Dragon’s Kin: Away From The Weyrs

I’m thrilled you’re still here and wanting to continue. Of course, we might end up catching up to the current set of Pern at some point, which will be rather different to have to wait for new material to work with when we get there. There’s still a half-dozen or so books to work through first, however.

We’re in collaboration territory now. This is a dual-billed book, with the more famous author on the top of the book, and the lesser one underneath. It remains to be seen whether this is a true partnership between two people or whether this is more like James Patterson collaborations, where I suspect the “with” author did most of the work as Patterson did enough to get his name as the name that sells the book. It’s a chapters book rather than a parts book, which makes things easier for good stopping points, and we shall see if we can detect the influence of the second author on the first. In a perfect world, that would mean things get better, but we will have to see.

Dragon’s Kin: Prologue and Chapter I: Content Notes:

The SFnal prologue returns, and it’s sporting some new verbage. For example, we now have explicit mention that the settlers “had set out to create an idyllic, low-tech farmers’ paradise, escaping the ravages of the late Nathi Wars.” Which I find interesting, given that, at least for me, “low-tech” seems to have also meant that medical care and governmental structure also went very low-tech, with the results being the various plagues that afflict the population that’s been enclosed by Thread.

The new prologue also says First Fall happened eight years after the arrival of the colonists, which I’m very sure is a retcon of some sort, because that’s a nearly sensible amount of time for everything to have gotten set up to be taken by surprise by Thread.

Then we get the story of the abandonment of Southern, the genetic engineering of Kitti Ping that creates dragons, Wind Blossom’s “mistake” that creates watch-whers, and the reorganization of society into Lord Holders, Weyrleaders, and the Crafts, who are noted to be democratic institutions from the outset, in that their MasterCrafter (and this is now the official way to refer to the head of the craft, with the camel case) is always elected.

Here, though, the Prologue diverges from its predecessors in that it starts to set up the story proper, rather than talking in generalities about the glorious society and the awesome dragonriders. Partially because our setting for this story is the end of the Second Interval, and also because new author, I think. Where previous books in the series might use a part of Chapter One for a little bit of exposition, possibly from the viewpoint character, here the omniscient narrator takes care of it themselves.

The Prologue says that Pern relies on coal, mostly to forge steel for plows, wheels, and joints for dragonrider gear, and the easily-mined veins have been tapped out. So the MasterMiner, Britell, sends out journeymen with the techniques of mining into mountains and tells them that those who succeed in establishing themselves will be promoted to the Mastery. Britell’s secret favorite is Natalon, who shows “a willingness to experiment” and is taking watch-whers as well as miners to his camp.

[Natalon] had enlisted watch-whers, hoping to use their abilities to detect tunnel snakes and bad air–both the explosive gases and the odorless, deadly carbon monoxide which could suffocate the unwary.
From what Britell had heard, the watch-whers were something of a mystery–their abilities ignored as commonplace.
Britell planned on watching that Camp carefully, particularly keeping an eye on the work of the watch-whers be their bonded wherhandlers.

Cocowhat by depizan

(That may be a record for “fewest pages before Cocowhat.”)

I don’t mind that watch-whers fulfill the canary role for miners, but I do want to know how they learned about those abilities and also why they aren’t in widespread use in the mines. Tunnel snakes are a problem, sure, but we saw what kind of destruction got wrought when someone sparked a pocket of explosive gas when Shankolin was in the mines as punishment. And carbon monoxide is a silent killer. If they already know that watch-whers can protect against those things, then why isn’t every potential mine assigned a watch-wher for safety purposes? I can’t think of a feasible reason why they would be “ignored as commonplace,” save perhaps a mine whose entire inhabitants are prisoners and there is only a small amount of guards there to keep them in line. I know Pern has enough indifference to prisoner life that they wouldn’t invest in safety, but these are theoretically all miners and people that the narrative would think of as good.

Having set the stage, Chapter I begins, not with a temporal mark, but a rhyming couplet:

In early morning light I see,
A distant dragon come to me.

Since it sounds like a song, it’s probably going to be worth putting all of these couplets together if the author doesn’t do it somewhere in the text.

Our viewpoint character for Second Interval Pern is Kindan, and he is getting the best vantage point he can for what is eventually revealed to be a trader caravan (using “drays” – draybeasts – oxen? – to pull the wagon.) Furthermore, one of the residents of that caravan, Terregar, is betrothed to Kindan’s sister, and wedding preparations are in full swing at the camp.

Interspersed with this is a layout of the valley, as Kindan describes it, with temporary housing, coal processing facilities, the mine proper, a proper hold for when Thread returns, and the Harper’s quarters. (We do not seem to have any issues at this point with nonbelievers at the end of this Interval.)

Kindan, we find out, is the child of the watch-wher’s bondmate, Danil, and had the watch-wher, Dask, is “the camp’s sole remaining watch-wher.” Which says there were more, but the mountain’s dangers likely claimed the others.

