Monthly Archives: June 2017

All the Weyrs of Pern: Long Distance Relationships

Last chapter, we finally learned The Plan – detonate starship engines in a crevice on the wandering planet do as to permanently alter its orbit and stop Thread forever. Nobody has thought about what to do with the ships after their engines are removed, yet, and they may not for a while.

All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapter 15: Content Notes: Suicide, Attempted Homicide

This chapter starts with anticipation of the journey. Jaxom is nervous that he’s doing this with the Benden Weyrleaders, as opposed to his previous jaunt to grab the missing egg and the spontaneous EVA. Sharra’s unexpected arrival threatens the plan’s timetable, and although Jaxom tries to get her to talk, she doesn’t say anything about why she’s there. Since the conspirators don’t want to talk about their upcoming journey in her presence, the action is stalled, which gives Robinton the opportunity to unveil a new song, with music composed by Menolly and words by a Harper named Elimona. Given name conventions of Pern, that suggests that Menolly is now confirmably not the only woman in Harper blue. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if Master Menolly is the only Master with women students.

We are then treated to the song’s lyric, which Jaxom links to the political situation at hand as he listens.

A heart that’s true in harper blue
makes song from heart’s own fire,
and though betrayed, is not afraid:
in danger, leaps up higher.

No world is free of minstrelsy,
nor noise, nor rage, nor sorrow.
A harper must discharge his trust
before he asks to borrow.

My Harper Hall is free to all
who serve with song and playing.
But you who’d hide your song inside
are very sadly straying.

Will you withdraw beyond the law,
lie safely in your slumber,
while dangers shake your world awake
and Death makes up his number?

Did harper here betray those dear
he’d feel more than my tongue.
If place you’d earn, you’d better learn
more music than you’ve sung.

For if you die, while safe you lie
hailed in your selfish bone,
no chant will come, no harper drum,
and you’ll lie long alone.

Get up, take heart–go, make a start,
sing out the truth you came for.
Then when you die, your heart may fly
to halls we have no name for.

Before getting into the content, a couple of useful meta bits. First, this is essentially outside content that’s made it into an official work. The acknowledgements section credits Elizabeth Moon for having come up with the text of the poem that is credited to Journeywoman Harper Elimona.

Second, this is the first time, I believe, that we’ve had the full lyric to any song at all, rather than just having them be referred to by name and having to fill in the gaps ourselves. I’m sure there a perfectly good reason outside Pern as to why this is happening – reference materials, the popularity of fan communities, the presence of a compact disc of songs, perhaps, but inside this world, we haven’t been treated to so in depth a view of the songs before. I wonder what it is about this point in time where the author has decided the full lyric needs to be shown. It could be as simple as “I saw this poem, and it was inspiring, so I included it.”

Which leads nicely into the content – this is pretty clearly a propaganda piece of some sort exhorting the world to get behind the AI’s plan and do their part to contribute to the destruction of Thread. Not getting to hear Robinton and Piemur sing and play it, I can’t make any meaningful commentary about how effective lyric and music work together, but given that it’s Menolly at the helm of the music, I’m sure the tune is catchy and an earworm. Which is too bad, because these lyrics are crude. The background I have makes me wince at the use of “minstrelsy,” given its long association with racism and blackface performances in the States.

The frame of the song is, essentially, a Master Harper calling their subordinates to be brave and speak truth, rather than hide in their office or the hall, with the threat that their names will be forgotten to time of they don’t get on board. As an allegory, it’s not bad, but it’s also very…Terran? There are no references to dragons, Thread, or other unique things of Pern. Rather than Death being involved, Thread would have surely been a better invocation? There’s plenty of gruesome imagery that can be invoked, and the mention would probably produce the right shudders among the listening audience. (That would mean modifying the poem, though, and that would probably make for difficulties.)

I also take an issue with the assertion that the Harper Hall is open to everyone, as that’s facts not in evidence, or not enough evidence through demonstrating that there are lots of women Harpers at the Hall and / or as journeypeople by name or incidental contacts. The tightness of the cast works against the Harpers in this case, and there were two books dedicated to the institutional sexism of the Hall. It would take a lot to move the needle there.

