Dragonsblood: The Plot Gets Stranger

Last time, we looked at a short chapter that detailed the ways that Wind Blossom sought to alienate her offspring from pursuing her disciplines, by making them hate her so much that they would never take up her knowledge or profession. Even though her knowledge of genes and gene splicing will still be incredibly invaluable to the people who are trying to breed their livestock and their crops so that Pern can eat and do work.

I still don’t understand how this plan is supposed to work, and it’s made only worse by the idea that Kitti Ping apparently attempted the same thing on her child. Or Kitti Ping was just stern and never provided praise of any sort for her child all throughout her life.

Dragonsblood, Chapters 5 and 6: Content Notes: Repopulation Through Pregnancy Trope, ablism,

Fierce winds blow.
Seas roil.
Calm, wind. Settle, sea.
Let my loved return to me.

(Wind Rider, Second Interval, AL 507)

Chapter 5 is, essentially, “Get Lorana off the boat in the middle of the storm that Borar can’t sail the ship through because he’s staggeringly incompetent.” With help from Colfet to do so. J’trel and Talith’s decision to die hits Lorana here, but the more immediate concern of getting Lorana off the ship shelves that idea. What Lorana has to do is climb down a rope from the big shop to the small ship that Colfet asked be towed behind in case someone fell overboard. She manages it, and so does Colfet after some thinking about how to do it with a broken arm.

There’s an intermediate scene whose purpose is to tell us there will be a dragonrider, J’lantir, looking for Lorana to tell her the bad news about J’trel, and to express yet more interest in her bestiary project.

Unfortunately, the small launch doesn’t do well in the big storm and there’s a lot of scrambling to try and prevent the boat from sinking. Eventually, Lorana gets thrown overboard by a wave and tells her two fire lizards to go and save themselves, sufficiently firmly to override their objections, because Lorana is convinced she’s going to die out on the sea, and Colfet too, and she wants her fire lizards to be safe with someone else. Before we spin away from her, Lorana feels happy that someone is going to take care of her lizards, based on a feeling she gets from them at the end of their journey. That’s Chapter 5.

Terrome: (i) the biological portion of the ecosystem of Terra, the third planet of solar system Sol; (ii) the information and materials required to produce a functioning ecosystem based on the Terran ecosystem. (See terraforming.)

-Glossary of terms, Ecosystems: From -ome to Planet, 24th Edition

(Fort Hold, First Pass, Year 50, AL 58)

I’m still not linguistically on board with this idea of -ome becoming a suffix, but Terrome does make sense to use, and also suggests the writer of the book is a Terran, or has at least decided to adopt Terran naming conventions. Because otherwise it would probably be “star system [name].”

Anyway, it’s Wind Blossom time, and it’s been two years or so since Tieran stormed out of her lab over his father’s death and apparently took up residence in the Drum Tower. It’s a Threadfall day, and that means everyone in their preparations has let Wind Blossom sleep in. It’s confirmed again that HNO3 is the content of the flamethrower tanks, and, apparently, in the infirmary, there’s a betting pool about injuries for today.

“The current pool is guessing that there’ll be two severe, one minor, and three stupidities this Fall,” he [Janir] said, his eyebrows quirking with amusement. Long ago Wind Blossom had started a guessing game with the students to help prepare them for those wounded in Threadfall. Long ago it had ceased to be amusing to Wind Blossom. But it was still educational, so she pretended to enjoy it.
“Two minor, two stupidities,” Wind Blossom guessed.

Even if Wind Blossom didn’t like it any more, it probably had taken on a life of its own. But also, I don’t know why she feels the need to pretend to enjoy it, either.

Wind Blossom gives her orders, and Janir reminds her that she agreed the last time to let him run the infirmary during Threadfall. In the conference that follows, Wind Blossom expresses her worry that she’s got senile dementia. Janir tells her this is the second conversation they’ve had about this concern, and Wind Blossom is terrified at the implications that she’s losing her mind and isn’t remembering it. Not that she shows any of this, and the further conversations about finding a corpse to see if they can find the causes, and whether it would be more prudent to focus on infant and child mortality are also flagged up as repeats. Janir tries to reassure her that the memory loss seems limited to short-term memory, but that’s not a comfort, as Wind Blossom is trying to learn reconstructive surgery for Tieran.

Speaking of, the narrative shifts over to him as he finishes rumbling out news. We learn that he’s gotten strong in the intervening time, and also that he’s responsible for developing the drum code the Harpers will use over time. Emorra wants him to teach a class of younglings, in contrast to the older students he has had until now (and their ability to take his drumming skill and innovate new works in old musical styles (like jazz and old-Earth Celtic)). Tieran captures their attention by using the code to introduce himself and then teaches them beats until they can tap out “It’s lunchtime!” at the appropriate point.

