Last time, we finished the extended look at villains and watched the rebirth of the Luddites of Pern. Having established there are antagonists, it’s off to see Our Hero(es).
The Skies of Pern: Part 1, Segment 1: Content Notes: Sexist stereotyping, implications of non-consent
This Part is entitled “Turnover,” a term that we be only recently been introduced to as the name of the celebration of moving from one Turn to the next. The celebration itself predates the use of the term, but this seems to be another one of those “has always been here” things.
Our time stamp is “1.1.31 Present Pass Aivas–Aivas Adjusted Turn 2253” which seems to have a duplication in it that might be a bad electronic book conversion.
In any case, it’s still dual timekeeping, even with F’lessan holed up in a reading room with all sorts of AIVAS data. What’s weird to him is that he’s not alone in the reading room. There’s a Monaco Bay green rider studying charts.
Why wasn’t the girl, especially a green rider, out dancing? Why wasn’t he? He grimaced. He was still trying to overcome the carelessly lustful reputation that he had earned early in this Pass. Not that he was any different from many bronze and brown riders. “Just more noticeable,” Mirrim had told him in her candid fashion. Mirrim had astonished everyone, including herself, when she had Impressed green Path at a Benden Weyr Hatching. Being T’gellan’s Weyrmate had mellowed her natural assertiveness, but she never spared him her blunt opinions.
Ah, hello there, Cocowhat.
Cocowhat by depizan
Mostly on the idea that T’gellan blunted Mirrim. Or that Mirrim needed blunting. But also the part where F’lessan is somehow getting called out for behavior that isn’t any different than his peers. Absolutely nobody has called the dragonriders out before this about their lusty behavior. And plenty of the other segments of Pern have been getting it on with frequency with others, too, so they don’t really have a leg to stand on.
If they’re commenting because it’s the son of the Weyrleaders and he’s supposed to be setting a better example…well, then, the only thing I can do is laugh at that, because we’ve spent several books by now showing how the bar is so terribly low.
F’lessan, while he watches the other rider study planetary charts, reflects on the new post-Thread reality. Those who came from halls or crafts, he supposes, will be able to go back to them, but the ones who are born and raised in the Weyr will have to figure something else out when the tithes stop.
F’lessan, of course, has Honshu to fall back on, so he doesn’t have to really worry about it. We get to find out that Impression made F’lessan much less of a class-ditcher, and that having Honshu to restore has been even better at keeping discipline. And that F’lessan is in the archives at Turnover because he’s looking for a very specific thing, and he wanted to find it without any other person knowing what he was looking at. We also find that F’lessan is definitely weyrbred in that he doesn’t think of the Weyrleaders as his parents, even though they give him birthday, Impression Day, and Turnover gifts every year, and that he finds hold kids to be extremely uptight.
He is different that he doesn’t really want to succeed the current Weyrleader and wishes for him to ride out the final turn. Or for the Benden Weyrleaders to announce their retirement. Which could be a nice way of saying, “yes, there is an incest taboo on Pern, even if nobody voices it.” I still suspect that Weyr naming conventions and fostering practices are specifically meant so that you don’t end up in a situation where a person might be under the influence of their dragon and violating close relationships.
Sucks to be him that there’s a green rider in the same room. Or rather, that’s already in the room that F’lessan wants to enter, but worries that he’ll break the other rider’s concentration by doing so. Since there’s nothing to do right now but observe, we are treated to a description of the green rider, before she realizes she’s being observed and turns to stare at him. Realizing he’s been found out, F’lessan goes in and introduces himself to Tai, the green rider, and we get more metaphorical description to complement the workmanlike physical one.
She looked embarrassed, dropping her eyes as soon as their hands had clasped politely. Her handshake was firm, if brisk almost to the point of rudeness, and he could feel some odd ridges, scars on the back of her hand and on her forefinger. She wasn’t pretty, she didn’t act sensual, the way some green riders did, and she was only half a head shorter than he was. She wasn’t too thin, but the lack of flesh on her bones gave her a slightly boyish appearance.
