Dragonsblood: The Engine of Paradox

Last time, the dragonriders twisted time and sent their younglings back to grow up and get the injured healed so that their dwindling numbers could be reinforced in time for Threadfall, while in the past, Wind Blossom was put in charge of developing a curriculum and laboratory space for the Third Pass folk to discover and learn enough about the genetics of their dragons to gene-splice in immunity from the infection that’s killing them.

Dragonsblood, Chapters 22, 23, 24, and the Eiplogue: Content Notes: Mass draconic telefrag, author twisting the knife,

Harper, teach.
Miner, mine.
Smith, forge.
Healer, cure.
Dragonrider, protect them all.

(Benden, Third Pass, 26th Day, Al 508)

This chapter opens with Lorana and Kindan entering the classroom constructed, along with Ketan, and eventually M’tal and Salina join them. Upon entering the room, a message from Wind Blossom plays, advising them that if they are here because of an emergency involving dragons, they should proceed, but if they are not, they should leave immediately. Since they’re here for authorized purposes, they stay in the room, noting there’s a door in Day-Glo paint sealed with the verses of “Wind Blossom’s Song” that tell them they have to find the vector of infection before they can have access to the tools that will help them fix it. A recording of Emorra’s voice begins, directing them to a cabinet with binders full of information and telling them to sit at the seats so that the lessons can begin.

“Instructions will be played while the door is closed and everyone is seated. If you wish to take a break, simply either all stand, or have someone open the door. The instructions will resume from where they left off when the door is again closed and people are seated.
“Please note that there is no way to know how many of you are present, so if one of you must leave, be sure to leave the door open until that person returns, or she will miss parts of the instruction.” There was a pause. “Now, the first thing to do is to read the first chapter of the booklet. If you have problems reading the text, you will have to see if you can locate someone who can read it for you. If you do have such problems, please leave the room immediately. The power required to light this room and provide by voice is limited and will eventually fail.
“At the end of the first chapter you will find instructions on how to indicate that you have finished the first chapter and understand it.”
Kindan furrowed his brows in puzzlement. “That will be some trick,” he said.
“You may start reading whenever you are ready,” Emorra’s voice said. “Please do not stand on courtesy, as I am not present–this is merely a recording of my voice.”

I do like that there was foresight enough to think of the case where someone illiterate might discover the place and need someone who could read to be able to achieve their goals. If literacy as a skill had been completely lost in those 500 years, they would be up a creek, but the Harpers do what they can.

Having been instructed to begin, the students go at it. Lorana turns out to be the fastest reader of the bunch, looking to do an experiment at the end of the second chapter while Kindan, the slowest reader of the lot, is still working his way through chapter one. It’s a balls-and-rods experiment, where Lorana puts together a strand of PNA. Blue-yellow-beige (A, A’, N) works with red-beige-blue (B, N, A) and the two click together to indicate their compatibility. Lunchtime arrives, and Kiyary makes sure people take their time to eat and savor the food that’s been made for them, also leaving a pot of hot klah for them to continue working with. The afternoon provides a small amount of progress, and the group breaks for the night. At breakfast the next morning, there’s a breakthrough for everyone, because, like any good drummer, Kindan is constantly practicing on every available surface.

Shortly after that [having his tapping called out the first time], both of Kindan’s hands were on the tabletop again, tapping softly.
Lorana gave him a look but shok her head.
“Kin–” Ketan began, but Salina’s look cut him short. The ex-Weyrwoman was looking intently at Kindan’s fingers.
Lorana noticed her look and frowned, closing her eyes in concentration. A mmoent later, she opened them again and exclaimed delightedly to Kindan, “You did it! You learned the sequence!”
Kindan, startled out of his reverie, gave her a surprised look. “I did?” he asked. As her words registered, he shook his head. “No, I was just practicing some drum codes…” His voice trailed off thoughfully. “The drum codes are sounds.”
“But they’re grouped the same way as the PNA sequences,” Lorana insisted. Tentatively, she tapped out a sequence and then looked challengingly at Kindan.
“That was the START sequence,” Lorana said.
“No, it was the ATTENTION sequence,” Kindan corrected her. He frowned in thought and quickly tapped a different sequence. “What’s this?”
“That’s the STOP sequence,” Lorana answered promptly.
“It’s the END sequence for the drum codes,” Kindan told her. “What’s this?” He tapped a set of sequences.
“ABC, CBA, BCA,” Lorana translated.
“You’re right! PNA is based on drum codes!” Kindan declared.
“I’d say it’s the other way around,” Ketan remarked after a moment.
Kindan frowned. “I suppose you’re right.”
“But it makes sense,” M’tal said. “The genetic code is designed to store the most information possible in a group of three, so for simple drum codes it would be just as efficient.”


