The Dolphins of Pern: Intelligent Signals

Last time, Readis talked with F’lessan, who encouraged him to embrace the role of guiding Pern to a satisfactory post-Thread society, and T’lion, who encouraged him to get a plot of land of his own and start running a dolphineers house out of it. Readis also used T’lion as a business partner and cover to request some underwater breathing gear discovered in the AIVAS archives.

The Dolphins of Pern: Chapter XI: Content Notes: Speciesism, child abuse

The chapter opens with Fandarel coming to see the Benden Weyrleaders, with R’mart, G’dened, and Talmor also in attendance because of work being done on the relocation of dragons. The dragons indicate the presence of Masterminer Nicat, but he does not appear immediately with the Master Smith, and there is a nod that since they had similar outlooks on efficiency, Fandarel might be the one that misses AIVAS the most.

“Maybe he has this ‘radio’ he’s been so eager to produce,” Lessa said, her smile partly for the many attempts the huge Smith had made to initiate some sort of instant communications system for those who had neither dragon nor fire-lizard. He’d been at it since that half-successful attempt at the beginning of the Pass.
“That would account for Master Nicat’s appearance,” F’lar said. The Masterminer had collaborated with the Mastersmith to find the raw elements, like metals, crystal, and some of the plastics that Aivas had listed as necessary to the production of “electronic” devices.

I…thought that most plastics were petroleum products and had to be manufactured, but at least there’s been statements that petroleum exists in some quantity on Pern. And it’s thoroughly possible to generate a good crystal radio with the technology that Pern has, since the telegraph idea did work. I admit, I didn’t think it possible to manufacture vacuum tubes, but there’s power, so it’s entirely possible. And there are glowing timepieces, so presumably fine gears and quartz are in use, too. It would be entirely possible to produce an electro-mechanical line of sight kind of radio.

Fandarel enters, sees the products of the meetings so far, and asks for more slowness in the settlement of the South, as well as confirming that there are a lot of bribes going around to get people South unofficially. When Lessa asks where Nicat is, Fandarel holds up an object “almost lost in his huge hand”, and calls Nicat through it.

“Ah! You’ve produced the radio!” Lessa cried.
“I have produced an electronic device,” Fandarel corrected her. “An improvement on the radios that were mentioned in the history files, and more nearly what the Ancients used to communicate when they were setting up their stakeholds. The old weather satellite that has been giving us predictions is also able to bounce signals, as is the Yokohama. With such hand units as these, we may communicate across long distances–once we’ve made them more efficient.”

Cocowhat by depizan

Oh, hellno. You want me to believe that we’ve gone from hydro power for printing presses and large industry to transistor two-way satellite radios in the span of four Turns? Even if guided by the invisible dead hand of the AI, that’s asking a lot and handwaving a lot of infrastructure that would have to be put into place. I would believe a vacuum tube radio at a desk somewhere connected to an absurdly high up broadcast tower, but satellite-bounced handheld units says that miniaturization has happened effectively, as well as battery construction and something like circuit boards. Although, now that I think about it, a few chapters back, there are requests to put terminals with database connections into various Holds in the North, which means I missed the spot where Pern developed a telecommunications infrastructure to handle all of that terminal material and its either absurdly-strong wireless connections or its transcontinental buried communications cables. For a supposedly resource-poor world, Pern is coming up aces with the metals and materials needed for high technology.

And they are transistor radios because Fandarel admits as much in the context of the discussion about bribes (Toric and others are apparently offering them) and available settlement land.

“We will need a work force to make the transistors required and to assemble the components. They will have to be trained, and we will need at least one knowledgeable person of journey rank to oversee the work. Master Benelek needs all the young folk he can train for the terminals and cannot give the Hall more time. I have a long list of those who have requested this efficient and effective little device.

Unless the galactic civilization back home is using much more exotic materials in their technology, Pern had a lot more resources than anyone was led to believe.

