Monthly Archives: April 2019

Deconstruction Roundup for April 26th, 2019

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who had a big string of good interactions right when needed.)

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 L mulling over what kind of person you are long after the point where everyone assumed you would have it figured out. Or for any other reason, really.

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In-Between: How Many Gay Men Are There On Pern, Anyway?

Content Notes: Sexual assault, planning sexual assault, and anti-queer tropes and ideas

I had this post planned out for a couple weeks from now, because there’s a line in Chapter 7 that seems like it’s a throwaway, but has significant impacts on everything that we’ve been speculating up to this point about the various and sundry ways that dragons and their riders get busy. And then Mari Ness’s post this week is specifically calling to our attention the presence of queer people on Pern as it continues to thunder along at a breakneck pace, and I had hoped she would wait one more cycle so we could synchronicitously line up without any actual collaboration or knowledge on each of our parts. Alas, as with most things, I end up adjacent to perfect timing (unless it’s comedic timing and I’m directly involved).

Here’s the segment, involving the blue dragonrider J’trel, and paternity rumors.

Rumors went on, wildly, to assert that J’trel had had a romantic liason with Jalenna resulting in Jassi. Kindan tended to discount such rumors as everyone knew that blue riders preferred to partner with green riders, and that both riders were usually male.

That’s an interesting way of phrasing it, because it doesn’t say “blue and green riders are gay. Super gay. Like, Kinsey 6 gay.” Instead, it says “blue riders like green riders, and since there aren’t all that many women green riders, that means a lot of blue rider men and green rider men get together.” Kindan and the narrative are taking this statement to mean “J’trel couldn’t possibly have had an affair with a woman that resulted in a child, because he’s gay,” but it’s entirely possible J’trel is bi. Or, possibly, that J’trel is straight and he spends a lot of time away from people because his dragon has urges. Or even that J’trel is gay, but dragon sex-rays mean that you couple with the first person closest to you that seems compatible. There’s a lot of wiggle room there for what exactly J’trel’s orientation and sexual practice actually is. (And also, I see this as a convenient way of denying allegations of affairs. “I’m a blue rider,” they say, “so I can’t possibly have slept my way through this Hold and its women.”)

I mention this partially because people who read Pern and then research extra-textual statements by the author run into a very infamous statement about dragon colors being indicative of sexual orientation, no exceptions. This segment is, if not a walking-back of that statement, at least allowing for a less Calvinist interpretation of color and orientation. It doesn’t actually move the needle all that much in text, though. Bronzes are the only color guaranteed the possibility of PIV sex with another rider when their dragon is in flight, and that seems to be only for gold flights (unless we’re supposed to believe in a vast amount of curiously never heard green (or other color) riders who are women.) Every other color has the expectation that they will be men having sex with men when their color goes chasing a green (or is the green getting chased). And Pern doesn’t shy away from portraying this as normal for the dragonriders. There’s no “stay away from the blues unless you like being pounded in the butt” or any indication at all that, to other dragonriders, these couplings are seen as immoral or otherwise problematic.

The original author initially intended for Pern to be without war or religion, if we go into the extratextual material. If most of the issues and hangups about gay sex are rooted in specific dominant religious beliefs of the various centuries in Terra and the interpretations of sacred texts that give rise to those beliefs, then there’s no reason for Pern to have any issues at all about gay sex, because there’s no religious reason for them to do so. Textually, even if you buy my argument that there is religion on Pern, and it’s the cult of the dragonriders, then there’s still no reason for Pern to have any issue with what the dragonriders do for sex, because they’re holy figures. I would expect a certain amount of “we’re fine with gay sex, after all, the dragonriders do it” to be the prevailing attitude on Pern. Or even that certain kinds of gay sex might be okay, so long as there’s enough straight sex to result in pregnancy, heirs, and the continuation of the bloodline. There’s no textual reason that I can find to believe anyone on Pern gives a damn about gay sex.

And yet, I can’t help but have the feeling like we’re not supposed to think about the prevalence of gay sex in the Weyrs at all. We spend far more time, proportionately speaking, on het Weyrleader couplings rather than on what must be the vast majority of pairings (and moreings) in the Weyrs. Mari’s post references the idea of non-Weyr women being kidnapped and forced into, at “best”, rape, at worst sexual slavery. If that were happening all the time, there would be angry mobs at the Weyrs for at least as long as it took to get frightened away by the dragons again. Those don’t happen, and we don’t see Lords Holder plotting angry revenge against their Weyrs for stealing their women for their sexual urges.

There are plot reasons for focusing on the het relationships between Weyrleaders, but even when we get to Benden’s son, he’s chasing one of the few women green riders with his bronze, rather than any of the other green riders. One of the few on-screen gay couples were there, plot-wise, to have one of them get mauled by very large predatory cats and then have an embarrassing story spun and then immortalized in art about they got away and beat the cats. Another, as Mari’s past reminded us, are plot devices for the Brown Rider Rapist to get stabbed and for the narrative to disapprove of the couple being out with their dragons so close to sexytimes. But we don’t see the Weyrmates of most of the riders, even the named ones.

And then we get outside the Weyrs, and run face-first into “there are no gay people in the Holds or the Crafts.” At least, that’s the strong implication, given how much the Lords and Ladies Holders are always married, their daughters will be married off, their sons will inherit, and they don’t have any choice in the matter. Even with the extensive fostering system, we haven’t heard anyone talk with each other about wondering if someone is more interested in another son than in the daughter he’s being shopped for. Or about girls having dalliances with other girls before (or after) getting married. The Crafts seem to follow this idea, given the chewing-out Murenny will give Kindan and Koriana themselves for behavior that is far less explicit than actual sex, and the ways that everybody was trying to dissuade Kindan from giving his crush any sort of attention. And that Cristov mentioned miners getting married early.

Even though I’ve been trying very hard to foreground everything I can that might suggest interests outside heteronormative pairing in settings outside Weyrs, there’s nothing that comes of it. No confirmations, not even something that suggests bisexuality is a thing that happens. There’s a missing segment of population on Pern, and it seems like they went the same way that the Tinkers and Travelers went. Or we’re supposed to believe every gay boy gets Searched. If that were true, I’d want it to be seen as some sort of rescue mission out of the oppressive Hold and Craft culture, because that is what it would have to be. And that story deserves to be told, if that was what was intended. (It wasn’t.)

