All the Weyrs of Pern: A Smidgen Of Doubt

Last chapter was a bit of a breather, even as it did me characterization violence to Lessa and made sure the banner of the double standard was as spotless as possible for display.

All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapter 12: Content Notes: Bro-Code, the lying AI

Chapter 12 begins with the Crafts swarming over Honshu, cataloging and hauling off everything they can get their hands on, even the sled, which would require someone to manufacture new power banks for it to run. S’len also discovered a rack of functional space suits, which allows AIVAS to adjust some of its plans to include a bit of breathing room. The addition of the other two ships also helps with the plan, and an artist (Perschar, who we met in a previous book) is set to use the telescopes to map the terrain of the wanderer for whatever distinctive features might be useful. The Smiths are sent to learn the construction of the ship and see if there are any other useful things to be scavenged.

On one of these trips up, Fandarel asks a smart question and gets a very curt answer.

Fandarel, thinking about that fuel, wondered why the settlers had dared to leave the colony ships in an orbit that was ultimately destined to decay. Aivas replied curtly that that was not an immediate concern: So far the orbits had not decayed, and the surface of Pern was not at risk–not, at least, from ship debris.

It’s a really good question – why leave a ship up there that is likely to have a very bad effect when it crashes down? Unless the colonists were very sure that the ship itself would break up and vaporize in the atmosphere, there’s basically enough tonnage to perform a Colony Drop on the planet’s surface, and their supposedly low-tech agrarian descendants would be unable to handle it, much less know that it was coming. Sure, it won’t be their problem, because it will take millennia to achieve this and they’ll all be dead, but 20th century Terran technology has to plan very carefully what they do with decommissioned satellites and other such things. It’s unlikely that the characters of Three Hundredth or Three Thousandth Pass Pern would successfully be able to understand why the Dawn Sisters are moving, much less prevent a possible extinction event if they should all land wrong.

Before we can get too far into the ramifications of this, S’len activates the red alert when he sees Thread approaching.

“It’s Thread, Jancis, I’m sure of it,” S’len replied. “Not space debris. There’s this flood of egglike things of varying sizes streaming toward us. Looks just like the stuff Aivas described to us in his lecture. Space debris wouldn’t come in a steady flow, would it? This stuff goes back as far as we can see from the window. Only none of them ever hits the window, and the pilot’s board is all lit up and the engineer’s station is beeping at us.” His words came tumbling out in his haste to describe the situation. Then his voice became agitated. “Bigath and Beerth are demanding that we go outside. They say it’s Thread. I never should have even thought what I thought it is!” Then, in an explosive aside: “No, Bigath, we can’t fly this sort of a Fall. It’s not Thread yet, if that’s what it is! We haven’t any firestone, and there’s no air out there, and you wouldn’t fly outside anyway–you’d float, just like in here. Shards! Jancis, I can’t make her understand!”
S’len didn’t panic easily, and Bigath was not as erratic as some greens.

Ah, yes, that is actually a relevant problem when you have giant creatures bred to fight a thing who see it in an entirely new context. S’len is right, too, that methods that work in a planetary environment don’t work in the vacuum. Considering that AIVAS has said dragons can survive for a while out there, if the dragons could be outfitted with weapons that would work in space, theoretically Thread could be vaporized before it made planetfall. That might speed development of things on the Pern.

The panic continues up here, however, before we can turn our attention to such things.

“When is Ruth coming, Bigath wants to know!” S’len’s tone had altered from dismay to desperation. Aivas’s calm voice continued to exhort the green dragons to listen to reason, but he was using reason that the dragons were not able to hear. Jancis was scribbling a note to Jaxom to come at once when S’len with a cry of relief, said, “Ruth’s here and everything’s under control!”
Jancis looked at the note and then at her fire-lizard, who cocked his head at her quizzically. She considered the matter for a moment longer and then made a decision. There was absolutely no way in which Jaxom and Ruth would have known to come to the bridge. He was in Ruatha today, and Aivas had no way of communicating with him there. She checked the exact time on her watch and wrote it down on the note. She added a final phrase in big letters: “TIME IT!” Then she sent Trig off to Ruatha and Jaxom.
“But if Ruth and Jaxom are here, why send the note now?”
Jancis smiled at her grandfather. “Trig needs the practice, Granddad.”

