All the Weyrs of Pern: From Behind the Black

Last time, more knowledge dispensed from the AI, some skepticism came forth, from both unreasonable sources and very reasonable ones, and there was vandalism and destruction of some of the AI’s batteries, revealing the presence of an anti-AI group that supposedly had been noticed by Robinton, but that hadn’t been arsed to actually be put into the narrative until they attacked and did damage.

All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapter 6: Content Notes: Sexism, ageism, hagiography

The first paragraph of the new chapter makes sure to contrast itself with the vandalism by extolling how the power trio of the retired Harper, the retired Weyrleader, and the retired Lord Holder (Lord Warder, technically), each with a reputation for impartiality, worked extremely well and used their shared knowledge together in the administration of the AIVAS’s time and workstations. I have a feeling, although it might be unvarnished cynicism, that the composition of the administrative team may have also forestalled complaints about favoritism or partisanship by giving nobody an avenue to grouse about their pillar of Pernese society not being represented on the council.

From there, the next few paragraphs are dedicated to what happens when a new thing comes into view – it becomes an outlet for Holders to send their non-inheriting children to in the hope of foisting them off on someone else so they don’t have to be fed or cared for at their Hold. The AI, however, stops the practice by instituting an aptitude test to weed out the candidates that won’t cut it as students.
Then there’s a rundown of how the name characters do with the computers.

Lessa and F’lar never became proficient in their use of a console, mostly because, in the Harper’s estimation, they had little time to spend learning the essentials; but they did grasp the fundamentals of accessing information. [The Brown Rider Rapist] didn’t even try, but his mate, Brekke, joined the Masterhealer’s dedicated group in their striving to regain the lost medical techniques. Mirrim, determined to keep up with T’gellan, struggled on despite a most distressing start and succeeded. K’van became as adept as Jaxom and Piemur.
To the surprise and delight of his close associates, the taciturn Lytol became an avid user, accessing files from the widest range of topics. He insisted on taking the late shift, as he never required me than four hours of sleep anyway.
“Lytol’s always been a deep person, with unexpected reserves–or he wouldn’t have survived as long as he has,” Jaxom replied to those who commented on Lytol’s new obsession. “Though I don’t understand his fascination with all that dry historical stuff when there’s so much more that we can apply to living and working here and now.”
“On the contrary, Jaxom,” the Harper replied. “Lytol’s investigations may be the most significant of all.”

So, young dudes succeed, older dudes don’t get it fully, and the oldest dudes surprise everyone by picking it up really well. Mirrim, of course, had to stumble first, because she’s trying to rise “above” her gender and be a dude in all the important ways, but she has to be reminded that she will not ever be a dude, no matter how much she tries. Whereas Brekke, model of womanhood and sticking with your attacker, joins a group of the best Healers. And nobody young understands why the old guy would be interested in how things were before the demon rain came down, as they work on getting to stop the demon rain from ever coming back. Because apparently only the older people understand what sort of upheaval is about to happen when the biggest threat to life on Pern is no longer present. It feels very dudebro, long before that kind of thing was into common parlance.

The narrative then explains the classrooms that are put to use for instruction in the sciences, taking care to mention that the Weyrs are the most eager groups to send students for general and special instruction without noting that the Weyrs’ relative idleness is what permits them to send wings of students to study. Robinton peeks in on various classes, one on electromagnets, one eventually on refrigeration and the properties of liquified gases that ends up being an excellent demonstration on why personal protective equipment is necessary when a glass thermos explodes in the face of a Smith apprentice. The apprentice is wearing eye protection, thankfully.

There is eventually a discussion of the wisdom of rebuilding a settlement that has already been buried in ash once, but AIVAS assures them that it is still monitoring the volcanoes, with instruments that apparently are still functional some 2500+ revolutions later, and says it’s not likely they’re going to blow up again.

