The Dolphins of Pern: Something Else Entirely

Last chapter, Toric gave a very good impression of Snidely Whiplash, if he were also a Social Darwinist and utterly devoted to Rand. And there were dolphin meetings, like there have been for the last several chapters, where the dolphins have to keep re-proving themselves to new audiences.

The Dolphins of Pern: Chapter VIII: Content Notes: Arbitrary Skepticism, Child Endangerment

At the end of the last chapter, the Harpers and Healers decided its time to inform Lessa that there’s yet another intelligent creature on Pern and it’s worthwhile to pursue a partnership with them. As it is presented to Lessa (by Alemi and Robinton), who is apparently nonplussed at this new knowledge, the dolphins were here longer than the dragons and are more useful than the fire-lizards. Alemi takes this cue and says that the dragons seem to like them, with the narrative saying this means he is “not letting himself be intimidated by the diminutive but forceful Weyrwoman of Benden.” Which is still apparently the running gag of Pern – Lessa is short, and a woman, and yet she intimidates grown men! Isn’t that funny?

No, it isn’t.

There’s a quick bit about the Healers, but also interestingly…

“Master Oldive had a very puzzling patient, which the dolphins at Fort Hold diagnosed as having an internal growth in the belly.”
“And that caused enough problems with his Hall,” she said dryly. “I really don’t like the idea of cutting into human bodies.” She gave a little shudder.
“No more than when a child is hard to birth,” Alemi said, knowing that Lessa had had to have that surgery.

Wait, how many kids does Lessa have? I only know of one, and F’lessan predates the discovery of AIVAS. Which suggests the Cesarean does, too, according to this quote, and would have to be part of the Healer canon of acceptable technique for surgery and if we can have people recovering from C-sections, what exactly is the prohibition on surgery there for? Pern has sterilization materials and apparently enough training on their proper use that an OR would be possible, even if they have very little knowledge of germ theory.

Lessa settles down some when told the dolphins won’t interfere with the AIVAS plan, but she pops right back up at the idea of dolphin intelligence.

“Sea creatures with names?” Lessa exclaimed and her frown returned. That the dragons knew their own names at birth was an indisputable mark of their self-awareness and intelligence. To hear that the dolphins also had names smacked of heresy to the Weyrwoman.

There’s that one of those words again, the kind that might not belong. Because heresy requires orthodoxy (which we have in spades, thank you Harper Hall), but also imparts a generally religious flavor to the whole thing (which we seem to be even more rapidly moving toward, despite the statements initially that there aren’t theisms or religions in Pern).

Also, Lessa seems oddly perturbed at the possibility of another intelligent species. Maybe she wants the dragonriders to stay extra special?

As it is, Lessa heads out to do more land inspections so that new Holds can be granted in the South, and we finally get an idea of what kind of personnel are needed to get one up and running, even if the exact arrangements aren’t made clear.

Still, sometimes one has to wait until there were sufficient representatives of the crafthalls to provide self-sufficiency within each new holding, and at least one journeyman or journeywoman healer who could tend the needs of several holds.

So, essentially you need enough crafters to oversee the work of resource extraction, construction, husbandry, farming, and teaching, plus medicine, then enough people to do all that work underneath the supervision of those crafters, in the name of the noble who is going to get the land grant and all the profits from it.

Tell me again why anyone expects this system to survive for very long past the end of Thread? Inertia, maybe?

As it is, Lessa surveys, but the narrative switches to Jayge, furious at being invaded. He asks Alemi if the dolphins will patrol his seas and alert them to any more intrusive boats and their passengers. Because while Alemi and Jayge are sympathetic to “the dreadful conditions of the holdless, crammed into the caves at Igen and other, even less salubrious places in the North”, rules are rules and you can’t just cross a border illegally and expect to be able to make a life for yourself, no matter how awful it is where you are.

