Last time, we got a nice peek at how Weyr life is different than everything surrounding it, and went through a many-page ideal designed to make sure that we all knew that Chalkin and his family were rotten of soul, corrupt of mind, and ugly of body, so that nobody would think of them as anything other than Stupid Evil.
Dragonseye: Chapters VI and VII: Content Notes: LGBT denial, inner-city stereotypes, corporal punishment
We pick up at Telgar Weyr, where a dragonrider has just hauled in our fleeing artist from the blizzards after he stomped a distress call in the snow that could be seen from dragonback. His story will join the piles of material sent as evidence that Chalkin should be impeached of his position.
Irene had already sent in a substantial list of abuses and irregularities in Chalkin’s dealings–generally with folk who had no recourse against his dictates. He held no court in which difficulties could be aired and had no impartial arbiters to make decisions.
The big traders, who could be counted on for impartial comment, bypassed Bitra and could cite many examples of unfair dealings since Chalkin had assumed holding fifteen years before. The few small traders who ventured into Bitra rarely returned to it.
Following that Gather and its decision to consider deposing Chalkin, M’shall had his sweep riders check in every minor hold to learn if Chalkin had duly informed his people of the imminence of Thread. None had, although Lord Chalkin had increased his tithe on every household. The manner in which he was conducting this extra tithe suggested that he was amassing supplies for his own good, not that of the hold. Those in a more isolated situation would certainly have a hard time obtaining even basic food supplies. That constituted a flagrant abuse of his position as Lord Holder.
When Paulin read M’shall’s report, he asked if Chalkin’s holders would speak out against him. M’shall had to report that his initial survey of the minor holders indicated a severe lack of civic duty. Chalkin had his folk so cowed, none would accuse him–especially this close to a Pass–for he still had the power to turn objectors out of their holds.
So, essentially, they’re asking someone to risk their lives and livelihoods to accuse Chalkin of malfeasance, and they’re not offering any incentive or protection to do it. I’d bet a lot more of them would be willing to talk if they were offered a Hold of comparable size somewhere very far away from Bitra, or if it would be guaranteed their testimony would be spoken by another, so that it couldn’t be traced to them by Chalkin. Witness protection and whistle-blower protection laws exist for this kind of situation, but they essentially rely on the case being so good that a conviction is guaranteed and that the person engaging in the activity is not found out before the trial happens.
Plus, as the audiences of this and last year are now reading in the accounts about Messrs. Cosby, O’Reilly, Trump, Weinstein, et al., if the person you are speaking out against has sufficient power to ruin you and prevent you from being able to survive in your profession, then you don’t talk about them openly. You make sure everyone knows that person is not to be trusted or to be left alone with at any time at all, but you don’t talk about them openly or in any forum where you could be sued or fired.
K’vin and Zulaya talk about Iantine, and Zulaya suggests possibly sitting a portrait for Iantine so that he has his full allotment of marks to do the land transfer deal that he initially went to Bitra for. K’vin thinks it’s a swell idea, suggesting that Zulaya wear the red dress from the Hatching (the one he was lusting after), providing a perfect, if unintentional, example of the kind of harassment that women might get in the kinds of situations where it might be difficult to speak up about it. Afterward, we stick with Iantine as he wakes up to singing, good food, and having a person assigned to him to make sure he gets fed, watered, and medicined before the Weyrleaders come to see him in the dining hall, collect his story, and commission him for the portraits. He meets the Weyr artist, Waine, and works out a deal with him to manufacture a full set of pigments if Waine can source the raw materials. Before, of course, Waine notices Iantine is still sick, summons headwoman Tisha, who ships him immediately off to bed with more furs and calls the medic immediately, who imprecates Bitra for having given him measels (which is what the sick children at Bitra had) or a mountain fever.
Suffice to say, when Iantine wakes up again, his mother is by his beside, and a bit annoyed at the lengths he went to for getting the fee, but Leopol, his assigned person, fills him in that his mother was boasting pretty hard about the fee and that he’d managed to extract it from Chalkin, that his Master had handled a complaint from Chalkin about the quality of the work, and that Iantine has quite a queue of people ready to sit a portrait with him. Tisha gives him sketch paper while he recovers from the lung infection, and he goes about doing sketches of everything, including a class being given on the soft and tender parts of dragons that are best not to hit with Thread, and how to deal with injuries to dragons. There’s assurance that dragons will know when they’ve been tagged with Thread, that popping into hyperspace is the right remedy for it, but that one must always have a destination in mind when doing so, and that the best way to accomplish this is to head home to the Weyr, in such a way that an orderly landing that won’t compound injury is possible. There’s a lot of insistence that the riders have to keep their dragons calm and only think reassuring thoughts at them, no matter what their actual beliefs are, because the dragons are the important part of the partnership.