So Jancis knows the secret but Fandarel doesn’t? Or is Fandarel’s attention just diverted and he’s not thinking through how things are going so far?

In any case, Jancis says she wants to see what Thread looks like in space, and so the Smiths all troop up to the bridge to see what the spores look like. Jaxom is described as having a laugh at the sight of everything, which is in character for him, I guess, since he’s no longer the sympathetic boy from before.

Once everyone gets into a stable state, Fandarel makes exactly the suggestion I had thought of before:

“Fascinating! To be amid Thread and unharmed by it. Truly astounding. It’s a great pity we can’t do something to stem the tide here, before it reaches the surface.”
S’len groaned. “Please don’t even think that,” he said, flicking his hand at the willing creatures whom Ruth was visibly restraining at the window.
“Thread doesn’t look so dangerous right now,” Jancis said thoughtfully as she watched the ovoids sweep in and abruptly disappear.

And then the next logical conclusion happens – Jaxom and Jancis suggest sending out a fire lizard to capture a Thread spore and keep it in an airless airlock for study. AIVAS points out that Lemos and Nabol tried but crashed, and tries to ward off the idea with how dangerous it is. It is ignored. AIVAS, seeing they plan on doing it, recounts the benefits of the plan. Trig is briefed by Jancis and Ruth, and succeeds at snagging a Thread egg and depositing it in the airlock. Which then triggers the hasty construction of an investigation team, to be brought up to study it.

Jaxom takes advantage of the situation to tweak AIVAS again about departure from the planned activities, and the bridge has amused glances as AIVAS recalculates and realizes the ships pass through Thread every fourth Fall. And then leads Jaxom to realize that the deflector shields can also be used as destructor shields, using the Yokohama to vaporize any Thread that gets in the way. Fandarel wants to know if the effect can be extended. On a no, AIVAS endures another round of people asking what the actual plan is and getting nowhere with it before Jaxom suggests that the deflectors on the other two ships could also be used as destructors. Cue a giant clamor of everyone asserting they have the right to do it on the other ships, until Jaxom asserts himself again.

“As Lord Holder, I outrank everyone else, so I will make the decision. Master Fandarel deserves the chance for many reasons, and Jancis, too. However, Bigath and Beerth brought all you Smithcrafters up here, so they can just haul you across to the other ships, as well. You–” He pointed at Balterac. “–can be trusted with switching the screen from deflect to destroy. And you–” He indicated Fandarel. “–can then engage. Jancis, you reprogram the shield, and Evan, you can hit the ENTER key. So you’ll all take part.”

Wait, Jaxom outranks both the Mastersmith and the dragonriders? I don’t think so. For one, that would create a significant imbalance of power, even with the Crafters’ ability to pull all their people out. Second, that contradicts what we learned just a few chapters ago, when Lytol very firmly told off a Lord Holder who believed he could forbid the creation of new Crafts. The Crafts, dragonriders, and Holders are independent of each other and have been deliberately set up this way.

If Jaxom had said “I have the most experience in space,” I’d be willing to go along with that. But “I outrank you all” does not.

AIVAS points out that doing the change in shields will only affect a miniscule amount of Thread, but everyone else notes the morale boost would be substantial and prepares to go do it.

“That is,” Jaxom said, turning to the green riders, “if you and your dragons are amenable…”
S’len and L’zan were more than amenable.

That’s what I thought.

With the bridge clear, AIVAS asks Jaxom a second time about the carrying capacities of dragons.