I’m already starting to see the signs of influence from the new author, though, as we’ve learned more about watch-whers fan we have in all the previous books, and then there’s this sequence that gives us a much more realistic picture of how dragonriders are seen (and where they go):

The thought of Impressing a dragon, of becoming telepathically linked with one of Pern’s great fire-breathing defenders, was the secret wish of every child on Pern. But dragons seemed to prefer the children of the Weyr: Only a few riders were chosen from the Holds and the Crafts. And no dragon had ever visited Camp Natal on.
“You know,” Zenor continued, “I saw them.”
Everyone in Camp Natalon knew that Zenor had seen dragons; it was his favorite tale. Kindan suppressed a groan. Instead, he made encouraging noises while hoping that Zenor wouldn’t dawdle too much longer or Natalon would be wondering at the speed of his runner–and might remember who it was.

We might finally be getting a lower decks episode, now that at least partial control of the narrative and where it goes is in the hands of someone else.

As Zenor runs off, having collected Kindan’s message and extracted a promise from him to help wash the watch-wher as payment, we learn that Natalon is twenty-six and in charge of the camp, and that since the camp hasn’t yet become an official mine, Natalon isn’t “Lord Natalon” and nobody knows how to address him. Which makes me wonder how the order of titles works on Pern. In Natalon’s case, I would assume that in the lack of any other title, he should probably be addressed by his guild rank, Journeyman. Of course, that assumes there isn’t another title that could be used, or that Natalon isn’t the kind of person who would self-style to something before becoming an official Lord. Or Master, because proving the mine would also grant him his Mastery. So if the mine succeeds, which title gets used, and if they both do, which one comes first? Is he Lord Masterminer Natalon, Masterminer Lord Natalon, or something else? And if his successor is also a Masterminer, what then? Masterminer Alain, Lord Natalon?

Zenor opts for grabbing Natalon’s sleeve, which interrupts him in an argument. Tarik, whom scuttlebutt says is pissed that he didn’t get to lead the camp and is actively trying to show Natalon as unworthy, is fighting both Danil and Natalon about the importance and efficacy of the watch-whers, and where effort should be put with regard to roadways or mine supports. Zenor is also ill-disposed to Tarik because his son, Cristov, beat Zenor after Zenor unwisely insulted Tarik. We don’t know what the comment was, just that the resulting fight left bruises.

Ah, also, Tarik is Natalon’s uncle, which might also explain some of the animus.

“We must use our labor wisely, Uncle,” Natalon answered soothingly. “I decided it made more sense to fell more trees to use in the mines for shorings.”
“We can’t afford any more accidents,” Danil agreed.
“Nor lose any more watch-whers,” Natalon added. Zenor hid a grin as he saw Kindan’s father nod in fierce agreement.
“Watch-whers aren’t much use,” Tarik growled. “We’ve made do without them before. And now we’ve lost two, and what’ve we got to show for it?”
“As I recall, watch-wher Wensk saved your life,” Danil answered, his voice edged with bitterness. “Even after you refused to heed his warnings. And I believe that your abusive behavior is what decided Wenser to leave with his watch-wher.”
Tarik snorted. “If we had enough shoring, the tunnel wouldn’t have collapsed.”
“Ah!” Natalon interrupted. “I’m glad to hear that you agree with my reasoning, then, Uncle.”

I realize that the Pernese attitude toward the preservation of lives is, at its very best, callous, but in what universe does someone who ignored safety protocols and caused the deaths of others get to stay at that mine? Yes, there’s no OSHA, but it seems like that offense should have resulted in immediate expulsion. And if not that, severe consequences, regardless of whether that person is family. Even more so if it could be proven that their behavior drove away a vital safety check. To say that they’ve managed without the whers has an undertone of not actually caring about the death toll of the miners that come to work. Again, in a prison mine setting, this makes sense, but theoretically these are all volunteers and employees. They stand to profit tidily if they stay alive. Anyone reducing those chances, especially through a disregard for safety, is dangerous and should be sent away until they can prove they will obey the safety protocols.

Zenor takes a small detour on the way back to chat with Nuella, who is very eager to meet a new Harper, if one has come in the caravan, and is very tired of being inside all the time (at the insistence of her parents, apparently). Such that she plans to dress up in trader colors and dance at the feast tonight and nobody will be the wiser.

Kindan, for his part, at the feast mostly eats and listens for gossip. Right about the time the bubbly puts pies are ready, his just older brother, Kaylek, comes to tell him to wash the watch-wher, intending to prevent him from getting any pies. Danil saves him from that fate, but insists that the job be done very thoroughly after the bubbly pies. Danil then steers said son toward a craft girl he wants him to meet.