So Fandarel’s swamped, Nicat is overwhelmed for mining demand, and is now being asked to provide high quality stonemasonry to be shipped South for settlement-building, asking for people he doesn’t have. The Benden Weyrleader wonders why he agreed to supervise the move, to which Fandarel and Nicat both say he’s the only one who could be trusted with it. Eventually, Fandarel requests the elderly of Nicat’s workers to help assemble more radios, as it seems to be doing well for the elderly Smiths, who are happy for the extra income. Everyone promises to day that the holdup of going South is because there aren’t enough qualified people, which is actually true.

Fandarel leaves a radio with the Benden Weyrleaders, and then the two Masters take their leave. After that whirlwind, Lessa and R’mart tag-team an important observation.

“I wonder if he knew just how much he [AIVAS] was altering our whole lives,” Lessa said, making a sweeping movement with one arm.
“Quite likely he did,” R’mart said sardonically, “which is why he quit on us before we could disconnect him, or whatever it is one does with a machine.”
“He could have stayed around until we were well into the transition,” Lessa said, sounding slightly mutinous.

By its own admission, AIVAS deliberately shut itself down at the crucial point so that the humans wouldn’t get into disagreements with it. R’mart correctly articulates that it was a deliberate decision meant to forestall anyone walking off the path set in front of them, or seriously disputing whether the path was the right one at all. It’s a very Robinton thing to do.

The Benden Weyrleaders take a walk after the meeting ends, and we get the first confirmation of the reasons why the dragonriders are so ready to go independent, even when they have a gravy train waiting for them even in the post-Thread era. Possibly because nobody has died or taken over the Weyrleader spot at Benden during this entire time, and because Lessa ends up causing the situation that he remembers, the Benden Weyrleader has the sole institutional memory of the end of the last Long Interval: One Weyr, with three Holds tithing their worst fruits instead of their first fruits.

The Benden Weyrleader suspects that at the end of Thread, all the Holds and Crafts are going to, if not immediately give them the finger and proclaim they’re not sending any more tribute, over time decide that the time of dragonriders has passed and they don’t need to honor those old obligations any more. He’s not wrong. The long tail of loyalty could go for several generations, but eventually it’s going to be unprofitable. An independent Confederation of Weyrs would make it much easier for the dragonriders to continue being part of Pern, even though the laying numbers are going to take a nosedive. Assuming they don’t slot into the role of being the world police or military, deliberately outside the Holds and the Crafts and keeping them both from overrunning each other out of pique.

Lessa thinks dragonriders will slot into those roles afterward, but also thinks Toric will be the one to bring the action to break the traditional covenant as revenge for being deceived at the true size of Southern.

The narrative then shifts over to the dolphins ringing the bell at Tillek to warn Idarolan of a “bad blow, bad bad bad blow” coming. Because Idarolan is pod leader for the fish boats (and because he built a very nice marina and hospital for the dolphins). Idarolan asks Iggy, the dolphin, to chart the course on a specific dolphin-friendly map he had made, and then asks them to warn any fishing boats in the path before giving thank you fish to all the messengers. Idarolan drafts messages to be sent by fire-lizard to the land holders in the path of the hurricane, before musing that Toric would be annoying if he didn’t get the first message, that people who believed the uptick in bad storms was due to the Red Star being knocked out of orbit are lacking knowledge, and that how people got on without dolphins was a bad old time.

The action then shifts to Toric receiving Idarolan’s message, after a short internal monologue about how he’s been sowing seeds of discord in all the Lord Holders about how Benden shouldn’t be allowed to control the land apportionment in the South, as well as all the settlements he’s gotten supplied with all the people who resent the society as it is currently constructed (or those who have been promoted instead of themselves). He intends to sabotage the dragonriders, and believes this big storm might be the perfect time to put the plan into motion.

He’s also entirely not on board with dolphins.

The shipfish may have proved unexpectedly useful in telling fishmen where the schools were running, but he was not at all their advocate. He resented talking animals: speech was a human attribute. Mammals or not, the creatures were not equal to humans, and there was no way he would change his mind on that score. Humans planned ahead: dolphins only cooperated with humans because humans amused them, created “games” for them to play. Life was not a game! The very notion of providing amusement to an animal irritated Toric to the core. And he didn’t like their latest “game”: patrolling the coastline. He had his own plans for the coastline.