Iantine’s concentration in the lesson is interrupted by M’leng, a green rider, and P’tero’s (the one who rescued Iantine) “special friend”, as the narrative puts it, right before observing that the two are always together in the kitchen areas. It’s pretty clear they’re lovers, and we’ve already had the dry bit where boys with “homosexual preferences” impress dragons, so by now, the Weyrfolk, at least, would have no trouble referring to them as such. Since it’s Iantine’s head we’re in, I’m chalking that terminology usage up to the world outside the Weyr being very, very insistent that there are no gay men outside Weyrs and to say such a thing is both scandalous and likely to get you run out of town or otherwise disadvantaged. Because succession and marriage and offspring and patriarchy, the last of which can bite my shiny metal ass.
Especially since M’leng is asking for a portrait to wear closest to his heart just in case P’tero should die in the upcoming Threadfall. Iantine thinks, for a moment, that M’leng might be dramatizing things, but then realizes he’s not, coupled with starting to truly understand the cruelty and necessity of the lectures being delivered. Thus ends chapter VI.
Chapter VII starts with more information that’s now needed with Thread approaching – a medics conference and intensive at Fort Hold on first aid for humans and dragons, so that essentially every space will have trained personnel that can deal with crisis issues. If which there will be plenty, as we are treated to a description of the very few things that can kill or stop Thread from devouring someone whole, possibly long enough to perform a field amputation. The assembled are horrified at the data about Thread spread and that amputation is likely the best option to prevent an agonizing Thread death. And that it takes about three seconds to kill Thread by any of the known methods. Practically, the assembled are admonished to apply numbweed and fellis where needed, and to emphasize that people can survive Theeadscore, so that they don’t psychologically kill themselves.
After the parts on draconic injuries, some of the assembled medics quietly discuss the ethical considerations of “mercy” killing someone who has been Threadscored sufficiently that they are likely to die, but who doesn’t die immediately or swiftly. They mostly conclude that each medic has to decide where their point is that they would do it.
Then we shift over to another part of Fort Hold, where the instruction is to the groundcrews on the proper use of flamethrowers, checks to make sure that all the important parts of the Holds are sheltered, and several lectures about the appropriate use of Personal Protective Equipment and how one should always treat a flamethrower nozzle as loaded and ready to flame. And a crucial detail – the flamethrower consists of two gases combining and igniting rather than just the nitric acid (which is still an awful, inefficient thing to use, especially when you have methane production from all the horses and cows and their manure that someone could possibly pressurize or capture and ignite). I wonder what the other item is in the mix.
After a demonstration of using the flamethrowers against simulated Thread, Kalvi, the instructor, talks about the two different types of Thread – the ones that gorge and die, and the ones that burrow and kill everything in a wide swath. Then everyone gets the opportunity to fire on simulated Thread, before learning the next day everyone gets to learn how to field-strip, repair, and reassemble their weapons, with a reward promised to those who can do so in the fastest time.
After that, it’s back to the College for music practice on the new curriculum, which still has mixed opinions among the faculty about its adoption. In a little bit of reversal, there’s an argument that tradition and history deserve a place in the new curriculum, so that the Pernese know where they come from, rather than getting rid of everything before the now, with perhaps the exceptions of Benden, Boll, and other figures directly related to Pern. Those arguing for jettisoning the curriculum have this to say about the society Pern left behind:
“And all that went with a high-tech society–like prepubescent addicts, city gangs, wild plagues, so much tech fraud that people were stuffing credits in their mattresses to protect their income, the–”
“Spare me,” Sallisha said contemptuously, “and concentrate on the good that was done…”
Sheledon gave a chuckle. “D’you know how dangerous it was to be a teacher on old Earth?”
“Nonsense, our civilization,” and she emphasized the word, “revered professors and instructors on every level.”
“Only after they were allowed classroom discipline–” Sheledon began.
“And the use of stunners,” Shulse added.