But if it turns out that the Holds and Crafts are fearfully repressive about sexual orientation and who is allowed to have sex with whom (which is not a stretch at all, given that they essentially run on a system that requires meticulous records of parentage), and it’s no secret at all that the Weyrs are full of gay men having sex with each other, then how do you end up with the clearly cordial relationships that happen between Weyrs, Holds, and Crafts? And the cult of the dragonrider itself? Because a kid who gets Searched essentially ends up as “goodbye to the life you’ve known, now you will participate in gay orgies the rest of your life, in contravention to everything we’ve taught you about what appropriate sex is.” Yet they somehow make that transition without a problem. For those that Impress, I suppose you can handwave it as “dragons, yo.” But what about all the ones that don’t? And yet there’s no sniping or veiled remarks or any other anything that suggests the Lords, Ladies, and Craftmasters consider dragonriders to be perverts of the highest order because of how much sex they have and with whom. Not even in their own heads. (Mari talks about “sniveling boy-lover” leveled as an insult, but that seemed to be the only instance where it got foregrounded, and the person throwing it was coded villainous by the narrative, so there’s a question about whether we’re supposed to see it as insulting.)

And, furthermore, we know that anyone within a certain radius of a dragonkin in active mating flight has to deal with uncontrollable sexual urges, even if it’s not their dragon. Like, if I were a Weyrleader and some Holder or Crafter pissed me off, I’m sending every green who goes on a mating romp over their airspace with the point of making them stop everything and start screwing at the most inopportune times. I might even delight somewhat in making their adolescent children do the same thing to ruin their marriage value, or trying to see if I can time it so the Lord and Lady Holder end up screwing everyone but each other or their family. I might even instruct my Weyrfolk to specifically target the family, cousins, fosterlings, and so forth for those “kidnappings” with the explicit intention of ruining the marriage value and the reputation of purity of that Hold (or Craft) so that they have to make extra effort to find suitable matches. We hear once or twice that dragonriders try not to be over populated spaces because of this effect, which is awfully nice of them, but clearly someone gets affected every time, whether on land or at sea. Yet we never hear anyone giving an excuse for their behavior as “got dragon-drugged, they flew over while I was out,” or gets reprimanded that is not polite to talk about getting roofied by a dragon or what you did while under the influence, or someone planning very specifically to try and be near someone they want to have sex with when they think a dragon is going to go by in a mating fight, so they can honestly say they were out of control of their own body or mind. Either as a way of sanctioned rape or as a way of expressing their own sexual behavior and being able to blame it on the dragons.

We don’t see any of this. The closest we get to a realistic portrayal of how a community might react to the presence of dragonkin is at Aleesa’s wherhold (although there’s still serious squick at the idea of deliberately getting the underage involved in this as well), and Aleesa is explicitly called insane by two separate characters, so we’re not supposed to see her as a good example for the rest of Pern to follow. But even there, the focus is extremely narrowly on Pellar and the women around him. There’s no mention of grouping by orientation, just by age. There have to be other gay men, or bi men, or pan men, that exist outside of the Weyrs. Where are they? And why don’t they appear when the dragons do a flyover, exceedingly grateful for the ability to be themselves without judgment or social stigma?

And that’s without talking about lesbians, bi women, pan women, and so forth, who don’t have the handwave of “well, they’re all in the Weyr.” Isn’t it interesting how every Weyrwoman chosen is straight (regardless of whether she actually wants to sleep with the Weyrleader outside of mating flights)? If there were women in the bronze rider ranks, would a Weyrleader end up being a woman at some point? How would that work out? And where are all the queer women, inside and outside of the Weyr?

We can’t really chalk this up to “the author was ignorant of them, so they’re not there”, because they are present in stories and plots and Kindan’s thought process right here. And they have been in existence since the first novel. Queer people exist on Pern! And they have explicitly existed since the second published novel! And yet, they are systematically invisibled unless it’s very specifically plot-related.

What the fuck is wrong with this place?.

Dragon Harper: Complicating Circumstances

Last time, Kindan got hit with the puberty stick hard, which made him a lot clumsier than usual and aggravated at the continual consequences of that clumsiness. Despite all of this, at no point did Vaxoram provide something sympathetic or inspiring to Kindan, despite the fact that Vaxoram has gone through what Kindan is going through and therefore has the right amount of maturity and recency to be a convincing shoulder for Kindan to lean on.

Additionally, Kindan got tasked with looking for mentions in the Records for an outbreak of flu that was particularly virulent and deadly. This seems to be a regular occurrence on Pern, and always gets narrative mileage. It’s the second-most common cause of mass fatalities, it seems.

Dragon Harper, Chapter 6: Content Notes:

Records to keep, Records to learn
Knowledge gained from Turn to Turn
Harper keep the truth alive
Thus will all on Pern survive.

Except that hasn’t really happened, and we have the same problem that the monks in the scriptorium have had since they started copying – there has to be enough people to do the copying, and then the adding of knowledge means there’s even more to copy from book to book to book. And they’re seven Passes away from the rediscovery and rebuilding of a printing press with movable type, which will help immensely with copying knowledge that’s still preserved, but also will make it even easier to generate more written records of everything.

To put it mildly, the amount of information produced by a society in a single day is always more that that society could copy and preserve in that day. Which is why you have archivists and librarians, whose job it is to preserve and catalogue the information so that it can be found again relatively easily and to provide assistance to researchers who want to use those stores of knowledge to find what they are looking for. It’s not perfect by any means, but that also means that at least some of the information being generated is not something that needs to continue existing into the future. Is it the Harper Hall Master Archivist that’s making the decisions about what gets priority for the copyists? Are Harpers in each Hold, Weyr, and Crafthall copying and making Records as well? I really want to know more about the information generation and preservation practices of Pern, now. If I actually learned it, there’s a high probability that I would swear about it and wonder why the authors didn’t consult with someone who knows the history of archives or someone who works in the profession now. So it might be best that I don’t know the how of it, but the results sound suspiciously like Pern loses a significant part of its recorded knowledge every year because it doesn’t have enough people and supplies to be able to copy everything out new before the source material degrades too far to be legible. And that there’s not a system in place to prioritze what knowledge has to go through and what can be lost or shorthanded. (And, for that matter, I wonder if anyone has developed shorthand as a way of trying to speed up the process of copying knowledge.)

