Dragonsblood: Flying the Nest

Well, we’ve made it this far. There’s still six books to go that we know of before we reach the end of the line.

This book is solely the product of Todd McCaffrey, or so the blazon proclaims.

Dragonsblood, Introduction and Chapter One: Content Notes:

If we turn to the Introduction, written by his mother, though, after proclaiming that Todd had quite the pedigree of writers and that he’s also accomplished in his own right without having to rely on that pedigree, it mentions there were conflicts between them about the story and that she made him go through her regular beta readers to make sure the canon and the style started true. She feels he did the job admirably, and shows us “another point of view about Pern.” One, of course, that hews to what Anne thinks about Pern, because, well…

You see, I’ve always been paranoid about people writing in my world. If you’d seen some of the lovingly but inaccurately written stories I’ve seen, including a film script that had me cringing in fear that it would be produced, you’d understand how I feel about having my literary child misrepresented.

You don’t say. Much like another Anne who accused her fans of “interrogating the text from the wrong perspective”, it would be an understatement to say that Anne McCaffrey hated fanfic.

It’s taken us a while, but now we finally have a textual excuse for all that extratextual material I’ve been trying to avoid, and will continue to avoid where possible, as justifications for why Pern is the way it is. I still think it’s a mark of poor storytelling if people have to use your outside-the-text conversations and statements to make your text make sense and see where you’re coming from.

There were some authorized outlets where people could play characters on Pern without litigious threats, but those spaces had to obey her very tight rules about setting, sexual orientation, and many other things, to continue to exist, and her lawyers were not above sending cease and desist letters to teenagers that strayed from the path. Among other things. And while it looks like she’s mellowed out some by the time this introduction is written, you can still see the white-knuckle pearl-clutching at work, so much so that even her son had to follow the rules to be able to write in the world.

Based on this alone, I don’t expect things to be different with a new author at the helm, writing supposedly solo. Let’s begin.

Red Star at night:
Firestone dig,
Harness, rig
Dragons take flight.

(Fort Weyr, at the end of the Second Interval, After Landing, 507.)

Chronologically, we’ve moved forward in Pern time, rather than back, so we’ve jumped up past the flu that killed the humans. But we’re still feeling the effects of something, as the new Fort Weyrleader, K’lior, is concerned about not having enough dragons to fight Thread.

D’gan

is still Weyrleader at Telgar, despite everything we saw him do and all the reasons his Weyr could have invoked to have thrown him out by now. And while he has enough supplies, and full tithes, he’s not sharing with anyone. Well, he could share, but then C’rion suggests it’ll all be bronzes so that D’gan doesn’t have to compete as much on the next mating fight and that pisses D’gan off enough that he storms out. M’tal chides C’rion for antagonizing D’gan, and the two haggle a bit about getting personnel in the right place, where it turns out C’rion wants to shift J’trel over to Benden so as to help them with Search…and to get over the loss of his partner.

“But he’s not a scoundrel. And it’s no lie that his blue has an eye for good riders, especially the women.”
“Which is odd, considering his own preferences,” M’tal remarked.
“Well, you know blues,” C’rion agreed diffidently. As blue dragons mated with green dragons, and both were ridden by male riders, the riders themselves tended to be the sort who could accommodate the dragons’ amorous arrangements.
“And you want to get him away from Ista so he can forget about K’nad,” M’tal surmised. K’nad and J’trel had been partners for over twenty Turns.

And that leads into realizations of just how old both Weyrleaders are, too.

I have to note that this book was published before Dragon Harper by a couple years, so this idea of saying that blue and green riders are generally gay without insisting they are exclusively so was already on pace by the time we get to that book. New knowledge. I also wonder if this is one of the things that got fought over.

The fruit that turns out to be vital in saving everyone from the plague gets mentioned here in the future time, too, and J’trel specifically as the person who brings the fruit and knows where it is, which might have caused a recordscratch about how Kindan knows this, but it’s entirely possible I just wasn’t paying attention in the right spots rather than this being an instance where a character knows something they shouldn’t.

