All the Weyrs of Pern: Full Steam Ahead

Last time, AIVAS dangled technology and accounts of history in front of Our Heroes, who snapped it up without a second thought. There’s an anti-AI faction in the Glass-smiths, but they haven’t been given characterization that passes into the second dimension yet. And the march of progress continues anyway…

All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapter 7: Content Notes: Abuse

Present Pass 19. In other words, a two year timeskip, which is, well,

Cocowhat by depizan

The end of the last chapter was the beginning of an industrial and social revolution on Pern, with at least a cartoonish opposition group also getting off the ground. This should be an entire book’s worth of back and forth, with battles, victories, defeats, sabotage, changes of sides, and all the rest. But no, it gets skipped. Not interesting enough. We’re supposed to accept it as foregone that the technological side wins and continues their plans. Because they’re clearly Good.

This chapter opens with Lessa popping awake in the middle of the night and flailing a bit to try and figure out why, before the “lighted clock face” on the side of the bed reminds her that both Weyrleaders have an appointment at Landing early their time.

Cocowhat by depizan

Clocks are not electronic mechanisms, and so would make sense to have on Pern. Lit clocks means lightbulbs powered by batteries, radioactive or reflective painting, or that AIVAS somehow convinced others to synthesize a glow in the dark chemical and apply it to timepieces. These are not things that are just “oh, they have clocks now that glow in the dark!” Can dragonriders use a timepiece as an accurate mental model for time-hopping? Who came up with the time zone designations for the planet? Is there a mass transit system? There’s so much that’s been skipped that I guess we’ll have to piece together through observation.

The Weyrleaders get dressed, banter a bit, make sure the watchrider that’s fallen asleep gets scared witless for doing so (and demoted to carrying firestone sacks during the next Threadfall, normally a weyrling task), and then grab some breakfast before doing a time-jump back to Landing, speculating that today might be the day when AIVAS unveils the Project, the plan to knock the Red Star out of orbit permanently, and how that might affect the politics of choosing Oterel’s successor Lord.

Ah, and more crumbs of how the world has changed.

Lessa had to grin, remembering the fuss Ranrel’s innovative engineering had caused among those who derided or downright rejected any useful products of “the Abomination.” F’lar scratched sleepily at his scalp and yawned.
“And when the other brothers tried to belittle
Ranrel’s project, along comes Master Idarolan, raving about the facilities,” she said.
“That’s not going to hurt when the Lord Holders convene. His mate’s a Masterweaver. She’s interested in having a power loom. I don’t know where she found out that such things were possible.”
Lessa threw up her hands. “Everyone’s gone ‘power’ mad.”
“It sure reduces sheer drudgery.”
“Hmm. Yes. Well, eat up. We’ll be late.”

Nnnnnngh…

That is a violation of characterization. Lessa disguised herself as a drudge to escape Fax, and as recently as a couple chapters ago, roped women until helping her do drudge work. She should know exactly how drudgery is mind killing, body breaking, and how much drudges are exposed to violence of all sorts. She should be at the forefront of getting rid of drudge work through machine labor, not pish-toshing at the craze for electrically powered labor-saving devices. And every woman on Pern should be right there with her.

If anyone should be clueless or failing to understand the implications, it should be the Benden Weyrleader, since he has lived a privileged life, with servants and underlings and the ability to basically take whatever he’s wanted in exchange for protection. That he supposedly has the insight about labor-saving devices to her skepticism is violence done to her character.

Furthermore, the presence of power looms asks more questions. What does the power grid look like on Pern? Does every Hold have its own power station? Does it extend to outlying holders? Does Fandarel’s telegraph get used as a message relay between places? Are all the wires buried, because Thread is hot enough to slice through them? Is it water wheels and dams that provide power? I don’t know, and since we time-skipped, that’s probably never going to get answered.

