Monthly Archives: March 2019

Deconstruction Roundup for March 29th, 2019

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is running down to deadlines.)

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

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorium Press

Fred Clark: Slacktivist

Froborr: Jen A. Blue

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 are going to be more than slightly concerned that you haven’t heard anything from anyone and there’s a deadline coming up. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragon Harper: Training Montage

Before we get started, there’s another post on the Tor reread, but it concentrates itself mostly on the transition away from fantasy elements to science fiction elements in the first book. Some of the swearier bits covered here about consent, its lack, and the way that Kylara is portrayed as a slutty-slut-slut who nonetheless gets a gold dragon get more-than-a-footnote in that post, and the comments work to expand on that, but it’s not the focus of the post. It looks a lot like the early narrative of this reread is interested more in the genre conventions rather than the actual content. If they’re interested in picking up that thread later, it does a decent enough job of pointing out where there are contentious spots, but it’s not the focus. (It seems like a misplaced focus to me, but this is why both of our works can co-exist.)

On with the show.

Last time, Kindan challenged Vaxoram to a duel, and two people who had the power to stop it instead decided it would be a good idea to go forward with it, for reasons that have yet to be adequately explained outside of “toxic masculinity bullshit.”

Dragon Harper: Chapter 3: Content Notes: Vomit Indiscretion, Toxic Masculinity

Extra frosting on the cake of “are we sure they’re not trolling us?” is Chapter 3’s starting poem.

Be sparing with your wrath
Take not the angry path
Lest harsh words create harsh deeds
And fill your heart with bitter seeds.

Which I almost included in the last post because it was the cherry on top of this. We just spent an entire chapter enabling someone’s angry declaration and letting it blossom into a duel with swords, with all the adults that could have redirected it or otherwise put a stop to it basically deciding instead that the best solution to the problem of someone bullying another person is to let a different kid hopefully beat the tar out of him so that he stops. A+ idea, all of you.

This chapter begins with Kindan getting dropped off to see Mikal and start being trained on fighting with swords. Before we begin the training montage, though, Kindan says hello to Aleesa, who gives him a bit of approval of the way Kisk-Nuelsk behaved back at the end of the first book. But first we have to endure a bit more trolling.

Aleesa glanced beyond him to M’tal, then back. “This dragonrider says you’re here to learn how to fight someone.”
“Yes,” Kindan agreed.
“Over a girl,” Aleesa said.
“No,” Kindan corrected, shaking his head. “For women harpers.”
“Women harpers?” Aleesa repeated, chortling. “Women harpers,” she said again, more softly, shaking her head. “What next?”
“I’ve met many strong women in my time,” M’tal remarked.
“Anything is possible,” Kindan said, meeting Aleesa’s eyes squarely. “When women harpers become respected, all women will be more respected.”

I’m not discounting the possibility that Kindan is being honest in that this is what he believes, but I’m inclined to think of it as what Kindan believes now, after talking with Murenny and seeing that what Murenny was talking about makes a much better cause than “the bully insinuated the girl who has a crush on me and I were going to get busy in the baths,” which is what started the whole thing.

Mikal starts Kindan’s training with physical conditioning. Kindan complains that he only came to learn how to fight with his left hand, and Mikal tartly tells Kindan that he wants to see Kindan live through having to fight. Again, if the adults are convinced of murderous intent, why are they risking Kindan’s life?

Day two is destroying Kindan’s confidence by having him fence with Mikal using his dominant hand and getting bruised to hell as a result. Day three starts with training Kindan’s finesse by using the blade to bruise tomatoes, which Kindan is not very good at at all. In the evening, despite his bruises, Kindan gets told to sing a long, slow song, which we recognize as endurance for breathing and for doing things even when you’re tired, but that Kindan doesn’t really understand. Day four starts with Kindan running wind sprints, as Jaythen, who has taken Kindan hunting with him, insists Kindan run after every arrow he shoots at top speed. It ends with Kindan singing even more.

Day five has Kindan start by getting soaked with a bucket of water and told to run until he’s dry, at which point Mikal takes him to a clearing and forces Kindan to fight without his sight, so that Kindan can feel and hear the subtle shifts that accompany Mikal’s movements. Once he can do it to Mikal’s satisfaction, then they have Kindan fight with his off hand.

Day five continues with the first lesson in fighting for your life – go for the eyes. Which is softened somewhat in explanation as “people react instinctively to parry attacks to the head,” even if it is otherwise referred to as “go for the eyes.”

After fighting with the practice swords against Mikal, Kindan gets an actual blade and is instructed to “go for the eyes” on a dummy that had had tomatoes inserted into its eye sockets, while Mikal pivots the dummy away to stimulate the protective warding. Kindan tries for several times before succeeding.

One of the tomatoes was skewered and remained stuck on the end of Kindan’s blade. Kindan looked at it and his triumphant smile died on his lips as he grew pale and turned away from the one-eyed scarecrow. He pivoted swiftly and moved his blade just enough to get it out of the way as he heaved his guts.
Some time later, Mikal handed him a flask of water and Kindan realized the ex-dragonrider had dropped his ropes and was kneeling beside him, gently rubbing his shoulders.
“Drink and spit it out–it’ll clear out the aftertaste,” Mikal told him softly. Kindan obeyed, his insides still shaking. After a while, he felt better. “Are you able to stand?”
Kindan nodded and stood up. He was glad to get away from the stench of his own vomit. As he stood, he caught sight of his blade once more, with the tomato neatly skewered at the end. It was just a tomato.
“Kindan,” Mikal called softly. Kindan turned to him. “Now you understand what you’re doing, don’t you?”
Kindan nodded mutely.
“And you understand what Vaxoram will do?”
“He’ll kill me,” Kindan answered. “But that’s stupid.”
A trace of a smile crossed the old man’s lips. “So don’t let him.”

And they start practicing again. So if this was supposed to be the point at which Kindan learns that he might not be up to the task of killing someone and people work to call off the duel, we have once again missed it. Instead, it’s seen as some sort of “Now you know the stakes, and you had better be willing to kill, even if you don’t actually do it” sort of situation, reinforcing the necessity, rather than suggesting, perhaps, there’s another way of resolving this.

I suppose I didn’t really expect them to be diverted away, given how many times the dragonriders get into fights or get provoked into fights over their own pride and toxic masculinity. I keep expecting someone to realize what a terrible idea it is, and nobody actually does. As it is, Kindan decides he wants to learn how to hit right below the eye, so as to convince Vaxoram that he can go higher if he so desires. And to go through with it if Vaxoram calls his bluff on it. At the end of day five, Kindan gets a massage from Alarra.

Day six dawns with Mikal, Jaythen, and Aleesa all confronting Kindan in various ways, trying to make him answer from his gut without having time to think (or overthink), and then designing a training so that Kindan won’t get overwhelmed by Vaxoram in the actual fight. First with all three of them staring at him, trying to make him break eye contact with them. Arella provides verbal support at this stage. The narrative tells us that Kindan finds his inner strength by thinking about those he wants to protect, and all the friends that he has that he’s fighting for. Then they move to having Kindan be able to shout down all three of them shouting at him, without Arella’s help. When he accomplishes this, they all suggest that he not use his voice for the rest of the day, and give him encouragement about the fight. By himself, Kindan eventually looks at a stone he gathers from the river and decides to build himself an amulet.

