All the Weyrs of Pern: Halfway-Competent Plotters

Last chapter, the major action was the discovery of a plot to kidnap Robinton and ransom him in exchange for the destruction of the AI, which is a damn sight better than “kill Jaxom and replace him with a puppet,” certainly. The action continues…

All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapter 17: Content Notes: Plotting xenocide, murder, poisoning, kidnapping

…or rather, doesn’t, as chapter 17 opens with the lack of attempts on the plot, even as most of the Crafts withdraw their masters from Bitra and Nerat Holds, although not from Keroon, as Lord Corman seems to be distancing himself from any possible plotters, the Weyrs keep a lock on the dragonriders, and the Harpers run down every whisper of a lead.

On board the Yokohama, Mirrim discovers where Thread keeps its genetic material, and not too soon after, a viable pathway for a pathogen to infect and spread through the organism. There’s a little wonder why the Ancients themselves didn’t do all of this destructive revenge against Thread, but it passes mostly in smugness, because there’s a thought that the AI might be having some feelings of its own.

“Aivas hates Thread, inasmuch as an inanimate machine is capable of hatred. He hates what it did to his captains and Admiral Benden. He hates what it’s done to us. He wants to be sure it can never menace us again. He wants to kill it in the Oort Cloud. He calls the project ‘Overkill.'”
Jaxom regarded her in puzzled astonishment. “He’s more vindictive than F’lar!”

No, it’s plotting contingencies, given that you have already demonstrated that dragons could potentially warp out to the Oort Cloud and back, given a sufficient oxygen supply. Then again, nobody said explicitly whether the AI had been programmed with a personality…

As it is, the overkill project essentially is to infest Thread with a malicious version of a parasite helper it already has, even though the work will likely leave Sharra too exhausted for the Gather.

Which makes it all the more interesting when AIVAS drops the bombshell on Jaxom that he’s already done two of the three necessary explosions for altering the path of the Red Star, using Ruth as the leader of a time travel group that created the current chasm with the two previous explosions. Based on the records already scanned in, that talk about bright flashes on the Red Star at the ends of the Fourth and Eighth Passes. When Jaxom protests that something might go wrong, the AI points out that if that were true, Jaxom wouldn’t be here talking now, and his group would similarly be missing from the timestream. Jaxom protests, but AIVAS tells him the only reason for the Long Intervals that it can determine is the detonation of engines in attempts to knock the Red Star out of orbit.

Jaxom changes tactics, telling AIVAS that no dragonrider would willingly time it 1800 Turns in the past, to which it tells him that nobody actually is going to know they’re warping across time as well as space, since all they’re doing is going to a picture. And they’ll already have oxygen, so they won’t notice the time lag for the temporal part of the journey. Jaxom doesn’t want to risk Ruth, but Ruth is pretty confident that it can be done. Still, Jaxom resists until AIVAS lets slip the real reason why it has to go that way.

“You already have, Lord Jaxom. You are the only one who could, can, would, has. Think this proposal over carefully and you will see that the project is not only within the capabilities of yourself and Ruth, but feasible. And essential! Three explosions at this point in time will not have the desired effect on the future path of the Red Star.

Ah-ha. There’s not enough oomph in the engines to blow the planet out of orbit, and AIVAS knows it. So, instead, with a dragon that can pinpoint in time, the engines are to be used strategically to nudge the planet away. Beyond that, though, it turns out that Jaxom will also be seeding the wandering planet with the malicious parasites each time he visits with an engine, as well.

“But if these mechanicals could be contaminated, infected with our disimproved parasite, they would carry it with them to destroy all similar life-forms in the Oort Cloud itself, probably including the note intelligent ones, too. Then, no matter what happens, Pern will forever be freed of this menace.
[…AIVAS explains the Long Intervals…]
“I’m also to be a disease carrier?” Jaxom was not sure which he felt more keenly: indignation, fury, or incredulity at the audacity of Aivas’s scheme.

Worse, Jaxom: You’re going to be the instrument of the xenocide of several intelligent species in the Oort Cloud. I’d like to believe that this fury and resistance is Jaxom’s conscience ringing alarm bells at this plan, but it is most likely just his reluctance to risk Ruth and himself on a mission like this.