Cocowhat by depizan

All that I know about music is from many years of being just good enough to be able to play an instrument, but I really, really have to know how this drum code works, becaus if it is based on the PNA code, that still means that a Harper has to be able to pick out any one of seven rudiments rumbled on a big drum with possible echo getting in the way of clear discernment, and all of this has to be done at tempo, of which there is such a thing as being too slow to understand and process so that they can keep on top of the message. Those rudiments are furthermore grouped into sets of three, presumably, and from there you can create nearly all the words in the language somehow (without the code being based on spelling or phonetics, since they can’t do “Blossom”). This is not a simple method of communication in any sort of form. What was the inspiration for drum code, I want to know, so I can try and understand how it came into this mangled form. It makes no sense at all.

Kindan, inspired by his new understanding, soon caught up with the others. Several times, in fact, they turned to him for guidance in difficult sections. He would close his eyes in thought and tentatively tap out a sequence, and correct it.
“How do you know whether it’s right?” Lorana asked when thay’d solved one particularly difficult problem.
“I’ve been drumming for Turns,” Kindan told her. “It wouldn’t sound right unless it was.

That I will believe, but I also have to go “Wait, what?” because Tieran, recall, built drum code off of PNA before there was any indication that it would be used in this way for helping people learn and remember the sequences ehy needed. It’s entirely possible that after the disaster started, Tieran tuned the code to be mnemonic for Harpers to carry the information they need in their own bones and ears, but that’s a big coincidence if it turns out that the drum code has been structured specifically to help keep this information alive for the people that desperately need it.

Also, there’s an assumption that this is the only time that this particular problem will happen in the future history of Pern. What happens if in the Fifth Pass something else finds the magic key to attack the dragons and fire lizards again? Will the genetic knowledge and tools have been passed down enough to that point so that the descendants there can do the same thing? Will the Eridani equipment still work that many years into the future? Will the instruction sheets survive, and the recordings with them? We don’t know.

B’nik is hoping for rapid progress, given that his own dragon has a doom clock counting over him, and Lorana wants a lot of progress, given that she can feel it when the clock runs out on all the other dragons, but while they’ve learned lots, they’re still not any closer to figuring out the root cause of the infection so as to open the sealed door. The narrative shifts over to D’gan

surveying his fighting strength before him after the trip through time they took. Kaloth, his dragon, is very sick and coughing, but D’gan won’t have it for a minute that he should sit the battle out, and he’s too busy blaming the healer for not coming up with a solution to think about what he has or hasn’t been doing for his dragon. D’gan also orders his son not to fly in the Fall today, wanting him to instead ferry firestone and messages.

Back to Benden, who are doing their own preparations for Fall, and Kindan and Lorana, who have gone back to the classroom to try and figure out what the sealed door needs to hear before it will open. Kindan tries to help Lorana logic out what the thing is they need to know, since it’s related, according to the texts they’ve been studying, of the problem we learned about in the last chapter – behind that door will be the correct answers, but the past needs to learn from the future what those answers are going to be. While they work, Kindan points out that there’s a really terribly creepy element to the song, since it seems to be talking about mass dragon death or illness, but Lorana isn’t hearing him, because her hears-all-dragons skill has just kicked in, and D’gan

is doing something phenomenally stupid.

Just as the cold of between enveloped D’gan, he felt Kaloth give another shuddering cough.
Not long now, he told his dragon. Kaloth coughed again. D’gan began to think that perhaps he would keep Kaloth back on the next Fall Let D’nal or L’rat lead–it would do them good.
Kaloth coughed again. A chill ran down D’gan’s spine, colder than the cold of between.
Between only lasts as long as it takes to cough three times, D’gan recalled.
Kaloth had coughed three times.
Kaloth coughed again–and in that instant, D’gan realized his error.
All the dragons of Telgar Weyr had gone beyond between.
The Weyrs! They must be warned! D’gan thought in terror as the last of his consciousness slipped away.
[…D’lin catches the warning form his father…]
Come on, Aseth, between! And with that, overwhelmed by despair, hopelessness, and pure courage, D’lin urged his dragon between
–without envisioning his destination.
Two thousand Turns later, their bodies would be discovered, entombed in solid rock at Benden Weyr.