We shuffle over to who is likely to be our main character, Lorana, trying to sketch a bug with one hand and keep it pinned down with another. Which works until she has to wipe away sweat, and then the bug burrows away.

Lorana has two fire-lizards, Grenn (a brown) and Garth (a gold), and gets regular visits from J’trel. Who is late to picking her up, but she shows him her sketches of the “scatids,” pointing out a variation between the ones in the north and the ones in the south. J’trel times it ever so slightly to make sure Lorana gets in the ship she’s supposed to on time, but there’s something worrying about Talith.

As the blue dragon became airborne, he gave a soft cough.
Lorana looked at J’trel with her brows raised. “I don’t recall him coughing like that before.”
J’trel waved a hand. “He’s old. Sometimes a thick lungful of air makes a dragon cough. His lungs aren’t like they used to be.”
“Do dragons cough often?” Lorana asked, with natural curiosity–her father had been a beastmaster and had even tended people in emergencies, and she had learned much of his craft.
J’trel shrugged. “Dragons are very healthy. Sometimes they seem to get a bit of a bug, and sometimes a cough.” He made a throwaway gesture, saying, “It doesn’t last long.”
“What about the Plague?” Lorana asked with a faint shudder.
“The Plague affected people, not dragons, and the dragonriders were careful to keep safe.” J’trel’s face took on a clouded look. “Some say we were too careful.”

So dragons do get sick as well as injured. (I wonder if this was a thing that got fought about.) And it’s useful to have already traced the Plague all the way through to know what had happened then.

There’s a quick explanation of how they time-traveled to be sure Lorana could get where she needed to go on time, and how being in two places at the same time can be exhausting or irritating or both to dragon, rider, and any passengers along for the ride. And, because it might be the first time someone is looking at Pern, there’s an explanation of how paradox is avoided in the timeline: every time travel incident is a Stable Time Loop. Everything that will happen has already happened. Or as J’trel puts it:

“You can’t alter the past,” he told her. “As long as it never happened in the past, it never can happen in the past.”
“Why not?”
It cannot be done, Talith said. A dragon cannot go to a place that is not.
Lorana looked puzzled.
“I tried once,” J’trel said, shaking his head at some sad memory. “I couldn’t picture the destination in my mind.”
It is like trying to fly through rock, Talith added.
“I wanted to go back to when my mother was still alive,” J’trel said. “I wanted her to see that I’d Impressed, that I’d become a dragonrider. I thought I could make her happy.” He shook his head. “But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t see her and the place clearly enough in my mind to give Talith the image.”
You had not done it, so you could not, Talith explained with draconic logic.
Lorana shook her head, mystified. “Maybe if I think about it long enough, it’ll make sense,” she said[…]

That characterizes this like it’s a failure of imagination that’s keeping the dragonriders from ripping through time and doing things that aren’t in the predestined Stable Time Loop. And frankly, that’s weird, because portraits and drawings and tapestries are very clearly part of Pern, and available to a lot of people. If J’trel had a portrait reference of the right time period, even if it wasn’t the right place, he could presumably do the time warp and then fly to the right place to find his mother once he knew where in the past he had landed. If it’s really solely a problem of not having an appropriate picture, then it really isn’t a problem at all, given how in the very first book of the series, a four hundred year-old tapestry was sufficiently detailed that someone could use the picture on the tapestry as their reference point. (Presumably not the tapestry itself, although being able to picture it hanging in a place where Lessa knew it would be hanging might have also been good enough for some sort of temporal hop.)

There’s a possibility that envisioning something that you saw would cause you to telefrag your younger self by appearing in the same place, but Lessa already proved that didn’t happen, and dragonriders presumably get the same image from others when they are warping through hyperspace, but the dragons seem to be able to sort themselves and their riders out so that everyone isn’t trying to appear in the same space-time coordinate. So that’s not it, either.

So what is actually keeping the dragons in check, other than narrative fiat? And, as usual, what happens on the first go-round, when someone isn’t already back in time to right the wrong or otherwise create the timeline that will save someone from a particular issue?