Right. Plot. Which essentially picks up with Kindan, Conor, and Vaxoram all in a Records room, and Kindan is basically the only one with enough energy to try doing the work, and he’s fading fast, because he’s only able to do the research on this task after his full day of work and classes as a Harper apprentice. Kindan gamely tries to get both Conar and Vaxoram to go, because they’re not tasked with the research, but neither of them wants to leave. Even though the light level is not nearly bright enough for them to get any actual work done. Masterhealer Lenner, when he finds the three, says as much and throws them all out to get some sleep so that they don’t miss something by being too tired to notice.

There’s also a vibe going on between Conar and Vaxoram that Kindan’s picked up on.

In the sevenday since his arrival at the Harper Hall, Conar had proven to be shy and reserved around everyone–except Kindan. Kindan had hopes that Conar would soon thaw around Verilan, too, but Conar’s relationship with Kelsa and Nonala was marred by their repeated insistences that “He’s so cute!”
However, strangely enough, it was probably Vaxoram for whom Conar had the greatest affection. Neither spoke of it, and Kindan didn’t understand it; he just sensed that the two felt more comfortable with each other than either did with anyone else.
That was why Conar was here tonight: more to keep Vaxoram company than Kindan.

And again I’m having that feeling like the authors want a queer reading of this relationship, or at least the possibility of a queer relationship. Except they don’t really need to queerbait here, given that there have been canonically gay relationships in the series without it being dragon-induced temporary gayness. And for as much as I thought Cristov might have had a thing for Pellar, that never really resolved satisfactorily. Pellar has Halla, sure, but we have no idea as to whether Cristov wanted Pellar.

So now we have Conar and Vaxoram as a possibility, and perhaps the possibility that Vaxoram might have been acting as fully bullying and aggressively as he was because he was trying to hide his orientation. Perhaps the magic in Vaxoram is that by losing the duel and ending up as Kindan’s servant, he doesn’t have to be as aggressively toxically masculine to keep up appearances. He did the thing that men are supposed to do when challenged, he lost, and he may have realized fairly soon after losing that it gave him cover so he doesn’t have to be that way any more. He could, in essence, blame Kindan for any changes without losing face or having his masculinity challenged. This is an interesting lens to view things through, and we should probably keep it in our back pockets, because I doubt we’re going to get anything explicit in the text. Which is a shame, really, because fantasy and science fiction are supposed to be the kind of places where you can push boundaries, make suppositions about what things might be like, and otherwise make commentary on the world as it exists while hiding behind elves, dwarves, warp drives, and dragons. It’s a missed opportunity, and being courageous enough to go with the idea that there might be gay / bi characters outside of the Weyrs and outside of being whammied by a dragon/wher/fire-lizard ray would have raised the estimation of Pern significantly in many audiences, even if in its core fandom, it might have been dismissed and trashed in the way that works in our times get trashed and dismissed for having representation and plotlines that include queer people. After all, at the time of this book’s publication, we hadn’t had the Puppies, or Gamergate, #metoo, or the resurgence in pick-up artistry and other toxic forms of masculinity coming out into the open and being given space and fertilizer to grow even larger. (Or, for that matter, the third season of Glee, where the football-playing jock that torments the openly-gay glee club member is a closeted gay man himself.)

Plot-wise, we jump ahead to the morning run and exercises, which Kindan is nearly late for because he was sleeping off his late night. There’s still more of this “anything you can do, I can do better” attitude in the “outcasts” group.

As they started their regular calisthenics, Kindan flashed a look at Kelsa, who grinned back at him. Kelsa and Kindan often joked that girls did stretching exercises better than boys but boys did calisthenics better than girls. It had become something of a competition between the two of them to see who could outdo the other at their “best” ability.

I’m willing to make this a thing said in good faith, but it’s still reinforcing the idea of having to be the best at something to be good enough, and it falls in gender stereotypes – Kelsa is the more flexible one with the stretches, Kindan is the better one at strength in calisthenics. (Which is a really weird word to have survived all the way through to this time, honestly.)

Conar doesn’t do all that great at the run part of it, because of his inability to breathe normally, so the rest of the group takes a rest with him, which puts them in prime position to observe the arrival of Lord Bemin, Lady Saannora, and Koriana. After a short conversation where Kindan gleans that the purpose of the visit is to talk about fire-lizards, the group works their way back to the Hall and collects their chores, which puts them in the awkward position of not potentially being able to get either bathed or fed because they have to do their chores (Which is changing out all the glow baskets in the Hall). Kindan, being the leader of the group, sends Kelsa out to get her shower in and then get breakfast for the lot. Nonala is paired with Conar to grab one wing’s baskets, Kindan and Verilan the other, and then one of the two groups will hit the showers while the other runs about providing fresh glows. When the first group is finished bathing, they’ll switch with the glow-runners and the second group will hit the showers.

Which makes me think that Kindan’s skill for the Harper Hall is leadership and delegation, which will serve him incredibly well if he makes a full circuit back to the Hall and obtains a residency as one of the Masters who teaches. (And/or gets elected to the Masterharper’s position.) The narrative acknowledges that the plan “almost worked,” and the thing that spoils it is that Murenny is very specifically looking for Kindan and prevents him from getting his shower in. (Because you don’t say no to the Masterharper.) Which is to say that the plan works perfectly, except for Kindan, and that’s because Kindan has the unfortunate problem of being everybody’s favorite when it comes to things that do not require physical dexterity or the ability to sing on pitch.

Kindan’s arrival to the Masterharper’s lands on the tail end of Lord Bemin talking about Conar’s asthma, with birth Murenny and Vaxoram looking suitably chastised about not knowing about that detail before the morning run. Bemin reminds Kindan unpleasantly of someone from his past.

