Monthly Archives: February 2018

Deconstruction Roundup for February 23rd, 2018

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who has been enjoying the Olympic tournaments this year.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Froborr: Jed A. Blue

Libby Anne: Love, Joy, Feminism

YamikuronueOther: Please Specify

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you stayed up past your bedtime to watch a seriously good shootout. About anything. Or for any other reason, really.

The Masterharper of Pern: Leveling Off?

Last week, we were introduced to Halanna, who the narrative painstakingly painted as a stuck-up pain in the ass of a Holder’s daughter before taking a certain amount of glee in abusing her to take her down a peg.

The Masterharper of Pern: Chapter IV: Content Notes:

The end of the concert has Merelan and one of Halanna’s brothers talking about her marked improvement in attitude and singing ability, having learned to play some instruments, as well as the suitability of dance partners of Halanna, before the brother asks Merelan to dance. Even so, Merelan notices that Petiron is so deep in conversation he fails to notice when Robinton plays with a group of nursery students, but she’s also afraid that Petiron will eventually notice that Robinton is very much the prodigy. The narrative frames this first as Halanna noticing Robinton’s talent, even though she hasn’t really interacted with him much, and then we hear about all the works Robinton has composed and the drum he made… and how Merelan found it very hidden away and learned that Petiron’s commentary for it was that it wasn’t good enough for the Harper stamp that would have let it be sold.

Merelan realizes, essentially, that she can’t talk to Petiron about Robinton, because Petiron will never actually be proud of his son unless his son is essentially perfect in all ways. Which still leaves her with the issue of her gifted child, as Kubisa tells her about how Robinton is able to help teach a child with a learning disability far better and more patiently than Kubisa can. This is a frankly impossible position for Merelan to be in.

And then Robinton learns about Thread, described this time as “bad Thread fell from the sky and hungrily are anything living it touched, from grass to runner- and herdbeasts, and even people.” But Kubisa also says it’s unlikely that Thread will fall in their lifetime. The day after that, actual dragons and their riders come to the Harper Hall.

And Robinton is bold enough to go up and secretly touch one, while thinking about how different the hide is from the watch-wher (ol’ Nick) and wondering if they’re both in the same family of dragons. The dragon (Cortath) answers Robinton, and the two have a conversation about the trip that Robinton’s parents are going on and Robinton’s desire for safety for them. When all is said and done, though, it seems like Robinton gets in trouble for the whole sequence.

“Robinton!” his father roared, scowling his amazement. Robinton risked a nervous glance at his mother and saw her slight smile. Why was his father angry with him? He hadn’t really been doing anything wrong, had he?
“Cortath says he’s enjoyed conversing with your son, Master Petiron,” M’ridin said with a reassuring chuckle. “There aren’t that many children these days who will, you know.”
Robinton’s sensitive ears caught the plaintive note in the tall, bronze rider’s voice. He opened his mouth to say that he’d be happy to talk to Cortath any time, when he saw his mother raise her finger in signal for him to be silent and noticed the deepening scowl on his father’s face. So he looked anywhere but at the adults.
“Out of the way now, boy,” his father said, gesturing urgently.

The narrative helpfully supplies that Robinton believes Petiron would have struck Robinton for bothering a dragon. Because the cult of the dragonriders means a lot less people feeling like they can talk to them that aren’t dragonriders.

Robinton also becomes more secretive about his compositions after having met the dragons, which is a serious change, but the narrative quickly jumps forward to the next time dragons come to the Hall. Robinton bolts to see if Cortath is among them, but he’s not present. But there’s also an exchange between dragons that Robinton gets to hear.

I call myself Kilminth and my rider is S’bran. What is your name?
As if you’ll remember
, said another dragon voice. It was the very dark bronze one. It is only a child.
Who hears dragons when they speak, so I will talk to him while our riders are busy. It is nice to talk to a child who hears.
He’s not old enough to be Searched.
Don’t mind Calanuth,
Kilminth told Robin in a somewhat supercilious tone. He’s too young to have much sense.
Who’s talking about having some sense?
Oh, curl up in the sun,
and then Kilminth lowered his head down to Robinton.

That’s the most conversation I’ve heard between two dragons in all these books that wasn’t interpreted through one dragon. And it’s snark between them, no less. Makes me wonder what the opinion of the dragons has been on all of these strange human things they’ve been dealing with.

In any case, Robinton and Kilminth have a conversation about whether dragons being able to see above themselves makes them dizzy and how the dragons know when Thread is returning before S’bran returns and is happy to see there’s a child there talking to the dragons. Robinton innocently inquires whether it’s possible to be both a dragonrider and a Harper, and there’s a lot of laughter, but no actual response one way or another. Which leads to Robinton not holding out a lot of hope for the prospect.

They hadn’t told him if he could be a harper and a dragonrider. So that probably meant he couldn’t be. Which would please his mother. She had set her heart on his being a harper, and that would take a lot of hard work and many years.

Robinton continues to keep his conversations with the dragons close to the vest, even when he has a dream of dragons trying to tell him something and a harper that was taken on Search riding the color of dragon that he would eventually Impress.

That ends Chapter IV, without anyone having triggered off Petiron’s rage. Can we make it two?

