Monthly Archives: October 2019

Dragonheart: And What Now?

When we last left everyone, a heel that had no business being in charge of anybody was recalled immediately from Fort because dragons were dying, after spending a full chapter antagonizing a Hold and their people.

Dragonheart: Chapters 8 and 9: Content Notes: Assisted Death, End-Of-Life Planning, Advance Directives, Suicide and Suicidal Ideation

Weyrfolk, keep your duty dear
Provide for every dragon and for Weyr.
When the Red Star comes on nigh
By your efforts will dragons fly!

(Fort Weyr, Afternoon, AL 507.13.25)

Well, if we didn’t know it before, I guess that tells us it official pronunciation of “Weyr.”

Plot-wise, H’nez arrives to see J’marin, Fiona, and Xhinna tending to the very sick Asoth. Since H’nez is there, J’marin asks Fiona and Xhinna to tend to others, which let’s is in that Fiona believes Melanwy is plotting something to attack her, because she doesn’t talk when Fiona enters a room, and Tannaz isn’t talking to Fiona, either. This is after Fiona had walloped Melanwy with persuasion already, so Melanwy may just be aggravated at that. Cisca certainly doesn’t think there an issue, but she asks Fiona to keep an ear and an eye out, anyway.

Xhinna, for her part, stays firmly glued to Fiona’s side, which seems to have engendered a thought among the blue and green riders.

“Just because she’s not right for a queen doesn’t mean she wouldn’t suit a green,” L’rian had assured Fiona the only time the subject had arisen.
“A green?” Fiona had asked. “But greens only have male riders.”
“That’s because no one’s ever thought to put a girl on the Hatching Grounds,” L’rian replied, ” ‘cept in front of the queen eggs.” His lips curved up briefly at the notion. “She might even Impress a blue.”
“A blue?” Fiona repeated, surprised.
“The dragons choose,” L’rian had assured her with a knowing look, “not the riders.”

Fiona points out Xhinna has to get on the Grounds, and L’rian nonchalantly indicates Xhinna would take a chance, were she encouraged to by a queen rider.

There’s a good thing and a terrible thing in this exchange. The good thing is that the author is providing us with a hint about where Xhinna’s attractions lie, so long as they know about the shorthand of dragon coloration. It’s not as good as out-and-out saying Xhinna’s romantically interested in Fiona, but it’s better than pretending only men can be anything other than heterosexual in dragonrider culture.

The terrible thing is the claim that nobody has thought to put all the candidates in front of all the eggs, and thoughtlessly adding “the dragons choose” right after it. Especially in this story, where Fiona has Talenth by virtue of a dragon choosing outside the standing candidates. It’s not impossible, but I would think it highly improbable that no dragonet at any point has bolted for the queen candidates and said, metaphorically, “this one’s mine.” Even though I know the Records are always a hot mess for the purposes of the plot, there should be a Record, if not a fucking song, about the girl who Impressed a not-gold dragon.

Unless that’s supposed to be shameful in some way and the earlier Weyrs quashed the Records of it happening or misrepresented it as a dragon that failed to thrive. But if that were the case, then L’rian wouldn’t be openly advocating for Fiona to find a way to get Xhinna to stand for a dragon again. So this has to have happened before. And several times more before Mirrim and Path. By the time it gets to the Ninth Pass, dragonrider-ing should be a pretty mixed-gender affair.

Again, the dangers of writing the past when the future has already come to pass, but for the most part, when you’re handed a canon like Pern, fix-it is going to be a necessity, and it’s a question of how obvious you are going to be about it.

Going forward, after L’rian’s insinuation, Fiona and Xhinna go out to let Talenth feed. The first time was a bit rough for them both, but Talenth has it down, now. Fiona is hit by a wave of confusion, Xhinna provides temporal references, and Fiona’s aggravation at herself bleeds through in how she talks to Xhinna. T’mar intercedes smoothly, telling Xhinna she’s wanted in the kitchen, before having a come-to-Jesus meeting with Fiona about Xhinna.

T’mar moved forward to stand beside Fiona. He glanced down at her and said conversationally, “I’ve discovered that when times are hard, I need my friends most.”
Fiona glanced up at him, her expression blank even though she had a gnawing suspicion of his intentions.
“So it is a shame to see you treating the one person who is most attached to you so poorly,” T’mar finished, catching her eyes with his own.
[…Fiona doesn’t deny it, although she’d love to, and complains that history has its eyes on her…]
“You generated quite a bit of gossip by having Xhinna stay with you.”
“She helps me,” Fiona declared simply.
“She’s with you all the time,” T’mar observed. “Night and day, it seems.”
Fiona flashed him an angry look. “We’re friends!”

Say it! Say it, you cowards! Acknowledge, on page, and use the words: Xhinna is a lesbian!

And Fiona is potentially bi, if her denial is the kind of denial that’s usually put in place when someone doesn’t want to acknowledge that part of themselves. Which still annoys me that we can openly talk about how Fiona has the hots for Kindan and has from an early age but we can’t say out loud that Xhinna has the hots for Fiona. (And maybe everybody has the hots for Cisca, regardless of their gender identity and sexual preferences.)

“I know that,” T’mar replied. “But have you considered what will happen to Xhinna when your Talenth rises and chooses a mate?”
From the look on Fiona’s face, it was obvious she hadn’t.
“That’s Turns away!” she declared.
“And in all those Turns, where will Xhinna’s affections lie?” T’mar wondered, shaking his head firmly. “No matter what your intentions, it will be a brutal adjustment for her to make.”
“But she’s my friend!” Fiona blurted, her face twisted into a sad expression. “Why can’t she still be my friend?”
“She can,” T’mar agreed. “But only if you keep her as a friend.” He gestured back toward the kitchen cavern. “If you treat her like a drudge, just because you’re out of sorts–and we all are–then what sort of friend will she be?”
“And,” he continued as he saw Fiona gulp as she absorbed his observation, “if you aren’t careful to respect her emotions–all of them–what sort of pain will you cause when your dragon rises to mate?”
“And what about me?” Fiona demanded. At T’mar’s puzzled look, she went on, “What about my emotions when my dragon rises to mate?”
“You’ve about three turns to figure that out, Weyrwoman,” he replied shortly. He shook his head. “Not as much time as you’d imagine.”