Lord Bemin’s tone reminded Kindan of someone, and it took him a moment to recall: Tarik, C’tov’s father. Kindan gave himself a quick mental shake. Lord Benin was not at all like Tarik, who had turned out to be a murderer and was ultimately given the worst punishment ever handed out on Pern, being Shunned by all, including his wife and son. No, Lord Bemin merely sounded like Tarik had when he’d been particularly pompous or patronizing.

Nice alliteration there.

Also,

While Tarik was convicted of murder with regard to the cave-ins at Camp Natalon, there’s more than enough information now, especially if Moran, Halla, and Pellar were comprehensive in their testimony, to pin the blame for those violent acts and their associated deaths on the now-deceased Tenim. Not that it helps the also-deceased Tarik much, and since C’tov is now a dragonrider and the last member of his nuclear family alive who would need to care about his family line (I believe he was the only alive son in the family), I suppose it’s only the interest of justice and having the Harpers set the record correctly that has me raising a red flag about this. Tarik was a terrible person and responsible for a lot of bad things, but he was never conclusively proven to be a murderer.

Kindan’s reaction to Bemin is also interesting. In some other world that was more aware of traumatic events that aren’t dragons dying, someone might notice that Kindan’s having a traumatic reaction to Bemin, based on the physical and mental violence and abuse that Tarik did to him while he was at Camp Natalon. Kindan is having a perfectly reasonable reaction to someone that is unconsciously coming across as a threat. While Kindan is able to stop himself from what might be an incapacitating flashback, or from lashing out at Bemin, it’s pretty clear to me that Kindan just got triggered by the situation and could use a competent PTSD-trained therapist. (And that’s without also referencing that the constant bullying can’t have been good for Kindan’s mental health either.

Bemin is visiting to see what information can be obtained from the Archives about the care, feeding, and potential issues regarding sexual behavior that may arise from Koriana having a gold fire-lizard. And also to ask if Koriana can learn to improve her writing, why Conar is here instead of with Bemin, and to learn drum code, which is read by both Kindan and Murreny as a veiled insult, even if it might be as innocuous as wanting an extra pair of ears due to an aging Harper.

Specifically, Koriana flat out says she’s interested in learning when to expect Koriss to want to mate, drawing disapproval at such directness from Lady Sannora.

Bemin asks if there is a list handy of all the nearby people who have bronze fire-lizards, including Kindan, which Koriana protests about, but it’s clear that people in this era know full well that all of the dragon family have influences on their bonded humans, especially when it comes to sex.

Murreny asks Kindan to stay behind as he and Vaxoram escort the guests to their proper places. While Kindan cools his heels, his stomach reminds him that food is a valid life choice. He notices there’s a tray of dainties sitting there and decides that one or two won’t be missed. Murreny returns after number three and immediately compliments Kindan on having used his time profitably, before following suit and sharing his pitcher of klah with Kindan. Once fed, Murreny asks Kindan’s opinion of what just went down.

When they talk about fire lizards, Kindan mentally repeats the idea he got from Selora.

Koriss frightened away the two last hatchlings–both males–that her brothers would have Impressed, as though the little queen had not wanted to mate with bronzes owned by her owner’s brothers. Kindan was amazed I the fire-lizard’s actions, but not entirely surprised at her reasoning: The intense emotions of fire-lizard’s mating were shared by their human partners just as dragons shared their mating lust with their riders.

Which is all well and good for explaining that the humans on Pern have an incest taboo (I think it was Rescue Run last where this was foregrounded strongly) but says nothing at all about why the fire-lizard would do something like that. I think they’re giving agency to the wrong creature. Fire lizards and dragons, as far as we know, don’t have an incest taboo, and the two that were going to the brothers were explicitly mentioned as from another clutch, so they wouldn’t have been biologically related, anyway. But, say, if Koriana knows what happens, and she sees bronzes and browns coming out of those eggs, she doesn’t have any interest at all in being mind-whammied into sex with a brother, and so she might be (sub) consciously wanting those threats to go away. It fits in better with everyone-but-maybe-Kindan’s judgment that Koriana is a pretty shrewd operator and manipulator if she provided the emotion and the fire-lizard provided the action, which allows the fire lizard to take all the blame.

Which is to say, Kindan, friend, your innocence is touching. And provides impassioned speeches, too, as Kindan is not ready yet to give ground on the realities of his situation with Koriana. For his part, Murenny tries to shred his defenses with a series of armor-piercing questions.

“Koriana is of age to be married,” Murenny agreed indirectly. “It would not do for there to be any indiscretions on her part.”
“That’s not fair!” Kindan shouted. “I fought Vaxoram because it’s wrong for a woman to be judged–”
“Kindan,” Murenny’s voice was so soft it demanded Kindan’s instant attention. “Consider her choices.”
[…Kindan does, pointing out that Koriana made a bead harness for Valla…]
“Do you think that she would be content, who has known servants and finery, to exist on the income of a simple harper?”
[…Kindan thinks Murenny is saying she has no choice. He says no to that…]
“And I think that she would be happiest living the life to which she has grown accustomed.”
“A broodmare for Holders?” Kindan snapped, shaking his head and all the while wondering at his outraged words to the Masterharper. He’d never felt so angry and so out of control before.
“A Lady Holder, a symbol of grace, beauty, and kindness,” Murenny replied calmly. “Her children would only be a part of her legacy, though possibly the most enduring.”
“But there has to be more for a woman!” Kindan protested.
“Perhaps you are mistaken about what you believe a mother should be,” Murenny replied. “I think that being a parent is the greatest challenge and greatest joy of all occupations.”

Except what it actually does is show where the limits are of Murenny’s supposedly progressive attitude toward women, even though I agree that parenting is a hard occupation, and likely one that Koriana will do alone, even if she is nominally married to someone else who should be helping with that. But Murenny seems very unwilling to contemplate the possibility of a Holder daughter being allowed to give up her marriage prospects for being with someone she wants, or to learn a Craft. And yet, Menolly does, although not without her own amount of trouble for it.