“Jaxom,” Aivas began, “how much weight can the green dragons carry? Their burdens today weigh more than their body weight.”
“A dragon is capable of carrying as much as he thinks he can,” Jaxom replied with a shrug.
“So if the dragon thinks he can carry the object, irrespective of its actual weight, he will?”
“I don’t think anyone’s actually tried to overload a dragon. Didn’t you tell me the earliest ones were used to transport loads out of Landing following the eruption?”
“That is true. But they were never, as you surmised, permitted to carry great weights. In fact, Sean O’Connell, the leader of those early riders, resented the fact that the dragons were used in such a capacity.”
“Why?”
“That was never explained.”

Wait a minute… If the story we saw in Dragonsdawn is supposed to be the story AIVAS tells the descendants about their ancestors, there’s pretty clear indications of what Sean thinks about the use of dragons as cargo ferries. Is AIVAS extrapolating, or just making things up that sound good to the descendants?

Also, at least two genders of dragons. And the repetition of the fact that dragons violate the laws of physics. Sounds like someone is getting some flak about the unreality of their attempts to make an unreality. The acknowledgements (at the back in this ebook – a print copy had them at the front) gives a very sharp poke at people insisting on consistency and continuity:

The author and Dr. Jack Cohen are fully aware that some of the procedures and developments of new products suggested in these pages would probably take many more months, years, to produce and effect than is here suggested. However, there are certain licenses that an author, and her advisor, may take to produce a novel. Then, too, the Pernese had Aivas to help the, didn’t they?

That certainly sounds like someone attempting to wield either Bellisario’s Maxim or the MST3K mantra as a defense. I think it would work better, though, if the author wasn’t trying so hard to move in a harder-science direction. As a story of “characters of a fantasy world discover they are in fact the descendants of a high technology society,” Pern works just fine. As a story of “characters of a fantasy world discover they are in fact the descendants of a high technology society, whose science is totally based in extrapolations of reality in 20th c. Terra, and is easily reconstructed,” Pern falls flat from the dragons forward. There’s another series (the Talents / the Rowan) that started on more SFnal ground than this, and if there’s arc welding trying to get Pern into that universe, there’s a long way to go before it’s plausible.

Picking up where we left off , AIVAS then asks about the other way that dragons violate known physics.

Jaxom smiled to himself. “Dragons can do a lot of inexplicable things.”
“For instance,” and Aivas’s voice altered subtly, “arriving in very timely fashions?”
Jaxom chuckled. “That’s one.”
“How did you contrive such a serendipitous entrance?”
“Jancis was clever enough to put down the time. When I visualized the bridge for Ruth, I also visualized the bridge clock–” Jaxom pointed to the digital face–“at a minute before the one she gave. So, of course, we arrived–” He chuckled again, “–in time!”

Awful puns aside, that answers on the small scale about whether or not clocks could be used to time jump as well as place jump. I also don’t think Jaxom visualized a bridge full of chaos, so presumably, Ruth instinctively picked an exit point where he would avoid telefragging anyone, himself included. If the clock on the bridge also keeps date and year, presumably, that would be a way of transiting back and forth in time without the risk of materializing into something or someone else. Since dragons automatically correct for place, so long as Jaxom just adjusts the bridge clock, he could go anywhere and use the viewers and telescopes to scope out landing points for other dragons to arrive at to study the past. And so long as he kept good records in the computer, Jaxom would be able to avoid paradoxing himself or having anyone be in two places at the same time. There’s going to have to be thought into constructing the stable time loop in the way that Jancis just did, but it would be doable.

After the shields do their work, AIVAS advises they be reset to deflection. Fandarel asks who was on duty at Landing, in anticipation of a discussion between everyone about whether or not to display this stunt as yet more proof of the usefulness of the technology. Jaxom pops over to Benden to inform the Weyrleaders of what went on, gets admonished for using time travel, and then further admonished for having a sample of Thread in the airlock. Which actually leads to the first on-camera discussion of whether AIVAS is fully trustable.

