The Dolphins of Pern: Ring the Doom Bell

Last time, after a promising prologue, we retread the situation where Alemi and Readis were knocked overboard fishing and rescued by talking dolphins.

The Dolphins of Pern: Chapter III: Content Notes: Possible flashbacks, Silly Animals

Aramina has voiced strong objection to Readis continuing to seek friendship on the sea, because he’s supposed to be learning how to be a Lord Holder on land, not chasing things on water. She continues this objection in Chapter III, being grateful to Alemi for teaching Readis much of the Fishercraft, but not wanting him to tell more of the plentiful tales of dolphins that his crews have relayed to him.

“Do me a favor, Alemi?” Aramina asked, her expression severe.
“Don’t tell Readis any of those tales.”
“Ara…” Jayge began in protest.
She wheeled on him. “I know all too well, Jayge Lilcamp, what can happen to a child who gets its head full of notions!”
Jayge pulled back and and gave her a sheepish expression. “All right, Ara, I take the point. Alemi?”
“Oh, aye, I’ll keep my mouth shut.”
There was an awkward pause and then Aramina relented. “If he asks, tell him the truth. I won’t have him lied to or put off.”
“You want it both ways?” Jayge asked.
She gave him a scowl, then relaxed a bit with a rueful smile on her face. “I guess I do. But he’s only seven and the least said the best as far as I can see.”

(Do they even have the conception of a favor on Pern, much less this idiomatic construction? I’ve got no reason to believe they do, but at this point, I think I just have to roll with the idea that Terran customs and such survived wholesale to this far flung future society.)

Aramina’s objections make more sense, finally, instead of being classified as “Aramina insists the social structure be perpetuated to the next generation unthinkingly,” which is what they were definitely coming across as. A post-traumatic stress reaction to having been disbelieved, then kidnapped and held hostage, and then hunted by that kidnapper until a relatively recent fight actually killed her? That would mess anyone up about anything, and that it was about a special talent of communication that she had makes Aramina extra sensitive to someone else discovering a similar “hey, we can talk to things we thought we couldn’t” sort of situation, at an age earlier than Aramina’s first narratively-recorded encounter. Because even if Thella is gone, Aramina is probably going to be having nightmares about that for the rest of her life.

The narrative stays with Alemi, whose wife (Kitrin) doesn’t really want him to go to Landing while she’s pregnant. Alemi is extremely excited about being to go, but trying to hide it. Because, well, he gets to tell the AI about the dolphins (and that the dolphins are distinguishable by features, colors, scars, and such) and to ride a dragon. There’s a detour into how Alemi came south (Menolly convinced him to do it) and an interesting bit of worldbuilding – any Mastercrafter can call for a dragon to convey them where they want to go. Alemi doesn’t use the privilege much, but that seems like a new invention that doesn’t truck much with earlier books and Sean Connell’s insistence that dragons aren’t supposed to be used as cargo (or people) transporters.

In any case, after a little awkward about how new the bronze rider sent to get him is, Alemi arrives at the AIVAS building at Landing.

Alemi knew the story of its discovery–it had been a harper’s tale at many a gather. It had been one of the last of the Ancients’ buildings to be excavated, a task undertaken by Mastersmith Jancis, Journeyman Harper Piemur, and Lord Jaxom–on a whim, it was said. And Ruth had helped.

That’s…accurate. I’m surprised it hasn’t mushroomed into some giant propaganda story and been embellished into something that’s more useful for the Harpers.

In any case, a short conversation with Robinton reveals the AI is quite happy to hear of the rediscovery of the dolphins and even more pleased that they retained the ability to speak in human-intelligible speech. Considering that Alemi goes in and sees AIVAS right afterward, there doesn’t seem to be a need for Robinton to do anything at all, except show Alemi to the correct room.

AIVAS was hoping for Readis to be there, but Alemi explains Aramina’s reluctance (for the second time in as many pages) and AIVAS continues on to the substance of the matter, asking Alemi to fill in information about the dolphins as it plays archive footage of them. Alemi does, which allows AIVAS to explain that dolphins are, in fact, mammals, and then produce a video of a live video of dolphin birth. Along with more information about them, and Alemi recognizing that all the footage is from a planet other than Pern, we get this gem of an unintentional argument about why Impression is not the best thing in the world.

“Doll-fin ears?” Alemi exclaimed, slapping his knee with one hand as he saw men and women working with the dolphins, both undersea and being propelled across the surface of the water alongside their unlikely mounts. “Like dragons and their riders?”
“Not as close a bond as I am told that is. There is no ceremony similar to Impression as dragons and riders undergo. The association between humans and dolphins was of mutual convenience and consent, not lifelong, though congenial and effective.”

Although Impression is always played up as the best thing and a permanent happiness boost forever, by having a friend that knows you equally as well as you know yourself, we’ve never actually seen whether or not that lasts forever, and whether any rider actually hopes for or asks for some alone time away from their dragon. (Or has a spot in their mind that’s just their space, no dragons or fire lizards allowed.) It would be so much nicer, easier, and cleaner for dragons and riders for their linkages to be voluntary and possibly time-limited.

