Dragonsblood: Another Always Chaotic Evil Villain?

Last time, we spent a chapter proving that the watch-whers are not, in fact, a useless failure of an experiment, but a vital part of the Thread-fighting apparatus, specifically bred to eat Thread at night when the flashy dragons aren’t able to see.

We also learned that Kitti Ping, at least to Wind Blossom’s perspective, was an abusive mother, and that Wild Blossom is passing this problem on to her own daughter.

Also, it was very strongly hinted that the dragons of the current Pass are about to fall victim to something that has evolved to attack dragons and make them sick.

Dragonsblood, Chapter 3: Content Notes: Plotting Rape, Suicide

(AL 507, Half-Circle Sea Hold)

Wide ship, tall ship,
Tossed on a raging sea.
Fair ship, brave ship,
Bring my love back to me.

This feels like a song, for once! Not as sophisticated as some sea shanties I’ve heard, but something I can imagine actually being sung outside of the Harper Hall, by someone other than a child.

The chapter begins with Lorana scrambling up the mast and sketching the sunrise. When someone calls up to ask about the weather, she calls it back and everyone groans. Lorana doesn’t understand, so we get a charming piece of old Terran lore that has somehow survived all these generations.

Baror shook his head. “The old saying goes ‘Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; Red sky at morning, sailor take warning.’ There’ll be a blow for sure, but I already knew that.”
Lorana had heard from others day Baror had broken his arm years back and was convinced he could tell when the weather was going to change by the way it ached.

And also, a sailor with a weather arm, in case you needed more stereotype in your diet.

I talked about the improbability of “women are bad luck for a ship” last time, but I realize that we’ve never really gotten a good look at just how “Parallel Earth” the planet is supposed to be. The assumption we’re supposed to make is essentially “Like Earth, Except Where Noted.” There’s a different calendar system, though, which would suggest the Gregorian calendar and divisions of time didn’t translate exactly. So there’s a different revolution period. Pern has two natural satellites, instead of one, so that would mean tidal forces and the rotation period are likely different. And while Rukbat is described as a G-type star, The Other Wiki tells us “G-type star” is an imprecise categorization that contains anything from red-hot to white-hot stars and our conception of Sol’s color is strongly influenced by the way Terra’s atmosphere scatters light depending on the relative position of Sol in the sky.

And there’s Thread, which has to have an influence on the weather patterns, and life forms that have adapted to the regular intrusion of Thread, which might do the same. And also, there are humans (and possibly humaniform ETs?) and their climate-influencing technologies like coal forges and furnaces, cows, horses, mines, and the like, that have been going for at least 500 rotation cycles at this point in the narrative.

Which is to say, Pern is nothing like Terra at all, and we don’t my have a reason to believe that stereotypes like a weather arm or advice like “Red sky at morning” are actually useful on Pern without the narrative providing justification. I would think the Pernese would be more frightened of any red sky situation, given that the presence of the Red Star in the sky means Threadfall is on the way.

Which is, admittedly, me being grumbly about a lack of thought with regard to the world that’s been constructed. The MST3K Mantra or Bellisario’s Maxim could certainly be applied here, but it would be nice to know how all this ancient wisdom supposedly survived in a world that hasn’t been described as close enough. And it’s always Terran wisdom, not Cetian or Eridani.

Anyway, the narrative continues with Colfet breaking his arm and Lorana helping to get him below to set it. Well, Lorana helps, but it’s because Colfet refuses the sensible assistance the captain is ready to give Lorana.

Tanner looked alarmed. Catching sight of a seaman coming up on deck, he called, “Gesten, Colfert’s broken his arm. Help him down below so that Lorana can go ahead and get set up.”
“No, it’s all right!” Colfet called back, putting his weight on Lorana, who nearly buckled in surprise. “Lorana’s a stout lass, we’ll manage. Besides, the weather’s picking up–you’ll be needing all hands to trim sail.”
Getting the large seaman down below to get cabin was much harder than she’d figured, but Lorana felt that she’d proved herself “one of the boys” by doing so.

