Dragonsblood: What A Difference A Few Generations Makes

Last time, the Benden Weyr crew called in Camp Natalon’s miners to help them clear a rockslide that turned out to house one of the secret rooms mentioned in very old records. The narrative went out of its way to portray Tullea as selfish, jealous, and otherwise the perfect example of a terrible Weyrwoman, in comparison to the all-loving Lorana and the full-of-determination Salina.

Dragonsblood: Chapter 16: Content Notes: Misogyny, Authorial Railroading

Where we left off, Tullea had just opened the secret room and passed out from the old air that came rushing out. The Natalon miners are sent on their way, despite there being more rockslides to clear that are likely to contain secret rooms, because what they’ve discovered is enough for B’nik and Kindan to believe they’ll be occupied for a while.

What have they discovered? Something wondrous, but the narrative is still very insistent on showing us at every opportunity what a brat Tullea is supposed to be.

Tullea elbowed her way past the others and raced to be second into the rooms. She paused just past the threshold, not so much for fear of bad air but in amazement at what she saw. Most the far wall was covered from floor to ceiling with a drawing of several ladderlike columns composed of weird interconnected varicolored rods and balls.
“Look at this!” Regellan called out, pointing to the drawing, as the others flooded into the room.
Tullea glanced at the wall drawing, made a hasty scan of the room, and then headed unerringly for something glittering on an open shelf at the other end of the room.
Kindan entered the room and stared wide-eyed at the drawing. Then a flash of movement in his peripheral vision caught his attention and he turned just in time to see Tullea pocket a small, silvery object. Before he could move to intervene, she was picking something else up from the counter.
“What are these?” she asked, holding up a crystal clear glass vial. She shook it, examining the powder-like substance inside, then casually placed it back on the counter and picked up another.
There were four vials in all, Kindan noticed. The countertop bore not only dust-free spots where the vials had been placed. Each clear spot was centered over a colored mark: red, green, blue, and yellow.
His eyes widened as Tullea negligent;y put the fourth vial back on the countertop, well away from any of the colored marks.
“Do you remember which vial went where?” he asked her shortly, trying to see if he could guess the original position of the last vial she’d picked up.
“No,” Tullea replied with a shrug.
“I think it’s important,” Kindan told her. B’nik came up beside him and frowned at the misplaced vials.
“I’m sure you’ll figure it all out,” Tullea replied with a dismissive wave of her hand, turning to explore a set of cabinets. After some fiddling, she discovered they were magnetically locked and spent several moments opening and closing them before noticing what was inside.

At which point B’nik hastily ushers Tullea out with the need to send the Camp Natalon miners home, and that she needs to let Kindan and K’tan do their work.

There seems to be an adjective the author is going for here. “Childish” is what comes to mind when describing Tullea’s behavior, elbowing her way in for the prestige of having been in there early, then stealing something and letting something else get put out of order, without any consideration as to whether it might be important, and then breezily dismissing it as something other people will fix, before getting distracted by the magnetic enclosures on the cabinets. Curiosity isn’t a thing to discourage in this case, but there’s also precious little information available about what this room is and what it’s for, unless you recognize the drawings on the wall, which I do, since I’m used to seeing models with rods and balls used to describe the genetic makeup of things. But these generations of Pernese down the line do not, or at least, their understanding of genes doesn’t include this particular representational model.

Anyway, the author seems very interested in making us want to hate Tullea, for all the potential damage she’s doing to making Benden Weyr find themselves a cure, stealing things, rearranging others, and otherwise not caring. It’s a marked departure, actually, from the Tullea that we’ve seen so far, who is cold and calculating and ultimately wants to protect her position more than anything. Unless we’re supposed to have always seen that Tullea tries to protect her position, and B’nik, by aggressively trying to bring everyone and everything under her control. (Which we have seen exactly how well that works to this point, so…)

Kindan and K’tan discuss the contents of the room and talk about what the use of the various vials is likely to be, in conjunction with the syringes for injection discovered, but they get nowhere. They do find another door, but it’s not responding to them in any sort of way. Lorana comes down to the room, because Arith is coughing and not sleeping well, and that means Lorana’s not sleeping well. By herself, Lorana is already able to make a lot more sense out of what the room’s purpose is, because she notices similarities between all the drawings on the wall, but more importantly, she realizes that there are four patterns on the wall, and there are four vials, one underneath each drawing.