Open Thread: Late-Month Check In, February 2018

(by chris the cynic)

What have you been doing of late?  How are you?  Are you still alive?  So forth.

(sorry this is late)

[As a reminder, open thread prompts are meant to inspire conversation, not stifle it. Have no fear of going off topic for there is no off topic here.]

Deconstruction Roundup for February 16th, 2018

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who gets to play with something new for work today.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Ana Mardoll: Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings

Fred Clark: Slacktivist

Froborr: Jed A. Blue

RubyTea: Heathen Critique

YamikuronueOther: Please Specify

Multiple Deconstructions:

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you successfully escaped Red Day with nary a scratch. About anything. Or for any other reason, really.

The Masterharper of Pern: It Only Gets Worse

Last chapter, we set up a fundamental problem between Petiron and his family where Robinton does very well, but only gets cursory praise from Petiron, to Merelan’s quite intense anger. This won’t end well.

The Masterharper of Pern: Chapter III: Content Notes: Slut-shaming, sanctioned abuse, imprisonment, spanking,

First, however, we have to deal with Halanna, the new Hold daughter sent to the hall to study music. Who is naturally talented in her voice, certainly, but…

Halanna arrived, and created an instant impression on all who met her of an overly-confident seventeen-Turn-old young woman who found fault with everything at the Harper Hall, and especially the cottage where she was lodged.
[…she’s what we might call a diva…]
The only one who found her at all bearable was Petiron. Once he heard her sing, he dismissed Merelan’s remarks about her lack of discipline and a lack of general information about music that was close to illiteracy. He was jubilant over having a contralto with such a rich timbre and wide range with no “break” whatever. He immediately began to write contralto solos into the Turnover music he was currently composing. He discounted Merelan’s suggestions that the girl would not be able to “read” the contralto line, much less manage the tempi changes or the cadenzas.
[…Merelan uses every single bit of pull she has trying to teach Halanna the fundamentals of music, but getting written in by Petiron only inflates Halanna’s ego more…]
She sang Ioudly, completely ignoring any dynamic alteration for the appropriate performance of a song or aria, concerned only with showing off the power of her vocal equipment. “Soft” was an unknown quality.

Merelan asks for help from Washell, who dryly notes that if Halanna continues in this vein, she’ll kill her voice in a couple of Turns, and the problem will solve itself. Washell thinks that when Halanna botches Petiron’s composition, he’ll have much less infatuation with her. Merelan thinks that might make Petiron think of her as a poor teacher, but Washell had a plan.

Hold that thought in mind, however, while the narrative continues to make sure there’s nothing we’re supposed to like about Halanna.

Halanna was an accomplished flirt, and quickly isolated those whom she would favor–because of their rank, either from within the Hall, or from prestigious holds. She chose only the attractive journeymen and masters, of whom there were quite a few just then, back at the Hall either for reassignment or to take part in the Turnover rehearsals. Not only did she have a voice, even her worst enemies had to admit that she was a beauty. Blond hair bleached almost silver by the sun of Ista, a flawless tan that accentuated her light green eyes and white, even teeth, a figure more mature than that of most girls her age–and she knew far more than she ought of how to flaunt her sensuality. She did not obey the cottage keeper’s basic rules, deciding they were for children and not the daughter of a holder, though all the other boarders were the same rank, and some more prestigious than hers. She was caught time and again sneaking in late at night.
Then Halanna took a dislike to Robinton.

And there’s our nail in the coffin, everyone. It couldn’t have been anything else that might have signaled that the narrative might not like Halanna, but if she dislikes Robinton, then we know she’s bad. (Her dislike of Robinton is mostly contained to the same reasons Petiron didn’t like Robinton – she doesn’t like being overheard and she thinks he’s a distraction.)

Seriously, though, if you wanted to set up an anti-Menolly, you’d be hard-pressed to do better than Halanna. She seems to be the Harper equivalent of Kylara, and her primary sin seems to be that she’s sexy and she knows it, followed very closely by the part where she expects the world to fall at her feet and give her everything she wants. At this point, I’m starting to feel like the narrative has a serious case of A-Cup Angst, since everyone who’s had a canonically highly attractive body seems to have also been made a terribly slutty-slut villain of some sort. I think the author has a type.

Merelan eventually gets so fed up with Halanna that she passes her off to Petiron, who only needs a single lesson to realize the terrible truth about Halanna. Petiron believes his wife’s accounts of how difficult Halanna is to work with (Yay!) and sets to rewrite the part to match the actual skill Halanna displays.

Naturally, when presented with the changes, Halanna and Petiron have an argument that gets overheard by everyone, whether they want to hear it or not. And then…

Many allowed as how they had heard the crack of flesh hitting flesh. And it was true that the right side of Halanna’s face was darker than the left when she was finally allowed to leave the studio. But she did begin to sing in a much muted voice. And she continued to sing the music as written until she did so correctly, sometimes until she was hoarse.
[Halanna pops out and secretly sends a message to her father that she’s being abused.]
Petiron admitted that he had slapped her, to stop her hysterical ranting–to which everyone in the Hall had been audience. Any master was permitted to chastise a student for inattention or failure to learn assigned lessons.

