Dragonseye: Taking A Bad Turn

Last chapter, business and a party, and also Iantine sexually assaulted Debera, who had to make an appeal to Morath’s innocence to get him to stop. But they’re still dating.

Dragonseye: Chapters XV and XVI: Content Notes: Fat People As Comedy, Gay Men Assaulted

This chapter opens with Clisser taking stock of all the singing and music done over the last few days, both the new suite and the not-mentioned until now Teaching Songs and Ballads, which are earworms. The Duty Song, we are told, will make sure everyone remembers what their Charter rights and responsibilities are, and Clisser spares a thought for all the students doing manual copying by thinking he should suggest a printing press be created by Kalvi. Which he then dismisses because presses need paper, and the word forests are going to be vulnerable to Thread. (Shows how much he remembers about papermaking, though, because Terran history reminds us that wood pulp is not the only thing that you can transform into paper.) Mostly, though, Clisser concerns himself with groundcrew assignments and waiting to hear how the curriculum was taking.

We, instead, are treated to Iantine having a laugh and a marvel at the size and splendor of his quarters in Benden, compared to what he had received at Bitra, as Lady Jane shows him around, makes explicit comparisons to Bitra, and then leaves him to himself. The things Iantine notices about Lady Jane are that she seems very fluttery, and that she wears almost no jewels except her wedding band.

Then we jump back to Telgar Weyr, where K’vin and Zulaya are having a discussion about everything that’s been observed and reported so far on the Weyrlings and their romantic behaviors. K’vin’s concerned about Iantine and Debera, but Zulaya waves him off by pointing out that for as much as they are besotted with each other, they stayed in public places. Jule, on the other hand, has apparently already taken another rider to bed, before her dragon is going to start having flights. The chief concerns Zulaya has are not trying to push the Weyrlings into fighting sooner than absolutely necessary, and trying to figure out how to retire the older fighters without offending them or provoking them into doing dangerous things to prove their worth.

Eventually they settle on the idea of taking their fighting wings south under the pretense of looking for artifacts and checking on the spread and penetration of the grubs. K’vin worries that the grubs will replace the dragons, but Zulaya points out the obvious psychological benefits of dragons charring Thread, even if the grubs are a useful second line of defense. On the day of the excursion, the narrative stops to engage in making fun of Tisha’s attempts to get on a dragon.

The morning had its moment of humor: getting Tisha aboard brown Branuth had been a struggle, involving not only Branuth’s rider, T’lel (who laughed so hard he had hiccups) but four other riders, the strongest and tallest.
[The dragon tries to see what’s going on and gets a cramped neck for it.]
“Stop that and get up here, T’lel,” Tisha was yelling, her thick legs stuck out at angles from her perch between the neck ridges. “I’ll be split. And if I’m split, you’ll suffer. I get should have said I’d come. I should know better than to leave my caverns for any reason whatsoever. This is very uncomfortable. Stop that guffawing, T’lel. Stop it right now. It isn’t funny where I’m sitting. Get up here and let’s go!”
Getting Tisha aboard Branuth had taken so much time that everyone else was in place and ready to go by the time T’lel did manage to get in front of Tisha.
“Not only am I being split, I’m also being bisected by these ridges. Did you sharpen them on purpose, T’lel? No wonder riders are so skinny. They’d have to be. Don’t dragons grow ridges for large people? I should have had K’vin take me up. Charanth is a much bigger dragon…why couldn’t you have put me on your bronze, K’vin?” Tisha shouted across the intervening space.
K’vin was trying to preserve his dignity as Weyrleader by not laughing at the sight of her, but he didn’t dare look in her direction again.

I’m thoroughly displeased with this idea that Tisha is a comedy figure because she’s a larger woman who needs assistance to get into a dragon that is too small for her. Why can’t K’vin take her on his bronze? She’s the headwoman of the Weyr, so presumably any questions about whether she’s high enough in rank to be accorded the honor should be settled. It would make things easier for everyone. I’m also skeptical that there aren’t stools or ladders people can use to mount dragons and that nobody has engineered a method for someone to sit side-saddle on a dragon, because there would have to have been a Lord Holder that complained loudly about how riding “split” was immodest and would provide views of his wife or daughters that nobody but her husband should be entitled to. This comedy routine shouldn’t be present because it’s making fun of someone because they’re fat. But also because the conspicuous absence of basic technology in this regard is unbelievable.