Second, one of two consequences has happened. Either the output of Pern and its consumption of resources has gone up by the multiplier of these machines, to which I hope there is sufficient demand and need for that output, or there are a lot of people who were attached to a hold that are now holdless, as those Holders realized that with machines, they only needed to feed a fraction of their drudge and staff populations to get the same amount of output. If, say, Thella, Lady Holdless, were present, she could seize upon mechanization as the cause of societal ills, ally herself with the anti-AI faction (possibly through a proxy), and then cause great unrest and insurrection by pointing out that the Lords Holder and the Craftmasters profit from labor far in excess of whatever payment is delivered to the laborers. There should be, or should have been, a popular uprising at some point (or some point soon) that had to be stopped in some way. The fundamentals of the world have changed, but the author seems unwilling to make changes based on the new information. Perhaps because the life of the privileged hasn’t actually changed all that much…yet.

On the way to the meeting, there is triumph about the manufacture of light bulbs by Morilton, and Jaxom worries about the increasing number of people in the anti-AI faction, called “dissidents” by Jaxom, pointing out how Our Heroes think about who should be running the world.

The actual meeting is to send Farli up to the Yokohama to turn the life support system back on. We are treated to what should be a grisly sight, namely the body of Sallah Telgar, apparently preserved all these years in the airless ship, before Farli is sent to her task, since dragons and fire lizards can survive without oxygen for up to ten minutes safely.

(Also, despite it being logical to do so, dragons and fire lizards have no explicit telekinesis, despite being able to hyperspace themselves about.)

Farli doesn’t get it, possibly because Piemur doesn’t, and so the Benden Weyrleaders send out for Canth, the only dragon that’s gone off-world, to try and make an explanation that Farli will understand. Canth and Ruth both tell their riders that Farli gets it, just that she hasn’t been to the right place so as to go back there. After thinking Ruth could fit and deciding that waiting for the reconstruction of suits would take too long, as well as a silent acknowledgement that is HNO3, rather than agenothree, Jaxom is at a loss.

Ruth, on the other hand, gets it and pops up to the Yokohama with the perfect precision needed to fit. And with an anchor there, Farli can follow and achieve her task. Ruth rather enjoys microgravity, and while everyone on the planets is busily shouting for Rough to get back, he executes a few turns and floats and asks Jason if they can come back sometime before finally returning. There is much muted everything, and also one spot that deserves special attention:

“Ruth and Jaxom were not Weyr-trained. But don’t think Ruth’s going to get off easily for this escapade.” He managed a droll grin. “Judging by the look on Jaxom’s face, he’s had a fright that he won’t forget. That will inhibit Ruth far more surely than threats from you and me.” He gave her one of his little shakes. “More important, the less furor there is right now, the fewer rumors will abound.”
Lessa let out a heavy sigh, glared at him, and then gave herself a shake, releasing herself from his grasp.

That’s…not okay, Weyrleader. I’m sure we’re supposed to see that as an affectionate gesture (a part I skipped over at the beginning had Lessa muse about how the Benden Weyrleader is amorous in the mornings), but the shaking was violent and abusive and intended to keep Lessa in line when we last saw it. That it is still there at all, and still frequent, makes all of the anger I had at him come flying back in an instant, and I would like to impose a headcanon that Lessa shakes him off because he’s still an abusive prick (even though the narrative wants us to believe she loves him) instead of because of her irritation at Ruth’s independence.

Now that the bridge’s life support is sufficient, the AI intends to send up Piemur with Jaxom and Ruth so that Sallah’s remains can be brought back and a funeral given for her. Piemur idly muses whether the space suit will be salvageable, before the silence in the room points out the faux pas, and then AIVAS steps on that enough to suggest that retrieving the suit was part of the plan all along. Nobody has a shudder at the machine suggesting this, though, and an extra fire lizard is requested to accompany them so that someone other than Farli understands how to get up into the spaceship. Redundancy is a beautiful thing.