Were the patterns supposed to tell someone which vial to use? Could it be the knowledge represented by those drawings had been so common when they were first drawn that no one had ever considered that the method of them might be forgotten and that was why there were only the vials and the drawings? Read the drawings and pick the vial?

Yes, indeed, friends, why would you put cryptic drawings somewhere that you expected your descendants to find and then not leave them a key to interpret those drawings and discover what the solution to their problems might be? There’s no instruction manual, no paper or plastic copy of information that might be useful to decoding what’s going on. Sure, what you would need to teach someone how to interpret a genetic code and get useful information out of what’s there is not an easy undertaking, but it would behoove someone to leave a complete copy of information in as many places as there are supposed to be supplies or other things. And, also, that’s the readon why the Camp Natalon miners should have moved on to the next rock slide, because if there were specific rooms (plural) mentioned in the record, discovering one does not mean you’ve discovered all of them.

Had they been working on other rockslides to see if they contained secret rooms, Lorana might not be feeling a significant time crunch on curing Arith and keeping her from dying. As it is, she can feel Arith’s life ebbing away, and Arith knows it as well. So Lorana grabs a little of each of the vials and a syringe to inject it into her in hopes that the combination of each of the vials will be enough to save her dragon.

There’s a quick interlude where Tullea is once again trying to interfere with Lorana’s progress.

B’nik was shoved roughly awake. He tried t squirm away from his tormentor, but the shaking continued.
“Get up!” Tullea shouted in his ear.
“Mmmph, what is it?” B’nik asked blurrily. He turned on his side, facing Tullea, his eyes blinking furiously as he tried to see in the dim light.
“I need to talk to you,” she told him.
“Can’t it wait until daylight?” he asked.
“Of course not,” Tullea snapped. “It’s about Lorana.”
“What about her?”
“I don’t want her going to the Oldtimer room.” Tullea said. “She’s to be kept away.”
“Why?”
“For her own good,” Tullea snapped back. Her eyes darted to her dressing table. B’nik’s sleep-muddled mind recalled that she had been playing with something silver and small before she’d gone to bed. He didn’t recall her having a silver brooch or jewelry box.
“What harm could she get into?” he replied, sitting upright.
“I don’t know,” Tullea said, not meeting his eyes. “I just don’t want her there. It’s not her job anyway.”
“She knows something about healing,” B’nik protested. “She’s been helping K’tan–”
“–Let her help with the injured dragons,” Tullea said. “But she’s not to–”
“Shh!” B’nik said, raising a hand. “Someone’s coming.”

That turns out to be J’lantir, who’s come to beg for more dragons to fly Thread with in three days’ time. B’nik promises reinforcements, and J’lantir pops back to Ista.

Let’s pull back to what Tullea is doing. She doesn’t know why, but she neds to keep Lorana away from the room, and while this could be put down to antagonism and jealousy (and, I think, having just read how Tullea behaved around the secret room, that’s the conclusion we’re supposed to draw), but we still have this giant problem of nobody wondering whether Tullea’s time-split.

As with everything else, there isn’t enough detail over any of the books to let an astute long-time reader know with certainty that this is the case, but Tullea’s behavior has been markedly different for the last three Turns. If it were consistently parts of her personality that are not present, it might suggest that being time-split means some aspects of your personality disappear to constitute the other person at the same time. Tullea’s obsession with Lorana and what she’s doing might also be a clue that Lorana is the key to whatever caused the time-split, although Tullea is the least reliable narrator about Lorana’s role and what should be done with her, because she’s literally splitting herself between two places at the same time, and that can’t be good for the mental health.