The trip south goes without incident, and everyone immediately procrastinates on their duties to go have a romp in the sand and the water. Tisha gets off of Branuth by way of water landing, and everyone essentially strips their clothes off and goes for a swim.

The narrative decides that we need to go see characters that have until now only been mentioned in passing (I believe): P’tero, blue rider, and M’leng, green rider, who are weyrmates and both confirmed to be men. The two of them ask permission to go off and lounge, and eventually both end up shirtless and pantsless while their dragons are off hunting herdbeasts. P’tero has designs for their privacy, and waves off a warning of a strange smell from his dragon as just new smells of the South.

And then the lions attack them. I’ll spare you the narrative part, but the gist is that both riders are hurt pretty badly, their dragons return and fight the lions, then more dragons arrive, led by Zulaya, and rip the lions apart in a fury. P’tero and M’leng pass out or are knocked unconscious, and that ends the chapter.

Nobody dies. Which is about the only grace I’m willing to give to this scene. As an earlier, younger reader, I wouldn’t have noticed that the first time there are confirmed gay dragonriders on camera, about to have a romantic interlude, they both get mauled by lions, which both conveniently stops the author from having to write gay sex and affection and probably makes a lot of homophobic fans very, very happy that the narrative has finally condemned what it had been trying to bury and not draw attention to in setting up a society where promiscuous dragons would result in gay orgies happening in the regular.

I was ready to give at least a little yay for representation on screen, finally, after all this time, but no. No cookies at all when you put a gay couple on screen only to have them be seriously injured, and especially not in a chapter where you’ve spent time previously making fun of fat people. (Yes, this isn’t actually a surprise to the people that have been following along with the comments made by the author about her understanding of gay men, but it’s the first time those views have intruded solidly in the text. I would prefer the clinical medical language that minimizes the gay population of Weyrs to this.

We’re going to intrude in on Chapter XVI for a bit, because after having written the characters getting attacked and hurt, the author turns around and writes in a rather good description of the guilt and embarrassment that follows from such an incident.

The shame of being attacked, of endangering M’leng, of being responsible for injuring nine dragons–when K’vin had particularly warned everyone to be careful–was almost more than he could bear. M’leng might say that P’tero saved his life–although he had to have his shoulder wound stitched–but P’tero knew that was incidental in the sequence of the attack.

And as more details come in about what happened, the embarrassment grows. Because a makeshift camp has to be set up to make sure the injured heal before returning. Because it requires fetching medics to stitch people up and tend to them. Because they had set themselves up on top of the place where a den of lions were, thank you Ted Tubberman.

And it’s not helping that there’s a narrative being deliberately circulated that’s untrue, at least in P’tero’s eyes.

He worried endlessly that M’leng would no longer live him, with such a scarred and imperfect body. M’leng, however, seemed to dwell so on P’tero’s heroism in protecting him with his own body that the blue rider decided not to mention the fact that it had not been entirely voluntary. M’leng had been unconscious from the moment of attack and had a great lump and a cut in the back of his head as well as the wound on his shoulder.
Zulaya had arrived to see P’tero trying to remove the claws from M’leng’s body, so there was little the blue rider could say to contradict the Weyrwoman’s version.
Tisha, coming to give him fellis early one morning, found him in tears, positive that he had lost M’leng with such a marred body.
“Nonsense, my lad,” Tisha had said, soothing back his sweaty hair as she held the straw for his fellis juice to his lips. “He will only see what you endured for his sake, to save him. And those scars will heal quite nicely, thanks to Corey’s neat stitching.”
The reference to the skill of the Head Medic almost reduced him to tears again. He’d caused so much fuss.

Tisha continues to reassure P’tero that everything is fine, and the dragonriders needed a lesson in their own vulnerability, and that the ostensible mission of the trip south succeeded. I’m going to cut off here, because what follows on from this involves more people and also is a catalyst for something else I’m going to shout about next week.