Okay, at this point, barring authorial interference, I really can’t see how Toric is allowed to continue. He got sent down to Southern as a way of trying to get him out of influencing others, and then Jaxom and Lessa and everyone humiliated him, and he’s theoretically had Piemur (although last we checked, Piemur had divided loyalties between Robinton and Toric, assuming he wasn’t playing a long con) as a Harper assigned to him for years now. Toric hates intelligent animals, the Benden Weyrleaders, and most of the other Lord Holders that he thinks have slighted him on a regular basis. Toric should be a person that nobody listens to because he doesn’t seem to have done anything to gather himself allies, and all that we’ve seen of him seems to indicate he has a very caustic personality. Yet somehow he’s the voice of the dissatisfied, as opposed to someone more winsome and better connected to the Lords Holder. Toric (and Norist) are the people that the actual group interested in social change facepalms at, because they’re cartoonish. They would only rise to power if it turned out that Groghe was a supporter and decided it was a good time to legitimize them.

Sure, the plot needs villains, but it needs better ones if we don’t want to have them come off as strawpeople.

The next section is essentially “the hurricane comes, and does what it does best – uprooting nature and structure alike in its path.” Of note is that Landing and Monaco Bay don’t take a lot of damage, but Cove Hold and Paradise River are flooded out, and T’lion remarks that during the windstorm he couldn’t actually get enough altitude to safely travel between. I don’t think that’s strictly true, unless there’s been a requirement for speed or something that could only be obtained by flying to warp into hyperspace. I would totally understand not going because the destination has too much wind to safely navigate, because not all dragons have the ability to safely navigate to Ruth’s accuracy, but there’s not a requirement that I know of that says the takeoff point has to also be in the air for things to work.

With the storm died down some, Kami and Readis go back to Paradise Hold with T’lion, and Gadareth has to use an underwater bugle to call the dolphins, since the pier and the bell are both essentially gone. There are hurt calves that require Healer stitching, so Readis asks T’lion to fetch Temma and bring her there to do it while Gadareth holds the dolphins steady. Temma has too many humans to come, and so does Persellan, when T’lion returns to Eastern to try and collect him.

So T’lion grabs the supplies, and Persellan’s book of technique, and he and Readis try to stitch up the calves themselves. T’lion manages to get the wounds closed up, at least, with all the internal bits inside.

And then realizes he’s lost the book. Cue frantic diving until Readis finally comes up with it. But it’s been soaked and clearly there’s ruinous damage. Readis proclaims he’ll print off the requisite information from Landing, as the two try to dry out the book and preserve some of its information. They talk a little bit about how humans still will need to take care of dragons and dolphins in the post-Thread era before Jayge busts them and lays into Readis about coming to help the dolphins before making sure the humans were all safe and healing. It’s apparently a bad example as a Holder to not tend to the people first.

Which, I suspect, Readis would be doing, if he were Holder. But he would probably still dispatch someone to help the dolphins if he could. T’lion essentially steps in front of Readis to take the heat by asserting that he’s dolphin liason for Eastern, but his and Readis’s stories tangle and Jayge finds out they’re both not where they were told to go, and absent from studies. And about the book, which everyone pretty much admits was a bad thing to take, even as Readis insists that he can get another made, and a better one. T’lion slinks off, and Readis is getting marched home to face up to the consequences of everything he’s done so far with the dolphins.

The way one was too short for Readis to prepare himself for his mother’s condemnation. She’d make sure he never went to the cove again. She would certainly extract a promise from him to have nothing to do with dolphins ever again. It was a promise that Readis could not in conscience give.
[Readis commits to the idea of the dolphineer, and that he’s going to become one.]
As badly as Readis thought his mother would react, the actual storm that followed his father’s account of his son’s various offenses against his Hold and against parental teaching and tolerance, his consorting with dolphins, and his absence from Landing school, brought such a tirade down on his head that he was unable to speak out in self-defense. Until she ranted that he was without conscience, loyalty, or honor in his devious and unworthy association with shipfish.