D’gan causes the death of the fighting strength of his Weyr because his pride wouldn’t let him sit back and let someone else lead. Because he wouldn’t listen to the sensible advice around him. Because he bullied and fought and refused to step down, and nobody could or would replace or depose him. Mass telefrag, just as feared.

And there’s an extra fuck-you to D’lin, because the rider entombed in rock is just a piece of lore that didn’t necessarily need to be answered, and it’s a further indictment of how dangerous and without safeties these dragons are envisioned. In grief and terror, you’re telling me that D’lin couldn’t visualize somewhere safe over Benden, or some part of the place that would give his dragon a place to appear, but instead just said “To Benden!” and the dragon chose a random point in space-time to appear out of, not knowing if it was safe or not? That doesn’t make sense to me, especially if drilling on waypoints is something that Weyrlings do to the point where they’re supposed to be able to envision them by reflex.

All of this sets up the condition in Wind Blossom’s song. Caranth heads out to try and find the missing Weyr, and Lorana tries hard to pull him back and anchor him to this plane, but she needs the strength and ability of all the other dragons of Pern to do it, and to search for the missing Weyr.

High Reaches is odd to Lorana – not enough dragons, and they echo weird, but she’s looking for more important things. Lorana doesn’t find Telgar with the massed power of dragons, but she does find someone else — Garth, and attached to Garth, someone who desperately wants to know how the dragons are getting sick. Lorana knows, somehow, having connected to this mind, and shouts and sends the message to the other person that the infection is transmitted by air. Which is the keyword that the sealed door needs to open. Not that Lorana is actually conscious enough to recognize this, as the effort has knocked her out totally. That’s the end of Chapter 22.

Parasite: A life-form inimical to its host, often killing the host to ensure its survival.

(College, First Interval, AL 58)

The chapter starts with Tieran wondering exactly how they’re going to pull off this paradox, before a thunderclap interrupts them. Which sets Tieran in motion to check on Wind Blossom, because Kassa said the weather was going to be clear, and Kassa’s never wrong about the weather. They find Wind Blossom in time her her to shout “Air” as well, and hear her explain the connection she forged with the powerful girl from the future. Emorra promises to write a song so the future knows that Wind Blossom has a question about this they need to answer. And then Wind Blossom expires, feeling triumphant that she’s managed to free her bloodline from the Eridani edicts.

Then, without saying a word, she [Emorra] moved to her mother’s dresser, oepned the top drawer, searched quickly, and pulled out the yellow tunic. She returned to her mother’s side and gently lifted the lifeless body, deftly maneuvering it until she had exchanged the yellow tunic for the white one in which Wind Blossom had died.
“I did notice,” Emorra whispered, tears streaming down her face.

But never said anything about it, of course, because that would have been weird or improper or otherwise not okay. But at least Wind Blossom gets to be buried in the thing she wanted to be buried in? Possibly, if she’s lucky, next to Purman, who she might have loved?

The rest of the chapter is essentially Tieran and Emorra telling everyone they can do the job of instruction to the future riders, now that they know which data to load into the equipment, Seamus helping out with power genration and hooking up ways of playing back recorded instruction, and setting up the idea that they want three rooms: one for instruction, one for lab work, one with the potential cures. And also, that the last-ditch plan was to alter watch-whers so they could be turned into dragons.

It’s all that I can give you,
To save both Weyr and Hold.
It’s little I can offer you,
Who paid with dragon gold.

(Upper Crom Hold, Third Pass, 28th Day, AL 508)

Last chapter, since that’s the end of the song, and we now know everything that the song entailed has come to pass. This chapter opens with the possibility that Upper Crom will end up with no protection at all from the Thread falling, before a group bursts in from High Reaches and chars all of it in short order.

We pop back to Benden, where Lorana is awake again, shakes off any insistence that she should rest, notes the second door is open, opens the final door and realizes they discovered the rooms in the wrong order, and then discovers a microscope and some prepared specimen slides to get them used to using it. They have all the equipment needed. The problem is, people are coming back from the Fall and the adventure, and Minith is now sick with the disease. This is potentially good, if the group can convince Tullea to let them take a sample from Minith to examine, sequence, and then develop a retrovirus for. They succeed at this task, and there’s more time spent with the narrative telling us about Lorana using the sequencer to isolate likely gene targets to build against, and they breach the problem that I was just talking about — fixing now only means that the next group has to do the same thing again, and there’s no guarantees they’ll get this option. Lorana also explains the watch-wher solution was included, and that she accidentally gave Arith that cure among other possibilities when she didn’t know any better.