And then we have T’mar saying that Xhinna might get hung up on the possibility of another person coming into Fiona’s life. Which makes sense, although I’m looking askance at it because a Weyr is the place I would expect all sorts of partner configurations to be valid and normalized in, especially when there are dragons involved. It’s one of those things where I would expect the Weyrfolk to have jealousy studiously drilled out of them and monogamy to be seen as an impractical Holder thing, since they care about bloodline and succession.

Given the option to be really radical, Pern is unable to expand its horizons, but that’s not Pern’s fault, that’s the writers’.

So Fiona apologizes to Xhinna, because she snapped at her, and asks Xhinna to continue helping her, because she’s going to need a good friend when she’s a “right proper wherry” around the mating season. Xhinna stays on.

The chapter ends with Fiona waking up on the middle of the night and crashing the plan to sneak Kelsanth out with Asoth, Panuth, and Danorth, and have Tannaz and Melanwy (and the riders of the other sick dragons) go one-way to hyperspace. Because the dragons aren’t going to last any longer, and the riders, because of the extremely tight mental bond they share, basically prefer oblivion to life without their dragons. (Insert your favorite caustic rant about how that is a terrible design decision to have humans basically get rid of themselves with their dragons.) Fiona is unhappy that nobody was planning on stopping by to say goodbye before disappearing, but most unhappy that the riders are making this choice.

Which, you know, there’s an entire conflicted everything in our times about assisted death, which could be talked about, except that Fiona’s considered too young to understand it, past “this is the choice the dragonriders are making, you’ll understand it yourself if you ever have to do the same.” Dragonriders have always been in favor of assisted death and, as L’rian puts it, being “remembered as a dragonrider”. In our times, degenerative diseases of body and mind that have no cures make it a question of lucidity and advance directives and someone’s will, like it’s presented here, but the metaphor falls apart because this situation could have been entirely avoided if Kitti Ping and company hadn’t decided they wanted to bond dragons and humans together so tightly that they would both disappear if one died. If it had been set more like how watch-whers bond, and their level of emotional attachment, then there wouldn’t have developed the tradition of disappearing with the dragon into hyperspace, because of their magnified and shared pain. And, of course, when dragons die, the grief of all the other dragons and riders gets magnified into Fiona, who manages, with Xhinna’s help, to get back to her bed and pass out from the grief until morning.

So that’s Chapter 8.

Blackdust, crack dust
Floating in the sky,
Dragonriders do trust
Thread will soon be nigh.

(Fort Weyr, the next morning, 507.13.26)

Rather than spend time with grief and sorrow, as we did in an earlier chapter, Chapter 9 picks up with a warning, as spotters at Fort Hold have sighted the black dust that is frozen dead Thread, the harbinger of the real stuff coming soon. Fiona is requested to the records room by K’lior. Cisca hoped Xhinna would bring klah (and there’s your signifier of how others might see the relationship, Fiona), but essentially they’re poring over the newly rediscovered Threadfall charts and trying to make heads or tails of several of the features, and waiting to see if they’re accurate (while warning the places that will be in the way of Thread if they are).

At the meeting that follows, H’nez continues to demonstrate he should not be in a leadership position anywhere.

H’nez professed no faith in the Threadfall charts when K’lior mentioned them.
[…the Weyrs need alerting, even the Asshole at Telgar…]
“I’ll go to Ista,” P’der said.
“I can imagine how Weyrleader C’rion will feel to be briefed by a wingsecond,” H’nez drawled.
“Are you offering to go instead?” K’lior asked, cocking his head.
“I’ve my wing to attend to,” H’nez responded. “They suffered grievous losses.”
“We all did,” Cisca replied, her eyes flashing. H’nez did not reply.
[…with that settled, everyone readies to leave, but H’nez has one more question…]
“The question is,” H’nez replied [to the Weyrleader,] as though speaking to a particularly slow weyrling, “how are we going to survive Threadfall with sick dragons?”
[…Cisca chews him out mildly for not recognizing the work already being done. K’lior orders drills to be run, even if the leaders aren’t back by then, because K’lior realizes they’ll have to work with casualties…]
“By the First Egg, that’s more like it,” H’nez declared. To T’mar he said, “You go and spend time with M’tal, while we do real work here.”
“His job is no less important, H’nez,” K’lior said warningly.

I realize this is sort of the standard villain trope that’s evolved over the course of the series (a person who, were it not for the weird ironclad Rules regarding who is in charge in this feudal arrangement, would long since have been demoted, deposed, killed, or otherwise gotten rid of), but H’nez is beginning to rival The Asshole At Telgar for sheer asshattery, even if he won’t be responsible for a mass telefrag because of his own arrogance. (OR so I hope.)

Also, K’lior continues to be a better Weyrleader regarding Thread than M’tal ever was, since he explicitly acknowledges the need for drills with wings that do not have all their regular component parts.

The plot continues with T’mar heading off to Benden, and Cisca putting Fiona to work so much that she’s basically perpetually exhausted. Even when Fiona realizes it’s a technique to keep her mind off of her grief and the inevitable conclusion that all the dragons, including hers, will get sick and die, and then the planet will be overrun by Thread, she’s still appreciative of Cisca’s deliberate efforts to keep her too tired to think. Fiona also deliberately tries not to learn the names of the new dragons that are sick, as a way of trying to deny the conclusion. In talking with T’jen about fighting drill, Fiona wonders why she isn’t doing it, but remembers there aren’t enough queens now to do it. Then, as part of the keeping Fiona exhausted bit, Cisca sends word that Fiona’s going to drill the medical procedures for injured dragonriders.