Oh, and it’s also minus 10 up there, which is either below freezing or very below freezing. Despite that, the AI believes its perfectly good for humans to go up and do something up there. And after only a little complaining about the cold, the two have an adventure getting used to microgravity and unloading the oxygen tanks that were strapped to Ruth, who is anchoring himself by wrapping his tail around something. Eventually, the two make it to their consoles to program the telescope arrays and check to make sure calculations are correct about the plan. After being transfixed by seeing the entire world from the perspective of the outside, that is. A shower of debris frightens Ruth and the lizards, but AIVAS pulls everyone back to task before they freeze up, which is now starting to have an effect on everyone present. Both Harper and Holder put in their programs and run them, go to put their oxygen tanks into the system, and then collect Sallah’s body to go back.

There’s also some speculation on the subject we’ve been wondering about for a long time – why Bitra Hold exists. Before the quoted part, Piemur says he’ll give “Bitran odds” that the ship is colder than hyperspace. AIVAS corrects him immediately to indicate it isn’t, but notes that they’ve been exposed to the cold a lot more on the ship.

Jaxom tried to feel reverence for the personality that had once inhabited the frozen shell they were handling. Sallah Telgar had given her life to prevent the defector, Avril Bitra, from draining the Yokohama’s fuel tanks in her bid to escape the Rukbat system. Sallah had even managed to repair the console Bitra had wrecked in her fury at being thwarted. Odd that a Hold had been named after such a woman, but then, Bitrans had always been an odd lot. Jaxom chided himself for such thoughts. There are some very honest, worthy Bitrans–a few, anyway–who were not given to gambling and the other forms of gaming that fascinated so many of that Hold. Lord Sigomal kept to himself, but that was far preferable to the late Lord Sifer’s well-known unsavory appetites.

This would be a nice moment for show, rather than telling, but “Bitran” is an expletive, it seems, for people of vicious tastes. And yet, the Hold persists, and is known for their enthusiasm in gambling, a thing that is apparently frowned on in proper Pernese society (despite people as influential as the Masterharper engaging in it on the sly). There’s no given reason why gambling is so frowned upon, given that there are no officially recognized religious practices on Pern nor any cultural reason to believe why it should be sanctioned in such a manner.

Perhaps Bitra Hold exists as the sanctioned unsanctioned space of Pern, where vice of all sorts is allowed to be openly on display, and discretion exercised about who comes to visit, so long as there are no threats to the society that originate from that knowledge. It would be interesting to learn that Bitra Hold has existed in several places over time, moving when the heat gets sufficiently large as to force the issue – or when troops come riding in to exterminate people with too much secret power.

Or maybe Bitra Hold exists only as a passphrase to enter the parts of other Holds that would contain vice. It would explain the pervasive prejudice and the continued existence of Bitra in the face of it. I don’t know how they settled in that particular name, but maybe it’s a happy coincidence.

In any case, Sallah is successfully transported home, removed from the suit, which is still usable with some minor repairs, and housed in a proper coffin, with Larad offered the opportunity to have a public funeral, which will have a full rendition of the Ballad of Sallah Telgar (currently a very popular story for gatherings). And all of this is conveniently timed to happen right before the Conclave of Holders, so that the pro-AI group can point to several marvels, including the retrieval of a worldwide hero, as reasons to sign on to the technological revolution at hand and accept the guidance of AIVAS. When accused of planning it all this way by Larad, Robinton has the good sense to look shocked about it, even though the AI most certainly did such a thing. Plans are made.

And there’s this tidbit:

Aivas remarked to Lytol that since someone would be expected to wear that suit, it was fortunate indeed that superstition was not a facet of Pernese culture. Lytol disagreed. He and Aivas immediately became involved in a discussion of primitive religions and arcane beliefs, so that Robinton was just as glad that he was free to leave for Telgar Weyr with F’lar. The Harper wondered fleetingly if he would have done better to have stayed to listen to what was certain to be a fascinating debate; but he was delving too much satisfaction in being the bearer of such remarkable tidings.