This is one of those situations that is supposed to come off as humans being the real monsters, since we’ve had two instances right next to each other about how dolphins, while intelligent, are lesser beings than humans and don’t deserve our help or sympathy for all the help they’re getting. Yet Pern has been living with intelligent animals for the entirety of its existence. Dragons and fire-lizards have been integral to the survival of the planet during every Threadfall. And yet, all the humans around dolphins seem to think of them as having the importance of pets when disaster strikes. That fits with the overarching Randian idea of Pern (“I got mine, fuck you.”), but it still seems very weird that a society that depends entirely on intelligent non-humans (and their handlers), had just been relieved of their existential that by another intelligent non-human (and its handlers) has such a callous attitude toward another non-human intelligent species. Unless they need handlers, too, before humans will respect them, which, ugh, speciesists.

Aramina’s outburst about loyalty and honor and devious behavior also suggests there’s a much greater core of feudal and filial piety going on in Hold culture than I would have thought. Matters of loyalty have, to this point, been mostly handled by violence or the threat thereof. The Harper attachment to Robinton was essentially a function of his incredible charisma. If there was supposed to be a deeper bond of loyalty present everywhere, I doubt there would be as much bribe attempts or concerns about bribes being accepted. The feudal society bolted on as a survival mechanism is still losing out to the Randian core, which suggests the whole thing is about to fly apart once Thread really is gone. Toric’s plan is essentially trying to kickstart this.

Readis, however, has been presented with an opportunity to try and rules-lawyer his way out of trouble, not that it’s going to work.

“I have, too. I have never been alone with the dolphins or in the sea. There has always been someone else with me.”
“That isn’t at issue…”
“But it is. I promised you the day after the dolphins rescued me and Unclemi that I wouldn’t go by myself to swim and I never gave. Not in ten Turns!”
“But you were a child! How could you remember that?”
“Mother, I remembered. I have obeyed. I have never come to harm from the dolphins…”
“But you have neglected your own family and the Hold’s needs at a time when we needed everyone’s help, everyone’s loyalty…”
“The dolphins are part of Paradise River Hold,” Readis began, but she slapped his be as hard as she could. He staggered back, rocked from the insecure balance of standing on the toe of one foot.
For a moment there was complete silence in the room. Aramina rarely used physical punishment, and the slaps she had given her children for naughtiness had been admonitory, not punitive. She hadn’t even so much as tapped his hand in rebuke since he had started at the Landing school.
“Dolphins…are…not…part of this Hold!” she said fiercely, stringing out the words to emphasize her anger and denial. “I’m sure there is work to which your father can put you now. You will do it and you will never mention those wretched creatures in my presence again. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Readis managed to say. “I understand.” He could not at that moment call her “Mother.” He turned his head to his father, awaiting orders.
Jayge, whose expressionless face told Readis nothing, beckoned for Readis to follow him.

And this is a reasonably good example of why smacking/spanking doesn’t work as a disciplinary measure. Making things worse, Aramina is not in any sort of mental state that would provide child-appropriate reasons why what Readis did upset her so much. “I’m upset because a disaster happened, I didn’t know where you were, you were doing something I told you not to do, and I really could have used your help” is what Aramina wants to say. Unfortunately, since dolphins very clearly stand on her own triggers, Aramina may never be able to handle discipline related to those things in a child-appropriate way. And Readis’s explanation that he adhered firmly to the letter of Aramina’s prohibition without understanding that he clearly violated the spirit of it is only going to come across as defiance to Aramina. So Readis gets hit without understanding and told that his worldview is wrong from someone who doesn’t have firsthand experience with the dolphins.

