Dragonseye: More Origin Stories

Last time, we spent a chapter disparaging the Bitran Lord Holder, whether by narrative or by other characters, so as not to have to confront our own likely skepticism about the return of an ancient menace. The remaining leaders of the planet agreed on the necessity of constructing obvious warnings to their descendants for the next time Thread came around.

Dragonseye: Chapter II: Content Notes: Ablism, Misogyny

The other faculty at the College are unhappy at Clisser’s decision to take on the task of warning the next generations, wondering where they will get the time to do this task, and whether it fits in their remit.

“Our main function,” said Danja, taking up the complaint–she wanted spare time in which to work with her string quartet, “is to teach youngsters who would rather ride dragons or acquire many klicks of Pernese real estate to use the wits they were born with. And to brainwash enough youngsters to go out and teach whatever they know to our ever-widely-spreading population.”

That sounds suspiciously like an honest assessment of the Harper mission, does it not?

The parallels continue, with a class getting an assignment to do the research on what would be an effective temporal safeguard and a suggestion that a lot of knowledge should be encoded into musical form and taught to the very younglings. With continued grumbles about time, the grouping steps up to the stage to perform a set of music with the intent of giving way to what the juniors “so erroneously call ‘music’,” proving that you will see plenty of people complaining about the music of the young, even this far in the future.

The prodigy student that joins them, Jemmy, has already been plenty praised for his polymath abilities, even though his parents had thought him learning-disabled. Having lasted only a few voyages as a fisher, due to constant motion sickness, he was recommended to the College, and now thrives there, sucking up all the knowledge he can and proving to be an impressive copyist that can note and correct the mistakes of other copyists, as well as translating and expanding upon the notes left behind by the settlers.

He’s also got a crush on Bethany, who is

consistently kind and encouraging to everyone but refused to accept any partner. She had long since decided to never inflict her deformity [a club foot] on offspring, and refused any intimacy, even a childless one.

The very next sentence has Clisser speculating whether Jemmy would be able to “breach the wall of her virginity,” which has bad callback echoes to times where dragonriders have ignored the consent and stated wishes of their partners. This time, though, we’re assured it would be good for everyone – Clisser thinks Bethany cares for Jemmy, that Bethany deserves love, that there’s contraception available, and that, despite the age difference (and that they’ve known each other for thirty years at this point), Jemmy “desperately needed the balance that a fully-rounded life experience would give him.”

Cocowhat by depizan

Cocowhat by depizan

NO. Not just for “what part of childfree do you not respect, you asshole,” but also “Neurotypicality is not the Holy Grail of anything at all, you asshole.” It doesn’t matter how Cy anyone might think the match is a great one, it’s up to exactly two people to decide whether they want to embark on a relationship – Jemmy and Bethany.

Hopefully, this is the last we hear of this. Ever.

The narrative, instead, had Clisser putting the idea of teaching songs into Jemmy’s head, who stays composing immediately a song and tune that will essentially be the first of many propaganda pieces about how everyone owes the dragonriders for their safety and security.
Clisser leaves Jemmy to his work, and hopes the computers will have enough in them to complete the research task. And it’s annoyed at parents who are trying to get their students into computer classes for the prestige rather than any aptitude for the work and the machines. As well as a parent complaining about her daughter associating with “lesser breeds without the law” as one of the other faculty put it.

Who would have thought that a system that relies on inheritance of blood relatives would develop blood purists and supremacists. I’m sure everyone is shocked, shocked, I say.

Clisser has A Brilliant Idea about education, though.

What was the point of teaching students subjects now rendered useless here on Pern? Like computer programming and electronic maintenance? What good did it do to the Pernese boys and girls to know old geographic and political subdivisions of Terra? Useless information. They’d never go there! Such matters did not impinge on their daily lives. What was needed was a complete revision of learning priorities, suitable to those who were firmly and irrevocably based on this planet.
[…Out with anything to do with space, human history, or other planets! Study just the Charter – start history with Landing!…]
And further, Clisser decided, taken up with the notion, we should encourage specialized training–raising agriculture and veterinary care to the prestige of computer sciences.
[…teach the things that apply to Pern – husbandry, metalworking, reading maps, fishing currents – not art or veterinary science as it was on Terra…]
As to that, why not separate the various disciplines so that each student would learn what he needed to know, not a lot of basically useless facts, figures, and theories?