So Clisser not only won out, it’s considered a best practice to beat your students. We knew that already, as far back as Dragonsong, but it’s still a terrible idea if you want them to learn and think on their own.

Also, because it must be said,

But we’re not done yet.

When MasterHarper Gennell and Journeywoman Healer Betrice interviewed her about the impropriety of her action, not to mention the content of her messages, she was defiantly tearful.
[Gennell tells Halanna she’s been a guest of honor to this point and that she will apologize to Petiron.]
“Apologize?” Halanna rose from the stool in amazement. “I am the daughter of a holder, and I apologize to no one. He’s to apologize for slapping me, or–”
“That’s enough out of you,” Gennell said, be turned to his spouse. “She’s to be quartered in an appropriate room and given only basic rations.”
That was more easily said than done. It took Gennell, Betrice, and Lorra to get her, screeching and struggling, up to the third story of the Harper Hall to one of the spare rooms used by messengers or overflow guests. She refused to eat the food supplied at mealtimes and actually emptied the first three pitchers of water until her thirst got the better of her histrionics. Since it took nearly six days before her clandestine message brought results, she got hungry enough to devour what she was given, though she refused to apologize or promise to remedy her attitude. Such interviews usually resulted in her hurling threats and promises of just retribution at those trying to talk sense into her.

And again,

There’s some confusion at work here, too, as to who actually outranks whom. If Halanna is the higher-ranking person, she’s not being histrionic, she’s right. And if she isn’t, then she’s still got a leg to stand on that she’s being mistreated. Because this is still sanctioned abuse and everyone is basically telling Halanna that she deserves it. She does not deserve to be abused. Summarily dismissed and sent back as a student who has no interest in learning, yes, but not physically abused. But the narrative certainly took its time trying to impress upon us that Halanna is such a clearly spoiled brat and terrible so that we might side with the Harpers doing the abusing instead of the person being abused.

Halamna’s father, Halibran, comes with a force of his sons and apologizes on behalf of his daughter, but it’s not accepted by Gennell. Halibran offers to take his daughter, who is apparently screaming out her window this entire time, home, but Gennell refuses this as well.

“With your permission, we shall continue to discipline her–firmly–until she realizes that such behavior gets her nowhere in either her relationships with others or in learning the lessons you asked us to teach her.”
Halibran was astonished; the brothers muttered amongst themselves.
“That is too fine a voice to be misused,” Master Gennell said, glancing up in the direction of the outraged cries. Strips of clothing flapped out the window and drifted to the ground. “Or abused. We have disciplined recalcitrant students before now. She may be,” and Master Gennell paused significantly, “unusually obdurate, but give me leave to doubt she is beyond redemption.”

Halibran asks what the secret sauce is, and Gennell tells him that if he tells Halanna firmly that there’s no way she’s going to get him to budge on the matter, she’ll give up.

It still takes them three days, and the narrative says that it’s exhaustion that does Halanna in. And it’s explicit that part of Halibran’s convincing of Halanna involves spanking her.

“He uses only his hand, and it’s more her pride that’s been offended than her butt end,” Ginia said. “If the issue is not forced now, she will become far worse in later years and end up disgracing her entire family and hold. That can’t be allowed.”

So Halanna is condemned to be broken into a compliant girl and then taught how to sing. It starts with apologies to Gennell, Petiron, and Beatrice, and Merelan would have been included, except Merelan refused it, since she would have to teach singing to Halanna, and she didn’t want an apology to be a point of contention.

“She brought it on herself,” Halibran said sternly.
“That does not require me to compound it,” Merelan said, lifting her chin to match his attitude.
“You are a gracious lady,” he said, relenting and bowing to her.
[Halanna gets her own room, and her father leaves her with instructions…]
“And, if you should decide this regimen doesn’t suit you,” her father said in so cold a voice Merelan shivered, “and attempt to run away from the Harper Hall, I will have the drums repudiate you across all Pern. Do you understand? You wanted to sing, you wanted to come here to the Harper Hall so you could improve your voice. Now you will do just that and nothing but that! Do you understand, Halanna?”

Having been given no other option but to submit, Halanna does. We’re supposed to believe it hasn’t actually broken her spirit, just that she doesn’t act out any more and Petiron is consequently disappointed in her performance at Turnover because she’s not performing to potential. Merelan counsels patience, and the chapter ends.

I don’t believe for a moment that Halanna brought it on herself. She’s supposed to be the poster child for an indulgent childhood producing a spoiled brat, but the Harper Hall (and Pern, generally speaking) starts at violence and escalates when it comes to raising children, teaching apprentices, and keeping women in line. Halanna is behaving the way someone who has been told she’s better than everyone else is behaving. There’s a rank system in place that she presumably has learned, but I suspect she only learned it in relation to other Lords and not in relation to the Mastercrafters. She’s been behaving, well, normally. It’s just that the narrative has a particular dislike for her overt sexuality and so it goes out of its way to make sure we see Halanna as deserving of abuse (she isn’t).

So far, we seem to be regularly getting worse, not better. And we still haven’t yet gotten Petiron to the point where he’s likely to abuse his own son to the point of a fracture.