Tullea interrupts the proceedings, storming in and complaining about Minith’s clutch having five stillborn eggs in it, and because of that, she wants Lorana evicted immediately, calling her “dragonkiller” again, which prompts B’nik to forcibly eject Tullea from the room, “grabbing her and propelling her out of the room[…]manhandled her from the room.” There’s just one problem.

M’tal nodded sternly. Then he stopped and looked up at Kindan. “When did Minith clutch?” he asked.
“She hasn’t,” Ketan replied, his face showing obvious surprise.

The entire exchange gives Lorana the inspiration she needs to figure out that they’re going to build a parasite shield into the dragons’ genetic code, by altering either the STOP or START sequences so that any later-generation attackers have to find the keys to the kingdom all over again before they can make any headway. There’s enough material in the various vials to produce exactly one dose of the retrovirus, and the best thing for them to do is to give it to a dragon that will pass down the new genetic code to their offspring. Which means that Minith is the only candidate to receive it. Which means convincing Tullea. Who is, predictably, not having it out of a desire to protect the last queen of Benden, and because she doesn’t trust Lorana at all.

“No!” Tullea jumped up, scything toward Lorana with her nails. B’nik rose and clutched her, keeping her from striking Lorana. “No, I won’t let you! You are not Minith’s rider! Minith, go between! Now!”
No, Minith replied firmly. Tullea’s eyes widened in surprise. I am Benden’s last queen, it is my duty.
“Minith says she will do it,” Lorana calmly informed the others.
“No,” Tullea protested. She turned to B’nik, pleading, “You can’t let her. She killed her dragon and now she wants mine!”
[…Minith is going through with it anyway, as it’s their last, best hope for victory…]
“Well, do it then,” Tullea growled. After it was done, she speared Lorana with a glare. “You can talk to all the dragons, can’t you?” She didn’t wait for a resopnse. “Do you hear them die?”
“And feel them,” Lorana admitted quietly.
“Good,” Tullea replied heartlessly, storming from the room into her dragon’s quarters. “Then whatever happens to Minith, I hope it hurts you as much as anything.”

Like, those are sensible reasons not to do the thing, because the track record here so far, at least from Tullea’s perspective, doesn’t look good at all for trusting Lorana. By now, of course, we’ve spent so much time invested in the idea that Tullea’s just not to be listened to, and is otherwise just being a bitch, that we’re supposed to dismiss her out of hand. Except now that we’re finally at the point where all the preordained things have happened, the narrative can finally let the characters get clued into what they should have already known before now.

“She didn’t use to be like this. She’s as bad as those who timed it.”
M’tal’s eyes lit. “She is, isn’t she?” he said slowly. His brows furrowed in thought.
[…Time to go, boys…]
“But if I’m right, I know why Tullea’s acting this way.”

And they turn out to be right. They go back in time to High Reaches Weyr (the one that got closed off and sent the very terse reply to wait when asked by Zist), where there’s a perfectly healthy and thriving Weyr that has the necessary immunities to beat the infection, thanks to Lorana’s cure working and Minith laying several very healthy eggs. To close the time loop, however, that means that Tullea has to go back in time and convince D’vin to close High Reaches into quarantine. Which she does, and then reappears soon after she has gone, but it’s the older, wiser, and much more appreciative Tullea, who is no longer being time-twisted. She apologizes to Lorana for all the terrible things she said when she was exisitng in two places at once, and has a distribution of dragon ichor to have injected into every sick dragon so they can be cured and have their own genetics rewritten to fight off the infection.

Tullea has the brightware she stole from the classroom to give back to Lorana, as well as a case with a locket inside that has the part of Arith’s riding gear that Tieran preserved, as well as a locket that has a picture of Wind Blossom on one side and Tieran on the other, who has been drawn with Grenn, so Lorana knows that at least one of her fire-lizards survived in the past. That’s the end of Chapter 24.

And the children shall lead them.