P’tero is written excellently here, based on my own experiences of being so embarrassed that nothing else can penetrate, even as others try to put a more positive spin on it. And also the same about having done a thing that might have saved a life, even though to you it didn’t seem noteworthy or heroic at all. P’tero would like very desperately to know that M’leng still loves him, despite his flaws, and also would like to be left alone, thank you, so as to have a proper processing and worry about everything that happened. If Pern had counselors, P’tero wants to see one who will help him work through his feelings and come to acceptance, instead of trying to spin him a new story and get him to accept what he knows isn’t true.

And if he had someone to talk through things with, maybe what he’ll get up to next time wouldn’t have happened.

26 thoughts on “Dragonseye: Taking A Bad Turn

  1. Brenda A January 11, 2018 at 11:24 am

    P’tero and M’leng are in the first chapter, at the Gather. P’tero is introduced as a daredevil who takes unnecessary risks during the flying demonstration in order to impress M’leng. I think P’tero’s been mentioned in passing a time or two as well.

  2. genesistrine January 11, 2018 at 1:02 pm

    Yes, they’ve been an explicit couple all through the book – M’leng commissions a miniature from Iantine and gets P’tero dressed up in his favourite shirt so Iantine can sketch him the way he wants to remember him; Iantine realises that he wants it as a memento in case P’tero’s killed.

  3. genesistrine January 11, 2018 at 3:38 pm

    Clisser spares a thought for all the students doing manual copying by thinking he should suggest a printing press be created by Kalvi. Which he then dismisses because presses need paper, and the word forests are going to be vulnerable to Thread.

    So… they’ll just continue making students manually copy things instead?

    Again, they’ve had 250 years to sort this crap out; why is it only now they’ve started worrying?

    It makes me wonder if this book originally started out like the first Chronicles of Pern book – a collection of short stories covering different time periods? Clisser’s setting up the Teaching Ballads and Threadhenges, and dealing with the failing computers etc would make vastly more sense if it had been set just after the first Pass ended rather than 200 years later, and it’s only vaguely connected to the impending Threadfall/evil Chalkin storyline, while Iantine/Debera and M’leng/P’tero could be in pretty much any time period.

    And again – they know about the Southern Continent. They’re cool with visiting it. They know about grubs. How the HELL is this all going to be forgotten about?

  4. Silver Adept January 11, 2018 at 4:06 pm

    Background characters, I think, is what I should have said, rather than “in passing”, because you’re right, the two have been showing up here and there in the narrative.

    I got nothing on how all of this gets lost, unless it’s the problem of single people with knowledge whom the scribes don’t actually get to in time, but the education system being set up, along with the guild apprenticeships, should preserve knowledge through the generations.

    Maybe plague?

  5. genesistrine January 11, 2018 at 4:36 pm

    >Maybe plague?<

    Maybe, but you'd think any plague so comprehensive would wipe *everything* out. How selective would a plague have to be that people remembered how to sail and fish but forgot dolphins could talk, for instance?

  6. depizan77 January 11, 2018 at 11:11 pm

    Clisser spares a thought for all the students doing manual copying by thinking he should suggest a printing press be created by Kalvi. Which he then dismisses because presses need paper, and the word forests are going to be vulnerable to Thread.

    And you can’t print with a printing press on vellum? Because a quick google search suggests you can. So this seems like a WTF on multiple levels. (Also, I had no idea just how freaking labor intensive, time consuming, and material heavy making vellum is. Pretty sure they’d really want options. (Not that paper making isn’t also most of those things, but considering you can make it from rags, for instance…))*

    And, yeah, the time line is seeming super garbled in this story. When are we? Who knows.

    He worried endlessly that M’leng would no longer love him, with such a scarred and imperfect body.

    Generally speaking, I get this. But they’re dragonriders! If there were ever a profession that might view scars as a positive, that’d be the one. (Not to mention, I’m just slightly uncomfortable with a gay character being the only one we’ve seen in text worrying about scars. Unless I’ve forgotten someone? Has anyone else – besides Menolly – been scarred in these stories?)

    *I am assuming they’re using vellum, because there really aren’t that many options that I know of for paper-type-things.

  7. Autumn January 12, 2018 at 1:53 am

    “Unless I’ve forgotten someone? Has anyone else – besides Menolly – been scarred in these stories?”