After singing the new song, the Harpers pick up other tunes and singing, and Jaxom enjoys the entertainment, even though it’s not actually helping relieve his anxiety that Sharra is here and hasn’t told him anything about why yet. Eventually, everyone retires for the evening and Jaxom continues to try and keep Sharra away from the real plan. We learn that Jaxom has written letters in case things do go lethally wrong (a solid precaution – and also fascinating reading, if you ever get the chance to see letters written for contingencies, such as ones written in case the moon mission failed).

Jaxom also keeps Sharra off the immediate plan by telling her the long-term one (couched as AIVAS “call[ing] our bluff that the dragons can lift anything they think they can.”), and then seducing her.

His post-coital sleep is interrupted, however, with warnings from both Meer (one of her fire-lizards) and Ruth about an intended intruder. Jaxom slips out of bed and then catches the knife-wielding assailant in a hold. Jaxom gets slashed for his troubles, and retaliates by breaking the wrist that holds the knife. This downs the attacker long enough for reinforcements and light to arrive, showing the intended assailant is a dragonrider.

One of the time-skipped, in fact, mentioned as the rider that brought Sharra in at the beginning of the chapter. Ten points to all theories that suggested a dragonrider would be needed for killing Jaxom.

Jaxom stared down at the old rider. “Blame?”
“You! I know who it was now! It was you–and that white runt that ought to have died the moment it was born!” Outside, Ruth roared exception to the insult, then thrust his head through the window. “If it hasn’t been for you, we’d’ve had our own fertile queen! We’d’ve had a chance!’
[…Jaxom boggles that someone else knows…]
“So it was you who cut the riding straps?” Jaxom demanded.
“Yes, yes I did, and I’d’ve got you. I’d’ve kept trying until I did. Nor wept if your woman’d did that morning. Save Pern from more like you and that abortion!”
“And you, a dragonrider, would seem the death of another?” D’ram’s scorn and horror made G’lanar flinch–but only briefly.
“Yes, yes, yes!” His voice climbed in fury and frustration. “Yes! Unnatural man, unnatural dragon! Abominations as vile as that Aivas thing you worship.” G’lanar’s eyes glittered; his features were contorted.
“That’s enough of that,” F’lar said, stepping forward purposefully.
“It is! Enough!” Before either Jaxom, who had stepped back from the man, or F’lar, who was moving toward him, could act, G’lanar plunged his dagger into his own breast.

No, he didn’t. Not unless he could get down to the floor where his knife was (the wrist with the knife in it was broken, presumably that means he dropped the knife), pick it up with his off hand, and then stab himself with it with sufficient strength to pierce his chest, all before anyone, human, dragon, or fire-lizard, could stop him. Essentially, nobody took the knife far enough away from G’lanar, despite his status as a threat, and even gave him enough room to be able to perform an action that would take several seconds to complete, despite the fact that he is still a threat. That’s…highly improbable. Not just because all of his targets are still in the room, meaning that Taking You With Me is definitely an option, but because it would seem like a basic tenet to remove the weapons from the vicinity of the threatening person.

This sounds suspiciously like a cover story. “Oh, no, he somehow got a knife and killed himself!” Because dragonriders don’t kill each other, and it would be quite the stain on the Aivas project for it to be known that they murdered someone with an objection to technology.

I also don’t fully buy that it’s about the egg grudge, but then again, time-traveling dragons. Should be easy enough to observe the incident when the egg gets stolen back and figure out who was responsible. And grudges do last for a very long time if you want them to. “Sic semper tyranus” and all that.

Most problematically, though, this plot is a wasted opportunity. Yes, there’s a tangential reference to the AI, but what’s coming through most strongly here is that Jaxom ruined the time-skipped’s ability to keep their own way of life at the top of the pile in the new time, and so revenge is sought. It wouldn’t be that much more difficult to extend the chain out a few more links and really tie in both the idea that everyone is experiencing upheaval if their sacred traditions and methods, and that the clear similarity between all the leaders of this heretical faction is that they are unnatural. An intelligent machine, a tiny and iridescent dragon, a man who has one foot in each of the aristocratic and priestly castes, three old men ruling together, dragonriders that believe in the end of Thread, a girl Harper, a girl green dragonrider, and so on. It would really help underscore how far we’ve come from when the Benden Weyrleader was the narrative’s epitome of TRADITION. There needs to be more connective tissue between this plot and the worldwide Luddite rebellion underway. This should be a “zOMG they even have dragonriders!” moment.