In this light, Tullea’s intense curiosity and theft might be important to making sure the paradox doesn’t happen. Which would be both neat and complicating if it turned out the Tullea that jumped back in time has some sort of control to make sure the events of the past happened as she remembered then. (Bootstrap paradox still applies, though — what happens on the first run?) Or can send her past self messages that get distorted in transit.

We’ll never know, and by this point, I think the narrative wants our patience with Tullea to shatter, right before Lorana suffers a tragedy with Arith, so that we’ll be in the frame of mind necessary to agree with whatever punishment gets sent Tullea’s way for her incivility.

The chapter closes out with Lorana mixing and injecting Arith with a mixture of all four serums. It does not go well for Arith, who complaints that it itches, and then that everything is very, very wrong, before Arith disappears entirely from Lorana, never to return. Lorana thinks Arith might have felt some other presence to go to, based on a very small sliver of feeling, but basically, Lorana is without her dragon, because Arith has gone to where she can’t be found, and is likely dead or has accelerated the process of Arith’s death. To put it mildly, Lorana screams as that part of her psyche is ripped from her, and collapses, having passed out from the strain of trying to hold on to Arith.

Chapter 17 next week.

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12 thoughts on “Dragonsblood: What A Difference A Few Generations Makes

  1. genesistrine August 22, 2019 at 2:03 pm

    unless you recognize the drawings on the wall, which I do, since I’m used to seeing models with rods and balls used to describe the genetic makeup of things.

    I’m pretty sure it’s meant to be the room Jaxom and Felessan find 1500-odd years later, as well.

    Yes, indeed, friends, why would you put cryptic drawings somewhere that you expected your descendants to find and then not leave them a key to interpret those drawings and discover what the solution to their problems might be? There’s no instruction manual, no paper or plastic copy of information that might be useful to decoding what’s going on. Sure, what you would need to teach someone how to interpret a genetic code and get useful information out of what’s there is not an easy undertaking, but it would behoove someone to leave a complete copy of information in as many places as there are supposed to be supplies or other things.

    No, because that’s not how Pern works. Pern is aaaaall about controlling access to knowledge. Look at Wind Blossom’s otherwise-incomprehensible “it’s top secret that watch-whers fight Thread at night!” thing.

    It’s especially weird in an “SF” novel, since a big chunk of the scientific paradigm is sharing you knowledge, “information wants to be free”, but it’s become more and more obvious throughout the series. There was slight hope that AIVAS might alter that, but I have a distinct suspicion it’s all going to be carefully gated into the Craft system so the Wrong People (i.e. most of the population) can’t go around randomly learning stuff.

  2. genesistrine August 22, 2019 at 2:18 pm

    Oops, there was meant to be another half of that post:

    it might suggest that being time-split means some aspects of your personality disappear to constitute the other person at the same time.

    Or there’s some kind of subconscious urge to differentiate yourself from your other self?

    It would be interesting to know if the other time-split “you” is affected too, and whether it’s in the same way. Going back to the very first book, the dragonriders and staff in the back-shifted Southern Weyr were seriously affected according to F’nor, but there’s no mention of the him or them at Benden 10 years before having had any issues.

  3. Silver Adept August 22, 2019 at 7:55 pm

    I agree that it’s going to become Craft system stuff, since the Printers are part of the Harpers and the Harpers control the information flow everywhere by the time the Ninth Pass gets done. I really don’t understand why the First Pass scientists haven’t been going their very damndest to copy information everywhere and stash it places to be found later on, but I also don’t understand why everyone in the First Pass is so okay with the loss of all that knowledge. And why they are also similarly okay with not trying to gain knowledge that is forbidden to them, either. They’re the perfect people for tyrants and despots because they apparently truly believe that whatever lot they have in life is their destined lot and don’t try to do anything about it.

    The problem with the older works not following the new rules is always going to exist, unfortunately, and I don’t think we’ve ever seen a work yet where a person does the time-twist and experiences the other side of the coin, and how it affects them. I am still unhappy that the dragonriders aren’t coming to the conclusion that they did a thing in the past and this is part of the effects of whatever they will be doing. Unless that’s messing with the timestream in such a way that it would change the outcome, but if that’s the case, it should probably be mentioned in some way that they know, but they’re too afraid of messing things up to admit it, or something.