That, however, is apparently less important than the developing problem that Norist is presenting with his strongly anti-AIVAS position. Which should have been in the last chapter, before the vandalism, so that the damage doesn’t appear to have come out of nowhere and there is plenty of plot to work with in investigating whether Norist is responsible.


“As you know, he had threatened to disavow Master Morilton’s Mastery and disown all journeymen and apprentices who have produced glass according to the, ahem, spurious methods and techniques of Aivas.”
“He calls Aivas ‘the Abomination’!” Piemur said with a malicious chuckle.
[…AIVAS apparently doesn’t mind, and Robinton continues after a diversion on whether the AI finds the humans amusing…]
“As the duly elected Mastercraftsman, guiding his Halls, he can only be replaced at a convocation of all Masters. Unfortunately, the Glass-smithcraft is not a large one, and most of the Crafthallmasters are as dogmatic as Norist. On the other hand, I won’t sit by and see Master Morilton disavowed or harassed or humiliated because he has learned something Norist didn’t teach him. He’s certainly proved adept at the new skills.”

This is all really good development work, and sets up the upcoming conflict nicely. That is, if we weren’t in a situation where one of the sides in this argument still has mounted flamethrowers that could presumably be used to intimidate anyone and everyone around them into doing what they want. Pern continues to be a very strange place in that the people who have the power have significant restraint in how they use it. Blame it on the dragons, maybe?

Also, I think this is the first time we’ve really had it explicitly spelled out that the Guild Masters can blacklist people. It’s been hinted at in the last book (considering that expelled apprentices and journeypeople were part of Toric’s strategy to be the juggernaut of the South and Thella’s strategy to be the queen of the holdless) and we knew that craftmasters could blacklist a Hold that wasn’t treating them well, and if we want to think about it, the whole sequence of stamped versus unstamped goods at the Gather back in the Harper Hall trilogy suggests there’s an approval system in place, but knowing that a guildmaster can unilaterally decide if someone is part of the guild fits in really well with Pern, even if it is inconvenient to the protagonists at this point.

And inconvenience is all it will be, most likely, as Lytol decides he might go lean on Norist in the same way that Norist is leaning on Morilton and Wansor, and Jaxom and D’ram both decide to use their offices to get the high quality glass that’s being denied to Morilton.

The Benden Weyrleader asks a smart question, about whether there are closer sand pits that can do the job, Robinton enters the query, and alternative sites are also chosen for examination.

Robinton also remarks that the AI wants more of the bronze and green dragons as possible candidates for the plan, the details of which are not being provided. In further speculation and complaints about how AIVAS is not detailing the plans out, Lessa notices that Jaxom is being singled out for extra attention. Piemur adds that Mirrim and S’len are also getting the intense course, and speculates that the reason why is because their dragons are the smallest and the AI needs small dragons for the grand plan, especially Jaxom and Ruth.

Spoilers: Piemur is right. (Which, arguably, makes Jaxom the main character of the entire series, even if he’s not always in focus.) Since my memory is hazy about the actual eventual Plan, I won’t talk more about it until we get there, but there is a thing that needs to be addressed at this point.

As the comments have mentioned, now that we’ve rediscovered the AI, AIVAS is very deliberately manipulating everyone, through strategic release and withholding of information so as to further its goals and purposes. The aptitude tests are not just weeders for the excess sons, but are presumably looking for people with talent in specific areas that will take to various disciplines. The narrative, through Piemur, informs is that Jaxom has the best three-dimensional navigational mathematics skills, then has Robinton volunteer that he’s been getting fed literature and sagas that Pernese stories are paraphrases of, and privately tells us that the Benden Weyrleader studies tactics, Threadfall forecasting, and draconic healing. Piemur is, of course, fascinated by computers. Lytol has been getting a steady diet of politics, and

“I don’t think any of us realized that our present political structure was handed down from the very Charter of ancestors brought with them. That is historically very unusual, Aivas told me.”
“Why should it be?” F’lar asked, mildly surprised. “It allows Weyr, Hold, and Hall to function without interference.”
“Ah, but interference was a major factor in Terran politics,” Lytol replied. “Spurred by territorial imperatives and, all too often, sheer greed.”