So Jaxom demands proof that the Plan works. AIVAS has him pull up the plan of the current orbit of the Red Star, then tells Jaxom to jump forward fifty Turns, gather the same printout, and make comparisons. Every self-preservation instinct Jaxom had says not to do it, but Ruth’s confidence and his curiosity win out over the realization that time paradox is a definite risk. So Jaxom commits himself forward fifty Turns, grabs the printout, tries to tell the AI about his findings (and gets no reply. This seems significant, although I don’t know how) and hops back to admit defeat, as the new path clearly shows the wanderer in a decaying orbit around the fifth planet of the system. Having been snared into following through with the True Plan, Jaxom heads back to eat, sleep, and then enjoy the Gather that’s underway when he wakes up.

Jaxom and the protagonists have a good time at the Gather. So much so, that even though they are reminded of the plot by the conspicuous absence of the plotters, nobody notices that Robinton’s been switched for a dead man and his fire lizard poisoned until well after the switch is done. Fellis in the food and wine, served by one of the new drudges hired for the party, because of course you need extra staff to handle it, and who pays attention to drudges, anyway, and the kidnap plot succeeds.

It really shouldn’t, considering Lessa disguised herself as a drudge for a decade to beat Fax’s notice, and Piemur did the same for a shorter time to sneak in and gather intelligence on people shipping goods South. Why is anyone not on a trusted list getting anything to Robinton, knowing that there’s still a plot against him?

That said, props to the kidnappers for choosing the right venue and method most likely to succeed at the task, assuming you could get everyone distracted long enough to make the switch.

Suffice to say, once noticed, care is summoned for Zair and all the dragonriders and fire-lizards, save Jaxom, fan out to try and find where Robinton is being held (and naturally, Ruatha is beyond the maximum range of the locator device provided to Robinton.) No luck through the night, and searches are imposed on any and all travelers that intend to leave the Gather.

As you might guess, though, with add many fire lizards dispatched on the finding mission, it isn’t long before one notices a cart and wagon staying very far off the roads and trails and determines Robinton is inside, which essentially summons the air force to stop the wagon, which is searched, its secret compartment discovered and opened, and Robinton recovered and sprinted back for medical care after Sharra’s field assessment says he needs better hands than hers.

The chapter ends with the Healers ring to heal Robinton with the hope that he will survive it. Which is good for dramatic tension purposes, so we’ll leave off here and pick it back up next week.

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22 thoughts on “All the Weyrs of Pern: Halfway-Competent Plotters

  1. saidahgilbert July 13, 2017 at 11:53 am

    I like reading the book this way. You make it seem much more interesting and real than the actual book. It makes more sense too. I was reading the series for the first time when I discovered this blog. Now I am so interested in these deconstructions that I would rather read along with the deconstruction than the book. Which is why I’ve stopped at Dragonseye. Would you be deconstructing the whole series?

  2. genesistrine July 13, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    Then again, nobody said explicitly whether the AI had been programmed with a personality…

    Nobody’s ever said anything about how and why the AI was programmed in the first place. It wasn’t even mentioned in the colonisation-era books. Makes me wonder – is it an ex-military AI? It certainly seems to have jumped right into exterminating-the-alien-lifeforms with a horrifying amount of dedication.

    AIVAS tells him the only reason for the Long Intervals that it can determine is the detonation of engines in attempts to knock the Red Star out of orbit.

    Oh. Right. So Wansor’s re-invention of gravitational theory that explained the Long Interval and the perturbation of Threadfall was completely wrong then? Class.

    Jaxom: You’re going to be the instrument of the xenocide of several intelligent species in the Oort Cloud.

    Yeah, that is just horrifying. What the FUCK.

    Re Robinton-napping: At last. REVENGE OF THE DRUDGES.

    it isn’t long before one notices a cart and wagon staying very far off the roads

    See, plotters? I told you you wanted a dragonrider for this!