“I’m curious, Jaxom, and you’re more in Aivas’s company these days than we are: This dissection business makes me wonder if Aivas’s basic imperatives conflict with ours.”
“Not where the annihilation of Thread is concerned. Though sometimes I don’t understand why he has us doing some of those endless drills and exercises. Especially now that he has been revealed as fallible.”
F’lar grinned. “Did Aivas ever say he was not?”
“He likes to give the impression that he’s never wrong,” Lessa said in a sharp tone, looking alarmed.
Jaxom grinned. “Good teacher image, and that’s necessary when he has to pound all these ideas into our parochial heads.”
“Is his fallibility a danger to us?” F’lar asked.
“I don’t really think so. I’m just commenting on it since we are private today,” Jaxom went on, “and because I was so surprised when Aivas did not know Thread’s decent passed so close to the Yokohama.”
F’lar blinked, absorbing that information, and Lessa’s down deepened. “Surprised? Or worried?”
“Well, it’s not his fault. The ancients didn’t know it, either,” Jaxom said with some satisfaction.
F’lar grinned back at him. “I see what you mean, Jaxom. Makes them more human.”
“And Aivas not so inhumanly perfect.”
“Well, it doesn’t please me,” Lessa snapped. “We’ve believed everything Aivas had told us!”
“Don’t fret, Lessa. So far Aivas has not lied to us,” F’lar said.
“But if he doesn’t know everything ,how can we now be sure he’s guiding us in the right direction with this great plan of his that’s supposed to destroy Thread forever?” she demanded.

Lessa is being the voice of reason here. It’s too bad that the narrative is trying to portray her as being the hysterical woman concerned about nothing compared to the confident young man and his knowing older mentor. The Lessa I remember plots and schemes and has rational reactions to things (that aren’t Thread – very few people can react to that dispassionately) instead of having so much time spent on her tone instead of her content.

Also, I’m unsure that anyone can claim with confidence that the AI has not lied to them. It may not have told lies on anything they can go and confirm, but AIVAS has already demonstrated understanding of shades of meaning. It doesn’t have to lie to steer the planet in a bad direction. And it has a vested interest in keeping the ancestor-worship alive, because there’s still enough heft in being the archive of the Ancients to draw people who aren’t on board with the idea of technology and modernization. So much like how we didn’t get to hear about Lytol’s objections, Lessa’s objections, echoed or very close to the anti-AI faction’s objections, are being dismissed without being taken seriously. (That it’s Lessa being dismissed is an extra dimension of wrong, based on how she’s been treated by the men of Pern over all of these works.)

Resuming, Jaxom thinks he’s starting to figure out The Plan.

“I’m beginning to figure out what that’s going to be,” Jaxom said so confidently that Lessa gave him a long look. “Aivas is obviously teaching us at the rate at which he feels we’ll be able to absorb the revolutionary ideas; these exercises are what we’ll have to perfect before we can achieve his goals, which are ours, and were our ancestors’.”
“And will you let us in on your conclusions?” Lessa’s tone was as caustic as Jaxom had ever heard it.
[…Jaxom explains a bit, Lessa is unconvinced, but also wants to get in on the action that the green riders already are…]
Lessa cocked her head at Jaxom, her expression thoughtful. “Does Aivas plan for the dragons to move those ships?”
“Move the ships?” Jaxom asked, surprised.
“Why? How?” F’lar asked.
“Remember, F’lar, when Aivas insisted the dragons should be able to move things telekinetically?”
“Dragons can only move themselves, their riders, and what they carry,” F’lar said categorically. “They cannot move things they’re not holding. And what good would come of moving the ships? If his plan is somehow to use the ships to blow up the Red Star, I don’t see what good that would accomplish. Not as I understand his lessons in spatial mechanics.”
“No more do I.” Jaxom took the last gulp of his klah and rose. “Well, I’ve delivered my report of today’s surprise.”
[…Jaxom suggests that the shields can be switched programmatically between destruct and deflect modes..]
“You won’t worry about Aivas’s fallibility, will you, F’lar?” Jaxom asked in a lowered voice when they were in the short corridor beyond the weyr.
“Me? No, certainly not,” the Weyrleader assured him. “We’ve learned so much already from Aivas that, even if his vaunted Plan fails, we’ll surely find our own ways of ridding Pern of Thread by the next Pass. But, somehow, Jaxom,” F’lar said, griping Jaxom’s arm hard to show his implacable resolve, “I know we’ll manage to do it in this Pass! Make no mistake about that! We’ll do it in my lifetime!”