Kindan remembered his earlier conversations with Mikal about stones, rocks, and crystals. He recalled that Mikal had decided to stay in the wherhold because he liked the stones and crystals to be found in the area. Kindan knew that crystals had healing powers, and could also be used for meditation, to focus thoughts. Perhaps if he could find the right crystal, he could use its steadying influence in his fight with Vaxoram.

And so now we’re also supposed to believe that crystal lore is just an accepted practice among Harpers, since Mikal pioneered it, instead of it being seen as fringey and kind of woo-woo, as I would have expected it to be. But Pellar used it last book, and Kindan uses it this book, and so it’s apparently just the way that it is.

Kindan gathers quartz from Aleesk’s chamber and citrine from a river bed.

He had learned from Mikal during one of the ex-dragonrider’s days at the Harper Hall that citrine helped to keep one cheerful and manifest goals, just as white quartz was good at manifesting power and concentrating intentions. Armed with these, Kindan felt he could not lose.

I’m still not sure why crystal lore has been imported to Pern. (There’s a Doylist suggestion that someone had done all the research for Crystal Singer and wanted to justify using it somewhere else, but I’ve been trying to avoid outside-the-page justifications for this long…) And why everyone just accepts it as so. Like, Pern is still nominally a-religious, except perhaps for the dragonrider cult, and so magical practices would presumably not have survived the transfer. Which says nothing about how they might be re-invented, but we continue to not see where they might have come from and how they might have flourished, so there’s still no thread I can pull from anywhere that even remotely justifies the existence of this practice. It, like Mikal, have come from whole cloth, or possibly some other story idea.

At the end of all this training, though, Kindan comes to another realization, this one more…useful, perhaps, than the last.

He could do this. He could meet Vaxoram and win. But his good feelings faded as he realized one thing: He could not blind the older apprentice to win, any more than he could kill him. It wasn’t that Kindan didn’t believe he had the ability now, nor that he wasn’t willing to do either deed if there was no other way–it was that he realized that winning by those means would be a hollow victory, would leave Vaxoram so utterly defeated that the older boy would have no chance to redeem his honor.
Kindan had to find another way.

I personally would like that conclusion to come from, say, the idea that blinding or killing Vaxoram would be a waste and a terrible idea because he’s still a child, even if on Pern he’s old enough to take on adult responsibilities. Or even if Kindan were channeling Sunzi when he wrote about leaving your enemy an apparent out so that they don’t fight with the strength of desperation and surprise you by hanging on to the end and inflicting casualties you can’t afford. Or because this is insight into Kindan’s brain that he’s going to be a really good tactician and diplomat because he is looking for a better, more permanent solution than one that starts up the cycle of violence again where someone in Vaxoram’s group will try to kill Kindan after Kindan hurts Vaxoram. The idea of “I can’t do this because it would leave him no way of redeeming his honor” puts the emphasis in entirely the wrong place, that it’s Vaxoram’s feelings that are the most important part, rather than Kindan’s life.

Vaxoram is a bully. Everyone agrees. Being offered a graceful way out is a far more generous option than being repeatedly knocked on his ass until he learns. It should be seen as Kindan extending a kindness and working on a solution he doesn’t have to do at all. It’s not his job, as the victim, to consider the feelings of the bully. It’s his job to protect himself. It’s not even necessarily anyone else’s job to soothe Vaxoram’s feelings on the matter. It’s everyone’s job to stop the bullying.

Day seven arrives, and Mikal has one last task for Kindan before he heads off to his fight – find ten reasons to live. (Because, as the narrative will tell us, that probably gives Kindan nine more reasons than Vaxoram to live.) Kindan has a bit of a stall on reasons two and three – Kelsa and Nonala, until he hits upon the reality of his situation.

“Because I love them!” Kindan blurted out, surprised at his words and the heat of his reaction. All of his half-formed dreams of kissing Kelsa, of dancing through the night with her, maybe even of partnering with her, vanished as he absorbed that. He loved them both, equally, and neither of them as a mate. Kelsa and Nonala were special to him because he knew they loved and trusted him; he would do nothing to alter that–he loved them too much.

Mikal takes his statement as truth enough, but this reasoning certainly seems like the kind of thing where the practical application of polyamory would certainly be a good idea. Both Kelsa and Nonala have declared their interest, and Kindan doesn’t apparently now prefer one or the other, although he had an easier time imagining himself with Kelsa because of her forwardness and ease. There’s no real reason why, other than the ribbing Kindan might get about having both of the girl apprentices in love with him, that the three of them can’t be a happy triad. Unless polyamory or polysexuality is something strictly reserved to the dragonriders (and watch-whers), and only during mating heats so they can all blame their lack of control.

In any case, now mentally and physically prepared for the fight, Kindan goes with Mikal’s blessing, and that’s the end of Chapter 3.

Deconstruction Roundup for March 22nd, 2019

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is getting furniture 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

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorium Press

Fred Clark: Slacktivist

Froborr: Jen A. Blue

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 are going to be at the third Science Night in as many months. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragon Harper: The Right of Satisfaction

Last time, it turned out that neither author is willing to write a Harper Hall that gives a damn about its students, by introducing us to Vaxoram and his incessant bullying of everybody not named Vaxoram, which is checked only to the point that the other apprentices fight back or get Vaxoram and his cronies in trouble. We’ve already had one potential near-fatality noted on screen, but nothing has been done to this point to actually deter Vaxoram, or get him out of the Hall, by expulsion or assignment, so that he will stop making a hostile learning environment for the other apprentices.

Dragon Harper, Chapter 2: Content Notes: Sexist Assholery, Discussion of Sexual Assault, Oxygen-Starving Toxic Masculinity

Time passes, until M’tal’s arrival interrupts a run, and Verilan and Kindan take a mud-slide from the dragon’s appearance. M’tal hauls Verilan, who is already getting sick from the wet and cold, bodily to the infirmary and directs Kindan to take the package he dropped off to a hearth to keep them warm. It’s a set of fire-lizard eggs, some fore Harpers, others for the Holders of Fort, and one egg has apparently already been promised to Kindan. After taking in the eggs, the headwoman notes the mud-soaked apprentices, orders them to the bath, tells them to throw out the boys if they’re still in there, and then notices the hesitation and tells them to go more firmly, assigning Kindan to make sure that Nonala isn’t harassed while they force the change in the baths. And also suggesting that Kindan and Nonala may have an attraction to each other, which becomes a bit more relevant in a short while after that.

Specifically, Vaxoram insinuates that Kindan has an attraction to Nonala as well.

“Are you going to wash her back?” Vaxoram asked, smirking vulgarly. He was rewarded with a scattering of chuckles. “Mind you, she’s still a bit young, but so are–”
“Shut up!” Kindan shouted, his eyes narrowed, fists clenched at his side.

Nonala tries to dissuade Kindan, but first he demands an apology. When he doesn’t get that, he demands satisfaction. Vaxoram dismisses that idea as well and says that all Kindan’s going to get is beaten up and he’ll stay quiet about it unless he wants everyone getting beaten up. Vaxoram punches Kindan hard enough to split his lip, but before the brawl can go further, M’tal arrives in the dormitory, calls a hold (which everyone immediately respects) and asks what the hell is going on here.