Next week, chapter IV.

Deconstruction Roundup for February 9th, 2018

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who has managed a thing where that have to go in early and stay late in the name of good work.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Fred Clark: Slacktivist

Froborr: Jed A. Blue

Libby Anne: Love, Joy, Feminism

RubyTea: Heathen Critique

YamikuronueOther: Please Specify

Multiple Deconstructions:

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you want to engage with an audience so that they can understand the pain that they’ve been ignoring up to this point. About anything. Or for any other reason, really.

The Masterharper of Pern: It Does Not Get Better

Last chapter (and what a long one that was, about double-size), Robinton was born and Petiron and Merelan took a trip away from the Harper Hall on a teaching assignment, where they met a group of people that consider Harpers evil, and Petiron couldn’t get over himself enough to appreciate people just doing music without planning on making a career out if it.

The Masterharper of Pern: Chapter II: Content Notes: Child Abuse

Back at the Harper Hall, Petiron is composing when he hears someone humming the tune he is trying to get down on hide before he loses it. He traces the sound to its source…

“Don’t do that, Robinton,” he said in exasperation.
His son pulled the light blanket up to his chin. “You were,” he said.
“I was what?”
“You hummmmdded.”
“I may, you may not!” And Petiron shook his finger right in the boy’s face so that Robinton pulled the blanket over his head. Petiron pulled it down and leaned over the little bed. “Don’t you ever mimic me like that. Don’t you ever interrupt me when I’m working. D’you hear that?”

“Whatever did he do, Petiron?” Merelan exclaimed, rushing into the room and hiding protectively at the head of the cot. “He was sound asleep when I left. What’s been going on?”
Robinton, who rarely cried, was weeping, stuffing the end of the blanket into his mouth as the tears crept down his cheeks. The tears were more than Merelan could endure, and she picked up her sobbing son and cradled him, reassuring him.
Petiron glared at her. “He was humming while I was writing.”
“You do; why shouldn’t he?”
“But I was writing! How can I work when he does that? He knows he’s not to interrupt me.”
“He’s a child, Petiron. He picks up on anything he hears and repeats it.”
“Well, I’m not having him humming along with me,” Petiron said, not the least bit mollified.
“Why shouldn’t he if you wake him up?”
“How can I possibly work if you’re both interrupting me all the time?” He flung his arms up and stalked out of the bedroom. “Do take him somewhere else. I can’t have him singing in the background.”

Merelan was already halfway across the sitting room, her crying son in her arms. “Then you won’t have him in the background at all,” she said in a parting shot.

You go, Merelan. And don’t come back to him, because he’s never going to get better.

Merelan goes to see Betrice about it, where we learn that Robinton hums on key with whatever he’s hearing. And that Merelan is trying to get Robinton to remember to be quiet when Daddy’s working, which does not bode well for how this is going to turn out. The studio that Petiron has to do composition with is currently taken over by someone else, so that option is out, and Betrice is not a fan of Petiron’s complicated compositions that only he and his family seem to be able to sing well. Merelan doesn’t deny they’re intricate, and says that Petiron is easier to deal with when composing (Ding! Abuse likelihood goes up!) and Betrice says Petiron is lucky to have an understanding mate that can also sing (which is not the signal I want from a friend if I’m contemplating leaving his ass.) Merelan resolves to make sure the studio stays unoccupied by anyone else, and says that in another year, Robinton will be attending school at the Hall, and that will make things better, too. (No, it won’t.) Betrice tells Merelan to do something for herself while she watches Robinton, because it’s no good for Merelan to either have to mind her child or her husband all the time.

Time passes, and it turns out that Robinton certainly has musical talent, given that he picks up a pipe at three and can make good sounds with it…

When Petiron was busy with students, Merelan would often whistle simple tunes within her son’s hearing. Petiron did not like her whistling–possibly because he couldn’t, but more likely because he felt that girls shouldn’t. Despite how much she loved him, she privately admitted that some of his attitudes, including this one, made no sense to her.

Because he’s an asshole!

Anyway, Robinton picks up on the whistles, repeats them, then begins to improvise on them in a way that makes it clear he’s got the knack. Merelan wants to make sure that this talent gets hidden as long as possible, so that Robinton isn’t rushed prematurely into musical training at the Hall that might put him off music entirely. At three. Even though Merelan knows Petiron will do it. So she calls over Washell, ostensibly to help her with a part, deliberately botches it, then lets Robinton play it correctly. As well as his favorite tunes on the pipe, and his variations on that tune, including a new one just thought up while playing the others. Washell gets it, and plans with Merelan to figure out a way of breaking Robinton’s musicality to Petiron gently enough that Petiron won’t break him in his single-mindedness. All contrivance and accident that each of the masters involved should teach Robinton some small thing about their craft, enough so that when he turns out to be a musical genius at six, they can all disclaim they did anything at all and then deliver Robinton to his father as a student that won’t try his patience. Robinton himself, however, is the spanner in the plan because he wants to show his compositions and talents to his music-loving father and keeps getting deflected away from it by his mother.

One day, Robinton comes back from a class with Kubisa, one of the child instructors, with a bloody nose, crying.

