Robinton laughed heartily. “I won’t misconstrue, Jancis, even if it mattered. You’re not going to let all this fuss and fascination delay your formal announcement, are you?”
“No,” she said firmly. “I want to bring the date forward.” She blushed prettily but kept the eye contact. “It would make things easier.” She gathered up her things. “The others are in the computer room. You might want to take a crack at it, too.”
So we’ll stop there for a moment while I get annoyed that Piemur and Jancis are engaged to marriage, and all we got to see was a little bit of flirting here and there. Although, now that I think about it, engagements, marriages, pregnancies, and childbirth have been basically handled off-screen since the beginning unless there’s a significant point to be made with them, such as the coupling of the Benden Weyrleaders or when Alessan proposes to Nerilka as a suicide prevention measure. Menolly and Sebell, Jaxom and Sharra, Mirrim and T’gellan, and now Piemur and Jancis have all had their wishes to officialize things reported to us after the fact and that’s interesting, as if someone doesn’t want to write any sort of romance into their stories for fear that it would stop being taken seriously as genre fiction and be relegated to “romance”. Which is utter speculation on my part, but I would be more inclined to believe that a clearly woman author, Grandmaster of science fiction or no, (her induction, if I remember my trip to the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, is in 2002, and posthumous. [ETA: Memory bad. Induction is in 2005, death in 2011.]) is more of an impediment at that time than the presence of romance.
These lack of romance bits are also denying us crucial worldbuilding bits, like how marriage actually works in things other than Sixth Pass Lords Holder society. Does Piemur give Jancis a promise coin? Something else? How many times do they need to make the formal announcement? How many witnesses are needed? Does one of them have to be a Harper? We don’t know, and nobody is telling.
“Me?” The Harper was dumbfounded. “That’s for young resilient minds like yours and Piemur’s and Jaxom’s.”
“Learning is not limited to the young, Master Robinton,” Aivas said.
“Well, we’ll see,” the Harper replied, hedging and running his fingers nervously over his face. He was acutely conscious that he could no longer retain the words and notes of new music and had few doubts that the problem would extend to other areas. He did not think himself a vain man, it excessively proud, but he did not wish to show to disadvantage. “We’ll see. Meantime, we have a minor problem…”
“With that lot out there, determined against all Master Esselin’s prejudice on seeing Aivas?” Jancis asked.
“Hmm, a minor miner problem,” Robinton heard himself saying, and groaned.
Jancis pleased him by chuckling. “It is apt,” she said.
So, Robinton didn’t want to believe himself vain or proud, but he’s totally not going to show any weakness to anybody, even though he knows his memory is starting to go and his mind isn’t able to pick up new things any more. Which is, y’know, pride. And makes me want to know whether Robinton has planned for his eventual decline of faculties. Has he been in contact with Sebell, and possibly Menolly, transferring the wealth of his experience and memory to a written form so that knowledge is not lost between generations? Has he made a directive as to what is to be done with his life when he slips to the point where he can no longer be himself? Has he been talking to dragons and AIs and Healers about the possibility of reversing the damage or staving it off for a long as possible? Confronting death is not easy for anyone, and having the knowledge that your decline is going to be gradual can’t help that, even if it does allow for more planning time. Are there funerary arrangements to complete? Does Robinton want to go anywhere in the past for nostalgia, or try to jump forward on time to the moment of triumph against Thread? We don’t know, and the narration is choosing not to tell us.
The petitioners outside are eventually admitted as a whole, after we are told that people have faith in oracles, and that it would take about 44 hours to explain the word adequately, since the file on religion is large. During the explanation, AIVAS refers to what it is, but then the book misformats and says “Or Aivas, to use the appropriate acronym.” Even though the audience in the chamber can’t hear the capital letters, they should still be printed that way, since it’s an acronym. There is also a rather neat, if unplanned, demonstration of capabilities where a set of crumbling and molded records on microscope manufacture are scanned, reconstructed, and then printed as a new copy, fully restored. This awes everyone sufficiently that they can be shuffled out swiftly, with instructions to give any requests for more time or any questions to be answered to Robinton. Who then also takes on the task of making sure Esselin doesn’t apply his own priorities to who gets to see AIVAS, and shares an admiration for the time-skipped before setting Esselin straight and finding D’ram in the computer room. Piemur tries to get Robinton involved in computing, but Robinton deflects by talking about how ill-suited Esselin is to their tasks.