Said the AI to the Warder whose Hold was annexed by Fax before he came to be in charge of it.

The narrative is proceeding with all of this on the assumption that the AI is telling the heroes the truth, even though there’s been instances where they have observed AIVAS using what might be described as “skillful means” to achieve its goals. The account of the colonists we read in Dragonsdawn is apparently the story that AIVAS has been telling everyone. There’s no guarantee that it actually is telling the full truth, and seems to be relying on the credibility it receives as a source of scientific knowledge to talk about social, political, and cultural things. Lytol’s skepticism is warranted, and we hope that he is examining the information received with a critical eye and trying to see if he’s getting the entire picture, because in Terran history we repeatedly run across the problem of having only a single source, and usually, that source is the winners of whatever conflict they are talking about.

AIVAS is faithfully attempting to execute its plan to rid the world of Thread. What else is it doing in service of that goal, and what isn’t it saying about those goals? Does AIVAS need to completely rework Pernese social structure so as to gain the manufacturing capacity for the plan? Who will be its mouthpieces and actors? Will AIVAS cut someone off if they start straying too far from the path?

Why do we keep ending up in situations where there are Our Heroes and Cartoon Villains any time an opportunity for social commentary arises? Are our books also records told and spun by AIVAS in service of a master narrative? We don’t know, and the narrative seems determined to indicate there’s nothing behind the curtain at all, move along.

Jaxom and Ruth head to Paradise River, collect some of the sample same, and talk to Aramina and Jayge, who have a story from young Readis and Alemi about squid dragging a boat into a current, a storm capsizing that boat, and shipfish returning them back to shore, and the boat the next morning. Which sounds like a normal story, except that Readis says that the shipfish talk to them while they’re being rescued. Jayge confirms the story, and asks Jaxom to talk to the AI about the shipfish, even calling them doll-fins. Jaxom says he will, and then does a quick time-shift back to Ruatha…in the middle of a blizzard. While fretting about how there’s a lot of stuff going on in her life, Jaxom hits on the solution of how to keep his wife nearby – bring her south on a ship. He purposes this to her, and is met with great enthusiasm, including sex, apparently.

We switch back to the south, where the AI has recommended that the Harper Hall build itself a printing press, so that all the “nonessential” things, like music compositions, can be replicated worldwide. Robinton is a little worried about having the personnel to create it, but AIVAS considers it the right time for this to happen, and details what will be needed to create such a thing, including mentioning the journeyman that brought the initial message to both men as an excellent carver who could create the requisite movable type for the press.

This is the invention that finally smacks Robinton squarely work to realize what sort of changes are about to happen.

The effects on Hold, Hall, and Weyr, only beginning to filter through, would be profound. Lytol, having delved into the history and politics of their ancestors, had always worried about what he called the erosion of values and the subversion of tradition by new demands.
[…and what about the dragons?…]
In Robinton’s estimation, the Weyrs deserved whatever they requested after centuries of service, but would the Lord Holders, and the Halls, agree? That concerned him the most. Yet it seemed to worry the Weyrleaders least. And what if, in the four Turns ten months, and three days specified by Aivas, the attempt should fail? What then?
Perhaps, and he brightened suddenly, all this new technology would absorb both Hold and Hall, to the exclusion of the Weyrs. Hold and Hall had always managed quite nicely to ignore the Weyrs between Passes. Perhaps things like power stations and printing presses were indeed valuable, but for more abstruse reasons, as well as the obvious ones.

Lytol may still be the only person on the planet who has an inkling of what all of this new technology will do to the society. Robinton is starting to understand and think about the right questions and effects. So he goes to AIVAS and asks if everything is really necessary. And gets a rather interesting reply.