“I’ll say this for Robie, he may be young and small, but he knows who needs his protection.”
“Who needs it?” his mother asked, carefully mopping away the blood.
“The watch-wher,” Kubisa said.
Merelan paused, surprised and beginning to feel more pride than concern. The apprentices were not above sticking bright glows into the Harper Hall watch-wher’s lair to make the light-sensitive creature cry. Or throwing him noxious things, knowing the creature would eat just about anything that came within the range of its chain. Rob would always run and tell an adult if he saw such antics.
“Were they being mean to the poor beast again?”
Sniffing, he nodded his head up and down. “I made ’em stop, but one of them busted me one.”
“So I see,” his mother murmured.
[…Kubisa advises self-defense…]
“I used to be able to beat some of my big brothers and cousins when I got going.”
“You?” Robie’s eyes widened at the very notion of his mother beating anything, much less his big brothers and cousins.

So she gave him his first lesson in hand-to-hand combat, and showed him best how to head-butt an assailant. “It keeps you from having bloody noses, too, if you use your head in a fight.” I wonder where that caring child went and how he was replaced by the manipulator we’ve come to know. If Petiron is responsible in some way, I will not be surprised.

Also, learning how to thrash people from your mother seems like a totally awesome thing.

The subterfuge, of course, is not going to last long. On hearing that he is learning his ballads and songs appropriately, Robinton sees the opportunity to shine.

Robinton wanted so desperately to please his father, but he never seemed able to, despite how hard he tried to be good, obedient, courteous, and most of all, quiet.

Petiron cannot be satisfied that way, Robinton. Abusers cannot be satisfied that way. Even when you sing something note-perfect, which Robinton does, they will never be satisfied.

“That was well done, Robinton,” he said. “Now don’t think that learning one song is all you have to do. There’s a significant number, even for children, to be learned, word- and note-perfect. Continue as you have begun.”
Robinton beamed with pleasure, turning to his mother to see if she also agreed.
Merelan could barely keep from sobbing with relief as she came forward and tousled his hair. “You have done very well indeed, my love. I’m proud of you, too. Just as your father is.” She turned to Petiron for his reassurance, but he had already turned back to the apprentice scores he was correcting, oblivious to son and spouse.
Merelan had to clench her hands to her sides to keep from roaring at him for such a curt dismissal. There was so much more Petiron could have said. He could have mentioned that the boy was on pitch throughout, with good breath support and that his voice was actually good. But she controlled her anger and took Robie, who couldn’t quite understand why he hadn’t pleased his father more, by the hand.
“We’ll just see,” she said in a firm, loud voice, “what Lorra might have
as a reward for knowing all the verses and the tempi perfectly!”
When she slammed the door behind her, Petiron glanced over his shoulder, then went back to marking a very poorly executed apprentice lesson.

Okay, at this point, I have to entertain the possibility that Petiron might have something in his brain wiring that makes things like this sequence bizarre to him – he heard a good performance, he complimented it and encouraged it, and yet his wife slams the door as she stalks outside. He’s probably going to chalk it up to something with Merelan, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a neurologist found something abnormal about Petiron’s brain. Which doesn’t excuse him from the issues involved, but might help him and everyone around him figure out ways to relate that don’t involve hurt feelings from unfulfilled expectations.

The other option is that he’s an asshole who doesn’t care about his son and possibly resents him for taking him away from his perfect life.

Merelan is spitting tacks, wants to kick Petiron for his reaction. Lorra, the headwoman (and therefore counselor), points out, not wrongly, that Petiron’s expectations for Robinton are perfection and therefore there will be no validation or “Well done, son!” for him, even if he is better than many apprentices more than a decade older than he is. This dissipates Merelan’s anger instead of stoking it, for some reason, even when Lorra lays on that it’s unlikely Petiron will notice his son has become a man until his voice cracks. In theory, this inattentiveness will benefit Robinton, in that he will be able to be freely musical around Petiron.

The chapter ends with talk of a new holder daughter, Halanna, arriving at the hall and being put in with the Hold girls while she adjusts to the routine. I hope she fares a lot better than Menolly ever did, both with the girls and in the Hall itself.

As was noted in the last post, this is a very different Hall from when Menolly arrived, with women, and women in teaching and mastery positions. I probably wouldn’t have noticed it until now, so it’s very nice to have commenters that can point things out to me earlier than I might have picked up on it myself. Yet, somewhere in between now and her arrival, the Hall will apparently be purged of women. I doubt we’ll ever find out the how or the why.

Creative Corner, February 2018

(by chris the cynic)

This is a place to share about any and all creative endeavors.  Could be what you’re working on, what you want to work on, what you’re frustrated about being blocked on, plans, random thoughts, finger painting, building a new world order, whatever.

It was created because, even though Writers’ Workshop is intended to be a place where any creative endeavor can be discussed, the name scared off people who weren’t writers.  (Which totally makes sense.)

Deconstruction Roundup for February 2nd, 2018

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who has anticipatory glue for getting to see all sorts of very cute animals this weekend.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Ana Mardoll: Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings

Froborr: Jed A. Blue

Libby Anne: Love, Joy, Feminism

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

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The Masterharper of Pern: Did We Really Need This?