    Or at the very least keep your damn cart with the hidden compartment somewhere it’s not so obvious; i.e. WITH A LOAD OF OTHER CARTS. Twits.

  3. Silver Adept July 13, 2017 at 3:21 pm

    @ saidahgilbert –

    I’m going as far as the boss go, or my patience runs out, or my audience goes away. It’s a useful way of getting my thoughts down and looking at a work with a critical eye that I had enjoyed with a fannish one.

    @ genesistrine –

    It would make sense for the colony ships to have repurposed or decommissioned military AIs driving them, considering the officers and important people in the colony are almost all military or politicians.

    Wansor’s theory of gravity can be right and its details wrong by comparison with AIVAS data, and that could be a feather in the cap of “hey, we rediscovered this before you came along.” That would be good for the natives to be able to assert, anyway, so I wish it had happened on camera.

    Re: Robinton-napping – the halfway-competent part is taking advantage of that blinkering part of the Pernese society and stashing Robinton in a place that he can’t use Zair for. But yes, they needed a dragonrider to spirit Robinton away to a different time period and hide him. Or to play it a little cooler than they were and try to leave with other carts. But for what the narrative would undoubtedly tell us is the first attempted Harper kidnapping ever, it worked out really well, like someone studied Thella and Aramina and thought they had worked out where everything went wrong. As villainy goes, this is the best-conceived and best-executed plot we’ve had yet.

  4. WanderingUndine July 15, 2017 at 10:23 am

    I still have trouble envisioning anything with the power to change a planet’s orbit. But I haven’t tried to understand the technology in this book, or most other books. Non-biological science doesn’t interest me much.

  5. Firedrake July 15, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    Well, there’s so little information that you can’t really attach numbers to it. How much does the Red Star’s orbit need to be changed? How massive is it? We don’t know.

    Assuming our own solar system and turn=year, a 250-year orbit would get a semimajor axis of about 40AU.

    The real problem is those 50 years of Threadfall. The RS can’t get too hot when it’s close to the sun, or the Thread would be cooked. Let’s say it doesn’t get any closer than Mercury at perihelion, 0.3AU. Eccentricity is therefore 0.99244106, and aphelion is 79AU. OK, so let’s say a Pass is the 50 year period when it’s closest to the sun. Where is the RS 25 years after perihelion? This means following the procedure at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kepler%27s_laws_of_planetary_motion but what that spits out is that it’s gone nearly 90 degrees round its orbit, and it’s 42AU from the sun – well beyond where it could have any plausible effect on Earth/Pern!

    But OK, let’s say we don’t want the RS moving between the Kuiper belt and Earth/Pern. We’re acting on it when it’s near the “bottom” of its orbit; for simplicity let’s say at the bottom, 0,3AU out from the star. We want to lower the aphelion from 79AU to say 45AU. That means dropping the eccentricity to about 0.987 and the semimajor axis to 22.7AU.

    Good news! That only means dropping the orbital speed at perihelion by about 110 m/s.

    Bad news! We have to do that to something the mass of a planet.

    Let’s say it’s about the mass of Mars (it has after all held an atmosphere), and we’re driving it with the highest-impulse rocket we can currently theorise about, a plasma core thermal antimatter rocket with ISp=10⁵ seconds. That will require the expenditure of about 71 petatons of reaction mass: we’re not going to swallow the Moon doing this – it’s only about one-thirteenth the mass of Ceres – but that’s in the “refine a small-asteroid-sized lump of fuel” class of problem, not the “detonate some spaceship drives” class. And that’s with a highly efficient rocket, not a mere explosion.

  6. Brenda A July 15, 2017 at 8:01 pm

    “So Wansor’s re-invention of gravitational theory that explained the Long Interval and the perturbation of Threadfall was completely wrong then?”

    I don’t think he ever claimed to have explained the Long Interval, just the altered Thread patterns that were being caused by other planets temporarily adding their gravity to the mix.