Ah, that explains why the first physical description didn’t linger on anything – Tai is not supposed to be seen as sexy, and she’s also not supposed to be seen as villainous, since she isn’t putting on the attitude that she is sexy. She’s a Wholesome Green Rider, cut from Mirrim’s pattern, I suspect. This makes her a candidate for Designated Protagonist, so we’ll probably see more of her as time goes by.
After introducing himself and apologizing for intruding, F’lessan gets to his actual business – trying to find a connection between Stev Kimmer and Kenjo Fusaiyuki, since there are “SK” carved or etched on several of the surfaces of Honshu, and Stev was the only person that fits the initials that isn’t marked as having gone north. Thanks to Rescue Run, we know the terrible connection between Kimmer and the Fusaiyukis, but that data would be lost to AIVAS. F’lessan is hoping to find samples of Stev’s handwriting to match to the initials carved, so that he can have a more complete history of Honshu. He already knows that the Fusaiyuki clan did not go north, even after repeated invitations to do so, and his explorations are essentially finding the aftermath of the Rescue Run story, when everyone left in a hurry, trying to piece together what had happened, and admiring how self-sufficient Honshu is.
F’lessan’s search comes up empty, and in his hope for Tai’s search to go better, he startles her. She drops the book in her hands, and F’lessan is able to save it before it splats on the ground. He gets a much better look at Tai’s hands and recognizes signs of injury. Tai dismisses it as nothing, but F’lessan insists in applying numbweed (which he has a small stash of on his person) because infections in the South are “peculiar” and can show up even in well-tended wounds. While they wait, F’lessan asks Tai about why she’s researching the Ghosts, having divined her purpose by looking at the materials she was staring at.
From the context we get, the Ghost Showers tend to happen on seven-Turn cycles where they are extremely bright in the sky in the north and completely invisible in the south. After F’lessan puts away Tai’s books, he drops a sigh about how his question may not have an answer at all, and Tai picks up the bait, and demonstrates she was a student at the Landing school. Her family was killed exploring the South, and she was apprenticed to Master Wansor as essentially an audio descriptor and reader to him. Because he liked her voice, a sentiment that F’lessan confirms. Before, that is, she Impressed her green, Zaranth.
Tai then suggests that F’lessan examine the case where the original charter of Pern is for his handwriting sample, since Kimmer would have had to sign it somewhere. This is one recovered from Fort Hold during the AIVAS years, and so I think we’re supposed to assume the Charter copy that Robinton described as being between thick panes of glass at the Harper Hall is a different copy, but there are enough time disparities at this point that it could be more retcon at work to have the original here at Landing, discovered by using an AIVAS-supplied combination instead of being between found at the Harper Hall. Make up your own conclusions, they’re probably equally valid.
Tai’s suggestion is fruitful, and F’lessan picks her up and spins her a bit in his exuberance, before remembering that she was pretty cool to him before and that he might not want to get handsy, even in a friendly way. F’lessan can’t help but find Tai kind of cute, though.
She had a very nice smile, he thought, as the corners of her wide mouth curved up, showing her teeth, white and even, accented by a tanned complexion that was as much heredity as exposure to southern sun.
Her smile deepened, causing two dimples to appear in her cheeks. He didn’t know any girls with dimples.
But we get a glimpse, thanks to dragon gossip, of Tai’s main motivation in life.
You are a bronze rider and you are F’lessan and she’s shy, Golanth said. Zaranth says she wants to make something of herself for After. She never wants to be beholden to anyone else ever.
Like all dragonriders, F’lessan is with considerable irony.
Not even to other dragonriders, Golanth added, slightly offended by Tai’s utter independence.
Cut from Mirrim’s cloth indeed. No bet on whether she ends up happily partnered by the end. Or whether the possible tragic reasons why she wants to be independent are taken seriously and worked through.
After F’lessan tells her about his mission to document the history of Honshu, they both lock up the archives, Tai enabling an alarm so that the archives would stay protected against accidents. They both admit to being hungry, and F’lessan, now charmed by Tai, offers to race her to the food while he thinks about whether she’d like to dance with him, since she’s the right height for him. She accepts in deed, but we find out why Tai is studying at odd hours and how much she already knows about F’lessan.