Emorra catches up to him as he’s ordering lunch for the Drum Tower (as he promised when he headed down to teach), is amused at the barter for labor and meringues that happens as the cost of lunch, and then accompanies him back to the tower, where there’s some talk about why certain species were selected for use on Pern and not others. Terran plants, like sage, were apparently not well-suited to Pern (boron uptake is what’s mentioned, which I suspect means “too much boron in the soil”) or were discarded by mutual consent (okra, which makes me wonder if there were any black folk at all on the colony ship). They also lament that neither Terra nor Pern has a complete inventory of the ecosystem.

Tieran and Emorra then take a shift in the tower, after they make sure that Emorra knows enough drum code to be in the tower.

“Sure,” Tieran said. “They’re a fairly basic set of sequences, many of them modeled on genetic sequences.”
“Genetic sequences?” Jendel repeated. “You never told me that.”

Well, that completely screws the understanding I’ve had of drum code up to this point. Assuming that we’re talking about human genetics (which we may not be), that gives us four basic bits to work out that can be combined, each of which has to be audibly distinct so that it can be heard and repeated, even if transmitted at high speed, which week remain distinct regardless of the size or tone of the drum transmitting it, and also can eventually be translated by Fandarel’s distance-writer into distinct patterns of their own. Morse code, at two bits, could use “hit” and “roll” to distinguish between “dit” (.) and “dah” (–) be go at relatively good speeds, so long as an echo didn’t muddy the spaces between them. Four distinctive percussive actions? That’s not impossible, but I can’t imagine it would be easy to teach or learn, especially with the likelihood of echo distorting the message. Maybe someone with better percussive knowledge than I can tell me, because while The Other Wiki tells me there are four basic drum strokes, there’s no way those would be distinct enough to be understood, and as of right now, 40 rudiments seems to be a standard measure of the basics of technique for snare drums. I’m annoyed at this back in time idea causing more complications than simplifying them.

Later on, Tieran will think about a drummer who has “problems with some of the more complex rolls,” which makes me wonder what those building blocks are even more, and also despair about how any messages at all manage to get across, because I can’t imagine complex drum rolls having enough fidelity when transmitted over long distance to be able to tell the difference between the various rudiments. It also makes me wonder about grammar and vocabulary for all of those things, rather than being able to settle in comfortably with an alphabetic representation and the drummers spelling out the messages. This becomes even more egregious when Tieran and companion talk about the impracticality of laying telegraph lines. So they know about Morse code, but I’m supposed to believe this drum code is better than that for audible communication?

In any case, Emorra and Tieran chat about how much of a survey actually got done (where Emorra realizes Wind Blossom not actually telling her was yet another ploy, this time to get Emorra to find the information herself), and that bacteria and fire lizards got a good genome map before Thread interfered, and a significant amount of the equipment that could help with genome work was lost from Wind Blossom’s care in the crossing.

Both Tieran and Emorra console each other about not being able to stay under Wind Blossom, though Tieran stuck it out two more years than Emorra did.

“I quit cause I wasn’t good enough, Tieran. I knew that I couldn’t be the sort of person my mother expected me to be, the sort of person my family traditions demanded I be.”

Which has a different light in the view that Wind Blossom has been deliberately trying to drive everyone away from her and her studies. It’s still terrible and scarring and Wind Blossom is still well on my shit list for doing it, her regrets about it be fragged, but you want to tell Emorra and Tieran that they would never be able to succeed, by design.

The two also talk about what the survival plan for Pern is: repopulate everywhere after Thread finishes, figure out what’s toxic and what isn’t and what can be used to help with illnesses, and if the worst happens, hope that somewhere is so isolated they survive an apocalypse and then try to repopulate the whole planet themselves. It’s not a great plan, but it’s definitely the one that humans have been running on since the beginning.

Kassa, who is slated to be the next Dean of the College, appears walking toward the tower, and Emorra suggests that Tieran might have a shot with her. She’s seeing someone, Tieran reports, and points out that he’s not going to get anybody with “the scar from the top of his right forehead to his left cheek.”

Kassa relieves Emorra, and then talks to Tieran about wanting to get married and have her kids before she becomes a spinster. Tieran tries to get away from that subject, but Kassa is of a singular mind, and insists that everyone, even Emorra, will need to find their someone and have at least four kids or the next plague will wipe them all out.

Then Kassa tap-dances on one of Tieran’s triggers.

“Really, Tieran, you need to get out of this tower more,” she said. “However are you going to find a mate if you don’t keep up with current affairs?”
His anger inflamed him to respond, “No one,” he said, pointing to his face, “is going to want me with this.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Kassa replied soothingly. “I’ll bet there are plenty of girls out there who are willing to lower their sights.”