As someone who was disciplined that way, my experience says the only lesson Readis is going to learn from this is that his mother can’t be told anything about dolphins, and that he needs to be much more careful about how he interacts with dolphins, so that only his trusted people can see him do it. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Readis concludes that adults in general can’t be trusted with this any more, and that he’s going to have to conduct any further dolphin business out of the sight of everyone.

In essence, Aramina has crushed any possibility that Readis might come to her about problems, desires, or anything else for the immediate future, and quite possibly for the long term future as well. Trauma sucks.

Readis gets put to work helping dress the unexpected amount of meat provided by having to kill animals that got severely hurt in the flooding and the storm, and when he stumbles home, he decides that he’s not ready to face the family yet and sleeps in one of the barns. Which causes a miniature panic in the morning when he’s not where he’s supposed to be, although Readis only discovers this when he’s awoken by his sister on the lookout for him. So Readis gets in trouble again.

Later Readis would realize how strained everyone had been then, tempers and patience too stretched to allow for any tolerance, but when his mother insisted that he give his word that he would never again have anything to do with shipfish–and get use of that term as well as the tone of voice she used further inflamed him–then he, too, lost his temper.
“That is a promise I cannot make!”
“You will make it be abide by it,” his mother told him, her eyes sparkling with anger, “or you cannot live in this hold!”
“As you will,” he said, cold despite the trembling in his guts. He stalked down the hall to his room where he filled a travel sack with everything he could lay his hands on.

And so, because he won’t promise not to associate with dolphins, Readis leaves home, with Aramina yelling at him to get back here this instant. And that’s the end of the chapter.

It’s a pretty solid Menolly story here, with a child disfigured by an accident that wasn’t allowed to heal properly. Although Readis is by ignorance and neglect rather than having an active malevolent force in his life. And Readis storms out after a fight instead of waiting for a quiet moment to get completely away. But they’re both on the way to being the very first of their Craft against an environment that doesn’t particularly think they’re capable of doing it. We’ll have to see if Readis gets rescued by a dragonrider trying to outrun Thread or not.

So many broken family dynamics on Pern. It’s incredibly sad.

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12 thoughts on “The Dolphins of Pern: Intelligent Signals

  1. Firedrake October 6, 2017 at 8:22 am

    It’s a real problem for Anne (also in the sequels to The Rowan).

    You want to tell a multi-generational story.
    You basically only have one family plot, smart adaptable youngsters rebelling against their conformist parents.
    So you end up having the smart adaptable youngsters becoming the next generation’s conformist parents and never remembering what it was like when they were young.

  2. Digitalis October 6, 2017 at 10:23 am

    I always thought the “dragons have to be in the air to go between” thing was more a matter of training than ability. Dragons take things that they’re in contact with with them, and I can see how being on the ground while trying to do it would be tricky. Proper betweening training is also drilled into the weyrlings’s heads very hard, considering it’s one of the most dangerous parts of training.

    Your point about intelligent species not being respected until they have human handlers is also astute. I never thought of it like that, but that does seem to be a central theme in these books (and future ones) and never really gets acknowledged. I suppose it’s part of the animal companion trope that helped make this series so popular, but there really shouldn’t be any need to have one-on-one partnerships with the dolphins.

  3. Silver Adept October 6, 2017 at 10:46 pm

    @ Firedrake –

    There’s a little Truth In Television there, in that the new frontiers of the young are often the seemingly impossible of those a generation or two back, and the way in which things that were flagrantly liberal only a little while ago are now staunchly mainstream, if even conservative, positions.

    But yes, this plot does come up again and again, including in the other series.

    @ Digitalis –

    The training makes sense, although I would have thought there was a weyrling that got startled at some point and popped themselves somewhere else from a ground position. Hopefully not into a solid rock somewhere.

    Dolphins and humans might have preferences and end up in partnerships or if mutual like and practice with each other, but unless the dolphins or the humans specifically want the one and one combinations, there’s no reason to believe that they have to have it, even if it is tradition.

    The bit about humans adopting animals runs all the way through, and even more than that, it requires humans of sufficient authority to adopt before things happen (witness Menolly and her fair being the vanguard, but adoption only really happens once Lord Holders and Harpers are convinced of their utility).

