Dragon Harper: Disease Porn

Last time, plague came everywhere. Kindan was still trying to accomplish his goal of discovering causes and how to beat it, but everyone stood in his way, and in a conflict with Vaxoram about what was important to look for, Kindan ended up starting a fire that got him and Vaxoram banished from the Harper Hall by Resler, the archivist. Now at Fort Hold, Kindan and Vaxoram have become nurses to a hospital and likely infected themselves.

Dragon Harper: Chapters 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14: Content Notes: Unnecessary Character Deaths,

Here’s Chapter 11’s poem, for all the good it will do:

For fever, you take feverfew
For pains, take you fellis too
For vomiting, keep your stomach free
Fur flu, let your eating be.

After where we left off in Chapter 10, it’s disaster porn, essentially. Time stops having meaning, and everyone is working as much as they can, only stopping to rest when they absolutely have to. This goes on for a while, so here are the highlights:

  • Kindan, early on, figures out how to take a temperature of a person without touching them and risking exposure – using a moodstone and interpreting the colors. He sends the request to Benden to see if they can put something together that will let them touch moodstone to a person’s forehead.
  • Everyone in Bemin’s family gets sick. Everyone but Bemin and toddler Fiona dies. Yes, Koriana gets killed from the plague, because otherwise it wouldn’t be tragic enough. A mass grave is dug in the ancestor garden of Fort Hold to hold all the bodies.

  • All the Masters of the Harper Hall die. So does Master Lenner.

    Kelsa invents the double question mark as a drum code rhythm asking for more information.

  • Kindan gets sick. Lord Bemin nurses him back from the worst of it, but he’s down for three days. Kilti dies in those days, leaving Kindan basically in charge of the healing effort. After these deaths, Kindan hits upon the idea of using a mask to cover the faces of infected and carers alike so as to stop the spread of the disease any more than it already is. (Based on a parachute design and a fever dream where said parachute covered the correct places.)
  • Vaxoram gets sick. He won’t recover. We learn shortly before he dies that Nonala is the one he was in love with (damn it, stop queerbaiting, Pern, although Bury Your Gays is not any better) and Kindan engineers a ceremony of sorts where Vaxoram walks a table to become a journeyman, with Bemin swearing that Kindan’s a Master to get him to do it.

Chapter 12:

Harper mourn,
Holder cry,
Every turn,
Till tears run dry.

  • The masks arrive to try and put an end to the disease cycle. There a short discussion of who was most susceptible, and a two-pronged plan to clear out the dead and concentrate the living in the hospital goes into effect. Kindan gets a boost of encouragement (and gets called a healer) from Fiona’s apparent recovery, and a large bout of thanks from women running the kitchen for his effective work at keeping up hope and at treating the sick.
  • After Koriana dies (and Bemin keeps Kindan from committing his own death by kissing her goodbye), he realizes that he can have dragons and their riders airdrop more than just moodpaste and masks, but they can actually drop in useful supplies of food to feed the sick, now that everyone’s stores are basically out.

Chapter 13:

Healer with your craft so sure,
Sickness we can all endure,
Use your skill and healing notions,
To save us with your salves and potions.

Chapter 13 starts with Kelsa having to take porridge from Conar. It tastes terrible, but it’s the only thing not moldy that he could find, and the two of them are doing their best to keep each other healthy and recovered. Kindan’s message rolls in off his drums to tell J’trel to get fresh fruit from south of Ista. J’trel relays that to J’lantir, and the time travel plot relayed at the beginning of the book finally comes full-circle, as the dragonriders harvest fruits from the South to them airdrop over Holds and keep the survivors alive, while carefully keeping that knowledge compartmentalized so as not to cause a time paradox where someone knows something they shouldn’t at the wrong time. Despite a significantly tight window for all the requisite time travel, fellis leaves and fruits drop in right on schedule, giving hope and sustenance to everyone at Fort.

Chapter 14 picks up immediately after the drops.

What is this I see
I cannot believe my eyes
Fresh fruit and new hope
Floating in the skies.

Kindan, now Healer Kindan to everyone around, says he needs to mount an expedition to the Harper Hall and check on everyone there. We learn a little more solidly about the flu symptoms (people seem to be coughing their lungs out, and it hit the most healthy people harder because of that. Is that a sign of tuberculosis there?) before he sets out. Bemin tries hard to talk Kindan out of going, saying that the progress that’s been made so far is all his credit.