(Benden Weyr, First Interval, AL 59)

Which is here mostly to tell us that Emorra and Tieran did more than just hook up, they had a kid, as Tieran looks for a place to hide the locket in the classroom. And to say that Lorana is one of the direct descendants of Wind Blossom, and that’s why she could find the connection to her ancestor so easily. “And have you ever known one of us to not get our way in the end?” Tieran quips as the last line of the book.

It’s done! There’s an acknowledgements section, where Todd graciously thanks his mother for allowing him to play in her sandbox, notes that she gave him a smiley face on his first outline of the story, and then proceeds to give thanks to the people that help make a story come into being, including a Doctor Natascha Latenschlauger that helped out with the genetics parts and illnesses, and an editor, Martha Trachtenberg, who helped bring “Wind Blossom’s Song” into a better form with her songwriting knowledge.

This was certainly…something as a story. The time travel plot seems a bit dodgy, and I wonder how the system was able to distinguish between someone making a definitive statement about the origin of the disease and someone, say, discussing air speed or air currents or getting fresh air or any other context where the word air might be uttered in the presence of the doorway to open it. Perhaps they keep the doors closed and the people out when not actively studying, but even then, while studying things, they could have said the keyword.

I am also entirely displeased with how long the narrative waited to let one of the characters have a thought that maybe, perhaps, Tullea is experiencing the effects of extended existence in two periods of time at once. The narrative suggests that it only comes to mind after people have experienced it already, but even at the beginning of the story, there are dragonriders who talk about the fact that being in that situation has effects on people. I know there are suggestions on writing that say you want to make the reader feel smarter than the characters in the narrative, but it’s a long stretch to say that nobody had an inkling of checking to see if Tullea’s sudden behavior change had external origins. Even if all the boys are being lunkheads about it, maybe Salina or someone else could discreetly check. And they finally only check in the last chapter, right before the situation itself has to happen.

This is the first effort, however, but a new author, and there’s the possibility that this was a bit on the rough side because it’s a first effort. (Or because there were quite a few fingers in the pie making sure someone didn’t stray too far outside the boundaries.) We’ll have to see if things get better in the next offering. Which starts next week.

20 thoughts on “Dragonsblood: The Engine of Paradox

  1. Firedrake September 12, 2019 at 2:44 am

    There’s a thing that long-running series tend to do, which I regard as pretty much always an error: they explain things that didn’t need to be explained. Here it’s the dragon in the rock; sometimes it’s why Solo is called Solo or just how the Doctor managed to steal a TARDIS. I think this may be a thing that happens when people who grew up as fans of the series replace the original creators: it’s fun, as a fan, to talk about why a thing might be so. But it’s fun because there’s a mystery about it; once there’s an official answer, the mystery is gone.

  2. WanderingUndine September 12, 2019 at 10:14 pm

    I lost track of this story a while back. I’m especially prone to that when reading a story which involves time travel. It is a plot device I generally do not like, Sam-I-Am. With exceptions.

    What does it mean, the eggs were “stillborn” — did dragon embryos never develop within them, or develop but die before they could hatch?

  3. genesistrine September 16, 2019 at 1:20 pm

    I really, really have to know how this drum code works,

    Me too

    because if it is based on the PNA code, that still means that a Harper has to be able to pick out any one of seven rudiments

    Just 4, I think – the prime versions of A B & C exist so that the strands can copy, they’re essentially moulds to make copies of the originals so they won’t count as part of the sequences.

    But yeah, all the stuff about tempo, discernability, groups of three and lack of ability to *spell*, WTF. This makes no sense at *all*. It’s a blatant attempt to do “look! This was a high-tech survival all along!” but it just doesn’t work at all. As with so many things in the later book (and as Firedrake said about the fossilised weyrlings) it would have been so much better just… left alone. Drum code in Dragondrums was… symbols, I suppose you’d call them? Sequences? Auditory ideograms? so why not leave it as that?

    Several times, in fact, they turned to him for guidance in difficult sections. He would close his eyes in thought and tentatively tap out a sequence, and correct it.

    “How do you know whether it’s right?” Lorana asked when thay’d solved one particularly difficult problem.

    “I’ve been drumming for Turns,” Kindan told her. “It wouldn’t sound right unless it was.

    That I will believe

    I won’t. Are we supposed to believe that whatever the syntax of any drum message is it’s also a syntactically correct genetic sequence for a Pernese organism? Yeah, right.

