The Skies of Pern: An Attempt At Calm

Last time, F’lessan went archive diving to try and confirm the graffiti in parts of Honshu Hold were Stev Kimmer’s, and met Tai, a green rider who gives off signals that she has a very traumatic life, even with a dragon. Tai went to investigate something unknown, but the narrative instead chooses to send us to Benden.

The Skies of Pern: Part 1, Segments 2 and 3: Content Notes: Classism

[Benden Weyr, 1.1.31]

We continue to use the Pern-specific time frame for the subsequent segment, which makes us wonder why we’re including the AIVAS time at all.

It’s Lessa we start with in this segment, arriving with hot pastries in hand to collect the Benden Weyrleader and get them to bed while the revels continue. It being Benden, of course, it’s cold. And the two of them are not nearly as young as they used to be – the Benden Weyrleader is sixty-three, after all. So the quiet is appreciated by Lessa, at least.

Lessa is also trying to get the Benden Weyrleader to think about his upcoming retirement. “After” is apparently the preferred term, and while the focus right now is on closing out the final Pass, Lessa is trying to get her mate to heed the same advice he’s giving the younger riders about learning something else to do with their time and dragons.

The night cold was nothing to the fear that surged through her, making her heart race at the brief trails of fire in the north. Then she was disgusted with her primitive reaction to what she now knew were meteorites burning up in the atmosphere. As a child she’d believed her nurse–that those flares across a night sky were the Ghost Dragons of the First Pass.

That answers that question about what the Ghosts are – they’re meteors, and I’m chalking that up to the author not knowing the difference rather than an AI teaching people improperly.

Given what happened in Beyond Between, however, it’s entirely possible that those might be the ghosts of dragons and riders who were caught in terrible accidents and that Marco hasn’t shuffled on to their final resting places. Because I’m sure that accidents like the one that claimed Moreta still happen to this day.

Lessa remarks on the increased prevalence of meteors this time around, and her mate assures her that while there are more, none of them are necessarily going to touch down on the planet, which would happily give the “Abominators” grist for their own philosophies. None will touch down, of course, other than the one that already did.

Lessa pegs the Luddite faction as responsible for the uptick in vandalism and robbery, based on the fact that they’re not attacking indiscriminately, but only against recently developed innovations and the components needed for them. She thought they’d gotten them all to the islands or the mines, but the reader and the Weyrleader knows and tells about the one meteorite smashing a prison where one person escaped. And points out there are more than enough people with grudges or mischief-making mindsets that they’ll sign on to whatever cause gives them cover.

Lessa also gives her mate a privilege check about the introduction of new technology.

“We just have to speed up the education process to produce the necessary improvements that will reduce drudgery After.”
“I don’t approve of life being made too easy,” F’lar remarked.
“You were never a drudge,” she said caustically, reminding him of her ten Turns as one.
“Don’t forget that this Weyr was scarcely luxurious until Thread started falling again.”
“How could I?” She grinned at him, her eyes alight with laughter.

…no.

While her thirty-five Turns of luxury have been good at softening the edges of it, I think “caustically” is several orders of magnitude too nice for what Lessa would be giving her mate, and not letting him dodge acknowledging that even the poorest dragonrider had it way, way better than a kitchen drudge anywhere still has it. Or even a Lady Holder, really. I think this would be a button that Lessa’s mate should know better than to push.

The two also talk about how new surgery and medicine is still touch and go in terms of public acceptance, before Lessa points out that young riders have no trouble settling in to becoming shipping magnates, because they don’t consider it beneath their dignity (Oh, how Sean is spinning in his grave), but the older riders don’t seem inclined to lift a finger to help anyone out, not even the herders on Southern that could use a dragon to keep the big cats away, and they should know by now that retirement is not just putting up a house and picking fruit all day.

Which gets Lessa fretting a touch about everyone’s age – and whether Ramoth will continue to mate and clutch until the end of the Pass. Reassurances all around follow, but Lessa still wants her mate to be thinking about After even as they get through the duties of now. Even as they go through remembering the losses of people that also, currently, is inevitable with age.

They also have to discuss the possibility of a woman coming into being full Holder, rather than just consort. Lady Marella has essentially been regent for Sangel, and she is putting forward her daughter, Janissian, to be fully confirmed by the Council, which would be their first ever.

Thella is probably furious from the afterlife, having missed a council that would consider women in the position by a decade or two. It certainly seems like now is a good time, though, given that there is already the Big Change of After looming on everyone’s mind.

A toast to absent friends and angry dragon trumpeting round out this sequence, and we skip off to Southern Hold, because we apparently need to see more of Toric.