We’ve managed our way through another story of Pern, the place that continues to find new ways to suck, despite the fact that we’ve been down this road multiple times. And now, we get to take a swing at the life story of who should be a dear figure to all of us, except for the part where the narrative has shown him to be manipulative and in favor of essentially holding a horrible system static and unchanging. Here we go again.

The Masterharper of Pern: Chapter I: Content Notes: Childbirth

We come barreling in medias res into the point right after Robinton is born to Merelan, his mother, and delivered to Petiron, his father, Menolly’s eventual mentor at Half-Circle, to keep a hold of, and we’re already skirting perilously close to NOPE territory.

He didn’t see the looks passing between midwife and her assistant, nor did he see the younger woman leave quietly to summon a healer. Merelan’s bleeding was not tapering off. The midwife suspected that something had been torn; the baby had been born breech, and was large-headed as well. She packed ice in towels around Merelan’s slim hips. It had been a long labor. Merelan lay limp in the bed, exhausted, her face white and lined. She seemed bloodless, and that worried Betrice more. There was such a risk in transfusion: despite the similarity in color, blood differed from person to person. Once long ago, healers had known how to tell the difference and match the blood. Or so she’d heard.
Betrice had suspected that Merelan would have trouble delivering, for she could feel the size of the child in the womb, and so she had asked the Healer Hall to stand by. There was a solution of special salts that in extreme cases could help a patient overcome the loss of blood.

So help us all, if this starts as a story where the mother dies in childbirth, there will be a wall of swearing that will last for pages.

It is a useful reminder, however, that we are back in the pre-AIVAS era of science and medicine, and so I am really surprised at this knowledge of salts that encourage clotting and blood production. Even as they acknowledge they’ve lost the ability to type blood, if someone were, say, worried about blood loss during labor, and they had the requisite methods to do so and keep it sterile and safe, why wouldn’t they just take a couple units from Merelan well beforehand? That’s blood that can safely be transfused back into her later, regardless of whether you can type it or not.

Mostly, though, that seems rather advanced medicine to have this concoction to deliver.

The narrative tells us that Betrice has a low opinion of Petiron’s parenting skills, and how lucky they are to have a child, given that Merelan has miscarried three times already. The Healer returns with the midwife’s apprentice, and the three of them set to infusing a clear liquid into Merelan, using needlethorn as the delivery system. Blood plasma, perhaps, which is usually safe to give to anyone, regardless of origin? That would require a centrifuge of some sort to spin blood into component parts. Which would suggest that the methods that Capiam figured out in the Sixth Pass survived to this point in time.

In any case, with the help of the women, and having her son nearby, Merelan stabilizes, and all three attendees agree that Petiron should not be trying for another child, even though it’s obvious all across Pern how the two of them love each other. They also agree to suggest fostering when Merelan will inevitably object to only having one child to care for. At this point, I remind everyone that Pern does not have viable birth control anywhere, despite this being a perfect situation for it.

Petiron is against fostering, and Betrice thinks it’s because he’s jealous of his son getting to spend time with his wife. Betrice’s husband, Masterharper Gennell, thinks it’s obsession over Petiron’s Moreta Cantata that’s using Merelan as principal soloist, and that Petiron does love his son.

Betrice firmed her lips together. “Loves him, does he?”
“You doubt it?”
She regarded her spouse critically. “I do.” She curled her hand around his arm. “But then I have you as an example. You were a eager to tend the first of our five as the last, and they have certainly turned out well. Oh, Petiron looks in the cot now and then, or at the child when he’s toddling in the yard, but only if you remind him that he’s fathered a son.”

Neglectful parenting is a thing, but this picture is in contrast to the Petiron we met briefly through Menolly’s eyes, at least potentially. Menolly seemed to think of him as a warmer and more interested figure, but then again, she also had significant musical talent, and so maybe he was kinder to her than he would have been to others.

Merelan sings well, to great applause, but Betrice makes sure that she takes a “restorative drink” in between performances and is unsurprised when Merelan takes ill after the performance is finished. She complains to Gennell that Petiron only cares about Merelan’s voice. Gennell disputes it by telling Betrice all about their early days and how obviously smitten with each other they were.

The narrative takes a short trip to remind us that we are in the time where five of the six Weyrs have been empty for centuries and even the Harpers only have cryptic entries and the Question Song as a result. Gennell makes a mental note to reinstate the song as a required teaching ballad, as we go over the speculation of what happened to the dragons and the fairly widespread belief at this time that Thread will not fall again. We know better, and that this is the end of the second Long Interval caused by Jaxom, Ruth, and a lot more dragons detonating antimatter engines on the wandering planet to send it out of Pern’s orbit, eventually. Still, it’s been nearly five hundred years since Thread has fallen. How many people would take seriously a dire warning from the 1500s about the return of something deadly in the next ten years?

Since Merelan isn’t getting better at the Harper Hall, Betrice arranges for Petiron and Merelan to take a teaching position back near where Merelan grew up and sends them with the Ritecamp trader train to get there, so that the two can teach and Merelan can recover.