“Ah, look at the possibility of worldbuilding and having to justify ourselves! Time to escape to some other location so we don’t have to provide details!” Because I would like to hear that argument very much, thank you. I think that the narrative wouldn’t let Lytol win, but I suspect his position is a lot stronger than we’re supposed to believe. Lytol, after all, has been on both sides of the Cult of Dragonriders, and so probably knows better than most about superstition.

That makes this chapter a wrap. Maybe next chapter, someone will sit down and explain what has happened in the interim?

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10 thoughts on “All the Weyrs of Pern: Full Steam Ahead

  1. genesistrine May 4, 2017 at 7:22 am

    Yaaay, another timeskip. FFS.

    Timezones: the dragonriders have been shown as understanding them previously, which would be inevitable when you’ve got a teleporting transport and defense system. They do seem to be relative (x hours behind/ahead of wherever they are) rather than by reference to a zero time; there’s no Fort Mean Time, which is an interesting equivalent to the Pass/Interval timekeeping system – there’s no absolute reference for either.

    Re glow-in-the-dark, they have glows; that could be an adaptation of them. I’d love to know what the clock mechanism is though. Can the Smiths make clockwork? Or is it something assembled from the storage caves?

    [Lessa] should be at the forefront of getting rid of drudge work through machine labor, not pish-toshing at the craze for electrically powered labor-saving devices. And every woman on Pern should be right there with her.

    Eeee-yeah… no. Sorry, but I think AMC is bang on there. This is exactly why intersectionality is a necessary thing; it’s human nature to subdivide groups into “like me” and “not like me”. “Every woman on Pern” is not a concept most women on Pern are going to get behind; my bet is the general non-drudge opinion on drudges and labour-saving devices is “don’t give those lazy bastards any excuse to do less work, if they’ve got less to do they’ll only have more time to make trouble”, while being perfectly happy about the thought of power looms etc for them and their own social class.

    (I’m not saying this is a woman thing, it’s a human thing. It’s just that we’re talking about women here – though remember that drudges are male and female, and in equal numbers as far as we can tell.)

    And also, Lessa has never shown any solidarity with drudges. She knows the work and can clean/produce edible food when she’s annoyed or stressed enough, but it doesn’t seem to make her sympathise with people who have to do that for a living. I suspect her usual attitude is “I got out so they could too if they wanted” rather than “there for the grace of Author go I”.

    Re power distribution I can’t see a power grid being a thing, what with Thread eating cables, metal shortage (remember that Pern’s supposedly metal-poor, hence wooden currency) and, no doubt, territorial issues. My bet would be waterwheels and maybe windmills (though those would have Threadproofing issues too).

    a public funeral, which will have a full rendition of the Ballad of Sallah Telgar (currently a very popular story for gatherings)

    The whole funeral thing is weird. “Oh, a convenient cave has opened up, let’s stuff her body in there!” There’s no mention of what usually happens to people’s bodies, there’s apparently no family mausoleum or burial plot for the Telgar Blood – why not? Yet another worldbuilding opportunity ignored…

    And I’d give worlds to sit in on Lytol arguing with AIVAS, not least because he seems to be agreeing with what we’ve been saying for a long long time!

  2. genesistrine May 4, 2017 at 7:26 am

    And also: the body was that of Sallah Telgar, who had died so valiantly to save the colony

    No she didn’t! She died trying to stop Avril Bitra leaving, which wouldn’t have had any effect one way or the other, except possibly having help turn up earlier if she did manage to get back to civilisation. AIVAS’s spindoctoring skills are on full display here; give the Pernese a tragic heroine to get all sentimental about and distract them from… what?