    From Dragonflight: “Overworked, underfed, scarred by lash and disease, they were just what they were–drudges, fit only for hard, menial labor.” F’lar had been unable to see past those women’s scars, mentally condemning them to continuing lives of drudgery. In other words, scars on Pern seem to be viewed negatively.

  8. genesistrine January 12, 2018 at 1:04 pm

    Has anyone else – besides Menolly – been scarred in these stories?

    Lytol has facial burn scars from the foulup that killed his dragon; they’re mentioned on his first appearance. But most dragonrider scars would probably be from Thread, so this generation of dragonriders hasn’t had the chance of getting them yet.

    I am assuming they’re using vellum, because there really aren’t that many options that I know of for paper-type-things.

    Me neither, and even things like rag paper would need cotton/linen/etc, which come from plants so would be as vulnerable to Thread as trees.

  9. depizan77 January 12, 2018 at 10:48 pm

    Me neither, and even things like rag paper would need cotton/linen/etc, which come from plants so would be as vulnerable to Thread as trees.

    So would any crops. Do the Pernese have a meat and…whatever you might be able to grow indoors (mushrooms…uh… …?) diet? I’ve been under the strong impression that there was farming.

    (It would also help if the books were much clearer on the damage of threadfall and on the success of dragonriders vs threadfall. Neither of which the books are at all clear on.)

    But the paper/vellum issue is highly secondary to the fact that you can, in fact, print on vellum with a printing press. Clisser’s dismissal of printing makes no sense at all.

    (Much like everything else on Pern. *sigh*)

  10. genesistrine January 13, 2018 at 2:11 am

    Even meat animals would have to eat plants. We’re told that the priority is protecting farmland/pasture/orchards, but fallen Thread spreads so how the hell that’s supposed to work is beyond me. And we know they don’t scorch woodlands flat because we get scenes like Aramina’s family driving through (natural-sounding rather than plantation) woodlands.

    So it sounds much more like there was a deliberate policy of keeping paper/books/printing out of the hands of the majority of the populace than Clisser’s “oh dear resources never mind people can memorise things” excuse.

  11. depizan77 January 13, 2018 at 11:11 am

    Even meat animals would have to eat plants.

    Good point! Though, if I remember right, pigs are omnivores and…I can’t remember if it was them or some other animal, but I also remember reading somewhere that [meat animal] was often kept by the poor or in areas where farming was more difficult because it didn’t compete as much with the humans for what crops could be raised. But I am decidedly not an expert on historical agriculture.

    And, yeah, there are times when I really get the impression that Thread – though dangerous – is not quite the catastrophic danger that the powers that be present it as. Not to say that the dragons (and the grubs) aren’t a good idea, and don’t make it so that more of the flora and fauna of Pern survives each Threadfall, but it’s hard not to suspect that the dangers are exaggerated to maintain better control of the populous. (For one thing, if it were as destructive as the more extreme presentations of it suggests (Thread! It eats EVERYTHING!), there wouldn’t have been native life left on Pern for the survey to find.)

  12. genesistrine January 13, 2018 at 3:44 pm

    I don’t think we’ve ever seen oinkbeasts on Pern, have we? ISTR at least one social anthropologist suggesting that religious/social proscriptions on pork are partly because everything that pigs eat humans can too, so people living in marginal communities prefer to keep that food for themselves rather than feeding it to pigs.

    And yes. The protagonists who’ve lived outside during Threadfall seem to do pretty well for themselves (though they always seem to have been on the seashore, which presumably helps, or at least reduces the chance of stepping in a live Thread burrow after the Fall’s passed…).

  13. depizan77 January 13, 2018 at 4:13 pm

    I can see why they wouldn’t bring pigs, if that anthropologist is right. Though I don’t know how wise their choices with the animals they did bring were. (Setting aside Mr. I’mma Gonna Bring Large Predatory Cats.) You’d want whatever meat animal competes the least with humans for food, which might leave you in a situation in which you have large areas of pasture land to protect from Thread.