  4. genesistrine August 23, 2019 at 12:09 am

    I really don’t understand why the First Pass scientists haven’t been going their very damndest to copy information everywhere and stash it places to be found later on, but I also don’t understand why everyone in the First Pass is so okay with the loss of all that knowledge.

    You’re not getting what I’m saying. It’s because it’s deliberate. It’s one of the founding principles. It was baked into Pern from the start. The original colonists wanted and designed it that way.

    I’ve been trying to interpret it as a side-effect of their fantasy mediaeval LARP, since I’m heavily into the “assume stupidity rather than malice” cast of mind, but there’s been far too much stupidity, and too well-targeted; at this point Occam’s Razor says malice.

    I don’t know if they were a cult or just a bunch of particularly nasty social engineers, but the whole Pernese culture looks to have been deliberately created to stifle sharing knowledge, preserving knowledge, organising knowledge…. I’ve suspected it for a while, but Wind Blossom, against all sanity, explaining that watchwhers mustn’t be chained because they’re Thread nightfighters but NOBODY MUST KNOW THIS put the tin lid on it.

    At ths point it’s actually anti-science fiction.

  5. Silver Adept August 23, 2019 at 8:42 am

    I get what you’re saying, but some part of my brain is making an awful racket of “SCIENCE DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY” and several other things that mean I’m desperately searching for any reason why you aren’t 100% correct, just so the story will make even the smallest amount of actual sense to me. Its not you, it’s my inability to believe that people are writing something this terrible and it became this popular. I have hit a fundamental assumption of reality and I’m apparently not willing to let it go and accept that these people call themselves scientists and the books call themselves science fiction, but they repeatedly fail to be either science or science fiction because nobody is actually interested in science or the preservation of knowledge past where it will be immediately useful.

    It would probably have been easier to accept had I rejected outright the claim that these series are science fiction, because limiting knowledge and controlling it and punishing those who obtain forbidden knowledge is absolutely a fantasy trope. So fantasy with an ineffective screen of science fiction over it, or something.

  6. genesistrine August 23, 2019 at 1:19 pm

    Yeah, it’s taken me 20-odd books to realise it, so….

    It shouldn’t’ve taken me so long, really – I’m familiar with Campbell’s terrible libertarian chudliness*, and the undercurrent of Silver Age sf with science as a seeeekrit underground cult (but once they win against evil invading Asians/superstitious cultists/~degenerate~ politicians they will for SUUURE make sure everyone gets an education). And the earlier books do have the whole rediscovery of science thing going on, it doesn’t seem to be until the prequels that the author decided she had to force this to get her ideal society. Though once you start looking at the originals through those lenses you can definitely see worrying hints.

    (*I was so delighted when Jeannette Ng called him a fascist. I’m not sure he was in the strict sense of the word, but he absolutely shared a lot of the fuck-awful authoritarian attitudes we’re still fighting today. And not only in the genre…)

  7. Silver Adept August 23, 2019 at 10:42 pm

    Similarly delighted to hear someone dragging the old white guy that doesn’t deserve his pedestal.

    Yeah, once the series gets out past the first few series, where the author probably wanted to stop, it really starts showing that it was a thing meant to be a dare for Campbell to take a fantasy and publish it.

  8. genesistrine August 24, 2019 at 10:19 am

    I hear the “dare” or “trick” thing a lot; is there any actual source for this or is it just internet scuttlebutt? The Pern stories were explicitly set on a lost colony of Earth from the very first installment, and there’s a long history of fantasy slipstreamed into SF already: dying Earth stories, planetary romance etc, so I don’t see any reason to think that “SF dragons” got published for any other reason than “cool idea!” and it smells rather worryingly of the “girls write fantasy and guys write SF” stereotype. McCaffrey wasn’t like, say, Andre Norton, who’d switch from fantasy to SF and back as she chose: McCaffrey wrote SF pretty much exclusively.