AUGH.

Lessa is entirely on to something here. Jaxom’s casual attitude toward what the actual carrying capacity of a dragon is combinable with the Benden Weyrleader’s assertion that dragons only transport a limited set of things through hyperspace. I think Lessa has it, but isn’t saying anything because she’s not going to get anywhere with those two. If Mirrim should drop by, though, I wouldn’t put it past Lessa to insinuate that some rider somewhere said that Path couldn’t possibly move some extremely large object to Landing and watch with glee as Path digs her claws into it and vanishes it through hyperspace. Because Mirrim was sure Path could, and Path was holding on to it, after all, even if she wasn’t carrying it in her claws.

If the theoretical upper bound is “whatever the dragon thinks they can move”, presumably that means a single dragon, properly convinced, could move the wandering planet by themselves. They’re already lifting and shifting more than their own body weights.

As it is, when everyone gets back from space, Lytol confides that he’s having trouble finding a qualified person to dissect the Thread spore in space, because people understandably think that proximity to Thread equals death. Video of the Thread spore unchanging helps allay fears, and video of the shield destructor accompanies a report that the fall over Nerat was much easier thanks to the effort. Robinton and the Benden Weyrleaders want to go up into space and start training themselves, as well as engage some destructor screens of their own. Everything gets scheduled, and the chapter ends.

Next time, big dragons IN SPAAAAACE!

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6 thoughts on “All the Weyrs of Pern: A Smidgen Of Doubt

  1. WanderingUndine June 8, 2017 at 12:57 pm

    I think I’ve read this book, but remember almost nothing. When stories get focused on ‘advanced’ technology, I zone out.

    Shouldn’t that be Connell, not O’Connel?

    “Beerth.” *giggle*

  2. genesistrine June 8, 2017 at 3:45 pm

    It’s a really good question – why leave a ship up there that is likely to have a very bad effect when it crashes down?

    I think that’s a definite hint that the original settlers *didn’t* intend to go low-tech, whatever we’ve been told. They left the ships in low orbit for whatever reason – as orbital factories, maybe? – intending that either they’d stay in use or be moved to a more stable orbit later.

    It’s always been heavily hinted that there was a Luddite phase in Pern’s history, when technology was deliberately removed/destroyed, and it looks as though that interfered with plans for the long-term safety of the Dawn Sisters.

    So Jancis knows the secret but Fandarel doesn’t?

    It can’t possibly *be* a secret in Ninth Pass Pern! They’ve been dealing with the ramifications of time travellers from 400 years ago since nearly the beginning of the Pass!

    there’s pretty clear indications of what Sean thinks about the use of dragons as cargo ferries. Is AIVAS extrapolating, or just making things up that sound good to the descendants?

    It could just be thinking that if it tells contemporary dragonriders that the first Weyrleader thought cargo-carrying was demeaning to dragons it’s risking them thinking, “well, if the very first Weyrleader thought so he must be right! Dragons mustn’t carry things around!”

    Then, too, the Pernese had Aivas to help the, didn’t they?

    TBH, this works fine for me. They’ve got an all-knowing AI, which presumably has all the original analyses of the local biosphere and planetary resources, and they’ve got the Weyrs, who can requisition anything and anyone on the grounds of tithing/planetary defence. It seems a really weird thing for the author to get defensive about, considering all the *other* implausibilities in the books….