A couple paragraphs later, Lorana blushes under the intensity of Colfet’s gaze, and the whole sequence, bar the first time Lorana tries to set the bone and misses the mark, Colfet seems to be trying to flirt by looking at her drawings (which are in high demand, and also, Lorana finds Captain Tanner nice to look at). After blithely assuming she could support his weight so he could have alone time with her. And her going along with it because she thinks it will help her standing with the boys. (Which is to say, Colfet has really tanked his possibilities, in my opinion, but my opinion doesn’t count.) It’s a nice example of workplace sexism and how sometimes women can’t say no to the situation they’ve been maneuvered into.

Thankfully, there’s no sexual assault, and Colfet is genuinely glad to have his broken bone set and bound properly. He also has some advice for Lorana: hop off after this stop, because Baror hates women and dragonriders in equal measure, so Lorana will be persona non grata.

“Baror doesn’t like women,” Colfet interrupted. “You know that.” He paused and leaned in closer to her. “He doesn’t like dragonmen much, either. And for the same reason.”
Lorana looked intrigued.
“His first wife ran off with a dragonman,” Colfet told her. “I can’t say as I’d blame her–he was never much to look at, and his idea of romance would bore a fish.”
Lorana made to comment, but Colfet held up his good hand to forestall her.
“I suppose he might have changed his mind,” Colfet went on, “if only his second wife hadn’t died in the Plague. He blamed the dragonriders for not helping soon enough.”
Colfet nodded. “He found a third wife, but she hounds him unmercifully. I think that’s why he was so happy to go on this voyage. Still, he’s no reason to think kindly of women or dragonmen.”

I can’t tell of this is being played for empathy or comedy or just as a straight justification for misogyny. It could be any of them, and the context around isn’t helping any. If this is supposed to be “poor Baror, look at the suffering he’s gone through. The women in his life were unfaithful, dead, and a harridan, respectively” then the crack about how his idea of romance would bore a fish is out of place, because it’s a justification of why his wife would run off with the more sexually adventurous dragonrider. If it’s supposed to be “laugh at Baror, because the best he can hang on to is a shrew,” then the account of his second wife dying is out of place, because that evokes empathy.

This would read way better as “why Baror hates dragonriders and those associated with them” by keeping the first two wives and cutting off the third. That would even work for “hates women and dragonriders” with just those two, but then it’s “and now he’s married to a shrew, so he hates women because of her” and it’s out of place. At least one of these accounts is out of place for trying to find a throughline of making Baror a consistent character. He doesn’t have to be consistent, sure, but it helps.

And if he were consistent, it would be easier to find a thing to hang on to as “Pern is still a terrible place, even to men.” Because there’s a lot bad stereotype at work in Baror’s character and justifications. He’s ugly and unimaginative, so his wife ran off! He hates being cuckolded by dragonriders! And I want to know whether there were sex rays involved, and whether she had a choice to say no to the dragonrider that propositions her, assuming he did. And if she did, I want to know why she married him and whether being a lover of a dragonrider is a better station than a fishwife, so it was a mercenary decision as much of anything…yeah.

Wife number two dying and the dragonriders taking the blame makes sense, so there’s two reasons to hate dragonriders — Baror had his pedestal shattered again. Presumably, he loved her.

And what happened with wife number three? Like, there’s the very real possibility that he’s been taken advantage and is being abused, even if not physically, and he’s decided that it’s fine because he doesn’t deserve anything better, since better keeps getting stolen from him. And he’s stuck in a toxically masculine society that thinks it weak that he’s not the one doing the abusing and controlling, or thinks the solution is simply breaking the relationship and turning her out on her ear. (It’s hard if you love them, because love always believes you can work it out. And abusers are very good at making it seem like you even thinking about breaking it off is a terrible offense that means you don’t love them any more and you’re going to make them suffer because you’re a cruel and heartless person.)

It’s a complex character if you spend as much time thinking about things as I did. If not, it’s another woman-hating grunt with stereotypical reasons to do so. I suspect the latter was meant more than the former.

The ship docks at Half-Circle after several ships try to chase and overtake them for fun and fail. They pay mooring and watching fees (which seem to be highway robbery, based on Colfet’s reaction, but Tanner pays) and Lorana takes Colfet to the Hold Healer. The Healer looks over her work and says he’ll recommend Lorana to the Healer Hall if she wants to go, doubly so when Colfet talks up her drawing skills. The sailors and Lorana get food.