Instead, it’s treated as a vestigial element, where the dragonriders put down inquiries of the dragons to say whether or not their riders are in accord or not. D’ram takes the body to have it given proper funerary rights.

The next day reports no traitors from the dragons. There is a little possible flair of “How bad is the PR on this?”, but it’s essentially going to be sold as a single old dragonrider having a fit of insanity so as not to give credence to any of the rebellion’s ideas. And from there, it’s space suits for everyone. Lessa is, of course, so small that the smallest of suits is still too large for her and adjustments need to be made. Jaxom and the Benden Weyrleader find it funny. Lessa doesn’t. All three study their target image, to try and fix it in their minds so that the dragons will go there. And manage the jump perfectly well in about thirty seconds, popping out above the chasm in question, slowing to a stop eventually on the world that rains Thread, so that they can study various formations and possible places to set the engines down. With three suitable sites marked and the air supply running low in the dragons, all three pop back to the Yokohama to shed the space suits, and then back down to the planet to sketch out their pictures for others to use. And to refresh themselves and their dragons.

Jaxom checks in on Sharra, sees she’s gone, remembers she was also going up to the ship today, and then goes off to bathe Ruth. And that’s the chapter. Equal portions of “the trip to the Red Star to scout locations”, “the song Menolly and Elimona made”, and “the attempt to kill Jaxom by a dragonrider”, which should have been a much bigger fear than it was.

Now we have all the pieces in place, except for the test of whether the dragons will warp with the engines. Once enough materials are manufactured, the Plan will be ready.

So what’s going to try and get in the way now?

Writer Workshop June 28th, 2017

(Posted by chris the cynic)

[Anyone who would feel more comfortable talking about non-writing creative work in a thread that doesn’t have “Writer” in the name, you may find this month’s creative corner thread useful.]

Those of you who also frequent Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings will find this somewhat familiar.  Here, as there, it was requested that there be a regular post to talk about writing projects (and other artwork-creation). Thus this post exists.

Pencil by Elisa Xyz

What are you working on? How are you feeling about it? What thoughts and/or snippets would you like to share? How does your activism work into your art? What tropes are you hoping to employ and/or avoid? Are there any questions you’d like to ask or frustrations you’d like to vent?  Writing workshop below!

Deconstruction Roundup for June 23rd, 2017

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is deliberately not thinking about things so as to have fun.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Ana Mardoll: Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings

All the Weyrs of Pern: I’m Making A Note Here

Last chapter presented sabotage and attacks as well as a discovery of Honshu and its secret fuel stores. The Pernese got a look inside a Thread casing, but didn’t learn a whole lot. And now comes more space exercises…

All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapter 14: Content Notes: Toxic masculinity

The chapter opens with the fuel from Honshu deposited into the main tanks, which is unremarkable except for that technology has marched on to the point where Jaxom and Piemur can share klah from a “hot bottle” composed of glass, an insulating layer of plant fiber, and a plastic outside layer. AIVAS called it a thermos when Piemur got it, and Jaxom has a little bit of gadget envy. Piemur dismisses it as Harper privilege to try out new things, and that he was conveniently there to receive it. Having dumped fuel, AIVAS tells them that the next step of the Plan requires dragons to be able to survive the vacuum for at least twelve minutes, ideally fifteen. AIVAS would like Ruth and Jaxom to be the test flyers to make sure the idea of anchoring dragons by letting them grip enclosures that had fuel tanks is sound.

Piemur, normally the daredevil, is hesitant, while Jaxom is game.

Then Piemur fixed Jaxom with a fierce stare. “So you’re going to do it? Without checking with anyone?”
Jaxom glared right back, anger rising. “I don’t need to check with anyone, Piemur. I’ve been making my own decisions for a long time. This time, I get to make it without anyone else’s interference. Not yours, or F’lar’s, or Lessa’s, or Robinton’s.”
“Sharra’s?” Piemur cocked his head, his eye contact unswerving.
[…Piemur continues to be anxious…]
Jaxom gripped his shoulder. “Don’t forget that Aivas cannot endanger human life. And we’ve seen tapes of spacemen doing EVA drills.”