“I challenge Vaxoram,” Kindan said, his words slurred with blood and pain. “I call him a coward and a bully and a man who would use his strength to have a woman.”
There were gasps from the entire room, including M’tal and Nonala. Eyes locked onto Kindan. In front of him, Vaxoram’s anger was a palpable thing; the older lad’s breathing was ragged and outraged.
Kindan had issued the harshest possible condemnation of a man on Pern–that he would use his strength to overpower a woman.
“I demand the right of cold steel,” Vaxoram responded through clenched teeth, his eyes tight, beady, and glaring angrily down at Kindan’s bloody face.
“You shall have it,” Kindan replied, matching the taller lad’s glare. He caught the look of surprise in Vaxoram’s eyes and, deeper under it, a flash of fear.

Cocowhat by depizan

No, seriously, this cocowhat should instead be a cocowhat-meteor about to crash into Pern and annihilate the entire planet.

First, though, I have to pick my jaw up from the floor at the audacity of a Pern book to declare that a man using his strength to overpower a woman was the harshest possible condemnation of a man on the planet. We’re not even close to #metoo at this point, but also, for this to work at all, this book desperately hopes that you haven’t read any of the previous books in this world. Because the Benden Weyrleader of the Ninth Pass and his brother, the Brown Rider Rapist, come immediately to mind as people who should have rightly been condemned. Also Benden’s son, who very clearly initiated sex with a woman who was unable to give consent with him. And the fact that basically any member of the fire-lizard family, if attached to a person, causes them (and often, large swaths of the people around them) to engage in non-consensual sex where the men (and children!) are presumably using their strength while out of their minds to achieve their ends. Or, say, the likelihood of a woman being Shunned because she isn’t putting out for the local Lord Holder (or even trying to stop herself from the local mob). There’s no way this can be the harshest condemnation for a man. I have yet to see any men who were Shunned for rape. Or for anything approaching it. There’s plenty of other Shunnings and exiles for murder and other kinds of assault, but I have yet to see any man get any consequences at all for rape.

So, no, that premise is laughable, even if the challenge itself isn’t. But! We have an adult in the room, who can presumably see and hear that Kindan is talking after having been rocked at least once by Vaxoram, and so he’s probably not in full command of his faculties in issuing this challenge and accepting to duel with swords. Also, these are children. Surely someone can convince them not to throw their lives away on this. M’tal can put a stop to this with a word, and then, maybe, we can get some resolution, right?

“Are you sure of this, Kindan?” M’tal asked intently.
“Yes,” Kindan said.
“And if you prove your claim?” M’tal asked. In a duel such as this, if Kindan prevailed, he had the right to exact whatever penalty he desired, given the severity of the claim.
[…Kindan decides that it’s a bad idea to exile Vaxoram from the Hall, because Vaxoram would not be accepted back to his former home in such disgrace, which is yet another reason why Pern is a terrible place…]
“He’ll serve me,” he said.
“Never!” Vaxoram roared.
“Heard and witnessed,” M’tal declared, overriding Vaxoram. He looked at the older apprentice. “And what is your penalty?”
Kindan met Vaxoram’s eyes. He could see clearly that the older apprentice intended to kill him. He was pretty sure that if Vaxoram succeeded, he’d be asked to leave the Harper Hall anyway–no one would tolerate a killer in their midst. Something else flickered in Vaxoram’s eyes, then he said, “He’s to be banished.” He gave Kindan a gloating look. “For lying.”
“Very well,” M’tal said. “I’ve heard and witnessed both claims.”

What. Are. You. DOING?!, M’tal? Even if we accept that a child of Kindan’s age has any right at all to accept or issue a challenge and a child of Vaxoram’s age has the right to issue or accept it, there should be a large-scale effort made to de-escalate the situation by everyone involved.

I realize that at this point in time, Hamilton is a twinkle in the eye of Lin-Manuel Miranda, but since we’re doing this, it’s probably worth charting to see how well this follows the Ten Duel Commandments. Here’s a refresher.

#1: The Challenge.
Demand satisfaction. If they apologize, no need for further action.

Having played his part in setting this lunacy into motion, M’tal dismisses Vaxoram to tell the Masterharper of the duel and sends Kindan and Nonala to the bath. There’s a violation of the privacy code set out for the baths when Nonala enters before Kindan is in the tub.

The bath room was laid out with four large baths in the middle and a row of showers along each wall. When Kindan and the others bathed, by unspoken agreement they turned away from each other as they undressed and got into their baths, respecting each other’s privacy. They never spoke until they were safely in their baths, usually covered by bubbles. When they showered, they followed the same rules, keeping their eyes on the wall in front of them and being respectful.

And again I am struck by the communal bathing procedures of dragonriders (and plenty of others) who seem to have no problem at all stripping down in mixed company and having a swim together. It would be nice, of course, if we ever got a confirmation that dragonriders didn’t have a whole lot of hangups around nudity (possibly because of mating flights making it really hard to keep modesty if you wanted to) and that everyone else considered them weird perverts for it. But instead, we have to infer that Holders and Crafters have a different set of taboos around naked bodies than the dragonriders do. And yet, we have these communal bath spaces, probably built on the assumption that only boys were going to be Harpers, and so there would be no need for any of them to have any privacy while they bathed and used highly-technologically-advanced items such as showers.

In any case, Nonala protests she could have handled Vaxoram, but admits that it probably would have come at a cost, like being able to sing afterward (which is Nonala’s talent, remember). The hot coals come up to heat up the water, and there will apparently be more hot water coming, but Kelsa arrives first and deliberately stares Kindan in the eye as she strips off her outer layer.

“Shards, Kindan, you’re a mess,” she declared as she peeled off her outer clothes, her eyes still locked on his.
“And, uh,” Kindan said in embarrassment, “you’re not in your bath.”
Kelsa glanced down and back up at him. “So?” she asked absently.
“Kelsa!” Nonala growled. “You’re embarassing him!”
“I am?” Kelsa asked in surprise. She looked back to Kindan. “Well, I suppose if you’re going to let Vaxoram kill you–”
“I’m not going to die,” Kindan declared. Kelsa smiled at his fierceness and rushed over to him, kneeled down beside him, and planted a swift kiss on his cheek before he could even flinch away.
“Of course you aren’t,” she agreed, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him again. Huskily, she repeated, “Of course you aren’t.”
Then, without another word, she sprang up, shucked off her undergarments, and settled down in the next bath over.
Nonala glanced back and forth between the two, her glance somewhat wistful.
Kelsa caught her look. She turned to Kindan. “Kindan?”
“Yes?” Kindan said, turning to look at Kelsa. He saw that tears spangled her eyes.
“Kindan, I don’t want you to die!” Nonala blurted suddenly.
“What Nonala meant to say, Kindan, is that she loves you,” Kelsa told him. She nodded slowly. “And so do I.”
Kindna didn’t know what to say. He liked Nonala, he knew that. In fact, he loved her like a sister. Kelsa was different…sometimes he found himself thinking of her in ways that made his throat go tight. And then he realized–“I love you, too,” he said, glancing at both of them. He smiled, even though it hurt his lips. “You’re the best friends anyone could have.”
With a splash, Nonala sprang from her bath, grabbing a towel from the nearby hook and quickly tying it around her. She rushed over to Kindan, wrapping two wet arms around his neck and planting a warm kiss on his cheek before hopping just as quickly back into her bath.