“The drills are a lot of fun,” Xhinna told Fiona. When Fiona looked at her, surprised, she added, “We’ve been doing them at least once a month for the past Turn.”
“All because your Weyrwoman believes in being prepared,” K’lior remarked, casting a fond look at Cisca.

Oh, so K’lior is equally as terrible a Weyrleader as M’tal is, it’s Cisca we have to thank for having a lick of sense about anything involving Thread. Tell me again why the Weyrwoman isn’t actually the person in charge of everything? (All together now: The Patriarchy. Yay.)

We don’t actually get any of what those drills entail (and also, if they’ve been doing them for the last several months, that would seem like the sort of thing Fiona would remember, except we can handwave away anything that Fiona should remember as being swallowed up by the fog that’s affecting her and all the Weyrlings), because they’re scheduled for tomorrow, so the narrative doesn’t have to deal with them right now. Instead, we jump to Fiona going to visit T’jen and finding him not all right and asking for the presence of the Weyrleader. Because Salith apparently passed away in his sleep, rather than going into hyperspace. When Fiona asks about this and whether T’jen was going to go with Salith, T’jen (who is de-contracted by the narrative as soon as Fiona thinks that he would now be known as Tajen, his birth name) says no.

“No,” Tajen replied firmly, “we’d talked it over, Salith and I.” He paused, lips screwing up into a grimace. “I didn’t want to set such an example for the weyrlings, even though I never wanted to lose Salith. Sometimes, all you have are bad choices.”

I’m surprised this isn’t a more common stance by many dragonriders, honestly. And also, it suggests that with the possibility of talking about it with your dragon and figuring it out in advance might mean the survival of more dragonriders past the deaths of their dragons. After we get over the ritual of grief, Talenth and Fiona talk it over and decide that Fiona’s going to go with Talenth, like Tannaz chose to. And like J’lantir and his chose to. I want to see more of this. On-screen considerations, or the understanding that these decisions are not made because someone is making a choice after a tragedy that they had not actually considered. The possibility of Thread killing any dragon or rider on any given day really should suggest that all riders in or around a Pass should have had this conversation, or been encouraged to have it, and it’s an accepted and expected part of Weyr culture. (Like, I am imagining an entire binder full of advance directives for the Weyr in the Healer’s office, and the Healer and Weyrwoman insisting that all riders need to have updated ones on file.)

But we don’t see a lot of these things, because Weyr culture sees a dragon dying as something more akin to a permanent visible disability or mental illness, and so there’s no up front frank talk about the possibility of dragons dying in the line of duty, and the dragons and the humans need to talk about what their end-of-life plans are in advance.

We also get to see a formal ritual of acknowledgement and grief at the loss of a dragon that doesn’t take their human with them.

The sound of feet rushing around the corridor alerted them to the approach of Cisca, K’lior, H’nez, T’mar, and M’kury. Cisca entered first, something in her stance and the way she moved making it clear that the others were to wait for her.
“Tajen,” Cisca said quietly, “I grieve for your loss.”
K’lior entered, bowed to the ex-dragonrider, and repeated her words. “Tajen, I grieve for your loss.”
“Tajen,” H’nez said, his eyes downcast and tear-streaked, “I grieve for your loss.”
“He was a great dragon, you were a great pair,” T’mar said when he approached. “I grieve for your loss.”
M’kury came forward then, but even though his mouth worked, he could make no words, instead reaching out beseechingly with one hand to Tajen, who took it. M’kury grabbed the stricken brown rider and embraced him in a tight hug. When finally they broke apart, M’kury found the words: “I grieve for your loss.”
“And I recognize your courage for remaining behind,” H’nez added into the silence.
“It wasn’t courage–” Tajen protested. “I needed to set the right example for the weyrlings. No matter what may come: ‘Dragonmen must fly when Thread is in the sky!’ ”
He looked up at K’lior. “I don’t know what we’re going to do with the body, however.”

Cisca does, and it involves using slings and hoists to get it to where dragons can carry the body, and then they’ll dispose of it in hyperspace. Because they don’t have the skills to do an effective autopsy, much less the knowledge that doing an autopsy is a good idea for gathering information about the thing that is killing the dragons.

Also, it stings that it’s so quickly that the dragonrider contraction is lost. Military officers and enlisted are still referred to by the rank they achieved when they retire from the service, so it seems like it would be a better idea to keep the contraction as an honor to the service provided as a dragonrider, rather than going “well, you’re not part of the club. We’re sorry for the situation, but you’re not one of us any more.” Despite the fact that the grief is probably real and heartfelt, the use of the non-contracted name just makes it ring hollow.

I will also note, for fairness’ sake, that H’nez is not being an asshole at this very specific set of sentences in this book. Clearly, even he has a limit, and the death of a dragon has reached it.

Xhinna offers to stay the night with Tajen, to which Fiona offers her the sweater she is wearing, and the gesture seems to convince Cisca and K’lior that Xhinna is a good person after all. (Now that she’s been given a chance to prove it, and has done well in the company of a person they actually respect.) The next morning, after talking over end-of-life decisions with Talenth, Fiona sets herself to the idea that today is the first aid drill. Cisca and K’lior, at breakfast, share to Fiona that they think Xhinna should stand as an actual candidate for the next Hatching. (Because we can’t have Xhinna sneaking on again when she’s supposed to be a Good Guy, now can we?) The actual drills themselves make everyone glad they’re just doing drills, because it doesn’t go well for anyone, including Fiona, who struggles mightily to remember what she’s supposed to do. In addition to that, Talenth takes her first glide on wings after running off an edge and making Fiona very worried about bad results until Talenth finally unfurls her sails. Many of the weyrlings have the same brainfog that Fiona does, which makes it hard for them to describe symptoms nor to respond appropriately to them. Cisca says this is to be expected and not to show concern about it or everyone will feel terrible. And that the next time this is happening, Fiona might be the one running the drills.