I am, perhaps, also a tiny bit skeptical at Kindan being able to calmly observe that he’s completely out of control while he’s yelling at Murenny. Because puberty doesn’t usually provide this kind of dissociation, and it doesn’t seem like Murenny is standing on one of Kindan’s triggers that might produce the feeling of not being in control and being able to observe that.

The thought of working on writing prompts Kindan to ask the Master about something else. And while I’m perfectly capable of that leap of logic and/or memory that’s about to follow, sometimes it’s nice, in a story, to have that heralded a little more smoothly.

“What would make it difficult for people to read in dim light?”
Murenny cocked his head thoughtfully and frowned for a moment before responding. “There are several things that could do that. That person could have poor eyesight–not as bad as your friend Nuella’s, obviously, but poor all the same.” Kindan nodded in understanding. “Or the person could have difficulty in reading altogether,” Murenny continued. He glanced up at Kindan. “Do you know this person well?”
Kindan nodded. Murenny glanced at him for a moment longer, giving Kindan a chance to supply him with a name, but when it was not forthcoming, the Masterharper continued, “One way to check on this is to see if the person has trouble distinguishing between b’s and d’s or u’s and n’s, m’s and w’s. Another way is to see if the person has difficulty with the same word in a different Record.
“Such a difficulty is not uncommon and often indicates a great degree of intelligence and ability,” the Masterharper said. “People who have difficulty reading often find out difficult to remember tables of multiplication and addition but find it easy to remember songs, particularly those with catchy tunes, no matter how difficult the words.” He pursed his lips as he trolled his memory, then brightened as he recalled, “Some of these people are great songwriters or artists.”

Hang on. *rummage* Well, Doctor Joanne Pierson at the University of Michigan suggests dyslexia is probably present in about 5-10% of the population, in various degrees of severity, so that tracks. That same site has more than a few recognizable names of people with dyslexia, so that tracks, too. Although it’s always been true that the Healers seemed to have retained more of the ancient knowledge than anyone, I’m really pretty shocked that a diagnostic criterion for dyslexia has survived at all. That seems like the sort of thing that would disappear quickly in a world that (still strangely) has universal literacy but doesn’t necessarily require proficiency of letters for all the possible professions on the planet.

And while I can see how Kindan might suspect that Vaxoram had difficulty with reading, it presumably was a low light situation, and that would have normally been it. I don’t know where he’s making the inference or idea that Vaxoram has more problems that low light reading, or that the Record that he has to decipher is written in a terrible hand. We’re not seeing how Kindan is ruling out other possibilities over time to come to the conclusion that it’s Vaxoram. We just saw him note that Vaxoram hasn’t read anything in their session and now someone is talking about disabilities as a possible cause. Maybe it’s Murenny who is doing the leap of logic.

The chapter closes out with Murenny thinking Conar’s art skills might prove useful and another admonition to find useful information on the flu in the archives and to study with Masterhealer Lenner. For that purpose, Kindan is excused from his classes in voice and instrument making (temporarily, Murenny hastens to add) because, well, both of them know how well Kindan will do in those classes right now.

Deconstruction Roundup for April 19th, 2019

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is talking to a lot of fellow professionals this week.)

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 less happy about the supposed existence of a social hour, but there was never a time where it came into being. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragon Harper: Do You Understand Me?

Last time, Kindan fell in love with someone he could never have, which incidentally gave the lie to the equality campaign that Murenny has supposedly recruited Kindan to help with, got a fire lizard, and continued to be unperturbed by how completely Vaxoram has changed after the duel. Kelsa has some skepticism about the last. And possibly the girl that Kindan has fallen for.

Dragon Harper, Chapter 5: Content Notes: Sexism

(Harper Hall, 496.11, the first time marker we’ve had since Chapter 1)

This chapter’s poem is an admonition.

Harper, treat your words with care
For they may cause joy or despair
Sing your songs of health and love
Of dragons flaming from above.

There’s a certain amount of acknowledgement here that the Harpers have the power to shape social dynamics, but it’s couched in a warning to stick close to the party line. Which makes me wonder what kind of story we could tell about a Harper, or a group of Harpers, that broke off from the Hall and did their best to encourage the people to overthrow the Holds and Crafts and eventually, perhaps, put the Weyrs under the control of elected egalitarian councils. And all the trouble that comes from actual democracy being implemented in a previously feudal space. We won’t get it, because everyone in Pern loves their lot in life (except the Shunned), but if we wanted to show what kind of power the Harper Hall holds, why not have to deal with Harpers in their midst that are not on the company line?

In any case, this chapter starts with the fact that puberty has come to Kindan at last, and his awkwardness of body, combined with the fact that his clothes aren’t fitting because he’s expected to grow into them, eventually gets him moved out of the Archives after he spills indelible ink (that everyone admits shouldn’t have been there in the first place) on some freshly-created Records, ruining them.

So Kindan goes to the instrument maker, instead, to learn some finesse, but he doesn’t have the knack for pipe making immediately, even if he can do a passable drum and some amount of sanding and polishing. Which he gets assigned to do, and thinks of himself as learning something about handling the wood from doing all the sanding. He mixes up the glue and polish buckets and ruins both of them in their pots, though, just to be consistent to the narrative.

Vaxoram is still magic, though.

In the past ten months, the relationship between Vaxoram and Kindan had grown deeper, more complex, yet still no less perplexing to both of them. It was as though the older apprentice was sometimes Kindan’s older brother, other times his apprentice. Yet it worked, and Vaxoram was now an accepted member of the “outcasts”, as he had once named Kindan and his friends.

Kindan’s voice is breaking and not settling, either, so the Voice Master asks if he would rather conduct, which Kindan enjoys, but he is recalled to the task of cleaning out his mess before too long.

As one might guess, Kindan finds this puberty business all sorts of aggravating. And it’s not helping that the talented people around him seem sure of what they will do.