    (It also means that, presumably, drum code can’t be changed or adapted – people can only talk about what Tieran thought they ought to talk about.)

    I did notice, Emorra whispered, tears streaming down her face.

    Notice what FFS? What was going on with the damn yellow shirt?!?

    I wonder how the system was able to distinguish between someone making a definitive statement about the origin of the disease and someone, say, discussing air speed or air currents or getting fresh air or any other context where the word air might be uttered in the presence of the doorway to open it. Perhaps they keep the doors closed and the people out when not actively studying, but even then, while studying things, they could have said the keyword.

    All that or even someone called Eyre!

  4. alexeigynaix September 16, 2019 at 5:06 pm

    drum code can’t be changed or adapted

    drum code

    based on genetic sequences

    can’t be changed or adapted

    …genes mutate

  5. Firedrake September 16, 2019 at 5:09 pm


    (It also means that, presumably, drum code can’t be changed or adapted – people can only talk about what Tieran thought they ought to talk about.)

    The way this is usually done in real fixed-codebook systems, where there’s a limited number of patterns you can send, is to allot a bunch of the codewords to things like “future expansion 37”, and then as you need more words you assign them to one of those and publish a supplement to the book. (You can even withdraw old meanings, though that stops being backward-compatible with old books.) Any decent system ought to have a method for spelling out words too, but that gets cumbersome fast.

    But whether Todd/Anne knew about this, or cared enough to do the research, and therefore whether anyone on Pern knows about this… one has to assume the answer is no.

  6. genesistrine September 17, 2019 at 2:47 am

    @alexeigynaix: Apparently Pernese ones don’t, they’re all super-effective and perfect and rock-solid and how anything evolved there in the first place is left as an exercise for the reader. But yeah, fair enough. Genes mutate but it’s a safe bet drum code won’t.

    @Firedrake: I’m happy to assume along with you, though Todd may have been stuck with the no-alphabet thing by Anne (since Piemur had to use “old dragon” due to there being no code for Oldtimer. Though considering the retcons we’ve seen in this series that would be minor in comparison…).

    This is extra-super-silly because we’re told there are 27 Pernese codons (the 3-letter code-base sequences) so you’d think the most information-dense and flexible code would be 26 letters and a full stop. (OK, you’d have to spell out numerals. You’d have to merge/drop some letters, but you’re not going to convince me that’s less efficient than having to have separate beat codes for all Weyrs, Holds, other destinations, important people and everything else that might need to be transmitted.) The only way the drum code concept works is if it was meant to be secret and confidential from the beginning. Which is perfectly reasonable; the Harpers want to be able to transmit secret information quickly when necessary, but the writer tries to tell us that oh no, it’s because it’s the *best* and most efficient way.

    Balls it is. It’s Harper information control in action.

  7. Silver Adept September 17, 2019 at 9:06 am

    @ WanderingUndine –

    At least for us mammals, stillborn means developed an embryo into a creature which, for various reasons, did not exit the womb alive, so I have to guess that the dragons developed in a way like Ruth would have, had Jaxom not interfered – perfectly viable dragons, but that lacked the strength to get out of their shells, and so perished.

    @ Firedrake and @ genesistrine and @ alexeigynaix –

    The problem of explaining things that don’t need it is something that plagues any work that has fans who want to know, and there’s always the possibility that putting one of the fans in charge of it will produce exactly this kind of thing, where they pick their own headcanon and make it actual canon.

    Four rudiments is easier than seven for drum code, but it’s still a giant ball of WTF. And what I would believe about Kindan is that his ears are trained well enough to recognize whether a drum sequence is off. That all of those drum sequences translate to genetic sequences is improbable, as you all have noted, and, yes, that means that drum code is inflexible in the worst ways. As is Pernese genetics, which is why we’re in this situation in the first place.

    (How would a fixed codebook even work for an entire language? The closest idea I can get to is the ideographic writing systems of China and Japan, and even they have rudiments and particles that are routinely combined to form new words (and Japanese has two phonetic alphabets backstopping the kanji!))

    I guess it is the yellow shirt thing that Emorra noticed, but it’s not something that gets any more elaboration. I think it’s the yellow shirt that was Wind Blossom’s way of signaling her love for Purman that would never come to pass because she had to be Kitti Ping’s daughter and super-geneticist first and always. But Wind Blossom never really told the narrative what it meant, so we’re left guessing.