A cold shiver went down Fiona’s spine as she imagined seeing Cisca mount a sick and dying Melirth for a final ride between.
Suddenly, Cisca grabbed Fiona’s arm and tanked her around so that she could meet her eyes squarely. “That is exactly what I need you to avoid,” the Weyrwoman said sharply. In the distance, Fiona heard Talenth’s plaintive cry, and she could almost feel the alarm spreading through the weyrfolk and weyrlings. “They look to us, Fiona. We set the tone. Our dragons reflect it.”
A shadow fell beside her and Fiona felt her free hand grasped by someone else. Xhinna.
“It’s all right.” Fiona’s words of reassurance echoed exactly Xhinna’s words of reassurance. The two girls looked at each other in surprise for a moment and then burst out laughing. Fiona could feel their mood travel to the others, could feel Talenth’s worry disappear.

There’s an additional power to a Weyrwoman that hasn’t really been touched upon before, and a justification as to why Weyrwoman always have to be so chipper and glad-handing and concerned about everyone and otherwise doing an exhausting amount of emotional labor. Apparently, the mood of the Weyrwoman is the mood of the queen dragon, and the queen dragon’s mood leaks out to the other dragons and their riders. If Fiona was hoping that being a gold rider would be an escape from the pressures and requirements of being a Lady Holder, she’d learned that instead, she has to keep up the facade forever and always, without reprieve or time to think about herself and her own real feelings at any time. Way to make something that’s supposed to be the best thing ever into the worst thing ever.

The drills improve with time and practice, but the last drill is a situation that’s supposed to be as close to the real thing, with dragonriders arriving suddenly, faking their injuries and the reality that goes with them, and Cisca yelling constantly in Fiona’s ear to simulate the urgency of an actual emergency, without time to think, only to do what you’ve been trained to do. It doesn’t go particularly well for Fiona, but it’s not terrible, either.

That night, Fiona’s light sleeping continues to pay plot dividends, as she pops awake when she feels someone moving around in the dark. It’s not the dragon and rider that take the one-way trip to hyperspace, nor the cough that’s pretty clearly infected a lot of the riders, but someone headed to the Hatching Grounds. Fiona’s not quite good enough to avoid waking Xhinna, and the two follow the person until it’s revealed that it’s Tajen, who has come to the Grounds to try and find his confidence that things will work out, that the designers of the dragons would have done their utmost to make sure nothing like the surprise of Thread would happen again. Fiona is still trying to put up that they’ll get through it okay, but both Xhinna and Tajen are trying to tell her that she can’t lie to herself about it. The chapter closes with a callback to Beyond Between, although someone who has only read the main series novels wouldn’t recognize it as such.

“No one really knows what between is,” Tajen replied. “If a rider dies with her dragon, does the dragon go between to the same place?”
Is there a place?” Xhinna wondered.
“The only ones who could tell us never come back,” Tajen replied. He gestured toward the entrance and started them walking back out of the Hatching Grounds. “What does your heart tell you?”
Neither girl had an answer she could put into words.

Because the most we’ve ever seen is a limbo state for dragons and riders that went into hyperspace with no particular destination in mind, or for those who went with the wrong dragon, as Moreta did, and so she has to wait for her own dragon before she passes on into heaven, or whatever afterlife happens beyond that limbo.

Nobody knows, rider or Terran reader, and the general unfairness of the universe always makes it possible that someone goes to sleep one night and doesn’t wake up the next morning. I don’t really like thinking about that eventuality, mostly because I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished enough with life to be satisfied with it right now. And because thinking about those things is trauma-related for me, of those times where I realize now that I was far farther along the path of making a conscious decision about my own life than I understood. Things are better now, but existential questions have always been something that makes me feel scared, small, and dreadful.

More next week, and hopefully on a less triggery topic.

Deconstruction Roundup for October 25th, 2019

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is on their way to yet more posts and comments.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorium Press

Fred Clark: Slacktivist

Ross: A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are breathing slightly better because your elections weren’t the complete trash fire they could have been. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragonheart: Answering Questions That Needed It (And Those That Didn’t, All The Same)

To recap: Fiona found a scamp named Xhinna in her Weyr and has decided to keep her on as her personal assistant. This has a lot of problematic implications, starting from Fiona’s presumably light-colored skin and queen rider status contrasted with Xhinna’s explicitly dark skin and back-of-the-kitchen-caverns status. While Fiona insists that Xhinna is not her personal drudge, and gave H’nez the high-class equivalent of the finger when he suggested that Xhinna was extremely well-suited to being a drudge, Fiona also apparently made it a game for Xhinna to be silent and accepting of orders around Melanwy, who suggested that Fiona “found a leash” for Xhinna, rather than standing up to her in the same way that she did with H’nez. Even though everyone admits that Melanwy is not all there mentally, there’s a reluctance to move her into retirement.

Dragonheart, Chapters 6 (still!) and 7 (finally!): Content Notes: Speciesism, classism

So, Fiona and Xhinna go back to Tannaz’s quarters, and Melanwy orders Xhinna to change the towels and get clean ones for Tannaz. Fiona says the better course of action would be to burn them, because they’re infected, and Melanwy dismisses the idea out of hand as a waste of supplies.

Melanwy’s expression abruptly changed to contempt. “Well, of course,” she sneered, “and we’ll just send to the holders for more.”
“Yes, we will,” Fiona responded through gritted teeth, anger coursing through her. “And you’ll address me as Weyrwoman!”
“You!” Melanwy repeated. “A mere strip of a girl, barely two months Impressed?”
“Yes, her,” a new voice declared loudly from behind Fiona.
Fiona was so angry that she couldn’t look back at Cisca–she kept her gaze locked with Melanwy’s, making it clear that young or not, she was not going to stand for such poor manners.
“You’re no better,” Melanwy muttered under her breath. “Should’ve been Nara.”
“But it’s not Nara!” Cisca responded sharply. “Nara is dead, her dragon’s gone between, and I am the senior Weyrwoman of Fort Weyr!”
There was the sound of dragons roaring in acknowledgement.