    I’m not convinced she ever wanted to stop either: the series was a guaranteed moneyspinner and horse farms are money pits for starters, and she does seem to have had genuine affection for some of her characters and her world. I do think she was terrible at strategic plotting though, and hopefully terrible at spotting implications too. Or at least I hope so; I’d still rather not believe some of the implications we’ve pointed out over the years were deliberate. Or noticed and ignored.

  9. Silver Adept August 24, 2019 at 4:25 pm

    Probably is Internet Scuttlebutt. It’s a very popular one, though, so much so that Mari Ness suggested that Pern is a fantasy story turned SF, and that the Srellim site says the Terran origins of the colonists was a suggestion by Campbell to make them more familiar to the audience. But that specific story might have been one that came into existence later and seemed plausible enough that it stuck around.

    Makes sense. The shifts and the plotting unraveling more in the prequels might be more of an inability to make the pieces fit well rather than writing past the point where someone wanted to stop. It still feels like ACD resurrecting Holmes after writing him off, though. I think we can safely agree, though, that it’s likely the author didn’t notice. Whether the editors had any power to make changes is probably something we’ll discover in the archives at some point.

  10. genesistrine August 25, 2019 at 4:40 am

    Yeah, unless I see something from someone more closely involved I’m not going to believe it. Pern is an SF setting right from its base concept: rogue planet dropping alien spores; that it’s providing an SF reason for having fire-breathing dragons is the whole point, not something sellotaped on to trick SF readers into reading something that’s “really fantasy”. Earth-origin colonists on an alien planet with psi-powers-and-stuff-that-looks-like-magic was a common and popular SF trope already; the Darkover series had been going for a decade before Weyr Search was published, for example. (You can argue that they’re all “fantasy with science words” rather than “fiction based on science”, which is fair enough, but there’s such a wide spectrum between the two poles I’m not going to get into classification without a squad of highly trained combat semanticists backing me up.)

    That’s my suspicion. The shift to prequels could have simply been an inability to plot out What Came Next in the Ninth Pass; McCaffrey was spectacularly bad at plotting politics other than This Is A Bad Guy Hate Hate Hate Them – she was great at Young Person Finds Adventure And Their Place In The World, but events in the Ninth Pass were getting really complicated so Moreta and Dragonsdawn probably seemed like good options for putting off figuring that out while still writing in her most popular setting.

    I think she was well past being editable at that point though. There’s probably some formula involving Total Number of Weeks on the NYT Bestsellers List / Position on Said List x Cumulative Profits to give the exact probability of an editor being allowed to change stuff, but I bet it was functionally zero by then.

  11. Firedrake August 25, 2019 at 12:33 pm

    genesistrine, a few posts back: I think one of the structural problems here is that we start in Ninth Pass with no science, but in First Pass we clearly did have science, so somehow we have to get from there to here. So if you’re going to write Third Pass or whatever this is (I’m not really all that interested), the overall trend in knowledge is downwards, and you have to show that happening. A Gift Upon the Shore is a very powerful book, but it’s also a very dispiriting one.

    The lack of editing thing isn’t only from the author’s side – in Terry Pratchett’s later years his publishers were unwilling to change a single word, and he had to ask an old friend to edit his first drafts for him just so that someone would tell him when he’d made mistakes.

  12. genesistrine August 25, 2019 at 3:24 pm

    @Firedrake: Definitely. Ninth Pass does have enough traces of science for readers to recognise it as a decayed Earth colony – agenothree, the ARRHENIUS plate, etc – but its people don’t have any context to understand that.

    McCaffrey’s problem with the knowledge loss in the prequels, I think, is that she feels she has to present it as being deliberate, even when that makes no sense whatsoever. (Dragonriders forgetting that dragons can time travel sometime between the Sixth and Eighth Pass is probably the most egregious example.) But there also seems to be a feeling that Pern has to be the same in all eras – there have to be fire lizards and dolphins and grubs and time-betweening and the Southern Continent and the same social structures operating in the same way.

    Re Pterry: he may have been a rarity among writers in actually wanting editing! 😀

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