Ever The Twain: A Jaxom Ploy

Last week, we met Nian and Neru, twins who might or might not have a telepathic bond with each other, who were plucked from their coastal hold on Search – the dragons were sure of Nian, and Nian hid Neru well enough from the dragons that they took him as well, just in case. There was some tacit admission that the Weyr lives a lot better than the Hold they came from does, a designated Mean Girl who turns out to also be a fainter at wounds everyone agrees were pretty nasty to see, and a day of chores and food for everyone.

Ever The Twain: Content Notes:

The second morning dawns with a gong alarm to wake everyone up. Nian is a bit disoriented, but still very focused on the idea that Neru needs to Impress. As morning chores are being assigned, the dragons start humming to indicate the hatching is about to start, and everyone heads back, full of nerves, to change and go to the grounds. Nian sees Robina while she’s washing up and the narrative isn’t willing to cut Robina a break.

Robina was in the washroom, vigorously brushing her blond hair with her fingers.
“I don’t think the dragons will notice your hair, Robina,” Nian said encouragingly, but the girl glared at her.
“That’s all you know, twinling,” she snapped back, a petulant expression on her face. Her brushing increased in vigor, and she swore that she saw that sand still fell from her locks. “Let me alone,” she added nastily.

Yes, what a bitch Robina is, because she’s pretty, and blonde, and might still have sand in her hair despite her best efforts and someone is insulting her by referring to that hair after treating her poorly yesterday. There’s no way for Robina to know that Nian is being serious and nice with her comment. But the narrative is more than ready to pile on her for being upset at the protagonist.

And then it’s the hatching in earnest. As seems to be the case with all of the hatchings we’ve seen, a bronze pops out first and everybody says how that’s a good sign. The second egg to hatch is the queen, and this bit happens, because Robina deserves no sympathy:

Robina was already hastening toward the little queen, though she was clutching at her stomach as she approached. It amused Nian that the snotty Robina was also subject to nausea and nervousness.

Yet not a little while before, Nian declared in her own head that she would “die of shame if she spewed up all that porridge and redberry jam.” Empathy is still a finite resource on Pern, only for the deserving and the worthy.

Despite hearing a voice in her head declaring themself to be very hungry, Nian is still very focused on Neru, who is having some serious anxiety that everyone around him is Impressing and none of the dragons seem to be showing the slightest interest in him. Before he can get too far into that idea, though, the queen dragon trips Nian and walks up her back to get her attention, giving her a mental earful about how hungry she is and wondering if Nian can even hear her. Quinth, as she calls herself, has also given Nian a nosebleed by tripping her, and can’t really understand why Nian is so focused on her brother, instead of giving Quinth the attention and food she clearly deserves. Quinth does get fed. The Ista Weyrwoman comes by and helps Nian get clean, commenting on how it was obvious to everyone but Nian that Quinth wanted her from the moment her shell cracked. “Queens are very determined,” we’re told.

This turn of events, of course, sets off Robina.

“How did it happen that she was chosen by the queen and not me?” demanded Robina, standing in front of them, pointing an accusatory finger at Nian.
I didn’t choose her, Quinth said to Nian, flicking a wingtip at Robina in dismissal.
“Well, this is outrageous!” Robina retorted, as she dodged Quinth’s wing tip for fear of being pushed into the hot sands. When she regained her balance, Robina placed her hands on her hips while tapping one toe in the sands.
“There are green dragons hatching, Robina,” the Weyrwoman said pleasantly, pointing to the right. As Nian glanced in that direction, she saw Orla patting a green dragon with one hand and shoving meat toward it with the other.
“They are the most valuable dragons in Threadfall,” the Weyrwoman said. “And far more difficult to train. Take a challenge once in your lifetime, Robina. It would do you good.”

We haven’t met the Weyrwoman until now, and there’s no textual explanation as to why the Weyrwoman would know Robina by name and disposition. Perhaps we’re supposed to assume that Robina has been here long enough and loud enough to attract the Weyrwoman’s attention, being the daughter of the Masterfarmer might mean she was Searched first. And the author certainly seems to believe this is putting her in her place, except for one small thing…

Eyes wide with outrage, Robina stamped toward the exit, head high. Amazingly enough, a shiny wet green dragonet was stumbling after her as fast as it could go.

…all of those things that are supposed to be terrible about Robina underlie something quite positive, as she’s attracted the attention of a dragonet. I can’t tell why, honestly, unless this is supposed to be a final snub at her, that she’s good enough for a dragon, but not the one she wanted, or that we’re supposed to snicker at how quickly she’ll lose her snobbish demeanor as the lowest ranked dragonrider and/or how that attitude will be raped out of her over time as her green dragon rises to mate again and again. (Mirrim remained Mirrim with Path, so that’s no guarantee.)