  3. WanderingUndine May 4, 2017 at 9:16 pm

    Ooh. Pern hasn’t inspired a “Surrounded By Assholes” clip since Nerilka’s Story. :-p

  4. Brenda A May 4, 2017 at 9:54 pm

    Regarding Bitra Hold – I think I saw an explanation somewhere that there was a faction of colonists that were convinced that Avril Bitra had died in an attempt to go for help, considering her a hero. Same with Nabol and Lemos, who did technically die while trying to learn more about Thread – no one on the ground could know they were also planning to try and locate Bitra’s treasure in space!

  5. Eilonwy has an emu (@myemuisemo) May 4, 2017 at 10:36 pm

    His mate’s a Masterweaver. She’s interested in having a power loom. I don’t know where she found out that such things were possible.

    Aha! My promised power-loom reference!

    I’m still puzzled as to how the Pernese managed to lose and never rediscover basic power loom technology in 2500 years with a couple Long Intervals. The first few generations really seem to be Golgafrincham Ark B. (I’d blame the serious die-off during Todd-canon late Second Interval/Third Pass, except all that technology was apparently lost before then. And that still doesn’t explain why nobody had time to invent and improve during the Eighth Interval before Fax’s conquests.)

    Oh, and it’s also minus 10 up there, which is either below freezing or very below freezing. Despite that, the AI believes its perfectly good for humans to go up and do something up there.

    Back when I lived in Minneapolis in the 1980s and 1990s, there was usually a week of February that didn’t get above 0 Fahrenheit. We bundled up and trundled along. So -10 Celsius seems downright balmy, and -10 Fahrenheit is well within my actual life experiences in going outdoors. Either of them, as a dry cold with no wind, would be bearable for a healthy, physically fit young adult wearing hat, gloves, and heavy coat.

  6. genesistrine May 5, 2017 at 4:43 am

    @Eilonwy: Golgafrincham Ark B

    Word.

    And not just power looms – printing. Paper. Surgery. Batteries. Historians. Observational astronomy. An. Entire. Fucking. Continent. A solar-powered talking library!

    The occasional random survival just makes it even more confusing: glows. Hot water systems. It even seems that they’ve been losing knowledge over the Long Interval – there’s a big thing in DF/DQ about digging out old and deteriorated Records with useful info that no-one’s bothered with for x hundred years.

  7. Silver Adept May 6, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    @ genesistrine Re: Lessa

    You’re probably right, but we’ve seen so little of Lessa and her inner world to know whether or not she’s in favor of it or not. I’d like to think that as someone who was a drudge for ten years while she waited for revenge, she’d be more in to making things better for them.

    I also think that the Lords Holder and possibly Weyrleaders and Crafthallmasters would embrace mechanization, not as a human rights idea, but as a way of reducing their staff. Since they hate drudges and think they are lazy, I would expect them to jump at the chance to replace lazy workers with machines that can be run all the time without stopping and kick out all the hungry mouths they hate feeding.

    And maybe I’m extrapolating from the work we saw being some in Nerilka’s Story, but if bet that the Weaving Aunts and the relatives, probably mostly unmarried women, that are usually together in a Hold to pervious extra free labor would also appreciate having a labor-saving device to free up their time, or live more independently.

    There are a lot of reasons why I think there are a lot of people on Pern would embrace mechanization. I’d just like Lessa to be doing it because of her past trauma, instead of ignoring that trauma.

    Re: technology – I have no idea whether the glows are responsible, nor whether the Smiths can make clockwork material. They can grind glass for microscopes, but yet again, worldbuilding fail.

    Time zones will work better with clocks, but I still wonder if someone can hold a clock picture and a destination together and time it that way.

    And yes, it’s probably self-contained and hardened power generation, likely with underground transport of power to machines (unless the power generation goes into batteries, which then power the machines.)

    I want to hear the debates between Lytol and AIVAS. The meaty worldbuilding potential!

    I also think that AIVAS has realized there’s a hero-worship cult here, not just with the dragons, but with others, and might be positioning itself to take on that heroic time, or to feed its surrogates with technology and power to make them into heroes and thus persuade everyone to follow its grand plan.