“If we survive here, at this Hold and the Hall, it will be only because of you,” Bemin said. He glanced down, seeing the top of Kindan’s head. “Survive and you can have anything you ask for.”
Surprised, Kindan looked up at the Lord Holder. “You know what I wanted most on Pern.”
A ghost of a smile crossed Bemin’s lips. “No man would have been prouder than I to have you call him ‘Father.’ “

That’s what you say now, after Kindan’s love already died, after you’ve lost your family, and after Kindan has done more than anyone should have to with keeping your Hold alive. You damn well better lie to him about how proud you always have been of him, because you need him. If this hadn’t happened, you would never have given Kindan the time of day, much less your assent to Koriana partnering with him. Kindan calls him on this right before they see the entryway to the Harper Hall.

“We’ll send in a party as soon as we can,” Bemin promised.
“No, we’ll do it, our duty as harpers,” Kindan replied.
“No, as Lord Holder, I am telling you that Fort will do it,” Bemin told him forcefully. In a softer voice he added, “It’s my choice and our honor.”
“I thought you didn’t trust harpers,” Kindan snapped back before he thought about what he was saying. He instantly regretted it but Bemin laughed and waved it aside.
“You’re right: I didn’t trust harpers,” Bemin agreed. He nodded down to Kindan. “But now that you’ve produced fruit from the sky, I’ve had to revise my thinking.”

So all it took was a fucking miracle, and suddenly you’re on board, Bemin? Well, a miracle, Koriana dying, the rest of his family, save a young daughter dying, and seeing a lot of people dying without his leave to do so. It’s pretty clear where your standards are for Kindan.

The last part of this chapter is Kindan finding Druri, J’trel, Kelsa, Verilan, and Nonala alive and bundling them all off to the Weyr. Conar didn’t make it. Kindan also grabs Lenner’s notes, which were entrusted to Verilan, and might have some significance in making the plague lessen. And also, Kindan delivers the bad news.

He heard a noise from Nonala’s bed and saw her looking at him entreatingly. He turned to her and grabbed her hand.
‘It’s all right, help’s here,” he told her.
Her lips were dry and her throat parched. She beckoned him close enough to whisper, “Vaxoram?”
“Journeyman Vaxoram didn’t make it,” Kindan told her with a shake of his head, tears filling his eyes.
Nonala closed her eyes and turned away. Then she turned back and opened them again. “Journeyman?”
“He walked the tables,” Kindan told her. Her eyes widened. “He said that maybe then he’d be worthy. He said he loved you.”
Nonala moaned and turned away again.

And it seems entirely crass of me to point this out at this particular time, but this is a textbook case of telling without showing. Unless we’re supposed to believe Kindan is so wrapped up in himself that he didn’t notice the affection between the two of them, but also the whole duel sparked off because Vaxoram was making a rude joke about Kindan and Nonala. And we haven’t had any further anything about a developing relationship at all, because the narrative has prioritized everything else but showing us this until after Vaxoram was guaranteed to die. It’s terrible.

But that’s also the end of the chapter, so we can stop here and pick up next week.

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18 thoughts on “Dragon Harper: Disease Porn

  1. genesistrine May 16, 2019 at 3:08 pm

    Re Kindan inventing non-touch temperature indicators and surgical masks: how have the Pernese managed to remember the concept of contagious disease but forget about barrier nursing?

    A mass grave is dug in the ancestor garden of Fort Hold to hold all the bodies

    Which isn’t going to do much against, say, tunnel snakes….

    the time travel plot relayed at the beginning of the book finally comes full-circle, as the dragonriders harvest fruits from the South to them airdrop over Holds and keep the survivors alive, while carefully keeping that knowledge compartmentalized so as not to cause a time paradox where someone knows something they shouldn’t at the wrong time

    And I can’t think of one single in-universe reason why J’lantir goes back in time and gets his wing then to do the gathering rather than taking his present wing back. Well, except “it happened in the past so he’s got to do it in the future”. It exists purely to be an rationalisation of the “losing his wing for a week” joke from Dragon’s Kin.

    (people seem to be coughing their lungs out, and it hit the most healthy people harder because of that. Is that a sign of tuberculosis there?)

    It’s apparently not an uncommon thing in flu pandemics – having a strong immune system means it’s likelier to cause an autoimmune reaction in the lungs, which can flood and kill you.

    “He walked the tables,” Kindan told her. Her eyes widened. “He said that maybe then he’d be worthy. He said he loved you.”

    Nonala moaned and turned away again.

    I read that as Nonala’s “urgh!” reaction to being told Vaxoram fancied her rather than “aaargh I’ve lost my true love”, but who knows.

  2. WanderingUndine May 16, 2019 at 8:56 pm

    Mph. I like fictional misery as much as the next embittered person — one of many reasons why A Song of Ice and Fire is one of my favorite serieses — but I don’t see the appeal of “disease porn.” (Whereas I think “food porn” is nice and “scenery porn” verges on a necessity.) As a germphobe, perpetually worrying and self-shaming over any possible exposure I subject myself to in everyday life, always find it especially anxious-making to be reminded that easily-transmissible diseases can often be fatal. Granted, I know that lots of people somehow avoid worrying about it as much as I do, but I can’t imagine that anyone would enjoy such a reminder.