THAT IS PATENTLY FALSE, JAXOM. Unless, that is, you believe the deafening that Aivas did didn’t endanger anyone’s life, even though it did permanent damage to their hearing. It could have really ruptured something that would have endangered life or made it impossible to keep balance or any number of things. And that, I presume, is one of the lower-level protection systems in place. From everything I have seen and heard so far, the AI is definitely not Three Laws Compliant and would probably happily exterminate an enemy of the Plan that proved a threat or danger to it or anyone it needed.

As it is, Piemur helps Jaxom get settled in his suit, and there is an EVA, where Ruth shows a lot of initiative and independence in decision-making where they want to go and when it is time to go back into the ship. Ruth thoroughly enjoys the trip, and Jaxom appreciates the view. Piemur is less happy about it.

Piemur let out an exaggerated sigh. “And if you and Ruth can do it, every other dragon and rider on Pern will feel required to follow your example. Is that what you wanted, Aivas?”
“The result is inevitable, given the friendly competitiveness of dragonriders.”
Piemur raised both hands in a gesture of resignation. “As I said, with a friend like Aivas, you don’t need enemies!”

Indeed so, Piemur. Although I wonder how much of it will be “friendly competition” and how much it will be “can’t be shown up by the runt and the Holder-child.”

When they get back to Landing, Lytol gives Jaxom a mild dressing-down about the unscheduled EVA, followed by the text mentioning that several more were given as each of the other major stakeholders are informed of what happened. D’ram and Robinton immediately see there is a reason behind the reason of getting dragons adjusted to space and decide to go ask the AI, who finally decides to let them and us in on the plan, assisted by Jaxom and Piemur realizing key points along the way – to move the engines on the spacecraft to a chasm on the wanderer, and then engage an uncontrolled matter-antimatter reaction by using the nitric acid already used for flamethrowers to corrode the protective barrier between the two. The resulting explosions should provide enough force at the designated time to permanently shift the wanderer’s orbit into a nonlethal pattern.

“How heavy are those engines?” F’lar asked.
“Their mass is the one weak point of the plan. However, you have constantly stated that the dragons can carry that which they think they can carry.”
“Correct, but no one has ever asked them to carry engines!” F’lar replied, awed by the scale of the loads.
Jaxom began to chuckle and received offended stares. “That’s why the bronzes have been exercising in free-fall–to get them used to things being so much lighter in space. Right, Aivas?”
“That is correct.”
“So if we don’t tell them how much those bloody things weigh…”
“Now, really, Jaxom,” F’lar began.
“No, really, F’lar,” Jaxom replied. “Aivas is applying a valid psychological technique. I think it’ll work. Especially if we think it can work. Right?” He gave F’lar a challenging look.

This “cheeky kid” routine is probably supposed to make us cheer for Jaxom more against the established and slow older generation, and also show us just how much more clever the young ones are, but Jaxom comes off the worse for this exchange, more like the insufferable know it all who impatiently words for everyone to catch up to his genius. He’s convinced of his rightness and nobody is getting in his way. That he’s the main character means the narrative invests in proving him right instead of making him wait.

The plan of making the dragons believe they can receives approval from Lytol and D’ram, and the Benden Weyrleader eventually comes around to it, as well. Lessa voices a practical concern – the distance to travel will be massive, and so dragons and riders both will need protection.

There’s also a quick speculation that the reason why Lessa nearly died during the time jaunt was a lack of oxygen, implying that large time leaps are possible, if one has a spacesuit and sufficient oxygen supply for the trip. The lack of interest in experiencing history or documenting everything more thoroughly is even more glaring now, but since this bit is sandwiched in between other plot points, I don’t expect it to come up again.

AIVAS also gets to tell us about its calculations on how long the jump will be.