Does anybody in SF ever really provide a good answer to these questions?

But we should keep an eye on that cough from Talith, as the narrative spins back to how J’trel and Lorana met.

It turns out that Lorana had kept her brown fire-lizard from taking a one-way trip to hyperspace after he suffered a serious wing fracture, and that has J’trel’s curiosity, given that the fire-lizards usually vanish themselves when injured that badly. He inspects Lorana’s work at setting and splinting, says there’s a good chance the fire-lizard will live, and offers to take Lorana and her fair down to the southern continent (although not named as such) to rest and recover. Halfway through the month it took to recover, J’trel is fascinated by Lorana’s drawing skill, she tells him about how the skill was developed and encouraged by her father after they held off a mob that was convinced they’d brought the Plague with them. In return, J’trel let’s on that he doesn’t feel like he belongs, either, because he’s old, he’s not the best fighter, and the partner he loved is dead. He didn’t have a plan after informing the family, but now he’s glad because he’s pretty sure he’s met a future Weyrwoman.

“I’ve never met a woman more fit to lead a Weyr.”
“Lead a Weyr?” Lorana repeated aghast. “Weyrwoman? Me? No, no–I–”
“You’ve more talent than I’ve ever seen,” J’trel told her. “Half the Istan riders of the past thirty Turns were searched by me and Talith.”
He smiled briefly in pride. “And you can talk to any dragon!” he exclaimed.
Lorana crinkled her forehead in confusion. “What makes you say that?” she asked. “I’ve only talked with Talith.”
“While it’s true that a dragon can talk to anyone he chooses, only riders bonded to a dragon can address one–and usually only their own. No rider can talk to another dragon unless he can hear all dragons. Do you know how few can do that?”
Lorana could only shake her head.
“Torene is the only one I can think of,” J’trel said. “And I don’t think she has your way with them. It’s more like you feel than talk to them.”
“You don’t?” Lorana asked in surprise. She looked out to Talith and smiled fondly at the blue. “I’m sorry, I–”
“Lass, when are you going to stop apologizing for your gifts?” J’trel interrupted her gently.

Oh, I don’t know, maybe when your society stops being a patriarchal hellscape. J’trel is a privileged man asking why a woman isn’t using her skills to the fullest. Has he noticed at all how women are treated outside of the Weyr? Has he paid any attention at all to how the Weyrwoman gets treated in the Weyr? I’ll bet he hasn’t, because nobody would want to risk the patriarchal wrath of misbehaving around dragonriders. Plus, although it’s in the future compared to here, Aramina showed us why that talent isn’t necessarily one to flaunt everywhere.

The narrative, however, prefers to say that this feeling of not feeling like you have a purpose in life a symptom of the “deep shock” that came from the utter destruction of the population during the plague and that Pern is suffering survivor’s guilt on a planet-wide basis. But no, Pern doesn’t need therapists, and is steadfastly refusing to reinvent them in the face of the multiple planet-wide disasters that ravage the planet regularly, both scheduled and unscheduled.

J’trel gives Lorana the possible purpose of drawing all the creatures in Pern, and they have a laugh about the recovered Grenn having a less successful first flight because it’s too fat to fly from all the eating and loungng it’s been doing while healing. At least it’s not being fatpohobic about a human. Which is a pretty low bar to clear.

Coming back to the present, there’s some gawking over the drawings that Lorana can produce versus a superstition that has no real business being on Pern about women in ships being bad luck for the sailors. The captain points out it’s supposed to be a short shakedown run and takes Lorana on as Healer to see whether or not this ship can deliver on the promise of being a ship that can run between holds in the intervals between Threadfalls during a Pass.

Which goes smoothly and the chapter ends with J’trel very certain that Lorana will end up as a Weyrwoman, perhaps Pern’s finest.

Nothing like expectations. And also the strong possibility that J’trel might interfere as much as possible to get the result he wants.

As a first chapter, it’s a little weird, honestly. There’s not a lot of foreshadowing, and I guess that Lorana’s ability to draw is going to be the gun on the mantelpiece, unless it’s her ability to talk to all the dragons.