I mean, confessions of love when you think someone might die within the next few days probably makes sense, I suppose. And frankly, I am all for Kelsa, Nonala, and Kindan being in a V relationship, if for no other reason than to give us some variety around here, but there’s a certain amount of…something that makes me think this is going to be more like a visual novel where the bold, boisterous girl and the shy, reserved girl are going to compete with each other to see who can get Kindan to want them exclusively, rather than sharing him together. (At least, assuming Kindan doesn’t have a walkthrough so that he can keep the relationship values sufficiently equal as to get the secret ending where they both agree to share him.)

Murenny arrives to the entrance of the bathroom to talk with Kindan about what has just transpired. Master Dellator is posted to make sure nobody messes with Kindan. Dellator is described as “a short, wiry man who moved with a limp–except when he was dancing or fighting, and then he moved like liquid fire,” because if we’re going for stereotypes, then we may as well hit as many as we can before we’re done.

Murenny also has the authority to talk Kindan or Vaxoram out of what they have set in motion.

“Did you want to talk to me about relinquishing the duel, sir?”
“No,” Murenny replied. There was a moment’s silence before he continued. “Who will be your second?”
“I will,” Kelsa and Nonala said in chorus. They glanced at each other, then Nonala said “You’re taller, maybe you should go first.”

#2: If they don’t, grab a friend.
That’s your second, your lieutenant when there’s reckoning to be reckoned.

And Murenny fails to be the voice of reason, instead sending Kindan on to the Masterhealer, Lenner, who is the only person on record to disapprove of dueling, before calling him back into his office, where M’tal is also waiting. Murenny apologizes to Kindan, saying that Vaxoram had a beautiful voice when he arrived, but it broke wrong in puberty and Murenny has basically been hoping for the last several Turns that Vaxoram would discover some other talent that would keep him happy. He’d been meaning to send Vaxoram back for a while, but Kindan’s arrival stalled him into thinking that perhaps Vaxoram would learn the error of his ways once people started standing up to him. And that with the appearance of Kelsa and Nonala, releasing Vaxoram because of his behavior might be seen as a prejudicial action.

“I’m sorry, Murenny,” M’tal interrupted, “but I don’t follow that.”
“Consider for a moment,” Murenny replied, “what would be the effect on your wings if you had female riders.” As M’tal made ready to reply, Master Murenny added, “Women riders in your fighting wings.”
“Oh,” M’tal said after a moment. “That would be awkward, wouldn’t it?”
“But I do not believe that talent should be subservient to sex,” Murenny said. “Our survival depends upon our children and it always will, but it should not be at the expense of the lives of the women holders and crafters.”

Hang on, I’m not sure I’m following completely, but I smell bullshit. Because if I am following correctly, Murenny just said that throwing Vaxoram out because he was bullying the girls would be seen as favoring girls over boys as apprentices? And that is somehow a terrible thing that would cause problems on Pern?

The comparison to women in the fighting wings, though, makes me think that Murenny believes that throwing Vaxoram out over his behavior would be seen as prizing the prettiness and eventual sexuality of the girls over the talents of the boys, and that would go over like a lead balloon with the sexist assholes that Murenny depends on to feed him apprentices. So that he can keep his Hall alive, then, Murenny is allowing bullying to continue and possibly is losing apprentices to it that he would have otherwise kept by showing Vaxoram the door.

That seems to be the case as Murenny suggests that Kelsa and Nonala will make excellent master harpers.

Kindan tried for a moment to imagine Kelsa as a masterharper and found the image difficult to merge with the ever-moving, hyperkinetic, graceful, and gawky girl he called his friend. Although, Kindan remarked to himself, if she wanted it, nothing and no one could stop her.
“But there are too many hidebound holders and crafters,” M’tal objected. “They’ll never permit–”
‘Given the way holders and crafters are so loath to yield apprentices to the Harper Hall, the time might be sooner than you think,” Murenny replied. He turned to Kindan. “And women won’t be respected as harpers in hold and crafthall if they’re not respected in the Harper Hall.”

Which is why you throw Vaxoram out sooner, rather than later, and tell anyone who isn’t on board with the idea that women will be apprentices and they will be respected to not let the door hit them on the ass on the way out. At least, if you’re really serious about this, Murenny.

Kindan takes in the speech and redoubles his determination to fight the duel, so that all the people who are bullied for their talents will be able to continue at the Hall. Which is pretty, but not particularly effective, Kindan. Murenny points out that killing Vaxoram won’t achieve lasting change. And says that Vaxoram has demanded the earliest possible date, which suits Kindan just fine, but only gives him a sevenday to contemplate his existence before fighting the duel. So we might be skipping a Duel Commandment or two, here, since Vaxoram was told to report directly to Murenny from M’tal.

#3: Have your seconds meet face to face.
Negotiate a peace, or negotiate a time and place. (This is commonplace, ‘specially ‘tween recruits. Most disputes die and no one shoots.)
#4: If they don’t reach a peace, that’s alright.
Time to get some [swords] and a [Healer] on site. You pay him in advance, you treat him with civility. (You have him turn around so he has deniability.)

Logistics of where everyone is and where they will be posted so they can be kept apart are discussed Kelsa and Nonala are Verilan’s guards in the isolation room, so if Vaxoram (also in the infirmary) managed to get past the Masterhealer with an intent to hurt Verilan, there’s an ass-kicking waiting for him before he gets to Verilan. Kindan and the fire-lizard eggs that M’tal brought are going to be sent up to the Hold so as to keep Kindan away from Vaxoram. And then, when the time is right, M’tal will come to take Kindan to Mikal to learn how to fight. (Kindan requested to go to Mikal because he needs to learn how to fight someone bigger, stronger, and with a longer reach than himself.)

M’tal also wants Kindan to know he’s sorry.

“I feel partly to blame,” M’tal said. “If I’d been a bit quicker, I would have heard him myself.”
Kindan furrowed his brow in confusion.
“And then he would have fought me,” M’tal explained.
“But you’re a dragonrider!” Kindan exclaimed, appalled at the thought of Vaxoram striking the Weyrleader with a sword.
“Which would have given me the right of weapons,” M’tal said with a grin. He held up his hands in a fighter’s style. “I wouldn’t have killed him, but he would feel it for the rest of his Turns.”
Kindan grinned back at him, imagining the look of horror on Vaxoram’s face as he squared off against the older, stronger, taller, and fiercer dragonrider.

Is there nobody on this planet, save Lenner, with an ounce of sense in their heads?! Shouldn’t someone just call it off and send Vaxoram packing? There are enough witnesses, and Murenny has more than enough evidence to do so, and he can take the hit to his reputation and make sure that his Harpers squash any rumors that might start about favoring girls for anything other than their talents.

But no, this duel is going to go forward, because the masculinity is so toxic it is choking off the oxygen to the brains of anybody around. And extra shame on you, M’tal, for thinking it would have been a good idea to force Vaxoram to fight you, a trained adult, for what he said, and believing that might have done anything to adjust his attitude toward everyone else. Especially since it seems like grievous bodily harm was definitely on the table for what would happen to Vaxoram.