  8. Firedrake September 17, 2019 at 9:52 am

    I don’t think anyone tries to do a fixed codebook for an entire language; they’re always domain-specific, like Unicode (no, not that one) which was a way of cutting the cost of telegrams. So “reserve three double bedrooms, shall arrive on 14th” would be FLORIDUS 14TH. But its language is basically about business and travel in the middle of the 19th century – and the old British Army BATCO is similarly focused on military matters. Both of these use letters and/or numbers to form their codewords, so the fallback is simply to insert the actual word you need, sometimes with a marker to say “OK, we’re now using literal letters not codewords”.

    In a Pernese context, something like this would make sense for Harper drum code – each sequence of letters or numbers could potentially stand for a much longer phrase (“reinforcements needed urgently against threadfall at” for example), so you’d send that sequence and the sequence for “Half Circle Sea Hold” and you’ve got a useful way of sending relevant messages quickly. And you can then say “OK, only Senior Harpers get to know the contents of page 57 of the code manual, so to everyone else it’s just unknown references” (though there are some problems with that, for example that listeners might work out that page 57 phrase 12 always seems to be sent out just before a Lord Holder unexpectedly dies of bad shellfish).

    That’s all, I think, reasonably consistent with what we’ve heard of drum code before: specifically, that there’s a lot of learning to do, without which it makes no sense.

    None of this works with the genetics stuff, though. Surely any sequence of codons is potentially a valid sequence somewhere in the genome of some Pernese organism.

  9. genesistrine September 17, 2019 at 3:09 pm

    @Silver Adept: I have no trouble whatsoever believing that an experienced drummer can tell when something’s off; my disbelief is purely that accurate drum code would translate into correct gene sequences.

    (On top of everything else it’s never explained how the ABC CBA bla bla thing has anything to do with rhythm/tempo/particular drums out of a set etc; do they use different drums at permanent transmission stations and different beats when they only have one drum available?)

    Like Firedrake says, it wouldn’t be a language in itself, just a set of signals. Placenames (Weyrs, Crafthalls, Holds – all of them or just more important ones? Is one of the ways you know a Hold’s become important because it gets a drum code designation? What about when Piemur started setting up the drum system in the South? Did he have to invent a set of new codes for the places there? How does that fit in with them all being workable genetic sequences?), descriptors for people (Craft/Hall/Weyr affiliation/position) and… well, whatever the Harpers might want to know quickly rather than relying on someone to physically run a message over. Plague/famine/fighting/natural disaster in wherever send help is an obvious one; Lord X died and replaced by his third-eldest son? Hall Y being cheeky to Harpers send in the heavies?

    I don’t think “send reinforcements for Threadfall” would be in it though; that’s a Weyr issue and the Weyrs have much faster ways of getting messages around. Though “severe Thread damage at wherever” might well be something the Harpers would want to know.

  10. Silver Adept September 18, 2019 at 4:46 pm

    Then we’re all agreed on where our disbelief is. “Drum code is based on genetic code” is a really terrible idea. “Drum code as code book” makes more sense, but I still b don’t trust the ability of any Harper to hear rudiments transmitted at distances perfectly, and for a single instrument to be able to do all those rudiments in a way that doesn’t get muddled and still moves quickly.

    And I wonder how Piemur in the south was able to get his additions added to the code book. Maybe Harper mail.

  11. genesistrine September 19, 2019 at 10:19 am

    Maybe it’s multiply coded – if, say, the drums, the rhythms and the tempo (I don’t know enough about drumming to know what would make a good signal) were all independent codes they could validate/error-check each other. So if all 3 match you can be sure you got the message correct; if 2 of 3 do you can be reasonably sure and request a re-send if necessary. If you only have one drum you only have 2 codes to crosscheck so it’s not quite as reliable but still usable, and in desperate cases just one code can be used without error-checking.

    Not sure how well that would work, though, and you’d have to ignore the stupid genetic code thing, but that’s a plus at least….

  12. Silver Adept September 20, 2019 at 12:31 am

    It’s possible. While we’ve seen drum code used on different drums, most of the towers have those massive ones to communicate over long distances. Not sure how weather and other would affect tempo, or at least, as with everything, it would have to be greatly exaggerated to be audible over distance and time. Still, this is another one of those cases where we’re putting a lot more effort into trying to understand it than the author did writing it.