  3. Silver Adept May 16, 2019 at 11:28 pm

    @ genesistrine – That’s entirely possible that Nonala’s reaction is disgust rather than despair, but the narrative is spectacularly unhelpful in the disambiguation, and given the other tropes that seem to be at work here, it seemed more in-character to err on the side of despair.

    The flu bit gets confirmed in the Authors Note afterward, which is a weird thing. Nothing like having your own immune system kill you trying to fight something off.

    J’lantir is definitely there to resolve that joke, and no other reason.

    And it really seems like medical knowledge on Pern is always spotty enough so that a protganoist can do something brilliant that’s too late to save most of the people who are dead already.

    @ WanderingUndine – I think the continued focus on all the people dying around Kindan is essentially fridging. Or narrative punishment. Maybe both. Because Kindan loses Koriana, the girl nobody was ever going to let him have, and that apparently makes him suicidal. Or, if we think charitably, he wasn’t thinking about what kissing Koriana goodbye would do. Or less charitably, Bemin still didn’t want a dirty harper touching his daughter’s lips, even in death. Then his servant is taken away from him and killed, after Kindan gets to do him a last favor so that he can die feeling like he accomplished something.

    It’s also there so that Bemin can grudgingly accept that Kindan’s every bit the good guy he’s been claiming to be the entire time, at the cost of his family, essentially. So I guess both Bemin and Kindan are being punished for their hubris by the narrative?

    The rest of the dying is mostly there as backdrop so that Kindan can have brilliant flashes of insight on how to successfully keep the survivors alive and prevent reinfections. Even though these sorts of things should probably be stuff the Healers already know how to do.

    It just really feels like it’s there so the authors can wallow in the tragedy and the sickness and the life lessons and maturity that come from mass death. All of those chapters could be condensed into their bullet points and the plot would proceed accordingly without having to linger on everything.

  4. genesistrine May 17, 2019 at 12:58 am

    Thing is the joke didn’t even need a resolution! It was a funny self-deprecating comment that showed that not everyone who Impresses a bronze is automatically good at the whole Leader of Men thing.

    Even though these sorts of things should probably be stuff the Healers already know how to do.

    Not just that, *they should be in the Teaching Songs already for exactly this reason*. That chapter heading jingle you quote about what to do for fever, pain, vomiting – why isn’t there a couplet about “if coughing mists of phlegm they spew / cover mouth is what you do” so people know basic infection control methods in a pandemic even if all the Healers have died?

    These “Teaching Songs” don’t teach shit!

  5. Firedrake May 17, 2019 at 1:41 am

    The way I see it, it doesn’t cost Bemin anything to say “yeah, you could have aspired to my daughter” now. (Assuming he doesn’t have another one.) Why not let the poor sap feel a bit better about his hopeless lost love?

  6. Silver Adept May 19, 2019 at 11:45 pm

    The Teaching Songs are supposedly propaganda about knowing your place and living on Pern, as best I can tell. Whatever these other songs are, they must be taught only to specific audiences or something, because they don’t seem to have any part of teaching actual knowledge.

    @ Firedrake – he does have one, but she’s an infant. Kindan will long be able to have whatever other people he wants in his life before Bemin has to worry about Kindan coming for his other daughter. It doesn’t cost Bemin anything to say what he’s saying now, and it might help in keeping himself alive. I just find it pretty slimy and insincere, an apology too little, too late.

  7. genesistrine May 20, 2019 at 12:05 am

    They’re supposed to be essential knowledge as well – remember the Question Song was one, before it got retired from circulation for being too weird and pointless.

    “What to do in a pandemic when all the Healers have died” is pretty much the definition of essential knowledge.

    But it occurs to me that a lot of Pern’s ongoing problems could be blamed on the craft system, and the whole Craft Secrets thing in combination with the regular pandemics – if you have knowledge restricted to a small number of people and they all die of flu then whoops there goes the knowledge. Unless it’s written down in a way that won’t decay before someone gets around to reading and comprehending it, and good luck with that….

    (Doesn’t work for the two major forgettings that bug me, though, ie “those grubs eat Thread!” and “dolphins talk!”)

  8. WanderingUndine May 21, 2019 at 9:00 am

    Ttue. If you want to kill off many/most but not all of your characters in a place currently lacking war or natural disasters, a disease pandemic is one way to do it. But rather too realistic for my taste. I like fantasy partly because its characters often suffer from fictional things that could never happen to me. Why do people enjoy being reminded about this stuff? Unless they’re not supposed to, and I’m using the term wrong. In the context of literary discussion, I thought “porn” referred to using an element more than is neccessary for the plot, with an extravagance that’s tiresome to some readers but gives secondhand sensory pleasure to others.