Hung-over Toric getting news about someone he grudgingly respects arriving. There’s enough of how Toric hates everyone for what they’ve done to him and his annoyance that others are succeeding far better than him to cover some pages, and for him to irritably try to kick his son, Besic, when Besic tweaks him about how his greed got the better of him.

And then the actual talk with said person, where we find out that Toric has not stopped his scheming, probably because of how strongly he was had the last time we saw him. And, in case we are new to the series, we have to establish him as someone we do not like, based on what we’ve seen so far.

Toric did not approve of the publicity regarding the Charter, a document so old that it should be regarded as an artifact, rather than guidance for this planet’s needs–not twenty-five hundred Turns after it had been promulgated. And harpers were holding “discussion groups” to be sure children and drudges could recite it by rote. There were a few provisions that he would like to see quietly annulled and the clauses that named the perquisites of major landholders extended. He would live to see the last day of this Pass, and he certainly intended to exert his not-so-small influence when the Charter was reviewed–After–and suitably altered once dragonriders were no longer needed. Toric had endured many boring hours to be sure no one in the Council slipped in any more surprises on him. He was developing a few surprises of his own.

Toric still doesn’t really understand the true power structure on Pern. His ego is too big to let him understand why he got beaten, and why he will likely lose again.

There’s a little bit about how the Harpers are going to be offering printed copies of texts for people to read, which seems very much at odds with their mission as it has been conceived to this point. Mostly because the press and widespread literacy were things involved in breaking the Catholic Church’s monopoly over Latin Christendom, and it seems very likely that the Harper monopoly on interpretation will be similarly broken. If, however, we’re supposed to assume that AIVAS gave the Harpers their own history, and their origins as educators and the Teachers’ College, then widespread literacy and distribution of texts is exactly in their remit. I just can’t see Sebell or any other Harper really truly giving up the power they’ve had so far to shape minds through education and song.

Everyone heads down for the Harper Report at the new Turn, at which point we get a nice example of how much Toric hates the personnel around him and yet can’t actually fault them for any sort of dereliction of duty.

The Harper, Sintary, has been suggested by Robinton himself as suitable for the position of Master Harper for Southern. Robinton had been one of the few northerners whom Toric had respected, so he had not appealed the appointment. But he had come to regret the decision, for Sintary was a subtle and stubborn man who took his position as Harper so seriously that he had agreed to no changes even when Toric had suggested several minor alterations to the traditional teaching. The old Harper was very popular, with a dry sense of humor and an ability to improvise lyrics about local incidents that made him a very difficult man to discredit. Toric had tried; he kept hoping that an opportunity might yet arise and he could indisputably be able to send Sintary away.
[…Toric gives a barely-there introduction of Sintary…]
Toric enjoyed giving subtle jabs, especially to harpers and dragonriders. And where were the dragonriders who should be here? Toric glared out across the tanned faces, looking for the Weyrleader. If K’van hadn’t come…Then Toric located him on the left, where trees and the ferny shrubs of this highland formed a bordering park. He counted at least fifteen dragonriders and the three queen riders! Shards! He could make no complaint that they had been delinquent in performing this Weyr duty.
[…Sintary begins to read…]
Hamian and his new Plastics Hall. Plastic indeed, when he should be working metals: especially that lode of–what was it called? box-something–that produced very lightweight and malleable ore. Toric had by encouraged his young brother to pursue his Mastery in the Smithcraft only to have him fritter his skills away on some Aivas nonsense. The summarily exiled MasterGlass-smith Norist had been right to call the artificial intelligence an abomination.

Bauxite. Which will eventually be refined into aluminum. Which will be good for After. As will plastics, assuming that Pern’s methods of extracting petroleum products are not nearly as caustic to the atmosphere as Terran processes are.

As you can see, Toric’s grudge is several furloughs wide and as deep as the Marianas trench. And yet, still in power, holder autonomy, et cetera. Sintary finishes the oral report, calls for any petitions that the assembled might have, and then leaves the stage to post the report that was just read.

Toric leaves after scanning the crowd to see if anyone is giving Sintary any petitions, because the heat is getting to him. As soon as Toric is out of sight, Sintary is deluged with petitions from the crowd as he makes his way to the posting board with his printing-press-manufactured and plastic-coated notice to post, at least till everyone goes home after Turnover.

Then we get to hear Sintary’s opinion of Toric.

Not that Toric was a bad Holder. Quite rightly, he insisted that everyone earn his or her right to hold on his land. The man had had to put up with the vagaries of the [time-skipped] as well as incursions by thousands of folk streaming south, hoping for easier living. For all the tribulations the immigrants left behind, they acquired as many new ones here–but many of their supposed grievances would be minor.