“You’ll find your height,” Verilan added staunchly. Kindan smiled at him but couldn’t help feeling a bit jealous–Verilan was assured a place in the Harper Hall; his skill at copying alone would guarantee it.
[…they remind Kelsa to eat…]
Kelsa was always writing. The dark-haired girl was another who Kindan was certain would find a place in the Harper Hall, even if the Hall was traditionally a man’s world; Kelsa’s songs were so original that none could forget them, and she herself had a perfect memory for not only words but notes as well.
Play her a song once and she’d know it forever; start a melody and she’d write a whole new piece from it. It was dangerous to whistle near Kelsa, for she’d often lurch to a sudden stop–to the consternation of all behind her–and start writing.
Kelsa and Pellar had an amazing affinity for each other whenever the mute Harper visited from Fire Hold; she seemed able to take his merest buttons and put them to music. Surprisingly to Kindan, Halla, Pellar’s mate, never seemed to mind the way Kelsa and Pellar acted around each other. In fact, she seemed to encourage it, when Kindan would have preferred that she be jealous and keep Pellar away from Kelsa. Despite his recent understanding that he didn’t feel that way about Kelsa, Kindan still wanted the hope that if he ever did, he’d stand some chance.

Kelsa sounds a lot like Menolly to me. Which, you know, recycling characters doesn’t look good on anyone, but Kelsa being super-talented also reinforces the idea that women have to be exceptional just to survive in the world of men. If Kelsa’s talent were any less, she wouldn’t be here, whereas perfectly mediocre boys can stay on and get accepted.

I’m also intrigued about Halla’s apparent lack of jealousy. Does she, gasp, trust and believe that Pellar is doing this for the music and not because Kelsa is a pretty girl? Is Halla interested in polygyny or polyamory?
Does Halla have a thing for Kelsa? We’ll never know.

Kelsa insults Kindan’s clumsiness out of annoyance at the others at the table trying to remind her to eat, rather than write, and Kindan takes it (and the non-apology that follows) as it is intended and storms off. He feels bad about it almost immediately, because that table was his entire group of friends at the Hall, and Kindan realizes that his wants and ambitions have changed since he arrived. Vaxoram appears, and Kindan feels “oddly reassured” by this, but before they can have a talk about how much puberty sucks and they wish their bodies would stop doing this to them, M’tal arrives by dragonrider with a new apprentice, Conar, and the moment is ruined.

Which, I suppose, saves the swearing storm that would have filled such a quiet and intimate moment when Kindan is asked to show the new apprentice around.

The duty of welcoming a new apprentice to the Harper Hall should, by long tradition, have fallen to the newest apprentice, which would have been Kelsa. However, Kindan had noticed that Master Murenny had disregarded that tradition with the last two newcomers, assigning the duty to Kindan instead. Kindan had noticed the change but not commented on it because, after dealing with the first newcomer, he understood the Masterharper’s reasoning: that most apprentices would be affronted and embarrassed to be introduced to the Harper Hall by a girl.

There is an argument to be made about picking your battles for equality and that nobody should have to do all the heavy lifting by herself, which Kelsa would likely have had to do, and endure all the aggression and sexism that would come from the objections.

If Kelsa was game for it, though, it would make a hell of an entrance exam to see if this new Harper would be someone who would further the goals of respect for women. Especially if she were Journeywoman or Master Kelsa at that point.

As it is, it makes me think of Murenny as an incrementalist, who is doing what he can from within the system, rather than throwing it over and starting with something better. Or deliberately making his Craft different than all the other Crafts in the way they treat women. Given how well his planning worked with the Shunned, it might be better that he’s not trying too hard.

In any case, Conar brings news that his Hold Harper died during a bout of particularly bad flu, and that he thinks he was sent here just to get away from the sickness. His only talent that he believes in is drawing, and that’s not a traditional Harper skill, so he thinks he’s in the wrong place. Kindan encourages Conar to stick around, because there’s always a possibility that Harpers will need drawing talents.

Conar correctly guesses that Vaxoram is Kindan’s servant, and raises an eyebrow at the idea of a co-ed dormitory, but Kindan is not having any of that.

“You sleep with girls?” Conar asked in astonishment.
“Yes,” Kindan replied. “We treat each other with respect and don’t peek, if that’s what you’re wondering.”
Kindan was surprised to see how Vaxoram accepted this statement. It underlied how much the older apprentice had changed in the last ten months.

I mean, that’s a really low bar to clear there, compared to how things were, and if that’s what Kelsa and Nonala want, which I’m still not entirely convinced is the case. But also, whatever magic has basically held Vaxoram in place for all this time still applies. If Kindan says that’s what happens, Vaxoram is on board with it, by whatever geas it is that came aout from the end of their duel.

Conar also learns there is no help when it comes to cleaning, and Kindan pulls out his “second-best broom” as an illustrative point.

“Harpers have to know what other people do, and the best way to learn is to do,” Kindan told him. “So we make a broom, clean our own quarters, mend our own clothes.”

And Conar expresses at least some awareness of his own ignorance, which delights Kindan, because he mistakes it for interest in brooms, a thing that Kelsa, Nonala, and Verilan have all called rather boring.

Kindan hopes for both of them to get to the feeding hall for food, but Conar apparently has asthma (“short-breath”) and so it takes them a while before Conar can recover enough to make it to the dining hall, at which point they end up being the guests of Murenny and M’tal at the Masters’ table. After Kindan’s broom gets mentioned again.

As they walked, Murenny fell in beside Conar, asking the smaller boy, “Did Kindan tell you about his broom?”
Kindan tured bright red, to the accompanying chuckles of the Masterharper and Weyrleader. M’tal clapped him on the shoulder, saying, “You have a right to be proud of your accomplishments.”
“It’s only a broom,” Kindan groaned.
“Dragonriders at Benden make their own harnesses,” M’tal told him. Kindan gave him an interested look, so the Weyrleader continued, “Our lives depend on them, we have to trust them.”
“Well, my life doesn’t depend on a broom,” Kindan murmured.
“Best not let Selora hear you say that,” Mureny warned him. “Or she’ll prove you wrong.”
“Selora does the cooking,” Kindan explained to Conar.
“She does much more than that,” Murenny corrected.
“She keeps this whole Hall running,” Vaxoram said in agreement. Murenny smiled in agreement.

I am reminded again that every time we have seen a headwoman, whether of Hall, Hold, or Weyr, everyone admits out loud to each other that she’s the real power keeping everything running.