Right now, the narrative seems a bit lost, like the characters claim to be. We got some useful attempts at worldbuilding, and we got to know how these characters met, but I don’t know that anything very specifically contributed to plot in this chapter.

Which makes me worry that the editoral immunity that the first author had got extended to the new one, because the first author was being a helicopter parent with regard to this book.

Well, maybe the plot will work better next week?

9 thoughts on “Dragonsblood: Flying the Nest

  1. WanderingUndine May 30, 2019 at 7:35 am

    Eeesh. I know some authors forbid fanfiction entirely (though I’m sure there fans write it and nobody else ever sees it), but I’ve never looked at the policies of one who allows it under very strict restrictions. I discovered fanfiction.net in 2006, allegedly after there had been a general loosening of rules with the vast growth of the internet, so may have missed some of the worst of it.

    Today there are 652 non-crossover Pern fanfics and 57 crossover ones on fanfiction.net, and 853 on Archive of our own, probably with some overlap between sites.

    I don’t understand the workings of time travel, but I don’t understand *most* time travel I read about. At least in Pern there’s some exploration and explanation of what is and isn’t possible with it, instead of plunking it down as the simple solution to everything. I do not generally like time travel as a plot device, Sam-I-Am.

  2. Digitalis May 30, 2019 at 10:41 am

    And here starts the story arc I’ve really been looking forward to. The premise and overall plot is actually really interesting to me, something I think could be really good in the hands of a competent author.

    Todd is not a competent author. Though I do think most of the progressive changes to the world are his ideas. (Like the more flexible blue and greenriders.) It makes me wonder how much he was held back by his mother’s rules.

    Lorana is almost universally considered a Mary Sue among fans who’ve read the book, as far as I can tell. I’ll be interested in hearing the opinions of people here about it, because I actually don’t agree. I think my and many others’ dislike for her on my initial reading was a mixture of internalized misogyny and nostalgia for Lessa, as well as the poor writing in general. I’ve softened a lot towards her over time.

    Speaking of HADs (Hears-All-Dragons):
    Putting aside the question of why the focus is on hearing dragons when talking to them is the exceptional part, by this definition, N’ton is a HAD! When he was first introduced in Dragonflight, he could “make Canth hear him.” I seem to recall there were other instances of people thinking around dragons and being heard, but I can’t remember any of the top of my head. Maybe Robinton?

  3. Silver Adept May 30, 2019 at 3:11 pm

    I think a lot of the explosion of fanworks has to do with the phenomenon of having too many moles to whack. Unless an author wants to send their lawyers after every single creator with a cease and desist order, they are way better off going after the people who will significantly impact the bottom line and won’t drive fans away in droves, like pirates. And authors that try to exercise that level of control often end up running into the Streisand Effect, because fans will spite a creator that goes to those lengths until they give up or run out of money to pursue with.

    I don’t like time travel as a plot device much, because there’s always a paradox or five that has to get resolved. As a narrative device, it’s pretty neat, sort of how you see one thing on screen, and then they back it up to show you what actually happened and fill you in on key details you missed the first time.

    I suspect that Todd wants to make the world more palatable and updated, because he sees the ways the Suck Fairy has taken up residence and how society has shifted since Pern first came to be, and if he wants people to read his books, he can’t appeal to his mother’s fans in the same way. Which might mean he got held back a lot by those rules.

    @ Digitalis – Right now, Lorana seems okay – highly talented with drawing, which, in some other universe, might get her scouted for the cartographers division of the Harpers, but we’ll see what she develops into.

    Robinton would have been my first choice for having to pick a Sue of Pern. I think you’re right that he got addressed by dragons (or was able to address them). And that’s definitely a sign of having some very strong telepathy, so I wonder why it suddenly became a trait only sought after in queen riders, rather than there being a normal distribution of single dragon and hears-all-dragons in any given Weyr.

  4. WanderingUndine May 30, 2019 at 6:41 pm

    Introducing a character in the act of drawing an esoteric or non-charismatic animal is a good way of immediately endearing them to me. I could somehow end up disliking Lorana, but she currently sounds interesting.