Cocowhat by depizan

I realize Pern is supposed to be Ayn Rand’s wet dream, and that Sintary is expressing the traditional contempt of the peasants from the aristocrats, but we still haven’t bothered enough to actually say what the system of land ownership is on Pern. The Charter and the early Pass book said each person was entitled to stake acres, and the implication was that people could willingly combine their land into bigger family units, but as far as I understood, each person’s land was their land, at least until they died and the land passed to their inheritors. Now that we have a revived Charter, presumably everyone on Pern still has access to stake acres if they pay the fee. So Toric wouldn’t have to deal with them.

“Hold on Toric’s land,” however, suggests a vassalage or landlord-tenant contract at work, and given that Pern does not have planet-wide nondiscrimination rules, presumably that means Toric can rent to whomever he wants by whatever criteria he wants.

What I want to know is how much cognitive dissonance it takes to believe that someone as contemptuous as Toric is of harpers and dragonriders (which can’t be anything but an open secret) qualifies as “not bad.” The “bootstraps!” narrative is essentially held by everyone on Pern, despite it not making any sense for them to do so, so it’s not really a specific point of agreement between the two. The excuses given are mostly non-sequitur – dealing with the time-skipped isn’t relevant any more, and unless the immigrants are trying to squat on his land, Toric really doesn’t have to deal with that any more than the logistics of getting them through port, offering them supplies, and pointing them in the right direction of their new holdings.

It’s certainly not impossible to hold the idea of “I think he’s a terrible person, but he’s a good leader” in your head, but harpers are supposed to be a backbone of society – education, duty, religion, and entertainment. The dragonriders are the police force and the objects of veneration. Someone expressing contempt for either of those institutions, as Toric is doing, even if in taking deniable jabs at them, should invoke a heavy backlash from the pious and the clergy about his suitability to lead.

The section ends with Sintary observing Dorse and another guard moving away from what eventually sounds of breaking glass and an axe hitting wood. Sintary makes an executive decision to drop off all of his petition sheets before investigating.

So we’ll stop, too.

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4 thoughts on “The Skies of Pern: An Attempt At Calm

  1. genesistrine June 28, 2018 at 1:14 pm

    They also have to discuss the possibility of a woman coming into being full Holder, rather than just consort. Lady Marella has essentially been regent for Sangel, and she is putting forward her daughter, Janissian, to be fully confirmed by the Council, which would be their first ever.

    You’ve missed a bit – Lessa says, “Boll has an historical precedent for Lady Holders, you know.”

    So yeah, Thella kicking devils through walls in Pernese Hell right now. DAMN.

    (It’s possible this is a reference to Emily Boll, and AIVAS’ historical revelations have convinced the Lord Holders that Lordship should be gender-neutral, but you’d expect more fights from 2000 years of patriarchal inertia. Or it’s possible that Boll has had occasional reigning Lady Holders in the past that no-one bothered to mention. RETCONAMUNGUS!)

    What I want to know is how much cognitive dissonance it takes to believe that someone as contemptuous as Toric is of harpers and dragonriders (which can’t be anything but an open secret) qualifies as “not bad.”

    I think the rule on Pern is actually “person in charge stays in charge so there ner”.

  2. Silver Adept June 30, 2018 at 9:56 am

    It’s probably just a reference to Emily Boll as governor, because I can’t see any record keeper on the planet acknowledging that Lord Patriarch’s rule was actually run by Lady Patriarch, even if everyone knew that Lord Patriarch didn’t have the faculties to rule and none of his sins were old enough to formally assume rule as his successor.

    We’ll see more of Janissian in a little bit, with everyone essentially silently evaluating her to see whether she’s worth getting a seat at the table.

    As for Toric, he’s openly contemptuous of the social order, he’s constantly trying to increase his own power, he fleeces the settlers coming through Southern to start their own holds, but he’s “not bad.” Clearly, we have differing definitions of bad. Yes, person in charge stays in charge unless Lords say so, but the Lords have repeatedly proven themselves to be terrible judges of character, so that’s not any help, either.

  3. genesistrine June 30, 2018 at 10:22 am

    Well, not any help from our POV, but the Pernese POV seems to be “it could be worse, therefore do nothing until people are literally dying in death camps on somebody’s borders”. Pern is not only Randian Paradise, it’s Authoritarian Paradise….

  4. emmy July 1, 2018 at 6:31 pm

    As an aside, with the current pollution worries and giant pileups of random plastic crap in the oceans, and given that Pern as a colony WAS supposed to be stepping back from unnecessary technology, I do find myself wondering what the good is of rushing out a Plastics Hall and trying to produce lots of the stuff.

    What are they using plastic for? What do they need plastic in particular for now that didn’t work with their previous materials?

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