Despite all the tales she had heard from Mirrim about the bronze rider–including dire warnings about his fecklessness–he had acted considerately and courteously toward her in the library. She’d been surprised that he appeared to know his way around the shelves. He had certainly prevented her from getting in trouble with Master Esselin, who had his own ideas about what dragonriders should study. Especially green female riders. After Tai’s first distressing encounter with the pompous Archivist, Mirrim had comforted her with a tale of how nasty Esselin had once been to her, in the early days of the discoveries at Landing, before Aivas was discovered, and how MasterHarper Robinton himself had acted on Mirrim’s behalf. The fussbudget was the main reason Tai tried to pick unusual hours at the library: times when she wouldn’t have to deal with the persnickety old man.
Ah, sexism, still alive and well and living gloriously on Pern. Not to mention that Esselin is essentially a librarian stereotype, back in the days on Terra when librarians were presumed to be men who were insufficiently masculine to succeed at any other profession. (Which made them fussy and effeminate. The part about being very concerned with making sure only appropriate people were using the library is just a general old librarian stereotype.)
I do, however, like the idea of Mirrim starting and maintaining a whisper network, since I’m fairly certain any woman who tried to stand up and name names about the assaults she’s suffered would be buried under the weight of Patriarchy bright to bear on her.
Tai and F’lessan’s race slows slightly as they pass the room where AIVAS was, before coming to an abrupt halt because there’s a couple obliviously making out in their path, and they’re positioned right around a corner. F’lessan catches Tai when she runs into him and holds her no longer than needed to get her balance back, and the two creep around and run off to the food together. F’lessan guides Tai to the tables, haggles with a wine merchant about the price of his Benden (to no avail), then grumbles and passes over his three marks. Pour, toast (“Safe skies!”) and drink, while Tai quietly boggles at the ease in which F’lessan hands over the three marks for the wineskin. Also, food.
And Tai telling us that green dragonriders, including her, are getting into the express shipping game as a side job from their duties at Weyr or other contracts (like research) they are working on. Sean would be so annoyed at his descendants.
F’lessan continues to make small talk at Tai and get information from her, asking about her hand, the dolphins, what she’s doing in the archives (which leads to a shared thing about how Esselin hates that F’lessan is in Honshu), and so forth.
One of the subjects is touchy for Tai.
“Are you weyred along the coast or inland?”
Tai tried not to freeze at the question: bronze riders with an eye to mating with Zaranth the next time she was “ripe” always wanted to know where she could be found. Zaranth wasn’t even close to her cycle. “Coast,” she replied quickly. Almost too quickly.
After F’lessan asks about dolphins instead of dragons,
She made herself relax. She was my overly suspicious.
I don’t think that’s overly suspicious, Tai. That sounds like experience talking about what a bronze rider is interested in from a green. And the implications of how Tai phrased it sounds like those bronze riders don’t particularly care for Tai’s consent in the matter while their bronzes mate with Zaranth. And the use of the word “ripe” only reinforces that idea. The stereotypes about green riders that we’ve been hearing all along still have some pretty good force to them – even F’lessan was buying into them when he thought of Tai as not being particularly sensual.
It’s no coincidence that Tai and Mirrim are good friends, since they’re both giving two middle fingers to the stereotype of the sex-obsessed green rider. And yet, they and Debera are also the only greens we’ve seen given significant amounts of screen time and drilling into their motivations. Because they’re not like all the other girls and boys who ride greens, I guess? Still, even if 99 green riders would willingly sleep with any bronze that came knocking, nobody gets to assume the 100th will, too, and so they don’t have to ask.
And I realize this is 2018 me making critique in a realm where there’s a lot more frank sex talk and a tradition of consent, nascent that it may be, but Pern is still terrible about it.
As we continue through the small talk, there are yet more hints dropped that Tai is not okay.