“Not to the way of life you had, Master Robinton. But to accomplish what is apparently the desire of the majority of Pern, the destruction of Thread, improvements are essential. Your ancestors did not employ the highest technology available to them: They preferred to use the lowest level necessary to perform the function. That is the level that is presently being reestablished. As you yourself requested in the initial interview.”
Robinton wondered if he had imagined the tone of mild reproof. “Water-driven power…” he began.
“Which you already had available to you.”
“Printing presses?”
“Your Records were printed, but in a laborious and time-consuming fashion that, unfortunately, permitted errors to be made and perpetuated.
“The teaching consoles?”
“You have harpers who instruct by set lessons. You had even managed to rediscover papermaking before accessing this facility. Most papermaking techniques, Masterharper, are refinements of techniques you already employ, made easier by some basic machinery and of no higher level than your ancestors brought with them. It is little more than correcting long-standing errors and misconceptions. The spirit of the original climate is still intact. Even the technology that must be utilized to thwart the return of the wanderer planet will be of the same level as your ancestors’.
[…which could be better if communication were still a thing between here and Terra…]
He could scarcely fault Aivas for doing what had been specifically requested, that Pern be brought back to the level of knowledge it had originally enjoyed. It was obvious that Aivas was obeying the initial request that only what was really needed be revived. It was just stunning to realize how much had been lost.

And how would you know that, Robinton, unless you believe that what AIVAS is telling you is true? An entity that admits to manipulating you is still apparently highly trustworthy? And the machine is selling you this idea that it is only doing what the ancestors wanted, which is conveniently not fact checkable because it is the only surviving link to those same ancestors. It has supposedly had about 2500 years to think and learn about what went wrong, and there’s a good chance it might have concluded that the Randian paradise set up at the outset was the problem. Presented with a feudal arrangement along with some interesting intersections, AIVAS is setting itself up as the ruling entity of the planet, with the end goal of eliminating Thread. Those it favors, it rewards with technology. Those it opposes, it sends minions after to bring them into line.

AIVAS is positioned to become Skynet, should things go in any particular way, and nobody seems to be interested in that problem, since Norist’s objections are described as being basically “TRADITION CAN’T HEAR YOU LA LA LA”.

Lytol might be the remaining hope for thinking through the consequences before diving straight in. We’ll find out soon enough.


12 thoughts on “All the Weyrs of Pern: From Behind the Black

  1. Eilonwy has an emu (@myemuisemo) April 27, 2017 at 7:37 am

    They preferred to use the lowest level necessary to perform the function. That is the level that is presently being reestablished.

    Robinton wondered if he had imagined the tone of mild reproof. “Water-driven power…” he began.

    Does Aivas’ response that they already had that mean they already had running water, or that they already had water-powered technologies like gristmills?

    I was chasing a plot bunny that would have required some time in the Weaver Hall adjacent to Southern Boll Hold, and the idea’s on hold because I can’t get a grip on where loom technology would be (especially since automated looms were a precursor or maybe a very, very early stage of the Industrial Revolution, so it seems like they ought to be able to persist at a decayed tech level — but if there were automated looms, why wouldn’t looking at those point to other forms of automation during Intervals?).

    A thing that’s always bugged me about Southern Weyr is that it’s dropped in the middle of nowhere, and yet we never see any setting-up of farming or support industries other than, oh yep, we’ll drop a hold here, too. Settlers at Southern don’t wear a lot of clothes, but they do wear some, and it’d make sense for weaving and pottery and glass-making and such to settle in down there pretty early.

    Spoilers: Piemur is right. (Which, arguably, makes Jaxom the main character of the entire series, even if he’s not always in focus.)

    Yep. With Piemur close behind, since these two are still having something resembling character development — or at least plot-important levels of agency — this late, while all the interesting women have faded into the background.

  2. Silver Adept April 27, 2017 at 8:37 am

    @ elionwy – Well, that plotbunny might get help, as power looms will be mentioned by name in the next chapter as a hot new craze for their time period.