Also, I’m waiting for Kindan to catch up with the fact that he and everyone around him is saying quite bluntly “your talents are important things that you can be proud of.” Because that’s the space he needs to find to get his way out of the mental state he’s in. Kindan is also believably obtuse about this, because sometimes it takes saying it enough or staring it enough in the face before you realize what you’re looking at.

The Masters and M’tal discuss the flu outbreak, that it has affected several of the outlying holds of Bended, and Conar is at the Harper Hall as a precaution against the flu sweeping Benden and wiping everyone out. (There’s also a little bit of back-and-forth about the intertwined nature of Harpers and Healers, and a complaint about Healers’ bad handwriting. Some things are universal, I guess.) The Masterhealer is short-staffed for apprentices, and so sifting Records for the presence of a super-virulent and deadly flu would overwork him, and the Master Archivist is similarly short for apprentices to do any work on his end. (Murenny is rather bitter that the Conclave basically said “you can find your apprentices from Somewhere Else” when he asked for more healers and harpers.) With everyone, including M’tal, proclaiming they have nobody to search the Records, Murenny volunteers Kindan for the job, since he already has experience at teasing out cryptic details from old Records to a successful end. (Sort of, since it was Cristov who did the actual legwork of finding the right kind of firestone.)

The Master Archivist is unhappy with this, given how much damage Kindan has already caused to his Records, and that’s the end of Chapter 5.

Deconstruction Roundup for April 12th, 2019

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is back at instrumental music this week.)

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 still staring at the collective trash fires that you have known always were there and hoping your bucket brigade will be able to stall things long enough for others to get away. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragon Harper: Doing Anthropormorphization Wrong

[Mari Ness has a new post, as well, where the problem of temporal paradoxes is used as a frame to point out some of the more egregious wrongs of Pern society. It feels a lot more like this is the stuff that we are there for and that Mari Ness actually wants to talk about. For as little as my opinion matters, I approve of this shift in topics. It’s still going at warp, though. By the time we get done, we might be caught up with each other.]

Last time, Kindan fought Vaxoram and won, using all of the technique and psychological warfare that he had been taught by Mikal, which made Vaxoram Kindan’s servant until Kindan decides he doesn’t want one any more. And somehow, Vaxoram just accepts this and doesn’t try very hard (if at all) to get Kindan to revoke his servitude or otherwise be so terrible that he’ll just dismiss him to get out of his hair. But it’s been forty years since Weyr Search and Dragonflight, so perhaps the Lessa method of being such a pain in the ass that you can get someone to renounce their claim on you has fallen out of vogue in the intervening time.

Ah, and also, the fire lizards hatch, and Kindan gets one, as does the daughter of the Fort Holders.

Dragon Harper: Chapter 4: Content Notes: Bad Anthropomorphization,

Vaxoram gets sent back to the Hall with the news and that Kindan is staying the night to help at the request of Lady Sannora. (He asks whether Kindan trusts him on his own, and Kindan looks at him for a bit and nods a yes, because whatever magic that has Vaxoram willingly taking on this role is still in place.) Once Vaxoram leaves, he’s the subject of the conversation.

“That boy!” Lady Sannora exclaimed to her husband. “Did you see the scar under his eye?”
“He was fighting,” Lord Bemin replied, turning his head to eye Kindan thoughtfully. “There was a duel. He lost.”
“I don’t approve of duels,” Lady Sannora pronounced, her face set in a grimace. “What overmuscled cretin picked a fight with him?”
Lord Bemin raised an eyebrow in Kindan’s direction.
“I did,” Kindan said, meeting the Lord’s and Lady’s outraged looks steadily, though he felt the heat in his cheeks. “He had threatened to use his strength over a woman,” he explained. With a shrug, he added, “Several women, actually.”
“Why didn’t you kill him?” Bemin’s eldest son, Semin, demanded.
“Because, my lord,” Kindan replied, “I believe in second chances.”
Semin was surprised at Kindan’s response.
“And because it would have done more harm than good,” Issak chimed in from the other side. He inclined his head toward Kindan. “Master Murenny recounted your thinking to me.”
Was there a hint of respect in the journeyman’s eyes?

I’m very impressed at Sherlock Bemin’s ability to deduce the entirety of what happened between Vaxoram and Kindan by observing a scar and the behavior of the two boys with each other, but still look “outraged” when Kindan owns up to being the one who fought Vaxoram. This doesn’t improve Kindan’s standing, I’m sure, and Koriana asking for Kindan to sleep in the same room as her really doesn’t, but Issak is there as a chaperone, at least in theory, so Bemin assents.

As the commenters have pointed out, this is Kindan repeating a lie, or at least, something that we didn’t actually see on screen, since all we have was Vaxoram making a rude joke about Kindan and Nonala as a possible sexual couple. Unless we’re supposed to read that the constant bullying stream given to Kindan, Kelsa, Nonala, Verilan, and so forth, qualifies as threatening to use his strength over a woman. In a system less focused on toxic masculinity that thinks swords are effective methods of resolving disputes, a tribunal or other court proceeding would presumably bring the truth out with the witnesses. (Or it wouldn’t, and then you can have the swords, if you need to, but still…)

In the middle of the night, Koriana gets cold and her fire lizard hungry, so Kindan ends up sleeping much more proximal to her than propriety suggests, as in touching heads and knees. Vaxoram discovers them this way and immediately wakes Kindan and goes to town on making sure it looks like Kindan and Koriana have spent the entire night very properly apart. Since the second set of eggs, from a different clutch, are hatching, not too soon after propriety is manufactured, the rest of Koriana’s family arrives. Koriana’s two brothers are eagerly awaiting their fire-lizards, and Koriana’s taken it upon herself to personally aggravate Sannora as much as possible, given that “It was clear that Lady Sannora was unhappy with the thought that Koriana had spent the night in his [Kindan’s] presence.” Kindan muses on this very idea at nearly every exchange between Koriana and Sannora.