The perspective shifts to J’trel arriving at Half-Circle and having questions about the design of the place and whether that might make it vulnerable to Thread. He nearly gets run over at the Hold entrance by people hauling stones, insulted for being old, then blamed for the insulter, Genin, tipping their wheelbarrow when Talith gives the entire group an angry bugle for the slight.

Everyone around Genin tells him that it’s a terrible idea to provoke a dragonrider, but Genin is too provoked to stand down, and J’trel is determined to teach Genin a lesson.

It is a question of honor, J’trel said. Thread comes soon. Holders must respect dragonriders. Talith accepted the answer reluctantly, taking station and circling watchfully high above the crowd.

The fight itself is short and brutal. Since Genin knows he’s Shunned, no matter what the outcome is, he tries to grab J’trel to break his spine. J’trel gouges his eyes, kicks him in the groin, then in the chest, and that’s it. J’trel finds out where Lorana is while he’s still in a snit (and still very hurt from the fight) and goes over to say hello.

We do a quick shift to Baror, still grumbling about how it’s “not right” for a woman to be aboard a ship, which becomes a plot to…

“She’s a bit plain for my tastes,” Baror grumbled.
“She’d keep you warm at night,” Minet said suggestively. “Especially if you were the captain. She’d have no choice then.”
“My missus would skin me,” Baror grumbled. Minet knew that all too well. He was convinced that getting away from his wife was half the reason that Baror had agreed to this voyage.
“Your missus would skin you only if she found out,” Minet said, his eyes glinting. “As you said, it’s bad luck to have a woman aboard a ship. And accidents can happen.”

…rape Lorana while she’s out to sea with them by taking the captaincy from Tannner, and then also deal with J’trel, by causing “accidents” to anyone who would get in the way, then forcing Lorana with the captain’s authority.

Because we can’t let characters stew in complexity, or be ambiguous, or get hurt by their society and want to hurt others, or anything like that.

I do like the “petty” stakes for this, in the sense of “not trying to overthrow the social order,” not in the sense of “the rape of a woman is not important”. And yet, Baror could just be a greedy cuss, rather than having this plan spark off because dudes want to revenge-rape a woman. Not everything has to revolve around sexual assault.

J’trel sees Lorana, delivers some beaded harness gifts that proclaim Lorana to be an Animal Healer-in-training, to her “bzuh?” She learns from Grenn that J’trel was in a fight, and also that J’trel may have killed the man he fought. Before we can explore whether this is actually the case, Baror appears and plies J’trel with wine loud praise about his fighting ability, and quiet “commisseration” about Genin’s death until J’trel is too drunk to do much as Baror convinces Lorana to come with him because the ship is about to sail. Before she heads out, Lorana hears Talith cough and tells J’trel that it sounds worse than before. Baror leads Lorana so that she doesn’t see the crowd gathering around Tanner, who has been knocked at least unconscious by Baror.

Baror wondered if he had killed Tanner with the blow, but he didn’t really care.

Really? Baror has gone from husband at least nominally worried about consequences from his missus to a killer that doesn’t give a damn? That easily?

I don’t think the new author is any better at building believably evil characters than the old one was.

The end of the chapter is J’trel waking up from passing out from the drink, Talith’s breathing sounding strained, and both rider and dragon apparently agreeing that they are old, tired, and done with life, having discharged their duties to notify next of kin. J’trel tells Talith to give Lorana his love, assuming she will be able to carry on without them, and then the two take a one way trip to hyperspace together as the last action of the chapter.

I am entirely okay with assisted death decisions, but I usually like them to have been thought out and decided on with more than just a “we’re old, and it’s time, isn’t it?” because part of the reason for dragons and their riders bonding so tightly, as I understand it, is so that neither of them will ever have thoughts of disappearing like that while they’re bonded to each other. Even if we had a bit more about how Talith and J’trel have been thinking about what they’re going to do after they get done, and coming up blank, and maybe having had a discussion between themselves about whether the time was right, that would help this decision feel less like an author needed to get rid of a character and couldn’t figure out a good way of doing so.

And now, I sort of want to see how a rider-dragon partnership happens when the bond of the dragon isn’t enough to overcome depression or suicidal thoughts from happening, but it is enough to make those things less intense or less likely to be acted on, or otherwise sort of like being on meds that work for you.

7 thoughts on “Dragonsblood: Another Always Chaotic Evil Villain?