Well, shit, I guess sticking up for your own is definitely a Weyrwoman trait at Fort. Or, at least, sticking up for the office of the Weyrwoman when it’s being challenged by somebody, regardless of what their rank is or was.

Also, Fiona’s right, and that should have been part of the corpus of knowledge that Kindan rediscovered and then spread widely during the Plague Years – you have to dispose of biohazards properly. Which, in places where you don’t have effective sterilization, means destroying them so that you can be reasonably sure the infection doesn’t spread. Yes, it’s wasteful of resources, and the Holds are going to be salty about it, but the Weyrs hold the threat over them of “if the dragons die, you die,” so the Holders are going to have to suck it up and send more towels. They won’t have to be the finest of linen, since they’re going to be used specifically for dealing with infections and then they’re going to get burned, too, but they’re going to have to be made and sent.

Talenth asks if Fiona’s okay, and Fiona reassures her she is. And then, something that hasn’t been seen since, oh, the beginning of the original series makes a sudden reappearance.

“I’m sure Melanwy had just forgotten, Weyrwoman,” she declared, still staring at the old headwoman. She gestured to the archway to Tannaz’s quarters. “You’d best help Tannaz with her bath–we’ll take care of things here.”
As if in a daze, Melnwy nodded and turned to obey. Finoa was surprised the older woman hadn’t continued to argue: it was as if Melanwy had suddenly lost her spirit. In the night outside the weyr, dragons bugled again.
“You need to be careful when you do that, Fiona,” Cisca said quietly.
Fiona turned on her heel and found the Weyrwoman standing right in front of her. “Do what?” she asked, bewildered.
“Dragonriders can sometimes force people to their will,” Cisca explained. “Not many, and most not as well as you just displayed. It’s a dangerous gift and you can find yourself using it on others unwittingly. Later, Melanwy may feel that you forced her, stripped her of her will.”
“You mean,” Fiona asked with some fear, “I can make people do things they don’t want to do?”
“Yes,” Cisca said. “Dragonriders learn to recognize it and defend against it, but others…”
Xhinna had pressed herself tightly to the wall, her eyes going warily from Fiona to Cisca and back again.
“But,” Fiona began slowly after a long silence, “doesn’t everyone work to get people to do things they don’t want to do?”
“There’s a difference between cajoling and forcing,” Cisca replied. She waved to Xhinna. “You cajoled Xhinna into helping you; you forced Melanwy. Do you feel the difference?”
[…Cisca explains Fiona is going to have to learn when she’s using her power to lean on people, or she’ll always draw on it and never know whether anyone does something for her willingly or because she’s compelled them…]
Cisca must have guessed her thoughts. “You may have used the power before, but you wouldn’t have been nearly as strong as you are now that you’ve Impressed.”
Footsteps echoed and then K’lior walked in.
“Queen riders are the strongest,” he said, catching one of Cisca’s hands in his. “Bronze riders are next.” He grinned over at his Weyrwoman. “We learn to resist the power early on.”

They also mention that when Talenth rises to mate, Fiona will learn a lot of control over her power in having to use it to keep her dragon under control as well.

With Melanwy still whammied, Xhinna suggests that the towels could go to Ellor, who would make a fine headwoman. Cisca agrees, and Fiona sets to changing out the glows and otherwise cleaning and straightening the room, behavior she thinks the people at Fort would be surprised at. Fiona wants to think it’s because she’s maturing, but, according to the narrative, she knows deep down her behavior is to convince herself she’s not a monster.


Cocowhat by depizan

Talk about bringing something back from the early episodes. I know there aren’t all that many times where there are the dragon roars like that in the series, but if each of those times is when a Weyrwoman imposes her will on another, it should be pretty easy to know when the Weyrwoman is exerting her powers.

The way this is set up, it also seems like new queen riders go through this process of learning they have the ability to override the wills of others on the regular, and then learning how to control that impulse to use that power. For as much as K’lior talks a big game about bronze riders being able to resist and fight a queen’s ability, I don’t think he’s done a whole lot of disagreeing with Cisca to this point. More importantly, though, I’d be really interested in reading the story where the Weyrwomen essentially keep the entire Weyr in thrall in the name of having it run in its most orderly and efficient manner. Or because they want to run it in a self-serving manner. If both dragon queens and queen riders can impose themselves on others, somebody has to have tried it, right? Or are we supposed to think that’s what the Weyr under Kylara might have been, with as many people as she took to her bed?

Such a promising idea there that’s essentially going by the wayside because we’re still doing the “dragons are sick and need a cure” story from a different perspective. K’lior and Cisca talk about this incident with each other right afterward, and Cisca says it basically means Fiona’s going to be an awesome Weyrwoman, because she’s got enough power to overwhelm Melanwy. K’lior and Cisca finally decide it’s time for Melanwy to be officially retired from being headwoman and Ellor put in her place. That particular line of thought is shelved by the approach of the wingleaders for a conference about the approach of Thread. Each of K’lior’s wingleaders are given a description as they enter. H’nez is first, described as “bold, decisive, and unwilling to admit error. Not quite foolish, but given to moods.” That “unwilling to admit error” is something that shouldn’t put H’nez in any leadership position, but as we’ll find out, there aren’t enough mature bronze riders for there to be a bronze leading every wing, and so H’nez gets to be one by default, rather than by merit.
T’mar’s next, and it’s basically described as being the rider your rider could be, except for this mysterious affliction that’s taken him off his A-game. M’kury is described as one of K’lior’s weyrmates, and his hat is that he’s blunt in the extreme, which is a virtue K’lior wants. V’ney has the opposite hat, and is the person super-concerned with manners, which makes him great in the Weyr and things that are practiced, but noted to be slow to react to changing situations. M’valer and K’rall wear the “old guys” hat, and since they’re nearing 50, K’lior’s pretty sure they’re not going to make it through the upcoming Pass. The last two are S’kan and N’jian, and they’re the dragonriders-out-of-water, because they’re both brown riders in leadership positions, because of the lack of bronze riders to lead. K’lior privately admits that even if he had enough bronzes, he wouldn’t necessarily displace them as leaders, now that he’s seen them work. K’lior has very high praise for them.