Alemi reflects on having to help flush out the renegades that Toric wanted dealt with, acknowledging how easy it would have been with dragonriders, while approving of their avoidance of “partisan leanings”. Alemi thinks it’s appropriate for dragonriders to have a retirement space, that Idarolan said there’s more than enough land for everyone in the South, and that it would be greedy to ask for more than what one really needed to do the job. And then Robinton interrupts, telling us that the entire sequence between Jayge and Alemi and all of this is a flashback, and the correct time period is right after they both left Lessa at Benden. Who isn’t being told about the dolphin patrols. Robinton wants to know more about the dolphins and their treatment by human Healers, as Alemi marvels that Robinton is free, given that there are “archivists and harpers” arranging and copying the information in AIVAS’s data banks. Unless they’re also new for AIVAS, I guess I have to take back the previous comment about there being no archivists on Pern to organize and make available the data and knowledge they have. I can still complain about the fact that if they have existed, they’ve done a shit job at it.

As they talk, Robinton is surprised to learn that dolphins, being mammalian, have many of the same disease issues and problems that humans can have, like heart attacks. Alemi mentions having come across six dolphins all beached and dead, which were usually matters of pollution, according to the AI. Robinton offers a spirited defense as to why that won’t happen again:

“We can–perhaps–be grateful that what the Ancients had, Pern’s resources will not provide. That will be our saving.”
“Oh?” Alemi wasn’t above a little prompting.
Master Robinton’s mobile gave lot with a knowing smile. “Despite all we have endured since the Dawn Sisters took their orbit above us, the world has stayed remarkably well in the parameters set out by the colony founders. Of course, we couldn’t know that we were abiding by those precepts”–he grinned roguishly at Alemi–“but the fact of the matter is that we did keep to just the technology needed to survive. Once the threat of Thread is abolished, we can improve the quality of our lives and still remain within these precepts: a world that does not require as much of the sophisticated doodads and technology that so obsessed our ancestors. We’ll be the better for it.”

That’s not even the slightest bit true, Robinton, but it sounds nice. Fandarel’s drive for efficiency could easily be matched by a Jancis-Piemur partnership for innovation. And every entity that wants to live as a land holder will develop new technology to displace anyone who has been there before. Now, if Pern has somehow managed to come into being as a world without any radioactive elements, it’s entirely possible it will take a very long time to develop space technologies…and atomic weapons, but they have electricity and whatever they can extract out of AIVAS before it self-terminates, assuming that the termination wipes all the data stores. If the data survives AIVAS, then essentially it only takes however long understanding the science takes before they jump from steampunk to cyberpunk. And it really just takes a dragonrider deciding to test the limits of the dragon’s abilities before there’s mining of space objects and/or waystations set up between Pern and the galaxy the colonists tried to leave behind. There are far too many ways that post-Thread Pern can exceed those precepts, and it won’t take much of a deliberate action to do so.

Robinton suggests the dragons will be there after Thread is gone, and the action shifts back to T’lion taking flak about potentially neglecting his dragon in his enthusiasm for dolphins, even though the dolphins are quite helpful and Gadareth doesn’t feel neglected at all. Alemi is knowing and conspiratorial with T’lion about talking and working with dolphins, and their propensity to fling water at everyone they like. In going to collect Boskoney, Menolly’s replacement at Paradise River, to take him to Landing, T’lion tells Readis that he talks to dolphins, which will no doubt precipitate a lot of headaches from Aramina about someone having encouraged Readis. Especially since T’lion enjoys talking to Readis about the exploits and stories he has with dolphins. So the two of them hatch a plan to have Readis come to Alemi’s dock and talk and swim with the dolphins while T’lion is there. That way, Readis isn’t breaking his promise to go be at the water alone, and he gets to indulge in dolphins. Who specifically say Readis’s foot has a thorn in it, even though Readis doesn’t feel anything. So when Readis takes ill, everyone thinks it’s just a fever that he’ll get over, but T’lion gets the information that Readis stepped on a sea thorn, which is worse than the nasty land ones. He eventually tells Boskoney everything, and that manages to get Readis to a dolphin, and they get the poison out, but not before the possibility of Readis not getting full use of his right leg. Boskoney doesn’t tell T’lion this while he’s in the middle of recriminations, but instead mentions that Readis is now under Healer orders to have to swim on a daily basis. Which is a still-uncomfortable reminder of suffering that T’lion’s brother endured, but the swimming part is at least a little bit of a buoy for him. The chapter ends on this note, with Readis happy that he gets to swim with the dolphins and everyone else mostly just happy he’s alive.