  1. Digitalis June 13, 2019 at 12:08 pm

    I was about to say I think the closest we’ve come to a redemption arc was Cristov, but then I remembered Vaxoram last book. Still, I’m getting real sick of the parade of cartoon villains. What I wouldn’t give for a decent heel-face turn. Or at least a stab at a nuanced antagonist.

  2. genesistrine June 16, 2019 at 1:41 pm

    There’s a different calendar system, though

    Maybe, but it doesn’t seem very different. I’ve gone through the books that include month/day markers and we never see days numbered higher than 28, or months higher than 11, so I suspect it’s a bog-standard 28-day month with 12 months calendar. Though we didn’t see month 11 until the last 2nd-Pass-set book; I thought it was a 10-month calendar till then. Might even be an 11-month one. And there’s no mention of any intercalary days, so how that fits into Turn-length I’ve no idea.

    After writing that I remembered the Pern wiki exists, and that says a Turn is “approximately 362 Pernese days”, with every sixth turn a “leap turn” with an extra day added, and says that’s from the Dragonlover’s Guide, which I’ve never read. From that I’d guess a 12-month 30-days-per-month calendar with 2 unnumbered lithedays nicked from Tolkien, but maybe there’s a couple of 31-day months. Anyone got a copy of the DG? Does it go into more detail?

    I don’t think the new author is any better at building believably evil characters than the old one was.

    Yeah, it’s just really tedious at this point. Not to mention it seems a pretty stupid plan anyway – he delivers the new supership, and what’s he going to say if someone asks what happened to the previous captain and the healer? He gets lucky because J’trel isn’t going to be around to ask any questions, but he’s got no way of knowing that in advance.

    I am entirely okay with assisted death decisions, but I usually like them to have been thought out and decided on with more than just a “we’re old, and it’s time, isn’t it?”

    I got the impression that it’s Talith’s illness causing the decision, which is actually rather an interesting reversal of the usual “rider dies, dragon suicides” thing, but it’s so loosely written that it’s really hard to be sure. (As usual….)

  3. Silver Adept June 17, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    Some nuance would be appreciated, @Digitalis. Or at least someone with complex motivations for doing what they are doing, and perhaps an awareness of whether they’re doing it for something greater or just for their own enrichment.

    I think we could manage heel-face turns better if the faces weren’t so awful themselves.

    @ genesistrine –

    I’d agree to borrow the DLG from somewhere, probably on interlibrary loan, but something in the back of my head says that we learned in a previous story that Turn’s End and New Turn Day (or something like that) were special days and not part of any month, which could give us twelve months of thirty days, plus the two uncounted days (where you could fit a third uncounted day in between for celestial corrections every sixth year)

    Then again, this is still another case of Terra leaking through to Pern where it’s exactly the same unless otherwise noted, without any thought about how timekeeping is entirely relative to the world you live on, and that after five hundred years, what counts as the important division of time is going to shift. Especially when you research a touch and find that many of our time divisions had religious purposes when they first came to being. An areligious society would need / want to find useful divisions of time for themselves that make sense for themselves.

    For as much as people drag on Tolkien for the amount of worldbuilding he did, he very clearly had ideas in mind of how to handle all of these questions, based on the things that he wanted or needed to have happen.

    I think we’re supposed to believe that Baror can lie convincingly enough to weasel out of any hard questions sent his way. Or perhaps he will eventually be convinced to just steal the ship and not deliver it at all to its destination, and since it can theoretically outrun anything, they won’t have to worry about getting canoned and sank.

    Talith’s illness is contributing, I’m sure, but it seems like J’trel had a very good case for being extremely depressed after the things he’s suffered, so it sounds life a mutual decision, but it’s just very sudden to make that decision, and it makes me worry that this is not as rare an occasion along dragonriders as one might think.

  4. WanderingUndine June 17, 2019 at 8:24 pm

    What causes a “weather arm”? Damaged or incompletely healed tissue being sensitive to changes in atmospheric pressure and temperature? I sometimes think my chronic arm pain is worse on damp, cold days.

    This is what Wikipedia says about the “Red sky at morning, sailors take warning” proberb on Earth:

    “The rhyme is a rule of thumb used for weather forecasting during the past two millennia. It is based on the reddish glow of the morning or evening sky, caused by haze or clouds related to storms in the region. If the morning skies are red, it is because clear skies over the horizon to the east permit the sun to light the undersides of moisture-bearing clouds. The saying assumes that more such clouds are coming in from the west. Conversely, in order to see red clouds in the evening, sunlight must have a clear path from the west, so therefore the prevailing westerly wind must be bringing clear skies.