Then she [Merelan] winked at her spouse, knowing very well that he hated doing “basics” with beginners, while she enjoyed teaching the very young. So long as the children were taught, it didn’t matter who did the teaching. As Mastersinger, she knew her Teaching Ballads and Songs as well as Petiron did.
[…Petiron is stiff at first, but seems to be warming up to everyone…]
He even enjoyed the nightly music sessions, for almost everyone in the thirty wagons of the train played some instrument and could carry intricate parts. Many had good voices, and he found himself conducting four- and five-part harmonies to some of their favorite ballads and airs, as well as teaching them the newer songs.
“They’re nearly as good as fourth-year apprentices,” he said with some surprise to Merelan at the end of the third evening’s session.
“They do it for fun,” she said gently.
“There’s no reason they cannot do it better and have fun, too,” he said, not at all pleased at her subtle rebuke over his attempt to improve the harmonies.

Okay, Petiron needs to loosen up a lot if he’s going to do anything with his life other than he tucked away in a corner composing. Now, that may be what he actually wants to do with his life, but this kind of monomania is not a sign of being able to relate healthily to other humans without significant training.

As it turns out, the two are alone in their wagon, with Robinton in a crib in a different wagon, and so Petiron and Merelan take the opportunity to have sex. Which is totally a thing that someone would do if they’ve been raising a child for so long and haven’t had the opportunity in a good long while. But that also runs the risk of a pregnancy that Merelan will have complications with. Again, birth control would be lovely here.

The narrative tells us that getting Petiron out of the Harper Hall allows him to mellow out significantly and appreciate things like hunting, fishing, long walks, and learning to be economical with his composition surfaces. Merelan recovers nicely in the fresh air and exercise along the way. Not too far from their final destination, the Runner Station that the train has stopped at hints that things out in the backwoods are not what someone from the city would expect.

Sev scratched his head. “They got odd notions, you might say.”
Merelan knew there was something that he was not saying, he she couldn’t understand his sudden reticence.
“Ah, d’you have something that isn’t Harper blue?” he blurted.
“I do,” Merelan said, “but I don’t think Petiron does. You mean, he might aggravate someone?” She smiled to show that she perfectly understood.
“Ah, yes, that’s about the size of it.”
“I’ll see what I can do about keeping him occupied,” she said, smiling sympathetically.
Everything went very well the first two days. The morning of the third, Merelan was entertaining all the children with game songs and teaching them the gestures that went with them, when a very tattered girl, eyes wide with delight, moved with surreptitious stealth closer and closer. When she was near enough, Merelan smiled at her.
“Do you want to join us?” she asked in a carefully soft voice.
The girl shook her head, her eyes wide now with a mixture of longing and fear.
“Oh, please, everyone else is here,” Merelan said, doing her best to reassure the timid child. “Rob, open the circle and let her in, will you, dear?”
The child took another step and then suddenly squealed when she saw a man charging from the trader’s wagon, right at Merelan’s circle.
“You there…stop that, you harlot. You evil creature, luring children away from their parents…”
[…a near-melee breaks out as the man is restrained from hitting Merelan…]
“She’s singing, ent she? Singing comes first, don’t it? Singing to lure kids away! She’s evil. Just like all harperfolk. Teachin’ things no one needs to know to live proper.
[…the struggle continues…]
“Harper harlot!” Rochers shouted, trying to free a fist to wave at Merelan, who was clinging to Robinton as much as he was clinging to her.
“She’s not a harper, Rochers. She’s a mother, amusing the kids,” the Station Master said, loudly enough to try and down out what the man was saying.
“She had ’em dancing!” Spittle was beginning to form in the corners of his mouth as the men pulled him back to the wagons.

They hustle Merelan out of sight back into a wagon while things get sorted. Merelan was wrong about what was going on, but I’m thoroughly intrigued by this development. Could we have finally found ourselves the long-lost and sorely needed contingent that doesn’t fall in line with the Harper orthodoxy? Well, we could have, if the narrative wasn’t immediately squashing that idea by insisting that these people are only that way because they’re backwoods hicks afraid that their children might learn about the big wide world out there and leave.

“We run into some real odd folk now and then. Some of ’em have never met a harper, and some don’t hold with singing or dancing or drinking. Sev says it’s because they can’t make wine or beer, so it has to be evil. They don’t want their children to know more than they did or you’d better believe it–” and Dalma gave a sour little laugh, “–they couldn’t keep them from leaving those awful jungles.”
“But it was the way he said ‘harper’…” Merelan swallowed at the tone of hatred in which the word has been uttered.

Good on you, Merelan. It’s easy to dismiss someone as just a hick that’s ignorant, but there’s more going on than just that here, and I want to know what it is. This is a potentially stellar worldbuild – what kind of folk belief system has appeared in the absence of the official doctrine? Why music as the evil thing, and Harpers as the evil people that bring it? Is there a dismissed or disgraced Harper leading this competing belief system? A Holder who had all his children go away to Crafthalls and never return? Tell me, dammit! The traders clearly know more than they’re letting on.

Also, personally, I would use “siren,” not “harlot,” for better connotation. Yes, Pern had all of its classical civilization education dumped before the second Pass, but surely that word would have survived in the meaning of someone who sings beautifully to lure people to harm, perpetuated by the Harpers if nobody else.