I am again struck by the hyperbolic descriptions of places that are supposed to be bad. In a few paragraphs, Clisser will pile on by talking about how memorization will increase word retention and that old Earth had people who never went outside and only interacted electronically. Not because they were hikikomori or introverts or disabled, but because they were indolent, at least according to Clisser, who will be smug about the inability to be indolent on Pern.
It feeds into the overarching narrative of individual strength and Randian morality that Pern operates on, but I can’t imagine any society able to function if the conditions that are described were present in any quantity, especially the last one. It makes Earth sound no better than places in the 20th century ruled by angry despots (or the places in 20th century science fiction ruled by angry despots). That teachers supposedly needed not only permission to discipline their students, but stun guns to use on those students suggests a societal collapse if it is spread planet-wide. It’s like the worst stereotype of a predominant poor and minority inner city neighborhood expanded out to an entire planet. For readers who have only ever experienced the stereotype or heard stereotypical stories, this description would be utterly plausible.
A stereotype like that, though, would never survive in that form. There must be something else going on that’s being overlooked, much like how stories of how the inner city is only good for criminals and lowlifes overlook or deliberately ignore the efforts going on in those places to make their streets safer and more beautiful, and often fall to notice the ways that more distant government entities act in ways to try and keep those places as stereotypes they can use for political soundbites or as targets for their own evil.
There’s also something to be said about the reintroduction of corporal punishment for teachers, which is, sadly, an artifact of our times that plenty of people still think it’s an effective way to obtain and enforce classroom discipline. At this point in time, where I’m writing, there’s a corpus of work on parental spanking that tell us corporal punishment creates obedience by virtue of the person doing the hitting being stronger, but that it doesn’t create the internal motivation or reasoning that would prevent reoccurence of the behavior. Instead, it generates resentment. There’s also a corpus of research at this point that says boys are more likely to be disciplined or suspended, and minority students are way more likely to be disciplined, suspended, or expelled than their white counterparts, with the following academic consequences that come from being out of school so much. Now add into that teachers having full authority to use stun guns on any student they deem is acting up enough to warrant it, and I can’t imagine that there are all that many pleased parents about how their children are being treated by the racists (and/or xenophobes) in charge of their classrooms. They get “respect”, sure, in the same way the prison warden gets “respect” – cause they can make your life hell if they don’t like you and you can’t leave until the government says so. Whomever the education secretary is of the United Federation of Planets for this universe should have been fired a long time ago if this is their across-worlds policy.
As Clisser listens to the music, he thinks about Bitra and how they can’t be allowed to lapse into illiteracy, even though there isn’t a teacher who would willingly go there to instruct. His last teacher quit, after all. But no plans come forward at this point. Even as Clisser keeps his ears out for mention of Chalkin at the dinner following all of these training events. Where we hear Chalkin is closing the borders and preventing anyone from leaving with more than the clothes they are wearing. And then at the meeting with Paulin afterward, this border closure is essentially the largest move in a long string of isolationary tactics from Chalkin. Along with whipping and disbarring anyone who talks to him about his duties evading Threadfall. The restriction of freedom of movement is given as the other reason, beside the dereliction of his duty, as to why Chalkin can be impeached – both are Charter offenses. Which brings me back to the question of how Bitra survives, as presumably anyone with outside money or honesty would have long since run away over the borders when given the opportunity or been reduced to pennilessness and therefore uselessness to the Bitran economy. Unless there are other contracts being made of those people that keep them in eternal wage slavery and dangling the hope of something in front of them that keeps them there. If that were the case, though, we likely would have seen them, instead of the apparently completely corrupted population of the Hold. Bitra as it has been described to us shouldn’t exist, because it continues to have no reason to do so.
Paulin also tells us why the Holder system was adopted: “to give people a strong leader to supply direction during a Fall and to provide emergency assistance.” I suppose Chalkin could be considered strong, but I would have also expected there to be “bloodily put down several insurrections agitating for better conditions in his Hold” on his list of sins. In any case, Paulin starts drafting a letter to send out regarding calling an emergency session for Chalkin’s impeachment. And then everyone realizes that the days of easy copying died with the printers, so instead they figure two copies will do, one for each side of the continent, to be delivered and read out by dragonriders to each of the appropriate Lords and Leaders. As Paulin sets to his task, the chapter ends.
I think we’ve hammered the point home enough about how awful Chalkin is and how nobody wants to do anything with him that has a choice in the matter. It should be a simple enough matter, then, to remove him from the office and install someone new in time for the arrival of Thread.
It won’t be that easy, of course.