    Also, I’m unsure that anyone can claim with confidence that the AI has not lied to them. It may not have told lies on anything they can go and confirm, but AIVAS has already demonstrated understanding of shades of meaning.

    It’s even been noted by Robinton and Menolly that it manipulates people, but they both apparently felt that it buttering-up crusty Lords didn’t have any implications for how it can manipulate other people as well. After all they’re Harpers! They know all about manipulating people! They couldn’t possibly be fooled!

    Hur hur hur.

    It also made a really interesting remark to Lytol a couple of chapters ago: “One alters the facts,” Aivas went on as if Lytol had not interrupted. “That is the plan.”

    Hmmm.

    @WanderingUndine: Drinkth are on the houth!

  3. Eilonwy Has An Emu June 8, 2017 at 7:47 pm

    The reason Jancis thinks of timing it and Fandarel doesn’t is probably supposed to be that Jancis, due to the cross-crafting project a few years earlier, is more familiar with dragon behavior in general and with Ruth’s capabilities in particular.

    That raises a question, though: given Fandarel’s obsession with “efficiency,” why hasn’t he shown an interest in dragons’ ability to cheat time? Or, been approached to come up with a mechanical way to mark time for riders?

    Which leads to another question… where is the Pernese theory of science? Real cultures don’t just murble along, copying recipes from fading texts. They make up theories that go with what they’re seeing, so if dragons have always cheerfully been lifting more than is explained by the physics that apply to a person or a hoist, there should be an accepted explanation of why this is so.

    I’d find the discovery of AIVAS more exciting if it involved knowledge that actually overturned “known” things of Pern, rather than “oh yeah, you’ve been living just as the Charter decreed only without plastic… want some plastic?” For instance, what if the Charter had decreed something more egalitarian? (I mean, yes, the new tech should still lead to an industrial revolution and upheaval, but it sure looks like nobody’s world view is being seriously challenged.)

  4. genesistrine June 10, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    given Fandarel’s obsession with “efficiency,” why hasn’t he shown an interest in dragons’ ability to cheat time?

    Maybe because dragons are sacred and only sacred dragonriders can deal with them?

    if dragons have always cheerfully been lifting more than is explained by the physics that apply to a person or a hoist, there should be an accepted explanation of why this is so.

    “Because dragons are magic”?

    The trouble is, as so often on Pern, we don’t have a model for how this would work IRL. If real cultures had to deal with teleporting psychokinetic creatures maybe they wouldn’t have developed a theory of science anyway. Or just decided that science didn’t apply to those.

    I’d find the discovery of AIVAS more exciting if it involved knowledge that actually overturned “known” things of Pern

    This is why I like to believe AIVAS is lying and manipulating people; it’s all just too bloody convenient otherwise. No, no, no need to change your lifestyle or consider the poor bloody farmers and drudges your whole damn society’s built on! (Note that no labour-saving equipment or new farming methods seem to have been introduced.)

  5. Silver Adept June 11, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    @ WanderingUndine –

    It should be. I went back and checked both versions I have, and they both replicate the error.

    Re: Pern Science –

    I don’t understand, aside from the author’s insistence, how there aren’t superstitions, pseudoscience, and outright religious truths on Pern. And possibly a small contingent of Crafters interested in empirical testing and, perhaps, efficiency. It makes oaths and exclamations and the later additions to the language feel artificial, and it would make Norist and the anti-AI faction make more sense and a lot less like cartoon villains created as foils for Our Heroes.

    It would have been nice for Fandarel to be the mouthpiece for the developing scientific method (or the rediscovering one).

  6. genesistrine June 11, 2017 at 4:04 pm

    Re O’Connell/Connell: another shift in history between books. A careless weyrling, maybe?

    Re Sciiiience!: absolutely. There’s something very off about Pernese – a lack of independence, innovation, creativity. It’s a really weird authorial choice.

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