  13. Firedrake September 20, 2019 at 2:50 am

    Wikipedia articles “Drums in communication” and particularly “Talking drum” go into some detail on the real world versions which I assume were the original inspiration – to over-summarise, you can duplicate pitch. rhythm and volume on a drum and have something intelligible even though you can’t carry vowels and consonants. (It helps if your language is disposed in this direction already.) Effective range 4-5 miles, something like one-eighth speed compared with voice. Single words get translated into standard phrases because a single word wouldn’t have a distinctive enough pattern, but that means that there’s a lot of learning of standard phrases to do (e.g. in one system “moon” is always and only sent as “the moon looks towards earth”).

    I think it’s reasonable to posit that Anne in the late 1970s might have heard about talking drums and decided to improve the system a bit for use in Pern. (I picture the range being extended with parabolic sound mirrors aimed precisely at the target tower.) But it’s even less compatible with the genetic code thing than the codebook approach I was assuming earlier.

  14. genesistrine September 20, 2019 at 4:05 am

    I obviously can’t say whether or not Anne knew about the mechanics of talking drums, but “native drums” for communication is an extremely common trope in old colonialist pulp. And drum code originally appears in the context of being adapted for Fandarel’s telegraph code, so in the context of narrative mechanics it looks like it was created as a way to have Morse or a Morse-alike survive rather than any more complex code.

    Then it developed into the seeekrit Harper comms technique in Dragondrums, but I don’t think any serious thought was put into technique and methods other than occasional bits of flavour text (e.g. no code for “Oldtimer”).

    Which is a longwinded way of saying I agree with Silver Adept that this is “another one of those cases where we’re putting a lot more effort into trying to understand it than the author did writing it.”

  15. Firedrake September 20, 2019 at 4:36 am

    We’d be science fiction fans then. 🙂

  16. genesistrine September 20, 2019 at 6:49 am

    Nooooo! Say it ain’t so! 😀

  17. Silver Adept September 20, 2019 at 8:50 am

    If you did that, then you might have to acknowledge transformative works and fanon have a place in SF/F fandom, oh dear.

    In any case, it looks like the easiest and best idea regarding drum code is that we’re looking at the likelihood, given Pern’s ability to forget crucial things, that Tieran’s drum-code-as-genetics has, by the time of the Ninth, been forgotten and replaced with something more like Morse or codebook code, because someone remembered something about the Old Drum Code, or found a fragment of it in the Archives, and decided to resurrect it as a way of long-distance, supposedly-secret communication. Probably somewhere around the Sixth Pass is where I’d situate the changeover, so that Moreta isn’t left out.

    Which doesn’t help us understand *this* mess, but it does mean we don’t have to try and figure out a way of making it work across all nine Passes.

    Parabolic sound mirrors is a good idea. I would like it to be on a rotating platform, with notches carved in the direction of various towers, so that way when a tower needs to put a message on blast, they can reoirent the tower so that they hit all their own nearby towers.

  18. Firedrake September 20, 2019 at 9:36 am

    Hmm. Ideally you’d want a mirror (and a drum set and an operator) for each tower you communicate with, because you may not necessarily hear them without both sender and receiver mirrors working. But if you drop the range between towers I suppose you could use the mirrors for sending only.

    I feel you ought to have a handshaking system to make sure there’s someone listening before you put all that human effort into sending a message. But I’m a networking tech among other things.

  19. genesistrine September 20, 2019 at 12:44 pm

    There’s a “Harper report” signal; Sebell uses it at the end of Dragondrums. That could be a “prepare for transmission” or “all stations alert” protocol, with a “signal back if received” implication.

    @Silver Adept: Ninth Pass drum code has to be a limited code because of the Oldtimer/”old dragon” thing, though given Fandarel’s fetish for efficiency I can easily see him creating an alphabetic telegraph code using some drum code elements. I can’t see him going for a code that won’t let you spell something out if necessary!

  20. Silver Adept September 20, 2019 at 10:03 pm

    And I think someone up in a tower in this set of books, maybe Kindan, maybe Tieran, rattled off a “status report” idly once, and someone in an unexpected place popped up with “Hi, howyadoin?” So there’s precedent that the Attention sequence or Report sequence is used as a sign of “message incoming, anybody home?” And if the direction of the mirrors is fixed, so that each node has a “I receive and send to Z Hold at the east and Q Hold at the west”, it would make sense for someone to be surprised by the presence of an unexpected node.

    I can certainly see Fandarel fixing the inability of drum code to be universal.

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