    I would like to believe that there are already water-powered mills and the like, because they’re pretty essential if you want people to bake bread on a regular basis, and since rolls are a very big part of food on Pern…

    I’d also believe some other Crafts, possibly the Smiths, have some form of this, too.

    Southern was established as a convalescence Weyr, if I recall correctly, and then we hit a time skip that conveniently vaulted over the setting up of the rest of the infrastructure that would be needed to make it a permanent location. Even then, though, there’s still a lot of importation of goods by dragon, so I’m not sure exactly how much support was intended for the place.

    I, too, lament that we have several awesome women who have been part of stories before being shoved aside for the super special and unique Lord Holder dragonrider and his rule-breaking maverick Harper friend. What was an interesting story told through the lens of women has become yet another bro-story. *sigh*

  3. saidahgilbert April 27, 2017 at 11:53 am

    I am confused by the title of this post. What does “behind the black” mean? Are you referring to coming out from behind a curtain like on stage? Revealing knowledge that was hidden?

  4. Firedrake April 27, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    “AIVAS is positioned to become Skynet, should things go in any particular way, and nobody seems to be interested in that problem”


  5. genesistrine April 27, 2017 at 6:48 pm

    There is eventually a discussion of the wisdom of rebuilding a settlement that has already been buried in ash once, but AIVAS assures them that it is still monitoring the volcanoes, with instruments that apparently are still functional some 2500+ revolutions later, and says it’s not likely they’re going to blow up again.

    Considering the volcano blew unexpectedly the first time that seems, well, remarkably optimistic.

    Pern continues to be a very strange place in that the people who have the power have significant restraint in how they use it. Blame it on the dragons, maybe?

    Dragonriders have a walloping great inhibition against dragon-vs-dragon fights. Maybe they worry that using dragons against humans might spark dragon combat if other dragons try and defend friends/allies? Or maybe they just don’t want the giant airborne teleporting carnivores to realise humans are edible….

    Said the AI to the Warder whose Hold was annexed by Fax before he came to be in charge of it.

    Not to mention that it’s heavily hinted when Lytol’s first introduced that Fax did something nasty to his family? relatives? when he came to power in the High Reaches. And, of course, Toric’s landgrabbing.

    the AI has recommended that the Harper Hall build itself a printing press, so that all the “nonessential” things, like music compositions, can be replicated worldwide.

    This may possibly be the sneakiest thing AIVAS has done so far. I don’t believe a culture could lose printing except by a sustained and deliberate campaign of suppression (yes, Harpers, I’m looking at you, and AIVAS may be very lucky that you forgot you destroyed it in the first place….)

    Yet another thing we’ve never been told: how many Pernese are literate? There’s one worrying clue in DF, when Lytol’s messenger delivers a letter to Lessa:

    He withdrew a message from his belt and hesitated, torn between the knowledge that women did not read and his instructions to give it to the Weyrwoman.




    Nerilka, 3 Passes earlier, can very obviously read and write though, so we can postulate that noble ladies are taught, and Tilarek the messenger is going by the women he knows, who aren’t noble because Ruathan nobility was wiped out. So presumably most Pernese women are illiterate. As for the men; anyone’s guess really.

    @Eilonwy: Does Aivas’ response that they already had that mean they already had running water, or that they already had water-powered technologies like gristmills?

    We see in DQ that the Smithcraft forges are powered by waterwheels; whether Pern’s bothered to make drudges’ lives easier by grinding flour etc is open to interpretation as far as I remember.

    automated looms […] it seems like they ought to be able to persist at a decayed tech level

    They lost printing. My bet is all weaving’s done by hand.

    @Firedrake: Team Skynet FTW!

  6. WanderingUndine April 27, 2017 at 7:28 pm

    Was the “squid dragging a boat into a current” a netful of small squid, or a giant squid? I don’t recall hearing anything about Pern having giant squid. Or small squid, though that would be easier to forget.