She knew he was teasing her; she knew she was often too solemn. Even Mirrim said she shouldn’t be quite so conscientious, but that was just how she was. She just didn’t know how to respond to levity.
Yet the narrative is giving plenty of space to how this F’lessan is not behaving at all like how Mirrim described him.
He wasn’t at all what she’d expected based on Mirrim’s tales of some of his pranks at Benden Weyr. Well, that had been Turns ago, before he’d Impressed. He did have a serious side to his nature, along with that most amazing sparkle in his eyes. She should be wary of such a sparkle. Mirrim had said he had been very much a bronze rider! Maybe she should slip away while she had a chance. But that seemed very discourteous. She had barely touched the second glass he’d poured.
This sounds very much like someone who is trying to fight her instincts about someone. Just because he doesn’t match the picture in your head doesn’t mean he’s still not dangerous. But Tai has been socialized life a lot of women on Terra that her leaving now, and trusting those instincts, would cause social problems to come down on her. So she’s hoping that F’lessan doesn’t revert to a bronze dragonrider. In a horror movie, the audience is screaming at her to run from this seemingly charming person, because he’s going to be a murderer.
The Harpers take up their instruments again as both Tai and F’lessan go through seconds, which is something that shows us Tai has not been okay for a very long time.
He had no trouble putting away his second helping of Turnover food. Nor did she, but then, her parents had raised her to “eat what’s on your plate and be thankful.” She took a hasty sip of the white Benden; she hadn’t thought of her family recently. Her life with them had been so different from the one she now had–even before she had Impressed Zaranth. Zaranth–and Monaco Weyr–was her family now, and closer to her than she had ever been to her bloodkin.
Tai grew up poor, then, like most of the people on Pern that the narrative has been studiously avoiding. Like most of the people in Latin Christendom, or the Known World of many re-enactors of the time period of the Medium Aevum. And you know what? Growing up poor affects you both physiologically and psychologically. It seems to me that Tai is exhibiting signs of being a person who grew up with scarcity still adjusting to having plenty, but also trying to figure out which of the old rules still apply and what new rules need to be learned.
Before we can go off into reminiscence and see how terrible Tai’s home life was, F’lessan starts singing along to the ballads. Well, if you call it singing. F’lessan can’t carry a tune in a bucket, but he sings loudly anyway. Tai, on the other hand, can actually sing a little.
His merry eyes caught hers, and from the mischief in them, she suddenly realized that he knew very well how badly he sang and didn’t care. That he was willing to show such a defect in a culture that apotheosized music, and certainly encouraged vocal talents, astonished her. Mirrim might criticize his fickleness and breezy attitudes to weyrmates, but why hadn’t she mentioned his flawed voice?
[…the song finishes…]
“Why do you sing, when you know you can’t?” she demanded in a low voice.
“Because I do know all the words,” he replied, not at all abashed.
Because voices and music are vitally important to Harpers and nobody else. The important songs are educational, and, as F’lessan points out, if you know the words, then you have learned what you are supposed to learn. Now, it certainly helps that F’lessan is the son of the Weyrleaders and a man, so he’s not going to be expected to demonstrate a fine singing voice or musical talent to catch himself a good husband. Privilege matters in this case, and so F’lessan can have a tin ear and a terrible voice for singing.
Before we can get to the humanizing Tai part, since we’ve spent so long on doing it to F’lessan, Mirrim and T’gellan start heading Tai and F’lessan’s way. Tai panics at how the situation might be interpreted by Mirrim and spirits off, keeping her wineglass. Zaranth chides her about it, but otherwise helps make sure that F’lessan can’t find her again.
At the end of the concert, she hears far too much glass crashing for her liking and his to investigate. Cute cutaway to Benden Weyr, and a good point for us to stop.
I’m going to point out here that Tai makes an excellent candidate for the cutaway technique I talked about in the previous post – we don’t know a lot about her, she’s pretty low on the dragonrider hierarchy, and she’s already branching out into new fields. She be a great character to be unaware of the journey she’s about to take. Why did we stick with F’lessan instead?