  7. Silver Adept July 16, 2017 at 9:02 am

    @ Brenda A –

    Even if that’s it, it’s still an amazing achievement and people on Pern should be rightly proud of it, rather than falling so completely under the thrall of the AI. Admittedly, AIVAS probably helps them avoid hitting the nuclear annihilation filter and a few other important ones, but at the same time, it’s helping Pern develop weapons and then letting them loose with that knowledge.

    @ Firedrake –

    Matter-antimatter engines always evoke the idea of a Roddenberry-esque warp core powering the ships, at least for me. If the author were similarly inclined, the handwave might be that the particular method chosen to initiate the uncontrolled reaction will generate a warp field sufficiently powerful to displace the Red Star itself, and that the previous detonations were similar shifting being done at key points of the orbit stop as to set up this final push. But all of that assumes facts not in evidence, because nobody actually hears what the engine specs are, nor the technical details of how the colony ships crossed the void, because it’s unnecessary and they wouldn’t have understood it anyway, even though the colonists are an essential part of their history and connection to the galaxy at large.

    It seems like the author was hoping for a turn into hard science fiction, realized how much work would need to be done to do it after fans started to ask questions, and is either frantically looking for the nearest intersection to turn around or is driving faster with the hopes that nobody will notice what’s going on if the vehicle is moving too fast to spot landmarks.

  8. depizan77 July 16, 2017 at 11:51 am

    @genesistrine

    Nobody’s ever said anything about how and why the AI was programmed in the first place. It wasn’t even mentioned in the colonisation-era books.

    Wait, it wasn’t? What the hell?

  9. genesistrine July 16, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    @Silver Adept: Wansor’s theory of gravity can be right and its details wrong by comparison with AIVAS data

    I’m not so sure of that. The value of a theory is in its ability to predict, so if Wansor’s predictions couldn’t be extrapolated to predict the Long Intervals why would anyone believe he could accurately predict that the Thread perturbations would end?

    But then again, that assumes that the Pernese have reinvented or found recorded knowledge of the scientific method, and given their ancestors’ apparent lack of intelligence or interest in knowledge preservation….

    (Related to that, from this chapter: [Sharra] had been disgusted to discover canine fleas on Jarrol, who was incurably attached to one of the kitchen-spit animals. “Fleas!” She shook her head. “That will be my priority project, as soon as we’re finished with Aivas’s: to disimprove fleas.”

    (They brought dog fleas to their brave new world. What the hell was wrong with those people?)

    @Brenda A:

    I don’t think he ever claimed to have explained the Long Interval, just the altered Thread patterns that were being caused by other planets temporarily adding their gravity to the mix.

    He doesn’t explicitly, but I thought there was a comment somewhere to the effect that it was obviously the same mechanism that caused the Long Intervals. Can’t find it though.

    But an even bigger problem with the cunning orbit-changing plan is that it’ll completely throw off the Star Stones/Finger Rock alignments, which are supposed to predict Long Intervals as well as Passes.

    Unless AIVAS is setting up squads of time-travelling guerrilla architectural remodellers too.

    @Wandering Undine and Firedrake:

    Re mass: I think that’s why the Red Star’s now being referred to as comet-like rather than a planet, to try and drum in the idea that it’s not very massive.

    @Firedrake:

    Re orbit: I think we just have to assume that gravity doesn’t work in the Perniverse the way it does here.

    Bob Shaw wrote a trilogy where his protagonists could get from their world to its companion twin planet with balloons, but at least early on he had one character remark on how pi equalled exactly 3, so readers who worry about physics could just switch their brains off and enjoy after that. Not our universe, not our rules….

    And back to @Silver Adept and Robinton-napping:

    But for what the narrative would undoubtedly tell us is the first attempted Harper kidnapping ever, it worked out really well, like someone studied Thella and Aramina and thought they had worked out where everything went wrong. As villainy goes, this is the best-conceived and best-executed plot we’ve had yet.