Believe it or not, that’s the end of Chapter 2. If the rest of the book is like this, we’re going to set some swearing records.

Deconstruction Roundup for March 15th, 2019

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is enjoying being around the convention people.)

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.

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorium Press

Fred Clark: Slacktivist

Froborr: Jen A. Blue

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 are pulling this in a panel while you listen to people talk about the good reasons to write resistance into novels. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragon Harper: Plus ça change…

Last time, we set up an obvious time warp plot and then went through the Hatching where Cristov Impressed his bronze. What might perhaps be the most important thing out of all of those chapters is that everybody has issues and they’re not getting resolved any time soon.

Dragon Harper, Chapter 2: Content Notes: Sexist Assholery, A Hostsile Learning Environment, Actively-Negligent Adults

They waited for their hatchlings
Lined up in the sand
They waited for the younglings
To leave hand in hand.

I’d like to say this is part of the same work from Chapter 1, but they’re very clearly not. And so we continue to get disconnected fragments, at least for the moment. It’s a nice change of pace that they’re topical, though.

The chapter starts at High Reaches Weyr, the morning after, and mostly serves to remind Kindan that M’tal wasn’t drunk, and was serious, when he said he’d send for Kindan when he was of the appropriate rank. And for Kindan to be a bit wistful about the possibility of being a Weyr Harper. Or possibly a dragonrider. Which are both much higher aims than he had when he started on his Harper journey. And for us to discover yet another of Kindan’s issues.

M’tal growled and rushed toward Kindan, grabbing him in a great hug. “Don’t think you’ll get away with that!” he said and held Kindan tightly. For a moment Kindan tensed, then relaxed, realizing in a burst of clarity that M’tal truly appreciated him. Kindan also realized how much he missed the rare hugs that his father, Danil, had given him. M’tal was taller and more lithe than his father but, still…

Oh, right, as if I needed reminding that we live on a world that is toxic in its masculinity for the most part. Because I’m pretty sure that Cristov would have similar feelings about hugs from his father and whether that was appropriately masculine. I’m annoyed, mostly, that in the hopes of creating themselves a pastoral paradise, they didn’t rather firmly insist and enshrine that gender roles of this sort were not allowed, but then again, given who the people were that went on this trip, I suppose it was inevitable that their own prejudices would be reflected and passed down over time.

In any case, M’tal reiterates his promise, D’vin drops Kindan off, and we’re at the Harper Hall. And we’re going to spend a significant time in these next few paragraphs because, well, as much as I’d like to toss off a one-liner and be done with it, “The Harper Hall is still a trash fire” doesn’t fully capture everything that’s happening.

Kindan hadn’t liked Vaxoram [the seniormost apprentice at the Hall] when they first met, and the feeling was mutual. Vaxoram had made it a project to torment Verilan, the youngest apprentice.
Verilan was extraordinarily talented at scribing and researching in the Records. Kindan knew it was only the boy’s young age that held him back from walking the tables and becoming a journeyman. Even the prickly Master Archivist, Resler, had a soft spot for Verilan, and Kindan suspected that Verilan felt the same affection, the two being kindred spirits.
That respect irked Vaxoram even more, as his own handwriting was a point of shame for the entire hall.

Okay, so we’ve set ourselves up with a fairly classic “jock bullies nerd” situation here, with extra emphasis on the jock not having one of the necessary skillsets for being a writer and archivist. Given how much Harpering is oral tradition and instruction through song, writing can (theoretically) be a specialized skill. Not all the monks were scribes, after all.

Unlike many situations where one person bullies another, though, Kindan is not having it.

When Kindan first found out about the bullying that Vaxoram had condoned or even initiated against Verilan, he took action. He was careful not to be caught, but soon those who were tormenting Verilan found themselves tormented–with extra chores and duties. Kindan had even managed to get Vaxoram caught and given a week’s extra duties.
Of course, while the bullies were never certain who was getting them back, trapping them in their traps and arranging for their pranks to be discovered, they suspected Kindan and unleashed their full wrath on him.
For the next three months, Kindan had felt every day that he should just leave the Harper Hall. But he hadn’t, because he was certain that if he did, Verilan would be the next to suffer.

And, I’m sure, despite the ample evidence presented, the masters have yet to see fit to expel Vaxoram or otherwise redirect him into some other thing. Or possibly even promote him up a rank just so they can send him to the farthest reaches of the planet and tell him that’s his circuit, and perhaps hope that there’s some maturity that comes with having to walk a lot, sing a lot, and listen to other people’s problems a lot.

Things changed for the worse with the arrival of Nonala, the second girl apprentice in twenty turns.
The first girl apprentice had been Kelsa, a talented songwriter who had arrived nearly a full Turn before and had quickly become Kindan’s second-best friend after Verilan. Kela was prickly, blunt, and gawky, but those traits were overshadowed by her honesty and kindness.
She was also shy, at least initially. So when she first arrived at the Harper Hall, she had been all too willing to accept the suggestion that she should sleep with the kitchen staff.
“After all,” she had said reasonably to Kindan when he’d questioned her, “it’s not like there are other girl harpers.”
“I don’t know,” Kindan said mulishly. “It seems to me that if you’re an apprentice, you should sleep in the apprentice dormitory.”
“Vaxoram wouldn’t like that, I’m sure,” Kelsa had replied, grimacing. “And I don’t need to upset him any more than I already have.”

And also, I’m annoyed that Menolly is being recycled in this way. And also that the Harper Hall still seems to believe that women are an oddity as apprentices in this earlier time. And furthermore that Kelsa is being put through unnecessary problems because nobody sees fit to do something about the toxic boy they’ve allowed to assume a position of authority for.

Mostly that Vaxoram’s an asshole, and that we are again going through a story beat sequence that’s basically “asshole bullies in the Harper Hall that make life miserable for the apprentices that are already there.” If this turns out like Piemur’s story, someone’s going to have to get almost-killed before anyone decides to do anything about this.

It turns out that Kelsa’s universally-praised talents in songwriting are matched by Vaxoram’s utter inability to do anything of the sort, so we continue to set the situation up in such a way that Vaxoram is bullying people who are more talented than him at certain Harper skills. I want to know what Vaxoram is actually good at, rather than just what he’s not.

If Kelsa were any less talented or more arrogant, Kindan might have agreed with the senior apprentice that a girl didn’t belong among harpers…but her songs were just too good.

Also, Kindan’s a sexist asshole who might very well believe in “bros before hos.” Like, this is a pretty classic example of tokenization of Kelsa, where she has to be exceptionally good at what she does just to be considered “good enouugh” to join the boys. It’s not like this is a problem in the past, either, and I’m sure that the reading audience can pull a dozen more examples out from their search engine results without having to think too hard about where it shows up in real life and in literature as well. But, since Kindan doesn’t outright hate Kelsa, they turn into friends against Vaxoram.

And when Nonala arrives, Kelsa gathers the apprentices and puts a plan into place where they section off two beds with dividers so that the two girls will have appropriate privacy. Vaxoram is unhappy with this, as are the older apprentices, who apparently don’t like having to change their lifestyle to accomodate girls. And thus the escalation begins.