I’m pretty much over the arbitrary skepticism about dolphins at this point. If their sonar can diagnose things, then someone should be thinking about it when there are injuries, and using it if they’re lucky enough to have them nearby. Essentially, Readis was preventable at this point, because the dolphins are there and happy to do stuff like sonar. But there seems to be a thing from the author that talented children are supposed to be disfigured in some way as a way of keeping them from…hubris? Upsetting the social order before its ready? I don’t know.

Next week, we get to see the consequences of actions.

4 thoughts on “The Dolphins of Pern: Something Else Entirely

  1. genesistrine September 14, 2017 at 3:43 pm

    F’lessan predates the discovery of AIVAS. Which suggests the Cesarean does, too, according to this quote

    Yeah, Oldive’s quote last week was “The Cesarian to release a womb-held baby is permitted, and the one to remove the pendicks”, which raises the extremely important question: says who?

    Oldive is the Goddamn Masterhealer; who’s enforcing the “no surgery except for these two conditions” rule if he isn’t?

    (Also I’ve always assumed Jaxom was an emergency Caesarian, though AFAIR that’s not cerain.)

  2. Silver Adept September 16, 2017 at 1:08 am

    I don’t know who is enforcing this surgery taboo, or even how it came into being, because a Cesarean and an appendectomy carry similar risks of infection and other awful results as surgeries would to fix bones or remove “growths” or needles or anything by other reason to need a surgery. Make if Oldive gets too far into the thickets, his subordinates rebel or vote in a new officeholder or exile him?

    I don’t freaking know, and nobody seems to have any sort of explanation that makes a lick of sense.

  3. genesistrine September 16, 2017 at 5:33 am

    I can do you an SF “no surgery” handwave; tech is so advanced people can swallow nanobot swarms that are programmed to do the necessary from inside. Therefore they regard cutting into someone as horrific and dangerous, and the attitude stays even when alien Quorn eats all their tech including the nanobot fabricators.

    Unfortunately this flatly doesn’t work on Pern.

    a) they allow 2 operations but no others. I can see Caesarians getting a pass as “save the baby!”, but how come appendectomies but not tumours, fistulas, harelips, bladder stones etc? A blocked urethra can kill you as nastily as a burst appendix, so it’s not a case of “surgery is allowed when the alternative is agonising death”.

    b) there’s no hint that the original settlers had anything like that tech, and if they did they were even stupider than we’ve ever imagined to not notice the need for surgery in their planned low-tech Randian paradise. Though considering how stupid the whole enterprise was in the beginning I admit that’s not the most compelling of arguments.

    Ridiculously, the only people who can be enforcing it are the Harpers. At the very least they’re not working against it, and not pointing out that the sacred Charter doesn’t mention anything about it – well, I’m assuming there’s nothing in the Charter. Maybe it includes a clause about “no corporate cuts!” and that’s been misread for centuries as referring to surgery on people….

  4. Silver Adept September 19, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    Yes. I could totally see it as “these are the only two surgeries that be been in continuous enough use since the Ancients for us to be confident they work and don’t kill people,” if that’s how it was put to us. But it’s not. It’s “there are so techniques beyond this one, but they are FORBIDDEN, and it’s akin to a religious offense if you perform them,” which makes no sense. Even a Victor Frankenstein story happening somewhere in the Fourth Pass would help explain things, but no, just a random prohibition that makes no sense at all. A good beta reader would have helped catch this.

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