    “There are occasions where a storm system might rain itself out before reaching the observer (who had seen the morning red sky). For ships at sea however, the wind and rough seas from an approaching storm system could still be a problem, even without rainfall.

    “Because of different prevailing wind patterns around the globe, the traditional rhyme is generally not correct at lower latitudes of both hemispheres, where prevailing winds are from east to west. The rhyme is generally correct at mid-latitudes where, due to the rotation of the Earth, prevailing winds travel west to east.”

    So its presence on Pern, or at least part on Pern, does indicate a presumption of wind patterns like those in Earth’s mid-latitudes, possibly unconscious on the author’s part.

  5. genesistrine June 18, 2019 at 1:54 pm

    Turn’s End and New Turn Day (or something like that) were special days and not part of any month

    I don’t remember that, but it makes sense.

    Calendars in general: I can easily see sevendays sticking. And since they were planning an agricultural colony they’d want a calendar that took seasons into account, at least. (Well, assuming they ended up on a planet with seasons, but the odds are pretty good from what we know that it’d have axial tilt and therefore seasons.)

    Depending on year-length some kind of year-division shorter than seasons would probably come in useful for scheduling as well, and could easily be called “months” for convenience. Though how many you’d end up with would depend on the year-length – they might even prefer to go with 12 “months” and adjust their length correspondingly.

    But having your “year” being so nearly 12×30 is just… boring!

    Baror can lie convincingly enough to weasel out of any hard questions sent his way. Or perhaps he will eventually be convinced to just steal the ship

    Kind of hard to live a life of piracy when they’ll soon need cover every time Thread falls….

    Talith’s illness is contributing

    I’m thinking of it as basically the trigger – that in the normal course of things dragons won’t suicide while their riders are alive, but Talith is seriously ill and that overrides that inhibition.

    But, as ever, whether this is what the author intended is damn near impossible to tell.

  6. Silver Adept June 20, 2019 at 10:31 pm

    @ WanderingUndine –

    The “weather [appendage]” always seems to be that a broken and re-healed bone is especially sensitive to the changes in humidity (or pressure) that accompany storms, so it begins to ache when there’s foul weather on the way.

    I suspect that author went with the wisdom without thinking about what that meant for the weather patterns of the planet, mostly because I can’t imagine them doing even the cursory bit of research that you’ve done just to show there is a possible reason for the adage.

    @ genesistrine –

    I think I’m extrapolating from…Renegades, was it? where the Conclave of Holders had the Turn’s End and the New Turn Conclaves and they were special in some way, like the one followed the other immediately and they lasted for an indeterminate amount of time, and possibly that the official end and beginning of the Turn were at the end of the one and the beginning of the other. I may be remembering this entirely wrong, but it seems like those Conclaves were in some sort of free time period not marked according to the calendars.

    You’re right that calendars would definitely redevelop, but they could at least acknowledge a bit more explicitly that the calendar system they’re using is what they inherited from the colonists, and all the colonists inexplicably use the Terran calendar system, instead of having to fight a touch over whether it was going to be the Gregorian, or the Jewish, or the Muslim, or the Chinese, or the Tau Cetian, or whether they spent the first few years observing everything about Pern before figuring out where they wanted to put their sub-year, sub-season divisions. Even the sevenday has a religious origin, although it’s presumably a long way off in the past for even the colonists.

    We don’t really know what’s going on with Talith and whether the illness is some form of, say, toxoplasmosis that overrides the self-preservation instinct. Especially with the potentially scientific bent of Pern now, they could possibly go into that sort of discussion. But they don’t.

  7. genesistrine June 23, 2019 at 3:47 am

    I went down an interesting rabbithole of proposed Martian calendars thanks to this – Mars has a relatively eccentric orbit, so “seasons” defined by solstice and equinox have notably different lengths. (There’s a collection of them at http://ops-alaska.com/time/index.htm if anyone wants to browse.)

    Regarding Pern’s calendar, bear in mind that they had the original survey data on year/day length and orbital eccentricity, so they could have got all the calendar arguments out of the way even before they left.

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