    It feels like the closer we look at this, the more confused it all becomes. What kind of acreage is needed for food for the society of Pern? (Crops and food animals alike.) What kind of clothing do the Pernese wear – are there baabeasts? If people are wearing cotton, we’re back to having more agriculture to protect. But if they’re wearing wool, then you’ve got sheep and pasturage to protect. They can’t be wearing nothing but leather, surely?

    Does Thread burrow? How does that work? What the fuck IS Thread and why does it behave differently in every freaking book? (If not in different chapters of the SAME book.)

    Pern gives me the worst worldbuilding headache.

  14. WanderingUndine January 13, 2018 at 10:26 pm

    From the Pern Wiki: “The beastcrafters are involved mainly with the study of the animals that come from Earth: runnerbeasts, bovines, llamas, porcines, caprines, ovines, and canines. They also look after avians, domestic wherries, and the rare chickens and geese, improving egg yield and size of roasting fowl.” http://pern.wikia.com/wiki/Beastcraft

    @genesistrine: My biology teacher said that because pigs eat the same types of food as humans, they have similar digestive systems, and pathogens that live in their guts can live in ours (untrue of ruminants before we started feeding them corn instead of grass), so they more readily spread disease to humans through their droppings or contaminated flesh. Some ancient peoples who didn’t know about microbes nonetheless called pork “unclean” because pigs can eat garbage and carrion. But as you say, anthropologist Marvin Harris (and maybe others?) contended that pork taboos were set mainly because pigs need more of the shade, water, and edible-to-humans plant material that were and are scarce in much of the Middle East. (I was just inspired to read the book chapter where he proclaims this, and now I want to read the rest of that book because the science and history of food systems fascinate me).

  15. Firedrake January 14, 2018 at 5:35 am

    The Pern Wiki can say that all it likes, but the only “porcine” I can find in the actual Pern books themselves is here in Dragonseye: “Iantine had struggled with the porcine Chaldon” and later “He had made the jowly face less porcine”.

  16. genesistrine January 14, 2018 at 6:32 am

    @depizan: well, they might well bring them, since they weren’t planning on a subsistence lifestyle until Thread showed up (or maybe they were for 95% of the people secretly designated as “peasants”; it’s still extremely unclear how they expected their society to work). But they’d be the first to go when supplies ran low in a Hold.

    What kind of clothing do the Pernese wear – are there baabeasts?

    Well, they’ve got *something* they weave and dye; they’ve got weavers and tapestries and whatnot. Though the only materials I can remember being mentioned are wherhide and sleeping furs, which sound unhygienic and hard to wash, not to mention what do they get fur from in the first place, especially in large enough quantities for everyone’s beds.

    Does Thread burrow?

    Every time we see a ground crew they’re being warned about putting their feet down Thread burrows, so….


    From the Pern Wiki

    So they presumably have llama wool (hawk’n’spitbeasts?) as well as baabeast wool and maybe even bleatbeast depending on the breed of the caprines. (I wonder if the explanation for the porcine/bovine/canine etc usage is to make the distinction that they’re animals genetically engineered from that family?)

    I was just inspired to read the book chapter where he proclaims this, and now I want to read the rest of that book because the science and history of food systems fascinate me

    I don’t know if it’s been updated since I read it years ago, but in the edition of Cannibals and Kings I read he suggests that some pre-Conquest American societies practiced human sacrifice because of protein hunger caused by vitamin B deficiency. But it’s now known that while European cultures subsisting on maize and maize flour did get pellagra this doesn’t happen if it’s prepared the American way: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nixtamalization, which spikes that theory. It’s still a fascinating book though.

  17. WanderingUndine January 14, 2018 at 8:01 am

    The Breastcraft page speaks more specifically about “bovines and ovines,” so it sounds like thede was continued use of cows and sheep at least. Good thing for everyone, including the riders of giant carnivorous dragons. I recall a scene of Ruth eating multiple wooly animals, and think they were sheep, but don’t recall for certain what the book called them.

    @genesistrine: The chapter I read was from The Sacred Cow and the Abominable Pig, which is also decades old and of dubious veracity, but very interesting.