Cocowhat by depizan

Way to be an embodiment of shallow insensitivity, person who is theoretically taking over as College Dean. Because it’s not “you’ll find someone who loves you for who you are,” it’s “at some point, some lonely or desperate unattached woman will let you impregnate her because she can’t get with the person she actually wants to be with.” As if Kassa is envisioning some sort of future where women are kept to be breeders for whatever man can capture them and hold on to them long enough to sire offspring. Or, that she believes women will sign up to be impregnated in a world where medical technology is rapidly backsliding to the point where maternal and infant mortality will be even worse than it already is.

I hasten to remind everyone that religion supposedly did not follow to Pern, and yet here we have someone who is going to reinvent something like Quiverfull on the premise that it’s every woman’s duty to birth at least four children of their own to repopulate.

Tieran rightly nopes out of the conversation as soon as he’s insulted and neither of them talks at each other until a big distraction comes in. M’hall swoops in, carrying a body and Wind Blossom, who directs the corpse be taken to the cold room. And then M’hall arrives, without any passengers, and his future self tries to get him not to do the course of action he has just embarked upon, even at the risk of creating a paradox, but younger M’hall won’t have any of it. Future M’hall disappears into hyperspace after delivering the warning and a scold for his younger self for not heeding him. Younger M’hall asks Tieran to send for Wind Blossom, helps her up on his dragon when she arrives, and then also disappears, enjoining Tieran not to speak of what he just witnessed until he returns. And that ends chapter 6.

Chapter 7 stays in the past, so we’re going to resolve this instance of two M’hall talking to each other first. At least we know that proximity isn’t that much of a worry for causing paradox or the collapse of two into one.

I’m still just as confused about why Wind Blossom is parenting the way she is, and I’ve just gotten confused all over again about drum code. Maybe, just maybe, things will clear up some in the next chapter?

9 thoughts on “Dragonsblood: The Plot Gets Stranger

  1. Digitalis June 27, 2019 at 11:20 am

    “I’m still not linguistically on board with this idea of -ome becoming a suffix, but Terrome does make sense to use, and also suggests the writer of the book is a Terran, or has at least decided to adopt Terran naming conventions. Because otherwise it would probably be “star system [name].””

    I don’t see why planets in other solar systems wouldn’t have their own names, though? After all, Pern is the third planet in the Rukbat system, so that obviously follows the same pattern. Besides, there can be multiple life-supporting planets in a star system, so naming biomes planet-by-planet does seem to make more sense to me.

  2. alexeigynaix June 27, 2019 at 12:48 pm

    “Terran biome” makes more sense to me than “Terrome”, and such a construction allows the possibility of phrasing like “the biome of the warmer habitable planet in the Iota Aurigae system” if one does not expect the reader to know which ι Aur planet is Hassaleh and which is Kabdhilinan.

    (those are both the name of the star, btw, my brain went to McCaffrey’s Talents, which is older than the IAU-approved star name and didn’t use the Arabic one)

  3. genesistrine June 27, 2019 at 2:40 pm

    which makes me wonder if there were any black folk at all on the colony ship

    Look into your heart. You know the answer.

    (And good on them for not being colossal arseholes condemning their descendants to shitworld.)

    Four distinctive percussive actions?

    All I can imagine is the Patapon drums: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3Hz4hIjeDs

    grammar and vocabulary for all of those things, rather than being able to settle in comfortably with an alphabetic representation and the drummers spelling out the messages

    If they used them in triplets to represent the codons for standard amino acids there’d be 20, which would be enough for a stripped-down alphabet. But we know there’s no alphabet because they send “wind flower” instead of Wind Blossom because there’s no drum code for “blossom”.

    (I like to imagine them drumming out the entire genome of a magnolia to signify “flower”.)

    “I’ll bet there are plenty of girls out there who are willing to lower their sights.”

    “Yeah, cheer up, someone out there’s bound to be desperate enough to bang you sometime!”

    It’s amazing that after so many books they can still find new lows to hit.

  4. Silver Adept June 28, 2019 at 9:54 pm

    @ Digitalis –

    Right. What I’m clumsily trying to say is that if the writer were from some other planet where life developed instead of being colonized by Terrans, or the writer wanted to acknowledge the existence of other life-forms that weren’t Terrans, they would have/use their own name/a galactic standard name for that planet. And so I would have expected something more like Sol-3-ome, or Iota Aurigae-2-ome or something like that. It’s a minor detail, I suppose, but Ive been at these bits of language for so many books now that it grates hard on me how much the assumption is that everything is always exactly Earth or Earth-derived, so the authors don’t have to think about what it might look like to proper ETs.