In fact, K’lior admitted to himself, it was a pity that queens were almost always caught by bronzes, for those two brown riders would both have made excellent Weyrleaders.
“It’s not right, browns leading wings!” H’nez had complained when K’lior had first implemented his plan, and the grumbling had never ceased since. And no matter how hard K’lior or Cisca praised the brown riders or encouraged them, the resentment of H’nez, K’rall, and M’valer always kept S’kan and N’jian feeling unworthy.

I mean, in any other society there’s the possibility that the leader of the group might say “This is how we do this thing, and you can either be welcoming or you can leave.” But on Pern, where dragon genetics decide destiny, social order, and other such things that would make [your favorite white supremacist] have multiple orgasms, of course you can’t just toss out the bronze riders and subject them to competent leadership. It’s unnatural and wrong and explicitly goes against the genetic instructions encoded in the dragons by the Ancients. (Except, of course, that the protagonists are generally right when they promote brown riders to Wingleader status.)

M’kury asks what they’re doing here this late at night.

“I was already well into a nice beer and was looking forward to some–” He broke off with a meaningful glance toward Cisca.
“I’m not sorry to interrupt your revelry,” K’lior replied just as briskly, “particularly as you have made it plain to everyone how tender your backside was after the last time you–”
“All right!” M’kury broke in with a hand upraised, conceding defeat. “Forget I spoke.”
“Forgotten,” Cisca said, her eyes dancing. She wondered which poor weyrfolk was dealing with M’kury’s latest attentions–the young bronze rider seemed to have a different bedwarmer for every one of a sevenday.

A little bit of sex humor there. And being a bronze rider, as I recall, makes M’kury at least heteroflexible, if this particular jibe of K’lior’s about his ass being hurt from the last person he took to bed. Mostly because Pern has never said there are sex toys on the planet. There have to be, but it’s never been actually acknowledged, so the best we can get is that M’kury had a lover with a penis who took the penetrating role with him. Or that he really enjoyed getting flogged or spanked, which is also a possibility that would keep him only interested in women, if H’nez’s definition of being a bronze rider is the official one for all bronze riders.

Also, it’s nice to acknowledge there’s other alcohol in existence other than wine, because beer brewing is one of those things that happens a lot, at varying levels of sophistication, potency, and flavor, throughout Terran history, because turning water into wine, beer, or spirits is one of the earliest and still most effective ways of making sure most of the things water is carrying with it die and stay dead. And since Pern is an entirely new ecosystem, it’s going to take a long time before the humans can handle the native bacteria and other microscopic organisms through their own evolutionary processes. So, hooray, beer, not because I particularly enjoy drinking it, but because it’s something that would make Pern extremely weird if it didn’t exist.

Anyway, the meeting itself is to assign and disperse watchriders to the Holds to keep an eye out for either live Thread or the black dust that is frozen-dead Thread that will signify more active Falls coming soon afterward. H’nez gets the first assignment to go out and look, and he takes the other two older bronze riders’ wings with him to post. K’lior says the sick dragons are not to go out on this assignment, over H’nez’s objections that it’s not nearly as bad as he’s making it out to be. When it’s pointed out that the presence of dragons might make the Holders angry about the loss of their fire-lizards, Cisca silently relays to K’lior that he might want to choose differently, but K’lior makes it a point to tell H’nez that they should be extra-courteous, to the point of making sure they stop by and say hello at every hold, major or minor, and do their best to identify the people who will be helping with Threadfall as ground crews so that everybody gets familiar (and hopefully friendly) with each other. Cisca also mentions she’s setting Melanwy to look after Tannaz and Kalsenth full-time and putting Ellor in as interim headwoman. Having set everyone to their duties, K’lior dismisses the lot of them.

“Others,” Cisca chimed in with a grin to M’kury, “might want to carefully consider whether it would be wise to resume their activities.”
“No problem,” M’kury declared. “They’re both waiting for me in my quarters!”

And on that supposedly salacious note, Chapter Six is finally brought to an end.

Holder looks up to the skies
For signs of promise and demise
Thread will fall across the ground
Unless brave dragons do abound.

Or if knowledge could have been preserved in some way so that Tubberman’s grubs would spread far and wide and otherwise protect the ground from Thread. But losing important knowledge is a staple of Pern.

(Fort Hold, Morning, AL 507.13.23)

The first part of Chapter 7 is “Lord Bemin hears an alarm, goes out to see that it’s dragons, worries that Talenth is dead, but because H’nez is a complete dick to him, knows Fiona and her dragon is fine.” And Bemin gives his slights as good as he gets them, and then spends the night in the Harper Hall, where wager reward trade hands in front of him and Kelsa about how long Bemin was going to hold out (Nonala beats Verilan) and whether or not Bemin was going to say he loved Kelsa or not (he does, so Verilan gets his two-mark piece back from Nonala). Where we start getting useful information is H’nez overseeing the ground crews, and being relatively impressed with the speed and accuracy of the flamethrowers against the mock-Thread burrows. The leader of the ground crews, Stennel, mentions that they’d have been a lot faster off the mark if they still had fire-lizards, as they had them trained to spot burrows and summon help. H’nez is not impressed with this, thinking it a slight to the dragons that protect everyone from a deadly Thread rain. Stennel also helps us figure out the voraciousness of Thread and its spread pattern.