    It’s definitely that. But it’s still weirdly incompetent – It’s supposed to be a Bitran plot, and Bitrans seem to be basically the Pernese Mafia. Have they really never kidnapped anyone before? You’d think kidnap-for-ransom was a fairly basic criminal activity, and a pretty safe one. (Well, before fire-lizards came along, but a competent kidnapper should be able to work around that, and did in Robinton’s case.) What criminal things to Bitrans actually do? Gambling seems to be one, but other than that, what? Smuggling, maybe? It would, presumably, have to be goods that weren’t Craft-marked, or involve forgery of Craft marks. So, forgery? Herdbeast-rustling? Again, not high-risk as long as dragonriders don’t take an interest, but it occurs to me that a lot of criminal activity must have got a lot riskier when Impressed fire-lizards became commoner. The criminal classes shouldn’t be anti-AIVAS; they should be anti-fire-lizards-for-the-masses.

  10. Firedrake July 16, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    Silver Adept, I think it’s possible to have a hard-SF story about FTL drives… but to do that you need to mention them at some point. The colony ships appeared to work by magic: you get in, you push the button and wait a bit, you’re in orbit over the new world.

  11. genesistrine July 16, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    @depizan: Nope. Not one single mention in Dawn or First Fall. it pops into existence when excavated in Ninth Pass Pern; before then there’s SFA.

    @Silver Adept: It seems like the author was hoping for a turn into hard science fiction, realized how much work would need to be done to do it after fans started to ask questions, and is either frantically looking for the nearest intersection to turn around or is driving faster with the hopes that nobody will notice what’s going on if the vehicle is moving too fast to spot landmarks.

    Doylistically it looks to me like AMC got two different sets of advice – I assume the bacteriophage one was Jack Cohen, and the teleporting-the-engines one was someone else, and she couldn’t decide between them. The teleporting engines one is stupid, but at least gives all the dragons something to do, and the lets-kill-off-everything-in-the-Oort-Cloud is morally horrific so… I guess she felt she had to go for both to keep Pern’s ick factor constantly increasing? I genuinely have no idea why xenocide seemed like a good idea, especially since it’s explicitly stated that the Oort lifeforms that come in with the Red Star are down to their basic functions and can’t even perform those well. Though come to think of it there’s no explanation there of the shell that has to be burned off by an atmosphere…..

  12. depizan77 July 16, 2017 at 6:49 pm

    @genesistrine

    (They brought dog fleas to their brave new world. What the hell was wrong with those people?)

    How would that even happen? Most pet dogs don’t have fleas now, much less in the super ordered technological future the colonists supposedly fled. Hell, how would fleas have even made it off earth!? Competent space travel shouldn’t involve very many pest organisms. Particularly not ones that are as easily controlled as fleas.

    I suppose it’s marginally possible that they’re some native Pernese parasite that’s adapted to feeding on dogs and people. But it sure looks like they’re talking about earth fleas. WTF, indeed.

    it’ll completely throw off the Star Stones/Finger Rock alignments, which are supposed to predict Long Intervals as well as Passes.

    Why did she even throw time travel into this plan? It seems wildly unnecessary and adds complications she’s clearly just going to pretend don’t exist. (Or has forgotten would exist.)

    What criminal things to Bitrans actually do?

    The lack of Bitrans actually up to no good makes the prejudice against them look like just that…prejudice. Did McCaffrey think that having active criminals would make Pern look bad? *tries not to laugh at the absurdity, if so*

    it pops into existence when excavated in Ninth Pass Pern

    I realize four years had passed between books, but come on. Did she invent AIVAS because she realized the Pernese were incapable of figuring anything out, or what? Or, conversely, did she leave it out of the colonization plot because it’s too competent?

  13. genesistrine July 17, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    I can’t think of any way the fleas can’t be deliberate – they didn’t even bring any live dogs!

    Well, assuming that the account of the colonisation we have is accurate, and we’ve thrown shade on that before….

  14. Firedrake July 18, 2017 at 1:15 am

    I’m sure they could find some “dirty” underclass among the colonists to blame.

  15. Eilonwy Has An Emu July 18, 2017 at 5:20 pm

    @depizan77 – I realize four years had passed between books, but come on.

    It’s even worse than that. AIVAS appears at the end of Renegades of Pern, published in 1989. Renegades was published only one year after Dragonsdawn. Assuming that writing is not instantaneous, McCaffrey was retconning AIVAS into Renegades while Dragonsdawn was still on the “new books” displays.