And with the addition of the right of an apprenticeship system, we have the Crafts of Pern sketched out. The additional wrinkle is that the kids should be tested at six and twelve on their aptitudes to see which Craft they would best apprentice in to.

It’s easy for us to note how awfully this turns out, by having the advantage of having seen two thousand years into the future of Pern and the complete devolution of technology and science into static Crafts that often refuse the idea of innovation on its face, but we can also note that this is going to turn out badly because excising those trivial bits and boring facts and figures essentially deletes the ability to innovate in wild, genre-smashing ways and limits the ability to improve mostly to refinement. The basics might be preserved in music and song, taught by anyone, but guild specialization makes it highly unlikely that the Weavers and the Fishers and the Timbersmiths are all going to design a better sailboat, each using the innovations and refinements of their Craft to help out the others.

That, and much like the system of priests that taught a little bit of knowledge in Terran history and then generally suppressed anything that didn’t fit their worldview, restricting education to what you “need to know” is a system that is rife for abuses, power plays, demagoguery, and making classes of people more important than others, because they hold the keys to knowledge and can force orthodoxy among their members and the society.

That’s essentially chapter II – the birth of the Craft system, the ascendancy of the Harpers as the most important craft, the deliberate excision of the subjects most likely to provide innovation and warnings to the future about not adopting certain governmental systems, and the decision to use music as the vehicle of delivering propaganda and instruction to the masses when the inevitable fracturing and failure of a united, technologically advanced Pern happens. Likely within the next Pass.

And a creepy interlude where someone thinks the potentially neurodivergent person should be hooked up with the physically disabled person who has very specifically indicated she wants to be childfree.

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21 thoughts on “Dragonseye: More Origin Stories

  1. depizan77 November 2, 2017 at 11:38 am

    Of course the person who clearly hasn’t learned from history would think it’s not important to learn history. *facepalm*

    Also, why in the universe would you decide that space is unnecessary to learn about on a planet periodically menaced by space goo? Or is Clisser one of the people who doesn’t believe in Thread?

  2. saidahgilbert November 2, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    @dezipan77 This is obviously the start of fantasy Pern where things work by magic and not science.

  3. Silver Adept November 2, 2017 at 1:54 pm

    Clearly. Space is for technological people, which Pern is set up to explicitly reject. Far easier just to call it the wrath of God, or something similar. It maintains the cult of the dragonriders, keeps the Harpers in power, and makes sure the simple folk forget that there’s an entire universe of the full of beings that are doing things and that have the technology to come say hello any time they wish.

    Clisser believes, but thinks that throwing it all away in favor of being able to write his own history sounds like a much better idea. Not every day you get to make sure you control the minds of everyone in the planet within a generation or two.

  4. Wingsrising November 2, 2017 at 2:55 pm

    “…encourage specialized training–raising agriculture and veterinary care to the prestige of computer sciences.”

    I’m also trying to figure out why they would have abandoned training in those things in the first place? Having spent a number of years working at a university whose agriculture program and vet school were both highly thought of, I can assure you that people in a technologically advanced society still get specialized training in agriculture and veterinary care.

  5. genesistrine November 2, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    And how come this is only coming up 200 years after the last Threadfall ended? “You know, we really should have being getting some people trained up to be vets and agronomists this past couple of centuries; can’t think why no-one thought of this before what with all the computer engineers and shuttle pilots we’ve been training up who can’t find work.”

  6. Silver Adept November 2, 2017 at 11:36 pm

    @ genesistrine –

    The way the narrative spins it, parents are sending their children to the College to study comp sci because it has prestige value as a degree and can be used as a status symbol, like having a dragonrider in the family, rather than because the child has any aptitude at all for computers. And because farming has routinely been considered manual labor unfit for non-immigrant white USians for at least a generation or two, and some colonists essentially thought (like Chalkin) they could maintain the technologies like the flying sleds, rather than having to return to travel by animal, the related professions have prestige issues as well. I wouldn’t call it a particularly well-thought idea or argument. Much like everything else that comes out of Clisser’s mouth.