Vaxoram, failing to convince the Masters to provide the girls with separate quarters, had tried to shame and scare them into demanding it on their own–or better, to ask to leave the Harper Hall.
It started with silly pranks, water left on the floor just outside the canvas partition. When Nonala tripped and banged her head in the middle of the night, Kindan moved his bunk close by and kept a wary eye out for further pranksters.
It soon escalated to outright harassment, with the older apprentices actively preventing both girls from attending classes. Kelsa bore up well under the strain–tough and wiry, she merely elbowed or pinched her way past the offenders. But Nonala was a milder sort, and the glares and jeers of the older boys were hard on her.

Right, so there’s a potentially fatal thing, there, averted because Nonala had the luck not to hit anything sharp on the way down and die from a prank. And yet, apparently even with the outright blocking of their way to the classes, the Masters do nothing about the bullying.

There’s a bit where Kindan holds Nonala’s hand at night as a gesture of solidarity, and then where Nonala ends up avoiding being tripped by someone and instead mashing his face into the dirt. Since Nonala’s got support, nothing happens from it, although Kindan recalls having defended himself against the same thing, and it was the bad luck of his assailant, deciding to try it right after the first dance lesson (and the person who teaches dance also teaches defense, so I’m guessing some form of akido or possibly capoeira is part of their defense). So Nonala ends up not getting bullied quite as much, because she’s demonstrated that she has enough allies that it’s not worth the effort to try and get her out.

Have I mentioned yet that the Harper Hall continues to be a trash fire yet?

After this lovely recounting of all the terrible things that have happened, Kindan dashes off to Murenny to deliver his report and is directed to get breakfast from the kitchen before he enters. (This annoys Kindan, because Kindan was so sure he was quiet on the approach, and yet Murenny knows he’s there all the same.) And then, after he’s required to eat and drink, Kindan is allowed to give his report. (We get a nice nugget of information that traditionally, apprentices are expected to be apprentices for three to four years before being invited to walk the table. If it’s always this terrible and bully-filled, I wouldn’t be surprised at an atrocious attrition rate of apprentices. And probably some bullshit excuse about a Harper needing to be tough enough to do the job.) Murenny nods, makes a remark about how he’ll expect B’ralar to join his Weyrmate soon, and that, even though he doesn’t mean it, sends Kindan into a bit of a funk about Kisk-Nuelsk and what it might have been like to have Impressed a dragon, and then some further Impostor Syndrome about his own Harper skills.

His days were filled with feeling overwhelmed by his classes and his various inadequacies; he had neither Kelsa’s [orig: Nonala’s] skill at crafting song, nor the fierce dedication to the dry, dusty Records that made Verilan’s eyes bright with excitement. Oh, he could thwart silly pranks from older apprentices and he gave as good as he got, but that was hardly a harperly calling, and beyond that, Kindan could think of no talent in which he had a gift.

Except perhaps his ability to play drums (not to make them) and the proficiency that he has with drum code, we find out, but Kindan’s not sure that qualifies for anything, and he’s also got an additional problem.

Vaxoram took great pains to taunt Kindan on his failures. Kindan sometimes wondered if Vaxoram didn’t gloat over the lackings of others to distract himself from his own weaknesses, but the older apprentice’s relentless ways never gave much time to consider the ramifications.

Vaxoram is, apparently, good at two things. One:

Two: the narrative says he’s good at fencing, where “good” means being bigger, stronger, and having a better reach than anyone else. The instructor criticizes Vaxoram for his lack of subtlety and suggests he could learn a thing or two from Kindan. Which aggravates Vaxoram sufficiently to switch his sword from one hand to the other mid-lunge and then whack Kindan on the head from the side he wasn’t expecting. The instructor them proceeds to point out that using your off-hand is no guarantee of anything, if your off-hand is someone else’s main hand, and uses his own left hand to thrash Vexoram thoroughly.

The narrative says it’s Kindan’s determination to be a Harper that’s keeping him at the hall, otherwise he would have left a long time ago because of Vaxoram.

We’re going to stop here, because while there’s not much left in the chapter, there’s a big action yet to come, and it’s going to end up taking a significant amount of time, words, and probable swearing, to cover.

Deconstruction Roundup for March 8th, 2019

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is trying to avoid putting their new knowledge to work in new ways of self-flagellation.)

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.

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorium Press

Fred Clark: Slacktivist

Froborr: Jen A. Blue

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 are looking with suspicion at last week’s entry having three of exactly the same error and wondering what happened. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragon Harper: Only One Kind of Tale

Last time, Fire Hold was established as the refuge of the Shunned, mining safe(r) firestone for the dragons in exchange for being able to participate in society again. I have to wonder whether this tradition has continued all the way to the Ninth Pass, or whether the firestone mines were eventually re-absorbed into the Miner’s Guild and are now worked by the appropriate professionals.

Halla and Pellar fell in love, despite the narrative giving us no reason to believe it. Cristov became C’tov, by Impressing a bronze dragon and went on to that life, instead of being the supervising miner for Fire Hold.

Dragon Harper, Prologue and Chapter 1: Content Notes:

But rather than sit and contemplate the kind of horror that comes from realizing the most valuable resource on the planet is mined, essentially, by prison labor that’s been given life sentences that they may not even deserve and that are still likely going to die prematurely from all the exertion of mining, we’ve decided that we’ve spent more than enough time with the common folk. We don’t care about that any more, because now we’re off to follow Kindan again, this time as a Harper Hall apprentice. Given what happened the last time we were at the Hall, I’m opening the betting pool now as to which chapter someone gets deadly-pranked or comes within an inch of their life at someone else’s hands.

The Prologue recycles a verse from a previous book,

Dragon’s heart,
Dragon’s fire,
Rider true,
Fly higher.

and is essentially J’lantir being pissed that his wing has disappeared for a sevenday and are coming back exhuasted, but also strangely prescient about what J’lantir’s mood will be about their return, claiming that it was J’lantir himself who gave that advice. It’s all the signs that the wing has gone back in time for something and has now had to live out the time they were in the past twice, which we all know is incredibly exhausting.

So, with the prologue dispensed, on we go to Chapter 1.

White robe, high hopes
Hatching ground, tight throats
Sands heat, eggs move
Shells crack, hearts prove.

(AL 495.8, High Reaches Weyr)

In the grand tradition of linked Pern books, Chapter 1 is going to be the Hatching where Cristov officially becomes C’tov, and it follows both Cristov and Kindan as they get themselves changed into the candidate’s robes. Cristov is still very certain that it should have been Pellar in his place, and we have some hindsight that only being in the third book of a trilogy can produce.

Turns back, he [Cristov] and Kindan has been enemies. Back then, Cristov had despised watch-whers, just as he’d been taught by his father. Kindan’s father had been a wherhandler, a person bonded to the ugly night-loving creatures who were only distant cousins to the great dragons that protected Pern. Infected by his father’s attitudes, Cristov had despised Kindan, and they’d fought many times as youngsters. In the end, however, Cristov had realized that it was Kindan who had been right and his father who had been wrong–and Cristov had found himself, at an early age, making a grown man’s choice of doing what was right instead of what was expected. He’d even come to regard the ugly watch-whers with respect bordering on awe. And now he greeted Kindan with a huge grin.

That’s not what I remember. I remember Cristov having a bit of a crush on Pellar, and being spurred to action to help Kindan by setting the mutilated corpse of Chitter in Master Zist’s abode, and it turning out that Cristov had to understand the use of the watch-wher (and also having Tarik get Shunned to the point of being nameless) before he could grow into the man that he is now. Because if he respected them, I’m not sure he’d call the whers ugly.