He’s a thick as two short planks,” Benelek grumbled. “And he doesn’t like any of us coming and going as we need to.”
“I don’t have any trouble,” Jancis said, but her eyes danced with mischief. “All I have to do is give him a cup of klah or something to eat from the tray when I bring it in.”
“And that’s another score I’m going to settle with ol’ Master fuddy-duddy Esselin,” Piemur said heatedly. “You are not a kitchen drudge. Does he never see the Master tab on your collar? Doesn’t he know you’re Fandarel’s granddaughter and top of your own Craft?”
“Oh, I think he will,” Jaxom remarked without looking up from his board, fingers flying across it. “I caught his paternal act this morning, and I reminded him that the proper form of address for Jancis is Mastersmith. You know, I don’t think he had noticed the collar tabs.”
Or, perhaps, Esselin has the ingrained sexism of the planet that prevents him from believing that women can be anything other than drudges, wives, and queen riders. The same sexism that both Piemur and Jaxom have indulged in, before having that notion solidly disabused of them by Mirrim, Menolly, Sharra, and Jancis, in rapid and apparently very attractive succession. (Robinton has some of it, too – Jancis blushes prettily, but holds his gaze earlier.)
That said, if collar tabs instead of shoulder knots are the ways Smiths denote Mastery, then there are probably a lot of Mastersmiths that get mistaken for something else. So it could be genuine not noticing, were it not for the sexist attitude.
D’ram nominates himself as Esselin’s replacement as door guard, to which Robinton provides AIVAS’s earlier suggestion for just that, and both agree that dragging Lytol into it is also a good idea, before Mastersmith Hamian, who is of the same family as Toric and Sharra, concurs from the doorway before asking if he can inquire of AIVAS for the technique and technology to make plastics. The AI says that there shouldn’t be a reason why not, that there’s petroleum on the surface nearby, and that Hamian not only gather equipment to disassemble and reassemble in that vicinity, but to start drafting a staff to assist and to get ready to learn a lot of chemistry and physics to make it possible to make the plastics again. Hamian is ready, and heads out to pick up the machines for study. Conveniently, this also gives an excuse for Robinton and D’ram to relieve Esselin and send him firmly back to the archives. Not too soon after that, Piemur gets a program to run correctly. Despite his earlier recalcitrance, Robinton decides to dive in to computer assembly and programming.
There’s a quick time skip, and we’re treated to a scene where Robinton, waking up when his fire lizard tells him something is very wrong, attempts to stop vandals from smashing some of the battery tanks being used to give AIVAS power reserves. It takes Zair and fire lizards to fend them off enough before they flee. Robinton is furious that he dozed in the first place, even though the damage wasn’t enough to affect capacity and there are spares. And then we get treated to more tell without showing, before the chapter ends with everybody trying to find the vandals.
He knew there was a growing antagonism to Aivas, but he had not really considered, even for a moment, that someone would actually attack the facility.
But who? he wondered, sipping at the wine and feeling its usual efficacious soothing. Esselin? He doubted the fat old fool would dare, no matter how upset he might have been over losing his sinecure. Had any of Norist’s glassmen been at Landing that day?
I’d like to have seen that “growing antagonism”, thank you very much, because otherwise I have to just take your word for it or extrapolate a ton from the one confrontation with Norist on screen. The development of an anti-AI faction, in the way that, say, the Thella storyline from the previous book had been developed, with their perspective, would have been awesome.
Assuming, that is, that they would be treated as competent villains, instead of poor caricatures of them.