  18. WanderingUndine January 14, 2018 at 5:03 pm

    ^Beastcraft, I mean. *facepalm*

  19. genesistrine January 15, 2018 at 3:35 pm

    The Plastic Surgeons of Pern! 😀

  20. Dragovian January 16, 2018 at 1:39 am

    To add to the WTFery of Pern, I just re-read Dragonflight recently. In it, a group is standing in a Thread-infested forest/jungle, trying to figure how to deal with Thread burrows after the first live fall, and instead of Thread rampantly devouring trees, they talk about how the trees nearest the burrow are visibly wilting, and how the ground will be useless for Turns. And then, after destroying the first burrow, they stroll to another one to try a slightly different technique for burning it out.

    The book also mentions milchbeasts once, when Ramoth is feeding.

  21. Silver Adept January 16, 2018 at 6:31 pm

    This is one of those situations where I think we’ve thought about it more than the actual writers did.

    Presumably, if this is an agrarian feudal vassalage system, there needs to be a lot of farmland, pastures, forests, mines, and other resource extraction operations to provide enough resources for the peasants to survive and tithe to their lords and dragonriders. And a worldwide network of shipping and shelter to get those goods to the places where they are supposed to go. So that should be a lot of land that needs covering, and yet we’re supposed to believe that the dragonriders and ground crews are good enough that they get every last little bit of it, and none of it ends up mangling the animals of the world…

  22. Firedrake January 17, 2018 at 4:05 am

    The impression I got in the early books is that the Hold is meant to be something like a castle, for the farmers to hide in when the Thread comes, and then to go back out to their fields afterwards. If that’s sufficient, it would imply that an occasional field will be eaten by Thread when the dragonriders mess up (if they didn’t mess up, the people wouldn’t need to hide), but that it’s not the end of the world when that happens (because it’s still worth having fields at all).

  23. Silver Adept January 18, 2018 at 9:37 am

    @ Dragovian (Hello!) –

    This is why you need your continuity editor or a series bible, so that you can remember what you did in the beginning when you’re still publishing books in the series twenty to thirty years after you started. Because, as we’ve noted, what Thread is and does varies wildly from one book to the other.

    @ Firedrake –

    Losing a field night not be catastrophic for the Lord Holder, but what about the peasant farmer attached to that field? “Sorry, Thread got your field. Nothing you can do about it, but because you won’t be able to make tithe this year, you’re holdless now / you and your family will be my drudges forever through the generations.”

    I mean, that’s why we have insurances, so that if a catastrophe strikes, a person is not left without a way of living. Pern’s continued attempts at being Randland makes me think there’s no such safety net for anyone there.

    (And yet, Thella is the only story we get of someone attempting a popular uprising, and even then, it’s not really a proper popular uprising.)

  24. Firedrake January 18, 2018 at 10:35 am

    Silver Adept, fair point, but I meant “the end of the world” literally – at one point it was being suggested that any thread making it to ground level was a potentially ecosystem-destroying problem. I’m putting bounds on dragonrider effectiveness and impact of Thread.

    In any case, for the farmers the Hold has to be an occasional shelter. Presumably people farm close enough to the Hold that they can run there when Thread is coming. Which would imply a lot of Holds, and none of them terribly huge.

    Or someone simply forgot how many farmers you need to grow food when you have no power tools.

  25. genesistrine January 18, 2018 at 3:03 pm

    It seems from what little we see that the peasant farmers/small Holders all have their small Holds with stables etc for livestock protection, and don’t forget that there are Threadfall timetables, so they can plan to get under cover on Threadfall days.

    We really should have got to see how bad uncontrolled Thread was at some point. If you think back to Dragonquest we actually had an opportunity when we were told that High Reaches hadn’t been bothering to fly against Thread. But strangely enough it doesn’t seem to have done even enough damage to merit calling in extra ground crews and dragons to deal with the infestation. So yeah, realistically it sounds like Thread isn’t as horrifyingly devastating as dragonriders and Harpers want it to seem….

  26. Silver Adept January 20, 2018 at 3:22 pm

    I think the First Fall era books are supposed to show us what uncontrolled Thread is like. The tricky part, then, is whether or not the accounts we get in the Ninth are because Pern has had the advantage of a couple of millennia of evolution and adaptation and Thread is actually less dangerous now, or whether people in the Ninth are so used to it at this point that they’re downplaying the actual danger. It’s still a clusterfrak of trying to get everything to line up in a coherent manner.

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