  5. WanderingUndine June 2, 2019 at 1:41 pm

    I’m entirely unfamiliar with Anne Rice, but I looked up her referenced rant, and am simultaneously eyerolling and reminded that I probably couldn’t have made it as a published author because I might not be much better at handling criticism of my creations. Most of the criticism I’ve gotten for my (fan)fiction was (in essence) that it was wildly unrealistic Suefic, but since that was its intended purpose, I was merely irked that people thought I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t yet know that most Suethors don’t choose to describe themselve thusly.

  6. Silver Adept June 5, 2019 at 10:07 am

    There’s still a perception that if you want to be taken seriously as a writer, you have to avoid having Sues or other gloriously indulgent characters, even in places where you’re looking for professional contracts or anything else. I think it’s a bit more of a step beyond to say “you can only interpret my characters in the way I want you to,” because fans do not do that thing at all. What they find interesting may not be what you intended, but it’s there all the same.

  7. alexeigynaix June 5, 2019 at 1:27 pm

    So, there’s this girl. She’s tragically orphaned and richer than anyone on the planet. Every guy she meets falls in love with her, but in between torrid romances she rejects them all because she dedicated to what is Pure and Good. She has genius level intellect, Olympic-athlete level athletic ability and incredible good looks. She is consumed by terrible angst, but this only makes guys want her more. She has no superhuman abilities, yet she is more competent than her superhuman friends and defeats superhumans with ease. She has unshakably loyal friends and allies, despite the fact she treats them pretty badly. They fear and respect her, and defer to her orders. Everyone is obsessed with her, even her enemies are attracted to her. She can plan ahead for anything and she’s generally right with any conclusion she makes. People who defy her are inevitably wrong.

    God, what a Mary Sue.

    I just described Batman.

    I mean, I’m pretty sure everyone here knows that? But like. Either gloriously indulgent characters are suitable for professional publication or they’re not, okay, fucking pick one!

  8. alexeigynaix June 5, 2019 at 1:28 pm

    …hey where did my blockquote go

  9. genesistrine June 5, 2019 at 1:40 pm

    Re D’gan not sharing: for all he’s bragging about how he’s full-strength and well-supplied won’t he be covering twice the area – Igen’s old territory as well as Telgar’s?

    Re J’trel: it’s nice to see an old gay couple happy together, but it’s BS that one of them has to die before the book starts so we don’t get to see them interact on-page.

    Time travel: blarg, I HATE HATE HATE the “we can only do it because we already did it” thing. If everything’s foreordained where’s the opportunity for individual choice?

    That characterizes this like it’s a failure of imagination that’s keeping the dragonriders from ripping through time and doing things that aren’t in the predestined Stable Time Loop.

    Which the Ninth Pass invented a way around – the 400-year Great Leap Forward was navigated by visualising the Red Star’s predicted position, and Jaxom fine-tuned it by adding in the other planets too. So, if that was the reason everyone wasn’t timejumping whenever they wanted that’s invalid as soon as the planetary position method’s invented.

    “No one’s ever drawn all the different creatures of Pern,” he told her.

    How does he know? There could be all kinds of single-copy bestiaries in any number of archives that no-one knows about because NO BLOODY CATALOGUES exist.

    @Digitalis: I like Lorana so far; similar to Wandering Undine I like her noticing natural selection, even though I suspect that won’t go anywhere. I can see how artist/naturalist/healer/super-telepath might get annoying though.

    HADs: well, J’trel might be talking through his hat. Or telepathic ability might have spread further through the population by the Ninth Pass, meaning that there are less powerful telepaths who can only speak to particularly compatible dragons.

    My theory for a while was that there were some dragons who could talk to all humans and Mnementh was one, he just usually didn’t bother. But it usually seemed to be him making remarks to bystanders….

    Re Sues: There’s still a perception that if you want to be taken seriously as a writer, you have to avoid having Sues or other gloriously indulgent characters,

    Doesn’t stop some Suefics getting published and selling millions though!

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