  7. depizan77 November 3, 2017 at 11:17 am

    Considering that hundreds of years later they’re able to revive technologies more complicated than the sleds, why weren’t they able to maintain the flying sleds and all?

    I know, I know, the plot says so.

  8. Silver Adept November 3, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    The plot generally sticks to the idea that the rechargeable power supply units are the sticking points for the sleds. I could believe that those had rare elements that Pern doesn’t have, and so as the packs ran down and couldn’t be recharged, they had to be retired. A couple hundred years would be more than enough to get everything properly discharged.

    This is never explicitly stated, but there’s been a lot of complaints and knowing winks about the power packs dying off over time.

  9. genesistrine November 3, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    Well, the weird thing is that the original colonists – well, the voluntary ones, the charterers and contractors – were all yay, low-tech life for us and our descendants, we’re all going to be horse-breeders and fishermen and farmers and stuff, and had the sleds set to fall apart after 40 years or whatever it was. And while it’s actually more realistic than usual for AMC that people have apparently thought nah sod that technology is awesome it’s weird that they went for the most pointless technology in the circumstances – where are the combine harvesters? The railways? The radios?

    And like I said, why has this all suddenly come to a head now? “Eh, Thread’s coming back according to our orbital predictions, seems like a good time to reorganise society and destroy technology!”

  10. Silver Adept November 4, 2017 at 9:12 am

    I think we’re supposed to believe that the only guarantee made to the charterers was that they would have land. And that they would have to work it as low high-tech as possible, so animals yes, combines no. And if you’re going to be the chief of your own fiefdom, then why would you need communication tools like radios? You’re not going to need to cooperate once you’re established.

    At least, that’s my best guess. We don’t actually get to see a while out of the reasons behind why some things were chosen to come, like horses, but others weren’t, like heavy farming machines.

  11. genesistrine November 5, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    Having now actually read this chapter, WTH, this is absolutely the wrong time for the discussions they’re having. This is all stuff that the Weyrleaders, Lord Holders and other authorities should have dealt with at the end of the last Pass.

    When the Pass ended people would have moved out of the main Holds where they could be easily managed, and THEN is when to consider how to keep people educated and aware of the threat over the next 200 years, consider what kind of education is necessary and appropriate, consider how their society should work, consider how to keep records and how to move them off computer systems that they can’t replace (or, apparently, back up)….

    All of this should have been dealt with THEN.

  12. genesistrine November 6, 2017 at 4:49 pm

    Jemmy’s very interesting too. I feel he should really be a villain – not out of evil or viciousness, but because he’s very obviously going to shape Pernese society for the next couple of thousand years, and I think his first shot at molding public opinion through what will become the Teaching Ballads is very worth pointing out in this context.

    “It can be a showpiece anyhow. Start off with a soprano—boy, of course, setting the scene. Then the tenors come in… they’ll be the dragonriders, of course, and the baritones… Lord Holders, with a few basses to be the professionals… each describing his duty to the Weyr… then a final chorus, a reprise of the first verse, all Pern confirming what they owe the dragons. Yes, that’ll do nicely for one.”

    Entirely for male voices. Not so much as a solo for a coloratura to be a Weyrwoman being inspiring and sexy and living nose-cone art and whatnot. The narrative has been busy showing us female teachers and musicians and healers, and complaining that there should be more women green riders, but when it comes to “all Pern” – “all Pern” is MEN ONLY. I’ve no idea why Jemmy writes for men only when so many of his colleagues are women – is he one of those guys who complains about vocal fry? Will this choice be lampshaded later, or was it unconscious on the author’s part?

  13. Silver Adept November 7, 2017 at 12:52 am

    You’re right – the right time to plan would have been right after the panic subsided from Thread, after having seen the devastation that it wrought and hoping to make sure that the next generations don’t get caught as unaware.

    And the music being written for only male voices might be someone having a direct line to the author, or future knowledge he shouldn’t have. Or Jemmy can see what’s going to happen to society very clearly and is structuring everything so that later Pern doesn’t actually have to think about the fact that it subjugated women horribly in every aspect of its life.