    @ Brenda A –

    That would make sense, except that the displayed prejudice against Bitrans, the Nabolese, and presumably, the Lemosians, contradicts what would otherwise fit in nicely with the hero worship cult. That could be chalked up to lost Records, but it seems like Pern also hasn’t really decided to change the names of places, either, which I would expect with the loss of Records (barring the supernatural powers of the Harpers).

    @ elionwy –

    Delivered as promised.

    Also, the loss of technology for these stories has a bit of an acetylene smell to it from the arc welding going on, where what was a fantasy story had to suddenly jump shift into being a part science fiction tale. If I were looking for a Watsonian explanation, I’d call it sabotage in the name of the pastoral life the colonists thought they were going to get to. And then blame the Harpers for the continued interference.

  8. genesistrine May 6, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    we’ve seen so little of Lessa and her inner world to know whether or not she’s in favor of it or not

    True, and we’ve never got to see Lessa interact with any drudges, or even many people of a lower social class that I remember – we’ve seen her chat to Manora a couple of times, but I think that’s it – so we don’t have her thoughts or her actions to judge by.

    I also think that the Lords Holder and possibly Weyrleaders and Crafthallmasters would embrace mechanization, not as a human rights idea, but as a way of reducing their staff. Since they hate drudges and think they are lazy, I would expect them to jump at the chance to replace lazy workers with machines that can be run all the time without stopping and kick out all the hungry mouths they hate feeding.

    Could well be. My take on it is that machinery’s going to be expensive for a while on Pern due to metal being rare and AIVAS’s plan taking priority, and they have a huge surplus population with a strong incentive to stay in one place due to not wanting to be out in Threadfall so labour’s cheap and plentiful. It’s kind of the Ancient Greek stuation; as long as you’ve got plenty of slaves why bother with mechanisation.

    In the long run, once (if) Thread’s no longer an issue then yes, I can see your scenario being the likely one. Going to be a LOT of interesting social upheaval then, but I bet we’re not going to hear much about it….

    the Weaving Aunts and the relatives, probably mostly unmarried women, that are usually together in a Hold to pervious extra free labor would also appreciate having a labor-saving device to free up their time, or live more independently.

    Again, not knowing the intricacies of the social system is a big disadvantage. Are the Weaving Aunts Craft caste? The Aunts in Half-Circle seemed to be doing drudge work, was this unique to that Hold because of Yanus’ obsession with people being useful? If the Aunts/spinsters are drudging then they probably would prefer some mechanisation, but then they may be skilled workers (weavers, seamstresses, embroiderers, etc), and those skills may be their niche in the Hold economy. But either way what they do may be their way of paying their way, and automation may mean Aunties being kicked out of the Hold if the local Lord doesn’t see why he should feed people who aren’t doing anything. I can see a big Luddite-type movement kicking off on Pern as labourers of all types realise that machines are not only a threat to their livelihoods but can get them booted out of shelter to play with the Thread.

    Names: The weird thing about Bitra/Nabol/Lemos is that there are no slurs or stereotyping of Lemos or… Lemosians? Lemosites? It’s Asgenar’s Hold and the narrative looooves Asgenar.

  9. Silver Adept May 9, 2017 at 7:56 am

    It’s like we could use some worldbuilding that’s been studiously avoided for several books.

    As for Lemos Hold, that there’s no active prejudice kind of makes sense, since, at least as AIVAS tells it, Bart Lemos was involved in the bad crowd, but didn’t actually lead any of the bad things. Just a minion, and so would maybe be used as a colonist’s name when the others are running out of memory, or something.

  10. genesistrine May 9, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    We could use some worldbuilding that doesn’t make things exponentially more confusing. Well, we can dream….

    But the Lemos thing – how would the colonists know who was involved in badthingery and who wasn’t? Not to mention that if they started naming Holds after hem-hem heroic figures wouldn’t there be multiple ones with the same name?

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