  7. genesistrine April 28, 2017 at 1:50 am

    One big squid, though probably not “giant” in the Architeuthis sense. Alemi and Readis were fishing for “big reds” and “There was only little squids on the edges of the school.”.

    I applaud the colonists’ good taste in bringing squid, to be honest, I like squid (not in the culinary sense), they’re cool, but god damn people you must have replaced most of the local ecology!

  8. WanderingUndine April 28, 2017 at 4:55 am

    Thanks. I read the book maybe 12 years ago, and forgot most of it.

    I’m partial to squid as interesting creatures *and* food, so I would also like to bring them when moving to another planet. But yeah, their ecological impact is…totally unspecified, but probably significant.

  9. Silver Adept April 28, 2017 at 8:05 am

    @ saidahgilbert –

    Yes, “the black” in this case is like the back of the stage, or any other partition from whence objects or actors can be placed without the audience necessarily seeing their appearance. In this case, the title has a double meaning, both for the knowledge and technology that is appearing out front, as if by magic, but also to the characters, especially AIVAS, who are orchestrating massive changes to the Pernese way of life without explicitly coming out and saying what they are doing. (Assuming they understand. Lytol might be the only person, other than AIVAS, who fully understands what’s going on.)

    @ Firedrake and genesistrine –

    So, Team Skynet versus Team Thread for who gets to control / annihilate the planet, then?

    Also, given that this Pern has generally been a medieval pastiche with fantasy dragons and lost technologies, I’m betting that the literacy rate pre-AIVAS was abysmal, unless you were a Lord or a Crafter. I’m 50-50 on whether Weyrs are universally literate or not, since it doesn’t seem like reading and writing are an essential part of their duties. But there are no priests to teach letters and prayers, so unless the Harpers had a mandate for literacy (they don’t, I’m guessing, since they use song as instruction and not writing), I’d say nobody that doesn’t have an absolute need for it is literate at all.

  10. genesistrine April 28, 2017 at 11:37 am

    All hail SS-18 Satan may his passing cleanse the Earth. I mean Pern.

    Literacy: Jayge can read, though his boss early on seems to rely on memory for his clients’ want lists and there’s no mention of cargo manifests as far as I remember.

    We know Weyrs, Crafts and Holds keep records, though we’ve no idea how big a hold or a crafthall would be before they start keeping them. Presumably a lot of them would just be accounts ledgers. We’ve never heard mention of tax collectors, though they presumably exist since smallholders are obliged to tithe, so it would be an advantage to have someone literate/numerate in the family.

    But then again without printing there’s not going to be a lot to read. The Smithcraft at least keeps some technical records, though they were badly preserved by the time of the Ninth Pass, and other Crafthalls presumably have technical libraries too. There’s no mention of libraries of recreational reading at all – as you say, Harpers have replaced that.

  11. emmy May 1, 2017 at 2:43 pm

    it still kind of bothers me to see the title TBRR set in close conjunction with F’lar who gets called his name despite having done, in my opinion, worse. I’m aware this is totally my personal issue and I’m not demanding that you change anything. For that matter, I know that I’m being totally biased here by not trying to apply the same penalties to Jaxom whose behavior with Corana was far from exemplary, but then I don’t think anyone tries to hold up Jaxom and Corana as a good relationship the way they do Lessa and F’Lar.

    Sadly sometimes it seems everyone on pern is guilty of pretty horrible things

  12. Silver Adept May 3, 2017 at 9:44 pm

    @ emmy –

    It’s not a mitigating thing, but for several books now, the Benden Weyrleader has been out of focus and apparently doing things that seem helpful, or at least not actively awful. That chance hasn’t really been afforded to other characters that are primarily defined still by that act. So it’s an idiosyncrasy, I suppose, that I’ll use his name in the quotes but not in the commentary, and that I haven’t been denying names to other reprehensible characters.

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