  14. genesistrine November 7, 2017 at 2:34 pm

    The immediate post-First-Pass era would be a fascinating period to write in, come to think of it – trying to sort out a society when any number of people could just head out for the wild blue yonder with a “sod Next Pass, my eight-greats-grandkids can worry about that!”, the Lord Holders trying to sort out taxation and borders and responsibilities, the Weyrs trying to sort out tithing while they’re effectively useless; everyone trying to sort out a society that’s going to be able to cope with Thread when Thread comes back….

    And a lot of the setup here reads as though it was setup for that scenario – the having-kids-because-each-kid-gets-a-land-grant thing, for example, would work a lot better when there was much more free land. I haven’t worked out the figures, but 200 years of people having as many kids as they can must mean that the best land’s long since assigned, unless Lords make a habit of redistributing it according to census results or something.

  15. saidahgilbert November 7, 2017 at 5:29 pm

    I just now realised. If there was widespread reliable high speed communication at the founding of the world, why did they let it fall apart? Surely people who are accustomed to communicating across large distances at near instantaneous speeds wouldn’t suddenly decide at the first natural disaster to lose contact with all people out of sight and hearing distance of the community? I refuse to believe that this was a viable attitude in the 90’s or whenever this was written.

  16. genesistrine November 8, 2017 at 1:49 pm

    Yeah, you’d think radios would be a given. This is where a more comprehensive disaster would have worked better – if they’d all had mobile phones or the equivalent then it’s not unreasonable that no-one would know how to repair and set up new towers, or repair phones once they stopped working, and if all the databases were lost they’d have to try and rediscover simpler methods from scratch.

    But these people have had access to all the computer databases covering all of human history for 250 years and no-one’s found out how to make a spark-gap or cat’s-whisker radio? Or rediscovered Morse?

    As it is their “high-speed communications” come up later in this book – they fly a red-striped flag and any passing dragonrider who sees it drops by to find out what’s up.

  17. Silver Adept November 8, 2017 at 3:26 pm

    Given from what we saw of Fandarel’s attempts at singing cable above ground and having it get sliced open by Thread, I think we’re supposed to believe that radio would fail because of the interference wrought, either by cutting line or by blocking transmission to the satellites. Or that radio waves wouldn’t be able to penetrate the caverns. Except, of course, that buried cables are definitely a thing that should have been considered as soon as someone could get out and do it.

    It’s like we are supposed to believe that the intent of Pern was as a no technology zone, and that the descendants are just being slow at throwing off their oppressors, and that Pern is supposed to be a low technology zone and is now scrambling when they realize they’re going to lose more technology than they intended. No one seems particularly inclined to innovate or preserve, just to destroy (and maybe replace).

    I’d also guess who the land, good and bad, has been assigned at this point, Which should drive more people to the Weyrs and crafts, not less.

  18. Firedrake November 8, 2017 at 6:07 pm

    Given how easy it turns out to be to Thread-proof buildings and boats, a Thread-proof long-distance cable duct really shouldn’t be much of a challenge.

  19. genesistrine November 9, 2017 at 1:13 am

    Bear in mind that they’re going to use drums, so any series of towers suitable for passing on drum messages should work just as well for line-of-sight radio – they don’t even have to bounce it off the ionosphere!

  20. Silver Adept November 13, 2017 at 9:33 am

    Yeah. It’s hard to find a justification for why things like radios don’t exist past “the author didn’t intend for this series to become SFnal and has been flying by the seat of their pants once the decision was made to go that route.”

    The first villain character that decided to embrace technology and its advances would be positively devastating to Pern. How “lucky” we are that all the narrative’s enemies are so focused on making society some ideal of the past.

  21. genesistrine November 14, 2017 at 2:23 am

    Well, it worked OK as a decayed-technology setting before we found out that the author’s idea of why technology decayed was “eh, whatever, why bother”. Spoiler, but we actually see Clisser later thinking “maybe we should get around to building printing presses… sometime” when characters have previously complained about a) students working their fingers to the bone copying things and b) their terrible handwriting.

    It’s not DIFFICULT to some up with SF reasons for no/low-tech! A cult that’s anti the evil demon Electromagnetism! Computers that don’t keep running for 250 years in spite of being used by students! (AhahahaHAHAHA!) A volcanic eruption blew up Main Base! (Oh, wait….)

    But on Pern, it’s just because no-one could be arsed.

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