“According to the Records, if we don’t find the burrow in the first hour, then it’ll be too big to fight with the flamethrowers,” Stennel replied. “And then we’d have to get dragons to flame it.”
“Hmph,” H’nez grunted noncomittally.
“If we don’t spot it within eight hours, the Records say our best hope is to fire the whole valley around it,” Stennel continued with a frown.
“Fire a whole valley?” H’nez repeated doubtfully. “I’m sure whoever wrote that Record must have been in error.”
“It happened about ten times in the last Turn of the Second Pass,” Stennel persisted.
“Who told you that?”
“It was in the Hold Records,” Stennel replied. “I read them myself.” He stood a bit taller as he continued with a touch of pride, “I wanted to know, as best I could, what we were to expect, my lord.”

The pride I hear in Stennel’s voice is both in being a literate person who’s not part of the nobility, a feat unto itself, and in being able to interpret the records to get useful information out of them, which, given what we see of Records from the Harpers, is also a feat unto itself. It’s a well-deserved note of pride, and it also shows up H’nez’s lack of knowledge about what goes on at the Holds, not that he actually gives a shit.

Stennel also mentions that his ground crews are also his firefighting crews, and wildfires in high winds and Thread burrows have the same basic problem of being able to get out of control quickly, so what they’ve learned about fighting fires adapts well to fighting Thread. H’nez shrugs it off, as well as Stennel’s question about whether or not the flamethrowers can be adapted to the new firestone.

Wait, what?

“I’m sure glad they found the right stuff–although getting our stone is much harder now.”
“Aye,” Stennel replied. “No one wanted to dig it before, when it was necessary for the dragons. Now it’s only necessary for the ground crews and no one really wants to go looking for it. Which is why the Mastersmith is working to see if he can adapt our flamethrowers to use the proper firestone,” he went on, shaking his head. “Last I heard, he hadn’t much luck, but I don’t get the freshest information all the time.” He cast an inviting glance toward the dragonrider. But if he was hoping for illumination, he would be disappointed.

So the flamethrowers aren’t using HNO3 as their fuel source, but the highly-volatile rock that gave dragons indigestion and that exploded violently if you whispered the word “water” around it? How does that work? There’s no reason for me to believe that Pernese technology has advanced to the point where it can use a solid fuel source in a controlled combustion reaction so as to produce a stream of flame that’s useful and that the entire contraption doesn’t messily explode in a chain reaction that backs up into the fuel tank and explode that (and the wielder) Propelling solid rock fire is bad, propelling lit gases from that solid fire is difficult to control, and I really can’t believe that they’ve somehow managed to liquefy the unstable rocks into a form that can be used as a controlled flame source, given how much trouble Tarik and company had just getting it out of the ground without it exploding, and the weyrling at the games who exploded the storehouse because they brought too much moisture in the air with them.

I have trouble seeing this situation work.

H’nez also proves again to us why he should be sent away to Telgar, because his attitude would most certainly fit in better there.

Why was it, he wondered, that holders were so easily iritated? They certainly weren’t properly deferential, not even the women.
[…and H’nez disappears back to the Hold…]
It’s always good to show the holders their place, H’nez reflected as he and Ginirth emerged once more from between, this time over the courtyard of Fort Hold. A group of holder women and children scattered as he guided Ginirth down for a landing. He spotted Lord Holder Bemin striding out into the courtyard from the Great Hall in response to the commotion and allowed himself a grin as he noticed Bemin quickly school his irritated expression into a bland look.

Gee, I wonder why holders are so easily irritated by the person that believes themselves their superior in every way by fiat and right and acts like it? It’s a mystery nobody will ever be able to solve. The narrative helps us out some, in that when H’nez is winding Bemin up again, V’ney appears a day earlier than his scheduled relief and tells H’nez in no uncertain terms to get home, because there are sick dragons that aren’t going to make it through the night. After H’nez departs, V’ney immediately sets to making up to Bemin, because he knows H’nez has done things to upset him.

“My lord,” V’ney said in the stillness that followed, “I’d like to apologize for any ill will H’nez might have engendered between your Hold and my Weyr.” He shook his head and continued, “He’s good with his riders and flies well–but he enjoys making trouble with everyone when he’s on the ground.”
“So I had noticed,” Bemin said wryly.
V’ney snorted. “You mean that you couldn’t understand why a dragon would choose to be ridden by an ass?”
Bemin’s lips quirked upward. “I hadn’t put quite those words to it, actually.”
“Then you’re a very tolerant person,” V’ney allowed.

And that’s the end of Chapter 7, with H’nez getting recalled and V’ney immediately beginning damage control. H’nez really is a better fit for Telgar than for Fort, mostly because he’ll have a kindred spirit in the Weyrleader there.

It’s probably not a good thing that it’s literally the plot of “dragons are getting sick and the Weyrs are quarantined” that’s stopping H’nez from getting bounced from Fort. (And I still maintain he really should have been bounced well before this point.)

More next week.

Deconstruction Roundup for October 18th, 2019

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who had all their content ready to go, but a brain that occasionally forgets when it’s time to post.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorium Press

Fred Clark: Slacktivist

Froborr: Jen A. Blue

Ross: A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you found out you had a lot more to say on a particular subject than you had originally believed. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragonheart: And Now, A Totally Different Story

When we last left Fiona, she had just discovered an intruder in her Weyr and seized her by the wrist letting her anger at how far out of touch the Weyrleaders are with reality boil over at a target she can yell at and otherwise be upset with. There are still sick dragons, there are still time-twisted riders, and nobody is doing much of anything to try and solve any of these problems.