As it is, Neru has come back to an egg that’s got a serious crack in it, and is verbally encouraging the dragon inside to break out. Nian moves to go help her, but the Weyrwoman holds her back.

“We’ve discovered that if an egg doesn’t crack on its own, the occupant is probably damaged and it is best to leave nature to take her course.”
“And let the dragon die?” Nian was appalled.

Well, shit. This confirms that we can’t be post-Ruth, then, because that would have overturned that kind of thinking, or at least made them think twice about it. This hatchling has made at least one crack in the shell, which is more than Ruth did, I believe, so there’s even more of a chance there’s a viable dragonet inside.

Nian asks her dragon for her advice, and finds out that her dragon may be much more suited to her personality than she wants to admit.

A Hatchling must break his own shell? she asked her dragon.
It shows the strength of the dragon within, Quinth informed her.
How do you know that? You’re only just hatched yourself.
There are things dragons know instinctively about other dragons, Quinth replied with a faint reproof in her mental tone.
But my brother has to Impress, Nian said in almost a moan, her eyes on the shell of the egg beside her brother, who was stroking the casing and urging its occupant to try again.
It is as hungry as I was, Quinth told Nian. It only needs food.
Tell the Weyrwoman so we can break its shell for Neru.
There are some things one must do for one’s self, Quinth replied. I made it and I was hungry. I am still hungry.
As Nian scraped another handful of meat out of the bowl, nearly the last, she had a sudden, decisive idea.

Nian puts two and four together and hatches yet another Indy Ploy, loudly declaring she needs more meat for the glutton and then telling Quinth to trip her as she passes by the egg. Quinth does so eventually, and surprise, surprise, Nian manages to put the heavy bowl right on the egg as she falls down, smashing enough of the egg to free the dragon within. Neru Impresses Larinth, a bronze, and Nian gives her some of Quinth’s food bowl to feed him with, which sets Quinth off that her rider was giving her food to some other dragon, but other riders immediately provide enough food bowls that Quinth has to shut up and swallow the meat being shoved in her mouth or choke on it.

The Weyrwoman and the Weyrlingmaster check Larinth out to make sure he’s okay, even as Quinth assures Nian that he is definitely okay in that same tone that suggests it’s obvious to her.

I still don’t understand why a Weyr wouldn’t want to try and improve their fighting strength, if the other dragonets know whether there a viable dragon in there or not, but apparently Pern is so hardcore Rand that apparently Kitti Ping programmed it into their DNA, and so no help is ever given to any dragon ever.

Having satisfied themselves with Larinth’s health, the Weyrwoman asks if Nian’s trip was as accidental as it seemed. Nian sticks to her story that Quinth was hungry and trying to get at the meat scraps in the bowl. I’m not sure anybody actually buys it, and Nian is pretty sure that the Weyrwoman didn’t buy it, and as the twins get helped off to the barracks, H’ran gives Nian a wink, suggesting he knows the truth, but there’s a live dragon who’s made an Impression, so nobody is really going to do anything about it. Conna comes to congratulate them, which makes Nian worry that she’s going to say something about the circumstances of their search, but she just grins and says, “It is always what the hatchling decides, my dear,” and that’s it. Nobody is going to say that Neru is somehow not legitimately a dragonrider. H’ran even seals it by using the contracted form of Neru’s name when they enter the space in a little while.

Once they actually get on their way to the barracks, we see that the green that was chasing Robina caught up to her, and Robina is intently and blissfully shoving food into the dragonet’s mouth.

All that’s left, really, is for Neru to thank Nian for all her help and admit that he had a giant fit of jealousy (his first about Nian) at the fact that Nian was very clearly Searched and he wasn’t. Nian confesses she was horrified at the thought of stealing his dream and being separated from him in the same day. Neru points out that as a queen rider and a bronze rider, they are going to be separated, since Nian’s queen will become a junior queen at some other Weyr, while Neru stays put at Ista. But since they both have dragons, Quinth reminds them, they’ll always be no more than a thought away, and never alone.

There’s a lot spoken about, but not actually elaborated on, how strong the bond might have been between the twins before the dragons, and what it might have been like if only Nian had Impressed, and hints, again, at what the economics of Pern are like, and not nearly enough of people standing a bit slack-jawed at how much nicer everything is in the Weyr compared to home. And why that might be.