    This kind of series of events is a huge incentive to wank up Watsonian explanations for why AIVAS isn’t mentioned with the colonization — with @genestrine’s “colonization story is a myth” in the lead, I think — as handling it Doylistically gives a choice of wailing wretchedly before or after pounding one’s head against a solid surface.

  16. depizan77 July 18, 2017 at 6:24 pm

    Seriously? I get that retconning happens sometimes, but yegad, McCaffrey, did you not plan anything out? At all?

    handling it Doylistically gives a choice of wailing wretchedly before or after pounding one’s head against a solid surface.

    This truly is a series that should be rated in headdesks.

  17. genesistrine July 19, 2017 at 3:22 pm

    @Firedrake: no doubt. Did the nomad/traveller deportees even get to keep their belongings, though?

    @Eilonwy: This kind of series of events is a huge incentive to wank up Watsonian explanations for why AIVAS isn’t mentioned with the colonization

    Another suggestion, it was there all along, hiding out in the computers, but the colonists didn’t know. Was it a spy? Was it on the run to avoid decommission/deletion/rehabiitation? Was it intended (or did it intend) to sabotage the colonists’ Randian mediaeval-LARP paradise?

    I like the last thought in particular, since AIVAS does seem to be doing its damndest to wreck the Pernese social structure; removing the justification for dragon tithing by removing Thread, massively expanding the technological and manufacturing bases, introducing printing and the cleaned-up Hold records to destroy the Harper monopoly on information… the xenocide does take the shine off AIVAS-as-a-brave-altruist theory, unfortunately, though we could hope that it’s lying about the complexity of the Oort organisms in the hope that one of its pupils will suggest trying communication or at least have qualms about extermination.

    @depizan: Seriously? I get that retconning happens sometimes, but yegad, McCaffrey, did you not plan anything out? At all?

    I I wonder if that’s the reason for the extra-stupid time-travel aspect? A sort of reverse Chekov’s Gun? “I have to use everything I’ve come up with over this series to make it look like I had it all planned out from the start!”

  18. emmy July 19, 2017 at 4:42 pm

    I believe there is one tiny passing mention in First Fall, of people worrying about AIVAS’s security during/after the evacuation of Landing. I assumed this was an attempt to have it both ways, by not making it an important feature when it didn’t exist yet in Dragonsdawn, but by making sure it was mentioned as part of the setting.

    aha, here we are, in The Ford Of Red Hanrahan:

    When Ezra Keroon had been fretful with the fever that racked him, Sean had very willingly gone back to Landing on Carenath. Sean had returned – almost as soon as he left, Sorka had remarked – to reassure the old captain that the Aivas building, which Ezra had so carefully shielded with shuttle tiles against Garben’s explosion, remained intact and unscathed.

    However, they describe it only as the “interface with the Yokohama”, not as a super-powerful AI plotting the end of Thread.

  19. genesistrine July 20, 2017 at 12:22 am

    First Fall was published in 1993, so maybe a lot of people asked where the hell AIVAS had been in Dragonsdawn!

  20. Michael I July 20, 2017 at 6:22 pm

    genesistrine@July 19

    On the xenocide: Aivas’ phrasing is at least a little ambiguous. It isn’t clear whether “probably quite intelligent” means human-level intelligence or something more like crow-level.

    (Not that attempting to exterminate an entire ecosystem is particularly good in any case.)

    (Even though I do suspect that it isn’t really plausible that the pathogen is actually going to do as much damage as Aivas seems to think it will.)

  21. genesistrine July 22, 2017 at 11:41 am

    Ambiguous enough to want clarifying, I’d think, but….

    The question(s) of “how intelligent” and “do you think they’re doing this deliberately” are extremely relevant, and it’s a great pity the author doesn’t seem in the least interested in answering them.

  22. genesistrine July 22, 2017 at 11:45 am

    (Oops, and yes, there’s an awful lot of space out there, and engineering a pathogen that won’t kill its carriers before it gets to something it can spread to must be a very tricky job.)

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