    @ genesistrine –

    Given that there were Tinkers and Travelers and Roma, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if black people were also along for the ride and might have been killed in the first Threadfall because they noped out of white nonsense as soon as they could.

    Sure, multiple drums makes sense if you’re communicating at a distance where someone can hear the different tones of the drum. But given that message drums are apparently supposed to cross great distances, I can’t imagine a drum tower receiving a message where they can pick out the tones of what’s being hit on a freaking massive drum. It’s not impossible, but it stretches credulity. Plus, we’ve seen communication done with a single drum, which means all the possible things have to be doable on a single drum.

    I mean, maybe it’s possible that the drums somehow communicate something like the strokes for ideographic characters? If you used a grid of sorts to represent points on the page and then hammered out numbers in sequence to tell someone where to draw their brush, with special codes for “new character” and “new stroke”, you might be able to get away with a limited set of possible combinations. If that were the case, that would be some impressive work being done to communicate, to encode each stroke into a musical pattern, send it, then decode it back into the writing characters and get the meaning of it across. Not impossible (The 1,000 newspaper kanji, for example, might be the starting base), but also, there are a lot simpler ways of using drums to communicate. And you still have the problem of encoding the numbers or other representation of the brush strokes.

    I’m still confused. It works for plot reasons, but there’s never been enough discussion of the mechanics of what goes on, just that they drum out the message.

    Kassa’s remark is definitely a new low. Every time we think we’ve hit the bottom, there’s more to shovel.

  5. genesistrine June 29, 2019 at 5:22 am

    The tinkers/travellers/Roma/Bedouin etc were apparently brought along because whatever the government’s called said OK you can go as long as you take them with you, we’re sick of them wandering round here being all nomadic and stuff. There don’t seem to be any other ethnic communities along for the ride – a number of individuals of different ethnicities, eg the Japanese pilot guy and whatever Kitti Ping’s supposed to be other than Inscrutable Tiger Mom Asian Stereotype, but none of them seem to be communities larger than family. And none of them wanted to defend okra, so I guess no Cajuns came at least!

    Re drum code: But why would you go for all that fuss with kanjified symbolic drum code when Morse exists? Unless the college is secretly making a deliberate attempt to kill off literacy and therefore the alphabet is taboo.

    And on top of that, why talk about the impracticability of telegraph wires when radio exists?

  6. Digitalis June 29, 2019 at 1:38 pm

    @Silver Adept
    Yeah, but something like Iota Aurigae-2-ome just seems so clunky and unnatural to me. Seems more likely (imo) that any alien race would either use the name the inhabitants of that planet/region of space call it, or use their own name for the planet. (And their own -ome equivalent, or an entirely different nomenclature in their own language instead of English, and the worldbuilding rapidly starts to spiral out of control from there, which is great if you’re writing a space faring epic, but not for a minor quote in a book about planet-bound colonists.) If this was a different story with a different focus, I might agree, but keeping it simple and convenient is fine if it’s not going to impact the story in any way.

    Either way, I think this is more a matter of preference than a right or wrong way of doing things. 😛

  7. Silver Adept July 4, 2019 at 12:33 am

    Likely yes, a matter of preference. And, presumably, the author wanted to make sure there weren’t technologies around that would make things easier, like wireless radios and satellite communications, because the colonists didn’t want none of that super-fancy tech in their pastoral fantasy, or something. I can’t even begin to understand, so I’m not going to try.

  8. genesistrine July 4, 2019 at 1:30 am

    Thing is, it’d be easy enough to lose basic tech as well as high-tech in a colony scenario. How many people on Earth right now could build a mobile phone or transistor radio from scratch if man-eating Quorn fell from the sky and ate everything that wasn’t stone or metal?

    If they were going for a low-impact rather than low-tech life they could easily have the manufacturing and reference libraries in one location (say, ooooh, near a Certain Volcano) so when that goes off no more new gear or looking up stuff you didn’t already know. And if most of the population dies off there’s probably going to be a fair number of hobbyist weavers/musicians/farmers around, but a lot fewer people with the ability to build a basic cat’s-whisker radio from scratch, or even the knowledge that it could be done. Paramedics might know enough first-aid/crisis care to get someone to the medical centre alive, but if after that the surgery was done by AI only a few of them might know those techniques and might even be trained to think humans shouldn’t operate because it’s “too risky. Let the machines do it!”

    Instead we’ve got this “oh no all the tech is running out! Just as we planned! Why did we never think about how things would work when the tech was gone!” crap.

  9. Firedrake July 11, 2019 at 4:59 am

    And yet, as I recall from another McCaffrey setting (Freedom’s Landing etc., 1995-2002) humans dumped without equipment on an alien world manage not only to survive but to get a cell phone network up and running.

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