Merelan is appalled by the state of education out here, though.

It was true that there were really not enough harpers to do more than stop in once or twice a year, but Merelan was still shocked at the realization that there was a significant number of cots and small holdings where no one could read or count above twenty.

This is a normal function of a vassalage system. Literacy is not a valued result for anyone who doesn’t need to know how to read, write, and do figures — the nobles and the merchant class. There’s no incentive. You learn your trade or you work your land, you have kids to pass it on to, and you die. When the priest comes by to teach you your prayers, you learn them by rote and leave the interpretation up to them.

There are no further incidents on the rest of the trip, and Petiron is really enjoying being able to work with his group of musicians. Petiron also is busily sucking up as many variations as he can hear on the various ballads and songs, some that have gotten complex to the point where Petiron isn’t sure which is the original and which is the variant. All this notation, though, means he’s running out of tanned hide to make scores on.

To transcribe this, Petiron acquired some of the reed-based writing material that was a local product. It has a tendency to absorb so much ink that his scores were a bit blotchy, but he could amend that when he got back to the Harper Hall.

…when was anyone going to mention that Pern has rediscovered papyrus, at the very least, if not some form of paper, already. And why is this not far more widespread across the planet? Yes, it won’t have the same archival quality as hides, but most people don’t need archival-quality material for their everyday needs. If one wants a highly literate society, there needs to be plenty of material to practice with! Styluses and clay. Graphite or ash sticks. Wax, for fuck’s sake, although glow baskets might have meant that chandlery is a lost art. Seriously, there are a lot of ways other than ink and hide to do writing with, and yet it’s taken us fifteen books before there’s a one-off mention that the pre-AIVAS Pernese dad something other than hides to write on! Auuuugh.

After saying hello to Merelan’s family, Petiron gets where her talent comes from, and is almost contemptuous that great voices in that hold are still in the hold, rather than having all been shipped off to the Harper Hall for their use. He’s also less than thrilled about their one-bedroom apartment, because it means the kid sleeps in the same room as them, and also he’s a bit weirded out by the fact that just about everyone bathes in the nearby sea. Now I kind of want to go back and see if anyone ever bathes regularly and collectively in the cold waters in the north. Because yay, all sorts of potential problems if they do.

Petiron is also a bit askance at the collective workspaces, and the communal child-raising pens, many already stuffed with toys, including one supposed to resemble a fire-lizard. Petiron says they died out a long time ago, but yields to Merelan’s insistence they exist because of the eggshells they leave behind that have been found. And is still not very attentive or loving to Robinton. But he goes about the business of organizing everyone into their groups and teaching, including an adult learner’s class in the evening. He takes a liking to Rantou, who is one of the evening class’s attendees, there because “I gotta learn so the baby won’t have no stupid for a father.” Rantou has the ear to be able to listen to a part and then play it back on reed pipes, and the skill to manufacture excellent instruments. He also has no desire to go to the Harper Hall, much to Petiron’s consternation.

There’s a useful note here in the argument, though, about music as a career for Rantou.

“But people do learn the Teaching Ballads and Songs, as they have here,” Merelan said. “As I did.”
“Only the usual ones, but not all the important ones,” Petiron said sternly with a scowl. When he frowned like that, his heavy eyebrows nearly met over the bridge of his aqualine nose. Though she never tell him, Merelan adored his eyebrows. “They don’t know the Dragon Duty Ballads, for instance.”
Merelan suppressed a sigh. Was it only people brought up in strict Harper Hall tradition who believed Thread would, not just might return in the next fifty or so Turns? Or was their belief merely an extension of the traditions of the Hall?

So tell me more about these competing beliefs, author. And whether that might have given rise to the anti-Harper faction we saw a small glimpse of. And whether people in places that don’t have a Weyr nearby find the Harpers somewhat silly for their strict adherence to traditions that seem very outdated at this point.

Petiron and Merelan continue to argue, with Merelan sensibly pointing out that a small population area generally doesn’t have extra people to spare for Crafthall education. Petiron counters with the idea that they sent two off to Benden Weyr, and Merelan dismisses that as special circumstances due to the great honor being Searched is. Then the narrative has Petiron blanch entirely at the idea of Robinton being taught swimming, even before he has mastered walking, because of the danger involved. Merelan thinks the trip has been fantastic, even as she wishes she could stay on longer, and that Petiron looks his best and has learned his most about what life is like outside scholarship. Now, if only he would be more attentive and like his son more…

As they sit on the beach, and the chapter is basically over, Petiron wants to have Merelan to himself in the shade for sex, and Merelan readily agrees. “Segonia has given me a potion that will make it safe all the time for us.”

Cocowhat by depizan

WELL. DID IT WORK? Because if it does, then there is, in fact, birth control on Pern and every woman and every Healer should already know about it and be able to prescribe it. Dragonriders have their own method, of course, but you are not going to sell me on the idea that there is effective birth control on a route that is visited by trading caravans, has Healers on staff, and that it has not spread itself completely through Pern, overtly or covertly. So I want to know…does it work?

(It does, or at least appears to have worked, peeking into Chapter II, because Robinton is still the only child of Merelan and Petiron.)