“From what has been said by every rider interviewed, only eight seconds elapse to reach most destinations here on Pern,” Aivas went on. “Of those eight seconds, the dragons seem to use a basic five or so to assimilate their coordinates, and the rest of the time for the actual transfer. Using this premise and adapting it to a logarithmic computation, assume that travel takes 1 second for 1,600 kilometers, 2 seconds for 10,000, 3.6 seconds for 100,000, and 4.8 for 1 million and 7 to 10 seconds for 10 million. While this method of transference is still incomprehensible to this facility, it does appear to work. Therefore, knowing the approximate distance from Pern to the Red Star, it is easy to compute an interplanetary jump. It has also been established that dragons are able to function for fifteen minutes before their systems are in oxygen debt–more than enough time to make the journey, position the engines in the chasm, and return. The dragons are accurate fliers.”

I’d like to know how the AI comes to the conclusion of five seconds of orienteering, unless somewhere in the databank is the results of experiments in dragons and their travel capacities. Also, the way AIVAS calculates suggests the dragons either accelerate in hyperspace, or perhaps that folding hyperspace the right way to get to the destination takes a little longer for a dragon to do when the distances are greater.

And no, it’s not just a matter of knowing the distance, it’s knowing the distance and giving the dragons a target point to land, on an object hurtling through the system at speed. It’s so nice that dragons take this into account, if unconsciously. Otherwise, we would have to use computers.

The Benden Weyrleader immediately volunteers himself to make a trip out and back to test the theory, and forbids anyone else from joining him. Jaxom says he’s coming, and that he’ll go anyway if he’s forbidden, so there. Lessa thinks they’re both fools and decides to join them. Lytol is firmly in the camp of caution, on the idea of “if all y’all get killed at this juncture, you can kiss goodbye any chance of restarting this plan for a very long time” and that it is impossible to completely predict the future. He is ignored because there’s way too much toxic masculinity in the room, between the Benden Weyrleader’s “I can’t ask anyone to do what I wouldn’t do myself, because I AM LEADER,” Jaxom’s “I know best out of all of you, so you can’t stop me,” and Lessa’s “I’m not missing out on this just because you think I’m a helpless chick.”

But he’s right, and has been all this time about the dangers of these missions. It’s a Star Trek Away Team mission, composed of the highest bridge and department officers. And if this were a realm where they were the only dragonriders, then sure, caution to the wind. But there are entire Weyrs of dragonriders that could be sent on such a mission, even if there’s only a small subset of them that are trustworthy enough to actually undertake it. Like, say, Mirrim, who has the temperament and desire to prove herself every bit the equal. Why not give her the opportunity to do something heroic and awesome?

The chapter stops here, with the plan agreed to and Lytol pointing out the shortcomings of their confidence. One thing not mentioned that I can think of right now – if the ship engines are teleported and detonated, that leaves the ships themselves as giant hulks of metal on a decaying orbit. Fandarel was rightly concerned with being Colony Dropped when the ships ran out of fuel, and now the plan is to do just that, apparently. Unless the AI believes the massive ships will burn themselves up completely in the atmosphere. Or that dragons can be used to transport the ships safely to the ground where they can be scrapped or studied in case the Pernese decide to go exploring. But nobody is asking in their rush to prove themselves, meaning it will likely be up to Jancis or Fandarel to actually point this out.

Let’s see if they do it next time.

Writer’s Workshop June 21st, 2017

(Posted by chris the cynic)

[We have a place specifically for non-writing creative work now, if you’d prefer that.]

Those of you who also frequent Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings will find this somewhat familiar.  Here, as there, it was requested that there be a regular post to talk about writing projects (and other artwork-creation). Thus this post exists.

Pencil by Elisa Xyz

What are you working on? How are you feeling about it? What thoughts and/or snippets would you like to share? How does your activism work into your art? What tropes are you hoping to employ and/or avoid? Are there any questions you’d like to ask or frustrations you’d like to vent?  Writing workshop below!

This week in the Slacktiverse, June 19th, 2017

(posted by chris the cynic; written by members of The Slacktiverse)

The Blogaround

In Case You Missed This

No submissions this week.

Things You Can Do

No submissions this week.

–Co-authored by the Slacktiverse Community

Deconstruction Roundup for June 16th, 2017

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is cursed with a surfeit of malevolence at all levels of their life.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Ana Mardoll: Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings

Froborr: Jed A. Blue

Philip SandiferEruditorium Press

Ross: A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are trying to decide just how much bribe is enough to make the issue go away. Or for any other reason, really.