The hatching, however, goes extremely poorly, as Koriss, Koriana’s queen, hisses and squawks at both of those hatchlings, a bronze and a brown, as they leave their shells, and both of them disappear into hyperspace at the threat before the Impression can be made. The brothers are very unhappy about this, and Koriana winds both of them up further by being utterly unsympathetic to their situation. Before it explodes completely, Issak gracefully extracts all the harpers with a promise to report the whole thing to the Masterharper and send along any advice he might have about it. Issak takes on the duty of the report and sends Kindan and Vaxoram on, but not before obliquely trying to give some advice to Kindan.

“It wasn’t us and you know it,” Vaxoram replied. “It’s that spoiled Bannor and his airs.” He glanced toward Kindan. “And don’t be too certain his sister is any better.”
Kindan bristled.
“It doesn’t matter,” Issak told him, holding out a placating hand. “You’re not a Lord Holder candidate, and Lord Bemin will trade his daughter to his advantage.”
“Trade?” Kindan repeated in outrage.
“She’ll go willingly, when the time comes,” Issak said to cool Kindan’s anger.
“It’s for the good of the Hold,” Vaxoram added, gloating over Kindan’s outburst. “You must understand, you’re a harper.”
“And harpers aren’t good enough?” Kindan demanded.
“Not for Lord Holders,” Issak agreed with a sad shake of his head. He said to Vaxoram, “Help him to understand.”

To be honest, it’s a bit refreshing for someone to come out and say plainly how little respect there is for women on Pern, in contrast to the poem at the beginning of the chapter. Plus, although I’m not sure anyone in this conversation actually realizes it, this is also a great look at why feminism has to be intersectional if it is going to be effective. If Harper (and maybe some Craft) girls are supposed to be respected everywhere but Holder girls are still expected to dutifully marry and bear children to the advantage of the men in their life, and dragonrider girls are expected to submit to the authority of whichever rider manages to catch their gold, then Harper girls aren’t going to get anywhere on a quest for respect, even if there are men championing them to the sexist society.

Selora doesn’t help, either, in how she explains why Koriss frightened off the other hatchlings.

“A strange thing happened, Selora,” Vaxoram continued as Kindan sat down, too lost in concentration on Valla to speak. “Koriana’s little fire-lizard–”
“Koriss,” Kindan interjected suddenly.
“–Koriss,” Vaxoram agreed with a playful smile, “frightened off the two hatchlings that came to her brothers.”
“Males, were they?” Selora asked, cocking her head shrewdly.
“Yes,” Kindan agreed, his eyes narrowing. “How did you know?”
“She frightened them away on purpose,” Selora said. “Didn’t want her siblings paired with her mistress’s siblings.”
“Why?” Kindan asked in confusion.
Selora started to reply by had a coughing fit instead. “You’ll find out in time, I’ve no doubt,” she said, a grin spreading across her face.

Because scientists in Pern have extensively observed fire-lizard behavior in the wild and domestically and have concluded that they behave with hostility toward hatchlings from other clutches because they want to keep their gene pool pure. Like, if it was another gold? I could entirely see some sort of “MY territory” display, because, as we have already seen, gold dragons in heat that get close to each other fight viciously over the potential mate pool. (And possibly gold fire-lizards, too?) But they’re not gold or green. Based on the fire lizard behavior we’ve seen so far, it would seem more likely for a gold to want to build as big a harem as possible so as to be able to drive off other golds. But instead, two candidates for generic diversity are scared off, apparently, because the gold fire-lizard doesn’t want brothers from another mother? This is pretty weird anthropomorphization, honestly. Like, maybe for Holders, because of things like lines of succession, blood purity, and primogeniture, it matters who you came from, but those concepts are pretty meaningless to fire-lizards. If, instead, it were speculated that Koriana is a person with an incest taboo, and everybody knows that fire-lizards influence sexual behavior among their bondmate, then it makes reasonable sense for Koriana to not want either of her brothers to have fire-lizards, because incest taboo. This is never hinted at or suggested in any way. I somehow doubt that Menolly, Robinton, and Sebell are the only ones to have discovered this aspect and explicitly talked about it. And yet.

The magic that is Vaxoram continues to be shown in a positive light, even though we’re seeing plenty of spaces where he hasn’t changed much internally, just externally. Or, rather, the narrative is trying to convince us that he’s changed internally.

Somewhere in that time [TWO WEEKS] Vaxoram moved from being a brooding, vanquished opponent to being truly dedicated to Kindan. Kindan could never point to the exact moment nor quite understand why, but there it was.
[…Nonala notices, and Vaxoram seems surprised by the revelation…]
“But why, though?” Kelsa wondered later when she was alone with Kindan, helping him oil Valla’s patchy skin. “Why has he changed?”
Kindan thought for a moment. “Master Murenny said that Vaxoram had come to the Harper Hall with a great voice as a child. When it broke wrong, he couldn’t find any new talent to replace it. He came from a small hold, Master Murenny said.”
“So he was afraid,” Kelsa guessed, nodding sagely. “And now he’s got something to do, guarding you.”
“Maybe,” Kindan agreed. Kelsa cocked her head at him questioningly. “Maybe there’s more to it. Perhaps because the worst has happened to him, he’s realized that he has nothing to be scared of.”
“Maybe,” Kelsa replied, but she didn’t sound convinced.

Instead, Kelsa asks about Kindan’s crush, Kindan says there’s almost nothing to the rumors, and Kelsa points out that rumors also say that Lady Sannora fell in love with a Harper who didn’t return her love, and Kindan guests correctly, after some prompting, that the Harper in question was Master Murenny, so Kindan was dealing with extra prejudice when it came to her daughter.

That’s the end of chapter 4, with us no closer to the real reasons for Vaxoram’s apparent change, and really, only Kelsa exhibiting any degree of skepticism about whether it’s a real change or a surface one. And it is happening so swiftly that it stains credulity. I mean, if “defeated by the protagonist” were that kind of magic, then Toric wouldn’t have continued to be a schemer well into a second book.

I’m also still really grumpy that we’ve closed off what would be a really good story about friendship and more to instead get this crap about pining for someone above your station, who is probably showing interest in you to spite her parents. Yeah, love is great, sure, and strikes where it will, but this sort of story has been done, repeatedly, and I see no new twist or interesting spin on it that would make it anything less than a tired retread.

More next week.