The rest of the chapter watch-wher washing, which is unremarkable, really, except that Kindan twigs to the fact that Zenor has someone shadowing him and asks about his detour earlier (but gets no details, even after that shadow is instrumental in diverting Kaylek from discovering Zenor and giggles a bit after Kindan heads to bed), and that watch-whers can go through hyperspace without needing a clear picture from their bondmate, something dragons supposedly can’t do (or don’t do, or whatever handwave is necessary for the disaster of Moreta to have happened / will happen). At least, that’s how I’m reading Dask disappearing to the pond to get a bath and then returning by the same method, because Danil is nowhere to be seen when this happens. Here’s another thing that dragons could learn from something they consider beneath them, but manage not to do in all those Passes and Intervals that the watch-whers have been around.

Next week, a wedding, I guess.

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7 thoughts on “Dragon’s Kin: Away From The Weyrs

  1. Digitalis September 20, 2018 at 12:17 pm

    “(That may be a record for “fewest pages before Cocowhat.”)”

    Is it bad that I laughed at this?

    I was hoping to read along with this one, but I can’t find my copy of the book. So back to relying on my my memory and your summaries (which I am enjoying very much, by the way!), I guess.

    “Here’s another thing that dragons could learn from something they consider beneath them, but manage not to do in all those Passes and Intervals that the watch-whers have been around.”

    That is pretty much the theme of this entire book in a nutshell. But if fire lizards can do it, I can’t see why whers shouldn’t be able to. This seems to be a case of dragonrider betweening training being so rigid it interferes with the dragon’s natural instincts.

  2. MadamAtom September 21, 2018 at 8:17 am

    Danil/Dask

    Wenser/Wensk

    Watch-whers are named like Handmaids, apparently. I wonder why -sk. “Scaly”?

    I don’t think we’ve seen a watch-wher with a name before, have we? You’d think Lessa would have called her buddy at Ruatha by name if it had one, and I’m almost positive she didn’t. So this is a step up.

  3. Silver Adept September 21, 2018 at 9:23 am

    @ Digitalis –

    It was meant to be funny, because the realization itself was funny.

    Also, it’s somewhat depressing to know that the theme of the book is that dragons still don’t know as much as they could. Or that the humans have fundamentally misunderstood their dragons to the point that their not using them to full potential.

  4. Firedrake September 21, 2018 at 11:20 am

    It’s not clear what sort of state McCaffrey was in by 2003 when this came out (though ISFDB gives this year as the first publication date of Beyond Between). But of her novels, the last that didn’t have a coauthor was Freedom’s Ransom in 2002; everything after that was with either Todd or Elizabeth Ann Scarborough.

    I think I’ve mentioned before that Powers That Be (1993, with EAS) was marketed as McCaffrey’s “first real collaboration” (i.e. all the previous “and”s had been the usual senior author lends their name, junior author does the work, deals). What that says about any later books is unclear.

    Meanwhile: firedamp, blackdamp, stinkdamp, whitedamp, afterdamp. (From the German “Dampf”, a vapour.)

    The dray of course is originally a wheelless cart, but I count this as fair linguistic evolution.

  5. Wingsrising September 21, 2018 at 1:17 pm

    Dragons have gone between without their riders a number of times over the course of the books: trying to break up the fight between the queens, for example, or the watch-dragon in Dragonsinger.

    What was going on with Moreta and Holth I don’t know — Holth was very tired at that point, too, and might have messed up herself.

  6. genesistrine September 21, 2018 at 2:56 pm

    Pern relies on coal, mostly to forge steel for plows, wheels, and joints for dragonrider gear, and the easily-mined veins have been tapped out.

    Yet another reason why this low-tech living-cosplay crap was a bad idea….

    why isn’t every potential mine assigned a watch-wher for safety purposes?

    And why weren’t there watchwhers in Shankolin’s mine? Not used for mines with prison labour, to make extra sure no-one survives long enough to be released? Ninth Pass managed to forget about mining support watchwhers along with everything else they forgot about?

    Anyone reducing those chances, especially through a disregard for safety, is dangerous and should be sent away until they can prove they will obey the safety protocols.

    Hell, every other miner should be flat refusing to work with them. It’s their lives at stake!

    @MadamAtom: I don’t think we’ve seen a watch-wher with a name before, have we? You’d think Lessa would have called her buddy at Ruatha by name if it had one, and I’m almost positive she didn’t. So this is a step up.

    Maybe they lose their name if their handler/partner dies. 😦

  7. Silver Adept September 24, 2018 at 9:06 am

    @ MadamAtom –

    The -sk seems to be like the -th bits the dragons use for their own designations. Also, the watch-whers don’t seem to have the full telepathic capabilities of the dragons (at least right now), so they probably get named more like pets instead of their own names.

    @ genesistrine –

    No watch-whers in the prison mines probably because those prisoners are supposed to die and if they get labor out of it, that’s great.

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