  9. genesistrine May 21, 2019 at 1:11 pm

    I think “porn” in this case is because of the long and loving description of how awful it is and how everyone’s Suffering Nobly and Tending the Sick. This goes on for chapters.

    And you’d think Thread would be a sufficient menace, but for all it’s hyped up we rarely see it do much damage – someone might get an interesting scar and that’s about it.

    The big question, now I think of it, is how is the pandemic spread? It seemed to hit everywhere about simultaneously, and Pern doesn’t have fast transport for the majority of the populace, which rather implies that it’s being spread by dragon transport, or possibly fire lizards.

    Unless it’s calling back to the old Hoyle/Wickramasinghe panspermia/comet flu thing, and they’re supposed to be a precursor to the Red Star passing….

  10. WanderingUndine May 21, 2019 at 2:44 pm

    Huh. I would happily read chapters of nothing but scenery descriptions — heck, I’ve read *books* of it, and wanted nothing more from them — because I love to see and hear and smell feel them in my mind’s senses. Even inhospitable settings can be enjoyable at one remove, where they don’t actually endanger me. But imagining disease is no fun for me. Ah, well. Tastes vary.

    Yeah, I don’t remember the terror and horror of Threadfall really coming through, except in Dragonsdawn when everyone was utterly unprepared. Even in the later times when Thread had vanished from cultural memory, the people had the dragons and impenetrable homes their ancestors had made. But I don’t remember much of *anything* about most of the other Pern books.

  11. WanderingUndine May 21, 2019 at 5:43 pm

    Good question about the epidemic transmission in a low-mobility society. IIRC, the epidemic in Moreta came from the foreign “feline” displayed at a Gather from whence the attendees brought it back to their scattered homes. This book gives no explanation at all?

  12. alexeigynaix May 21, 2019 at 5:53 pm

    Thread was terrifying in Dragonsong, too, as I recall

    or at least Menolly’s fear came through clearly

  13. emmy May 22, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    Yeah I was also wondering about the disease transmission. It made sense in the Moreta book, and we could see the (somewhat though not entirely) inaccurate consequences of it making the Southern Continent extra-forbidden because of that whole mess. The flu was terrible but it was an understandable progression of mistakes and bad luck. This as described sounds kind of like throwing rocks at the cast.

  14. Silver Adept May 22, 2019 at 1:27 pm

    Craft knowledge dying (or, in Norist’s case, being exiled) is definitely a problem that Pern never figures out what to do with. Despite all the historical record they do have of regular events that kill lots of people. And that they should be remembering because of that.

    Tragedy porn, perhaps, because it definitely seems to have given the writers some amount of satisfaction to put in all of that description of dying and tending the sick.

    Menolly’s fear is at being caught outside, without shelter, in Threadfall. That’s a death sentence, and she knows it.

    Disease transmission is definitely weird. It’s like someone flipped a switch on a harmless virus everyone had and suddenly it became deadly. Even if it were related to dragons or fire lizards, I would have expected it to activate in some places and not others, and spread slowly, by Trader speed, not dragon speed. It kind of feels like it was an engineered plague, or someone’s last laugh where they set a designer virus to activate 500 years after their death, or something. The colonists certainly had that kind of tech to do that with.

  15. genesistrine May 24, 2019 at 1:04 pm

    There’s the scene early in Renegades where the traders are trapped in Threadfall too, as well. But scenes like that are thin on the ground considering how long the series is.

    Hoyle and Wickramasinghe had a theory back in the 70s that diseases (including flu) were actually drifting down to earth from comet dust, so I’m wondering if the lack of obvious sources for this flu is a hint that that’s what’s going on or whether it’s just carelessness.

  16. emmy May 25, 2019 at 4:01 pm

    Hoyle-Wickramansinghe was specifically mentioned in one of the Pern books as part of a theory about the Red Star, wasn’t it?

  17. alexeigynaix May 25, 2019 at 8:49 pm

    Dragonsdawn, I think, and if not then the collection including the original survey story.

  18. Silver Adept May 29, 2019 at 3:32 pm

    If that’s the theory they go with, they could at least make it explicit that it’s the belief they’re working with, and then have made everyone act accordingly, but instead they’re acting on current for our time modes of disease prevention, instead of “everyone has to stay inside because the deadly dust is dropping!” Which is what Thread is, sure, but Thread isn’t blamed for infections and diseases and the epidemics.

    Asking for consistency across all these years is probably asking too much, but it would be nice if we could get it?

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