  4. genesistrine October 7, 2017 at 1:25 am

    There’s a scene in an earlier book with the dragons teleporting at very low altitude (within the Bowl) in an emergency. They’re trained to have plenty of airspace round them when them go between, but they don’t need it.

    Or they never needed it before now, anyway. Looks like we’ve shifted to another alternate Pern!

  5. Silver Adept October 8, 2017 at 10:25 am

    Dragons and their riders very much seem to be a lot of “can do / can’t do as the plot requires”, rather than having a consistent defined set of abilities and a lot of people who learn how to use those things in very creative ways.

    At this particular point, it seems life what would have benefited best is to go back and reread what’s anyway been put down, so as to shore up the consistency into something more approaching a canon.

  6. emmy October 8, 2017 at 3:32 pm

    I feel like I have a dim memory somewhere of a scene involving a weyrling going between when not fully airborne and getting a major chewing-out from an older rider over the risk they took, but I might be mixing it up with fanfic. I know I’ve definitely read fanfic in which the casualty rate for weyrlings is pretty high.

  7. genesistrine October 9, 2017 at 3:34 pm

    @SilverAdept: a consistent defined set of abilities and a lot of people who learn how to use those things in very creative ways.

    Instead, they have a defined ability of time travel and a ton of people who are so lacking in creativity that they can’t think of any way to use it.

  8. WanderingUndine October 10, 2017 at 9:02 pm

    I picture a sea lion whenever I see “T’lion.”

    Well, Pernese society *was* a “bad old time” without dolphins. :-p But it continues to be one for most people, despite the dolphins.

    “Toric should be a person that nobody listens to because he doesn’t seem to have done anything to gather himself allies, and all that we’ve seen of him seems to indicate he has a very caustic personality. Yet somehow he’s the voice of the dissatisfied, as opposed to someone more winsome and better connected to the Lords Holder.” Sadly, this no longer seems unrealistic to me.

  9. genesistrine October 11, 2017 at 1:29 am

    I keep reading F’lessan as “Fleason”.

    C’lion. D’fordog. T’cup.

  10. Silver Adept October 11, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    @ emmy –

    I have a similar recollection – perhaps Moreta is when it happened?

    @ genesistrine –

    The worst part is that these are supposedly contractions for longer names. Given that the naming convention appears to be the names of your father and mother smashed together, one can only wonder how the Weyrbred that don’t end up being riders get on with their very long names.

    The lack of creativity always seems to be a think where the author doesn’t want to take any sort of look at it, until it’s needed as a plot point, instead of dropping hints about the fact that they’re getting better at weyrling casualties by impressing on the young ones that they really need to have a very clear idea of where they are going before they jump, and it seems to be sinking in on even the more creative ones.

    @ WanderingUndine –

    Regrettably, it’s no longer unrealistic. But there’s no mechanism by which common people vote for a leader, so there shouldn’t be any real in for Toric, unless he’s been making promises that actually do appeal and we haven’t seen them.

  11. genesistrine October 13, 2017 at 1:47 am

    re names: presumably contractions and nicknames are A Thing as well, though we’ve never seen them.

    re Toric: he is; he’s promising Holds for people who come South, and given the disguised ones that were revealed some people at least have got them. I can also see anti-dragonrider and anti-oldschool-Lord-Holder rhetoric having a big appeal. Harpers wouldn’t spread it, but I bet there’s a big underground gossip network for Things The Harpers Won’t Tell You. (Fake Harping!)

  12. Silver Adept October 14, 2017 at 9:13 am

    There probably is a gossip network somewhere. After all, we didn’t learn the extent of the holdless until a book focused on them by having an aristocrat try to lead them in rebellion.

    And probably enough people in the north that some would be willing to work for an asshole if it hadn’t they got a land grant at the end of it. Much as I want to believe things are unrealistic on Pern, when it comes to the worst parts of the society, those seem to be rendered quite faithfully.

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