Alemi totally wants to get to the dolphin communication.

“How do you get them to talk to you, Aivas?”
“It is frequently a matter of record, mentioned by numerous dolphineers, that getting the mammals to stop talking was considered more of a problem.”
“Really?” Alemi was delighted.
“Dolphins apparently have an unusual ability to delay ‘work’ in favor of ‘games’.”

Which segues into a discussion of the recovered Monaco Bay bell, and AIVAS printing instructions for Alemi on how to reestablish contact with the dolphins. Then some flying around and looking for the recovered bell to see it for himself. Even in its barnacle-encrusted state, lacking a clapper, the first thing Alemi decides to do with it is ring it with his finger. Which surprises him that a bell can still ring, so he takes a rock from T’lion, his assigned dragonrider, and then rings the bell much more vibrantly. And continues to do so with rocks until, as he should have been told, the entire bay is full of dolphins. Perhaps even if he had read what the AI had printed for him, he would know that this would have happened.

Alemi expresses concern that the dolphins are going to beach themselves in their exuberance, but wading out to turn them back instead has him be tossed around by the dolphins, much to T’lion’s horror and attempts to rescue him. Eventually Alemi gets everyone calm with a mighty shout and sorts out who is in charge. And then had to understand that ringing the bell actually means something, since he didn’t get it the first few times, presumably.

“We titch. You lis-ten,” Flo said, turning one eye on him so he could see the happy curve of its mouth. “Bellill ring? Trub-bul? Do bluefiss?”
“No, no trub-bul,” Alemi said with a laugh. “I didn’t mean to ring the bell to call you,” he added. And then shrugged because he didn’t understand their last question.
“Good call. Long lis-ten. No call. We…[a word Alemi didn’t catch]…bell. Pul-lease?” She cocked her head–Alemi didn’t know why, all at once, he decided she was a female, but something about her seemed to give that clue to her gender. He was also peripherally aware of how much he had actually absorbed from the pictures that Aivas had shown and the explanations of these…mammals. That was going to shock the conservative fishmen. His father especially. “Fish” had no right to be intelligent, much less answer humans.

And if we have been reading along since the beginning, we remember that Alemi is Menolly’s brother, and therefore the father mentioned is Yanus, who happily let his daughter be maimed to prevent her from practicing arts be believed were forbidden to her gender by TRADITION. (tradition!) And since there’s no way of replacing a bad Lord short of murder, one can only guess how miserable the population of Half-Circle is with this technological, tradition-defying change going on around them.

Alemi promises to build a proper bell for the dolphins at Paradise River, and inadvertently agrees to the part where people are going to scrape off the bloodfish, although he doesn’t know it yet, and then sets down to read the paper AIVAS printed…after rescuing it from his wet jacket. But thankfully, nothing appears to have degraded.

The dolphin part of the chapter is all glee about how the dolphins of Moncobay heard a bell and came, and how the dolphins are extremely excited that the mans have finally remembered things and it’s time for the great partnership to resume between the two species.

I still can’t get over the decision to make the dolphins into crude speakers, though. The dolphin segments are supposed to be showing us that they are still intelligent and can communicate just fine, but the artificial intelligence got to run a subroutine and correct for several thousand years of drift so that it could sound important and erudite. The dolphins, presumably, have had the same opportunities to overhear human speech for the same amount of time. If the dolphins are teaching their calves human from generation to generation, barring sounds that the dolphins can’t actually vocalize, there should be no reason for them not to be understandable, and without the need for this phonetic speech pattern. (And if a lot of human sounds are unpronounceble by dolphin, then the Ancients would have presumably figured out some other way of communication that worked for both species.) Dolphins still should not sound like children. Unless you’re the author, that is, who is basically making them children and then trying to have the narrative tell us that pairing with them children is the best thing for both the dolphins and the children (perhaps because they’re about the same mentality, in the author’s eyes?)

Maybe, hopefully, after communication is more firmly established, the dolphins will lose their childlike patterns. Because it’s getting painful to have to read this.


One thought on “The Dolphins of Pern: Ring the Doom Bell

  1. genesistrine August 14, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    That’s… accurate. I’m surprised it hasn’t mushroomed into some giant propaganda story and been embellished into something that’s more useful for the Harpers.

    Depends on the spin put on it, I daresay. Noble Lord Dragonrider, Cunning Harper and Clever Smith do something the Hidebound Boring Guy didn’t think was worth it look what happened!

    The dolphin part of the chapter is all glee about how the dolphins of Moncobay heard a bell and came, and how the dolphins are extremely excited that the mans have finally remembered things and it’s time for the great partnership to resume between the two species.

    Yeah, great partnership. You’ve got to save us even if it kills you, and if we feel like not talking to you for a couple thousand years you’d better be delighted when we decide to again.

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