Also, even if Tarik was an unperson when he died, unless Cristov is fully, 150% on board with that rejection and loss of name, I think Cristov would refer to his father by name in his own head. And if he is on board with that rejection, then I would have expected him to have more issues than he did with everyone that kept dying around him and his own injuries. But no therapists, so he’s Just That Tough.

As everyone gets changed into their whites, Sonia (who is also standing as a candidate) realizes they’re short bodies for eggs, right before a last-minute gift of people from Benden arrives and she switches over to making sure everyone is arranged.

And then we are more forcefully reminded that Cristov also has a lot of issues to work through.

“I shouldn’t be here,” Cristov said. “I’m a miner.” Kindan shook his head and told him feelingly, “More than anyone you should be here, Cristov. You earned the right and you were Searched.”
Cristov started to explain that D’vin had come for Pellar, not him, but Kindan shushed him.

So Cristov is still very attached to the identity that his father beat into him, but not to the person that did it. And he has a massive dose of Impostor Syndrome going on here.

We can add on to that the usual problems that happen at a Hatching that are taken for granted:

Some of the Benden lads were too frightened and didn’t move out of the way of a creeling green. One youth was brutally trampled and tossed aside by the green’s awkward stumbling to lie in a bloody heap nearly a dragonlength away.

Because the mutilation of children is an acceptable cost for dragons to find their partners. It’s not like, say, they could build a fence and let the candidates and dragons look at each other until everyone had a match that was going to get one, and then the fence could be lowered and the feeding begin. Less hurt for everyone.

As it turns out, Kindan also has some issues to work through, as he watches Cristov Impress a bronze.

The grin on his [Kindan’s] face slipped as his mind was flooded with memories of Kisk, the green watch-wher he had once shared a bond with. He swallowed hard and squared his shoulders. I gave her up, he reminded himself, wondering if that perhaps rendered him undesirable to the hatchlings.
Briefly Kindan [orig. Cristov] recalled Nuella’s smile as he [orig. Kindan] encouraged her to ride the watch-wher between to the cave-in that had trapped her father, brother, and eight other miners. Only blind Nuella could have visualized the image needed to guide the heat-seeing watch-wher safely. So giving Kisk to her had been a good decision, everyone had agreed. And it meant that he [orig. Kindan] wasn’t trapped forever in the mines with a watch-wher. He was free to become a harper, maybe even a dragonrider…but not this time. He shook himself out of the reverie.

Yeah, the original forgot who was having the flashback while Cristov was making his new friend for life.

Yeah, everyone might think of it as a good decision, and it might have been exactly that, but it still hurts giving up something you loved and that you thought was going to be your friend for a good long time. Or something that was tying you down to a fate that you didn’t necessarily want, but felt obligated to see through to the end of that animal’s life because the animal, of course, doesn’t have the capacity to take care of itself (and the person who entangled you in this has no intention of disentangling because they put themselves in the position to be helpless and are using that specifically to stop you from moving on.)

I feel ya there, Kindan, is what I’m saying.

The thought-to-be-a-queen egg is a queen egg, Sonia Impresses her, and then, once the clutch is safely in the hands of the new generation, both the Weyrwoman and her dragon pass on in death. Which means B’ralar now has to get to know and work with a new Weyrwoman, and he and his dragons have to deal with grief and loss in equal measure of how much Sonia will have to adjust to the new realities of her position. Kindan, for his part, almost immediately puts the disappointment of not getting a dragon out of his mind and gets back to the business of being a Harper on site for such an event, and the next scene, told from M’tal’s narration, has him look on with approval as Kindan has wine for B’ralar and lots of upbeat songs and tunes for the occasion. He also approves of Kindan having requested Benden wine for the tables and the drinkings, whether in consolation or joy, and is a bit surprised to hear Kindan singing “a slightly off-color lullaby” late on in the night, before telling him point-blank that when Kindan reaches Journeyman, M’tal will ask for him to be the Weyr Harper for Benden, assuming that, at least in M’tal’s opinion, Kindan doesn’t Impress a dragon first. And that’s Chapter 1.

Am I a terrible person if I want to see what the off-color lullaby’s lyrics are printed as the interstitial poetry in between chapters? I don’t think so, and I think they would be excellent at providing us some much-needed worldbuilding depth by telling us what Pern (or at least the dragonriders) consider to be slightly outside the bounds of polite. Is it a lullaby that turns out to be singing to a penis’s erection, hoping it will droop and soften so that the singer can go to sleep instead of getting ravished again? Is it the kind of song that, if you actually listen to the lyrics, you realize it’s not about putting a child to sleep at all, but about a wild night on the town? What’s in that song, I want to know, and I also am a bit surprised that a song such as that is officially allowed to exist and be performed by representatives of the Harper Hall at all. Maybe it’s the company and the wine, so Kindan feels safe enough that nobody will remember what was sung, just that songs happened.

In any case, that should be enough tying things together at this point. As usual, I’m not actually sure what purpose this serves in terms of moving the narrative forward, but it introduced the players on a stage that had action to it, rather than having them all sit around a table. So we’ll go to the Harper Hall next chapter and follow Kindan and not remember that we had anything to do with this until it becomes startlingly important.

In-Between: The Genre Classifications of The Dragonriders of Pern

You can thank Mari Ness’s reread of the series at Tor for this post.

One of the more debatable points about this series is whether to call it part of the family of genre fantasy or of genre science fiction. Indeed, the first post in the series is all about the difficulty of finding a home genre for Pern as it speeds through the first part of the original book.

This would normally be an issue of where to stock the books in a bookstore or a library, and limited to the professionals in those two occupations. Not necessarily of interest to the reader, except at a way of pointing out how we got to a world where dragons and artificial intelligences coexisted without too many issues, and maybe pointing out some differences between the original draft that got sold and the latter published revisions.

Except, like a chump, I read the comments attached to the post, and it confirmed for me that our genre prejudices are alive and well in 02019.

For a certain subgroup of science fiction fans (generally, stereotypically, although not exclusively, cis men), science fiction as a genre is about the science that you can put on display and about logical, clearly laid-out inferences from there to produce the society that the narrative is looking around in. There can be xenospecies, there can be artificial life forms, but it all has to come back to the science on display. If there is something that smacks of the supernatural or that violates causality or known science, it must be shown to be Clarke’s Third Law (“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”) at work and the proper explanation given in due course. It can turn out to be wrong, of course, as our science progresses, but at the time of writing or publication, there should be no reason to believe that the science couldn’t work. This is usually referred to as “hard” science fiction, where the laws of the universe are still in force and bending them for plot purposes needs explaining. If you can’t understand those things, then this book and this genre is not for you.

Anything that falls outside that fairly narrow definition, or that has a certain amount of pulpiness, or is written by someone who sounds like they might be a woman, or, sometimes most crucially, enjoys any amount of popularity among the plebians (witness Star Trek and Star Wars and how much ridicule gets directed at them about their science) tends to get lumped into “fantasy” as a way of keeping the genre pure. The presence of the dragons, even though they have a (backported) origin of genetic engineering, is very clearly too much contamination for science fiction, and then you add on the “vaguely feudal social system” and the presence of bladed weapons, and very clearly there’s no way this story or the series could be anything other than fantasy, no matter how many tropes of science fiction arrive later, or how much science fiction is involved in telling the story of how the colonists got here in the first place. Once a work has strayed outside the boundaries, there’s no way it can come back in.