Well, that’s it. Those were the last words that we have credited solely to Anne McCaffrey. At the first author, anyway, the Dragonriders of Pern is finished. Everything past this point attested to the series is officially attributed with or solely to her son, Todd. We can stop now, if you want. We can keep going, if you like – there’s at least seven more books’ worth if we go into and through Todd’s work. Or we can switch gears, if you like – there are other Anne series, or perhaps there are other works you’d like to go on a similar ride with.

It took a few years to get there, but we’ve ridden it out.

It’s been quite the time spent with all of you, and I’ve had a lot of fun (and cocowhats) trying to puzzle this thing out and resolve the narrative issues and prejudices and figure out how this place actually works. (Poorly.)

So there’s one more book series, with a co-authors credit between Anne and Todd, next, if we continue. About miners and watch-whers. It looks like it might be shedding some light on a spot that we haven’t seen in focus yet, which always makes me happy, and anticipate another continuity snarl.

If you’re in board with it, we’ll start Dragon’s Kin next week.

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11 thoughts on “Ever The Twain: A Jaxom Ploy

  1. Digitalis September 13, 2018 at 12:15 pm

    I for one have been hoping you’d get around to reviewing Todd’s books eventually. It’s clear her son has heard about some of the common criticisms of these books, and there are points where he tries to explain things that Anne glossed over, or tackles subjects like homosexuality and disability more than Anne did. He handles it in a very awkward and amateur way, but he does make the effort, and it could be interested to contrast the differences between them. At the very least, I recommend you read Dragon’s Kin; it shows how the lower classes live, something you’ve been wanting more of, and expands the watch wher lore, which I generally like, even though there are, predictably, some WTF moments.

    Also! I don’t know if you know yet, but her daughter Gigi has a new Pern book coming out in October. It apparently follows Piemur in the Ninth Pass. Would you be interested in reviewing that as well or instead?

  2. saidahgilbert September 13, 2018 at 7:39 pm

    It will be interesting if they ever made the Dragonriders of Pern into a TV show. Would they have to practically re-write the books to reflect contemporary social values? Would the show not depict actual Weyr life to have a less than R rating?

  3. WanderingUndine September 13, 2018 at 7:53 pm

    Erm, reaction count for Ever the Twain: 1 cocowhat

    I’d be interested in learning more about watch-whers and how Todd tried to address some of this story’s Problems, though I don’t know how much I would want seven books of it.

    Thank you for this long and enlightening endeavor with these frustrating books.

  4. Silver Adept September 14, 2018 at 8:27 am

    It sounds like there’s at least some interest in continuing, even if we all end up getting far too frustrated with the process and the new author to want to suffer through all of it. When I started, I didn’t think I’d be staring at an end any time soon, and yet here we are.

    @ Digitalis –

    I did not know there was a Pern book coming out from her daughter. I’m interested in seeing how different children treat the same material, although I might have to wait some for it to be available from the library.

    @ saidahgilbert –

    I have no idea how they’d manage it. There’s a certain amount of Weyr life that could be edited out or only obliquely referred to, but some of the critical plot points of the books revolve around reprehensible behavior by protagonists or the protagonist-aligned, whether they’re dragonriders or Harpers. There’s a market from grimdark, which is where a faithful adaptation would likely land, but I think a lot of people have more rose-tinted views of Pern from having read it when they were young, and they might reject a faithful adaptation as being not like what they remembered.

  5. genesistrine September 19, 2018 at 3:09 pm

    and Nian hid Neru well enough from the dragons that they took him as well, just in case

    There’s some really weird psychological dynamics going on throughout this story, and I think it would have been much less bland if it had explored them more deeply, or possibly if it had noticed them at all. Why’s Nian hiding Neru? Is she subconsciously trying to keep him away from the attention of the dragons so he isn’t taken away?

    She has massive self-esteem issues; the whole calling herself a ninny thing for starters, but there doesn’t seem to be any particular reason for them; her family seems supportive, maybe bar the marrying-her-off thing, but they even seem to be trying to encourage her into that with “it will be so nice to have your own place!” rather than threats and coercion, the only bullying we see is of her brother.

    And her reaction to realising she’s Impressed the queen is: “Oh, her family would never forgive her. Ru would never forgive her.”

    WTF? Why?

    H’ran gives Nian a wink, suggesting he knows the truth, but there’s a live dragon who’s made an Impression, so nobody is really going to do anything about it.

    Well, what can they do about it? They’ve got a live dragon with the rider it chose; it’s not like they can put it down or separate them, and to give them credit it doesn’t look like they’re worried about that. All this angst and drama in the writing is completely unsupported by the actual narrative. It’s just the author trying to whip up some excitement about a story that’s low-stakes and boring.

    So there’s one more book series, with a co-authors credit between Anne and Todd, next, if we continue. About miners and watch-whers. It looks like it might be shedding some light on a spot that we haven’t seen in focus yet, which always makes me happy, and anticipate another continuity snarl.

    If you’re in board with it, we’ll start Dragon’s Kin next week.

    I’m definitely curious to see how (or if) Todd’s involvement changes things.

    But if you’d be up for a quick break from dragons at some point may I suggest a readthrough of McCaffrey’s first novel, Restoree? Mainly because it’s as far as I know unique among her books in actually having a competent villain who has motivations other than “spite the protagonists”. (Though it needs content warnings for dubious sexual consent, genocide, medical experimentation on humans and Blondes Be Bitches.)

    @saidahgilbert: Well, Game of Thrones seems to be doing well on TV , and as I understand it they even added in more rape, so…

    (Haven’t read the books or watched the series, so anyone who has is welcome to correct me.)

  6. saidahgilbert September 19, 2018 at 7:24 pm

    See, that’s the thing. I can’t watch Game of Thrones because of the graphic imagery, though I read the books. So if they do the same thing to Dragonriders of Pern, then I wouldn’t be able to watch it. Then I’ll have to stand on the sidelines like I do with Game of Thrones, wishing I could watch it but not being able to.

    Also, you raise a good point about Nian hiding Neru. Usually,in a patriarchal society like this, it would be the male twin hiding the female twin. The impression I got from reading the deconstruction on this story is that Nian is trying to be invisible like a “good” female should but the narrative keeps focussing on her instead of her brother.

  7. genesistrine September 20, 2018 at 3:18 pm

    Re adaptations: I suspect the reason no Pern adaptation has ever got off the ground is because no-one can figure out a way to do mating flights on screen without it being simultaneously horrifying and hilariawful.

    Re Nian and Neru: but that’s the really weird thing; there doesn’t seem to be any pressure on Nian to make her a “good” girl by patriarchal standards. Normally McCaffrey heroines are being told in no uncertain terms how they should be behaving, but with Nian it all seems to be internal. It’s even possible to read Orla’s remark in the first half (“Has Master Ruart recommended you to the Healer and Harper Halls?”) as talking to both of them – e.g. Nian recommended to the Healers and Neru to the Harpers – but even without that Nian doesn’t seem to be suffering for lack of encouragement, or being pressured into “looking after” her brother or “behaving properly”. It’s just… weird.

  8. Silver Adept September 21, 2018 at 8:34 am

    Nian seems to have severely internalized the idea that she should be self-sacrificing and do everything she can to make sure her brother’s dreams come true, without giving thought or consideration to her own desires. The narrative always insists her internal monologue is that Neru has to be the dragonrider, that Neru’s the important one, and that she’s just a girl and a ninny, despite being a very intelligent woman and the mover of all the developments of the plot.

    Given the way the books have set up their insistence that the good, invisible, girls get all the rewards, the whole story is essentially that idea. Self-erasing Nian gets all the rewards because she has no thought for herself, but only for Neru.

    Pern still needs therapists. A lot.

  9. genesistrine September 21, 2018 at 2:39 pm

    I don’t think that’s exactly true of Pern though; there does seem to be authorial approval of women getting to choose their own path, at least as long as they’re not too direct about arguing for it and as long as they still end up suitably paired off. Lessa, Menolly, Sharra and Aramina, for example, don’t do what they’re told by the original set of men with patriarchal authority over them. The closest to the “good invisible girl” is probably Brekke, and she gets raped and a dead dragon out of it, so I think that’s a bit too simplistic.

    But yes. Therapists. Lots and lots and LOTS of therapists.

  10. Silver Adept September 24, 2018 at 8:56 am

    Brekke might be a special case for the narrative, as I think they would say that her rape was beneficial, in that it was one of Our Heroes that did it and thus raised her status, and that Wirenth’s death is Kylara’s fault and has nothing to do with her. Tai follows much the same path of being accepted when one of the heroes takes interest in her and she says yes.

    Otherwise, it seems a reasonable throughline that when women don’t stay under patriarchal authority, they create trouble for themselves that is then punished directly or indirectly. It’s not always exactly the case, but it does seem to be true much of the time.

  11. genesistrine September 24, 2018 at 12:44 pm

    There does seem to be a division between “good” patriarchal authority (e.g. Robinton, F’lar) and “bad” patriarchal authority (Yanus, Toric) though. Though it may just be that they’re BAD if the author doesn’t like them and GOOD if she does….

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