There are a fair number of people in the comments taking that perspective, and sometimes a person shows or picks at someone else in such a way that makes it clear which of the criteria they think is/are the disqualifying ones. There’s a comment or two in there that says the attitude taken by the books is the important thing, and the outer trappings are there to tell the story. If progress and exploration and scientific inquiry are the core philosophical belief, then it’s science fiction.

(Pern scores several own goals on this idea with the clear obsession with tradition the society has, its gender role division and harsh treatment of people who step outside those roles, and so forth, but you can still make that argument.)

More broadly, though, there’s a value judgment being applied in even asking the question in the first place. It takes a few comments before someone explicitly calls it out, but more often than not, people are saying that Pern is or isn’t science fiction and/or fantasy because they ascribe “good” fiction to one of those genres and “bad” fiction to the other. There’s a good chance that for some of them, the reasons one is good or bad are much closer to the “‘reasons” why romance, as a genre, is good or bad, or why it’s a good idea for women to use initialed and men-sounding names when they write, or why, despite all the proof in the world, “everyone knows” that boys and men won’t watch shows or movies with women and girls as competent protagonists.

And yet, there’s still an even-broader question to be asked than “is this part of genre x or genre y?”

Do we care what genre this is?

Which sounds suspiciously close to saying that representation doesn’t matter, I realize. The representation does matter, especially in a genre set that has tried to erase the women writing in it. Both parts of the first book were bought by a magazine that supposedly would have laughed off anything with the whiff of fantasy attached to it. The first part of the first novel won a Hugo, and the second part of the novel won a Nebula, we might note, so it’s not like she could be erased that easily. And she was the first woman to receive either of those accolades, so the theme of exceptional women breaking into male-dominated fields is a thing that applies here, for as much as the hypercompetent Smurfette annoys me greatly as a literary trope. We can look at the historical record of where it was published and what awards it won and confidently declare it science fiction, because if it weren’t, none of these things would have happened.

So in the sense of not erasing history, of acknowledging the failures and faults of the society around the author and her books, and seeing how the errors of the past propagate across generations, sometimes in mutated forms, yes, we care. For a whole host of reasons that exist outside the story itself, we care where it gets classified, because wherever it goes, this series can bring legitimacy with it.

But for the story itself? The world created by the words, the action that happens, everything that we would say is Watsonian, even if we look in at it with a Doylist lens here and there? I’d argue that we really only care about what genre we stash it in based on what tropes it evokes and how it interacts with those tropes.

One of the comments says that the author intended to create a science fiction story that used the tropes of the fantasy genre, arguing that, in a sense, Pern itself is a manifestation of Clarke’s Third Law. I’ve mostly argued that many of the recognizable science fiction components were grafted on to a fantasy story in the service of trying to build a shared universe across series and then backported in later printings of earlier books to make it look like it was always there. Given that I expected to meet the AI much sooner than we actually did, I’d say the misdirection worked pretty well.

Does that make Pern a science fiction series? Not necessarily, I’d argue, given how much of the narrative is mostly void of recognizable science fiction tropes. Unless you count the genetically-engineered dragons. I don’t need technofetishism to call something science fiction, but excepting at the first of the First and the last of the Ninth, science and technology in Pern is more like trying to recover fragments of the time before. They lack the scientific method, for the most part, and instead rely on the traditional knowledge passed down from before. (It’s different than, say, A Canticle for Liebowitz, although I haven’t read that one in long enough that I couldn’t compare the details.) And while certain parts of Pern enjoy machines and solar power and other such things, they’re in the background, and we never really hear about what happens when they break, or who is studying them to see if any knowledge can be gleaned. Save Fandarel, perhaps, and he’s seen as a strange person compared to everyone else. There’s scientific knowledge held as Craft secrets and transmitted as such, and written records, and literacy in words and song, and none of it reads as particularly scientific because there’s almost no focus on the people who are experimenting with that knowledge. (Until the AI, anyway, and even then, it’s more like received knowledge from On High.)

With a many objections as I have to Pern being science fiction because it buries those tropes, does that make Pern a fantasy series? It certainly foregrounds fantasy tropes more with dragons (and the knights and ladies that ride them) and telepathy and a vaguely feudal government system run by Lords with vassals. But the dragons (and the dolphins, and the large cats) are genetically engineered, however improbably. And a volcanic eruption buried the artificially-intelligent supercomputer, which was eventually resurrected and used to permanently defeat the otherworldly menace that had plagued them. And the technology that heats some Holds is ancient geothermal, and others is by coal furnace, and still others by wood fires. There aren’t any elves, dwarves, or other humanoid xenos, though, and there’s no magic of any sort. No otherworldly divines, demons, or elemental forces to harness in arcane or priestly ways. (Officially.) There are espers, as communication between humans and the dragon family is done by telepathy, and the dragons have access to hyperspace that they can use at the direction of someone who can provide a sufficiently detailed image in their mind. Which, as plenty of dragonriders discover, has the knock-on effect of being able to transport someone in time as well as space. The dragons also have a telekinetic field, although the limits of that field have never been tested and seem to hinge mostly on whether or not the dragon believes it can lift the object in question. There have been only a few field tests of dragons attempting telekinesis on entities or objects they are not touching.

So I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me. [Truly, you have a dazzling intellect.]

We don’t have to make a definitive decision about what Pern is. We can live with the fact that it does both science fiction and fantasy, tries for both, and can be successfully interrogated without having to make a decision about it. After all, it doesn’t matter whether it’s fantasy or science fiction if the story continues to treat women terribly and hasn’t really thought about the setup of governance past the point of, say, how far the Society for Creative Anachronism does. So when we encounter fantasy tropes or science fiction tropes, we can evaluate the implementation of those tropes, how well they integrate into the narrative, whether they are consistent with other works in the series, and a host of other criteria that ultimately don’t require us to make a decision about the genre of the book to go “What. The. Fuck.” at it.

We don’t have to care, and frankly, if we did, this wouldn’t be nearly as frustrating a read, because we could safely ignore the things that didn’t fit the side we had taken or dismiss them as “oh, that other genre is trying to invade again.” (And there are a fair number of comments on the train of “oh, who cares” and “it can be both, really.”)

It’ll be interesting to see what the other reread chooses to focus on and what it doesn’t. And how fast it goes through everything. At my current pace, with what’s currently out there, the project itself will take a couple years yet, which will mean I will have spent the better part of a decade with this series. And that’s assuming that the newest author to take up the mantle only does the one and doesn’t go any further.

Maybe when the next post comes through, I’ll remember not to read the comments. (Or I will, to see how the community following the re-read is looking at the series. It’ll be…fascinating to see differing opinions on the matter.)

Deconstruction Roundup for March 1st, 2019

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is, at best, still trying to figure out what they want.)

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.

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorium Press

Fred Clark: Slacktivist

Froborr: Jen A. Blue

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 are so far behind on all the media things you want to watch that it would take days just to get unburied. Or for any other reason, really.