Dragonheart: Chapter Six: Content Notes: White Savior Narratives, Racism, Classism, Almost Omelas-Style Abuse

So, Fiona finds out the name of the person in her Weyr is Xhinna. And I want to know how to pronounce that, because I feel like it would give me a lot of insight into what Xhinna looks like. All we get, narratively, is that she has dark hair. If I’m supposed to pronounce Xhinna like I’m supposed to pronounce Xhosa, with the attendant assumptions, what we have set ourselves up for is a situation where the presumably white Irish-looking girl is about to physically drag around a black African girl, and there’s really no way that is going to be good optics for your novel. So the narrative carefully omits any talk about any other physical characteristics of Xhinna.

It turns out, though, that Fiona and Xhinna have something to bond over. Xhinna murmurs that Talenth should be hers when Fiona figures out Xhinna is there to look at Talenth.

Recognition suddenly dawned. “You were the candidate that chased after her.”
Xhinna’s face darkened in shame. “I was afraid she was going to get away,” she confessed miserably. “And it would be been my fault.”
“Your fault?” Fiona thought that was going too far.
“I shouldn’t be been there,” Xhinna said, grimacing. “I wasn’t Searched.”
“Nor was I,” Fiona remarked, not seeing any harm in that.
Xhinna swallowed hard and raised her eyes to meet Fiona’s as she admitted, “I stole the robe from the laundry and snuck in with the others.” Her eyes were bright with unshed tears. “Melanwy said I shouldn’t have been there, that I might have ruined everything.”

Xhinna continues to explain that she was found all alone as a baby and taken in at the Weyr, but that means nobody thinks of her as weyrfolk. She’s bullied by the boys, shunned by the girls, and apparently Melanwy, when she had all her faculties, wanted to send Xhinna away. She wasn’t like all the other girls, Melanwy said, and Xhinna believes it.

Also, Xhinna has “a swarthy face and dark, intelligent eyes,” along with a “pretty and lightly freckled” nose.

So, dark-complexioned girl gets told off by white girl, but then it turns into something much more approaching the white savior narrative instead. You see, Xhinna proclaims she’s constantly in trouble after Fiona makes her a provisional deal that she can come see Talenth any time she likes, so long as she keeps herself out of trouble, I mean, more trouble.

“In fact, perhaps we can arrange for you to help me.”
For a moment, Xhinna looked absolutely stunned, then her face clouded once more. “Like a drudge?”
“No,” Fiona corrected her, her tone turning a bit sharp, “like a friend.” She paused and raised her eyebrows at the girl. “They do have those at the Weyr, don’t they?”
“Some do,” Xhinna allowed.
Fiona guessed that Xhinna added in her thoughts, “just not me.”

And this is quite the underbelly being exposed here, where the orphan dark girl is treated very differently than all her peers. I’m fairly certain that neither author would necessarily admit that Pern is pretty flagrantly racist in all its doings, but the killing off of the Tinkers and Travellers in the first fall, and then Xhinna’s treatment here, (as well as the descriptions of how the head cook, Zirana, speaks) continues to state that Pern is a very racist place.

Xhinna says Fiona well have to talk to Melanwy to get permission to have Xhinna around, since Melanwy made Xhinna her personal assistant after the stunt she pulled at the Hatching. Xhinna should be there right now, actually, except Melanwy sent Xhinna away so she could sit with Tannaz and there would be fewer eyes watching while Kelsanth dies.

Fiona, for her part, after she’s done tending to Talenth, pops immediately over to Tannaz’s Weyr. And while she tries to get Tannaz to eat or do anything, Melanwy tells her it’s no use. Fiona eventually storms out to go get food for Tannaz and force her to eat it, if she has to. When she asks Zirana where Xhinna is, Zirana directs her to listen for the sound of children, before declaring Xhinna is “no relative of mine, that girl!” Which further cements for me that both Zirana and Xhinna are black (or very dark-skinned) enough that people might mistake them as related and ask Zirana to reel in her wayward relative. Because all black people have to be related to each other, right?

Fiona does follow the sound of children and finds Xhinna telling stories to the children. Once they notice Fiona, Xhinna’s audience disappears as they mob Fiona, and one small boy, Dennon, asks if Fiona’s dragon is about to die. Fiona assures him that Talenth is fine, but Dennon has made the logical connection that if queen dragons can die, that means any dragon can die, and he’s worried about his father’s blue dying. Xhinna and Fiona are doing their best to engage in damage control (and there is an interlude with an unknown rider telling Fiona to remember her own pronouncements, who Talenth says she can’t identify because they haven’t met her yet, reminding us that we’re still in the thick of the time-travel plot form the last book) when Ellor, one of the cooks, pops in and makes the situation worse by immediately focusing the blame for the disturbed children on Xhinna. Fiona cuts Ellor off before she can get wound up by demanding Xhinna for herself, and then turns around and gives Xhinna the business, tempered some by their shared outsider status.

“Thanks!” Xhinna said as they entered the corridor. “Now you see what I mean about how everyone blames me, even when I don’t do anything.”
Fiona was quiet for a moment. When she spoke, it was with an honest, deliberate voice. “Those children didn’t hear about dragons dying from anyone but you,” she said. “You didn’t set them off just then, but you certainly set them up for it.”
Xhinna stopped dead in her tracks. Fiona turned back to her. Xhinna’s expression was dead, haunted.
“I thought you were different,” Xhinna whispered in shock. “I thought you might really like me.”
“Oh, you’re worse than a pricklebug, you!” Fiona roared back at her. She reached out and grabbed Xhinna’s hand, tugging her along. “You take offense at the slightest bit of honesty.” She sighed loudly. “It’s like you expect everyone to be mean to you.”
“That wasn’t mean?” Xhinna asked with a sniff.
“It was true!” Fiona snapped. “You told those kids a story and you scared them. You’re responsible for that. You made a mistake–it doesn’t make you a bad person.”
“It doesn’t?” Xhinna repeated, as thought he concept was new to her.
“No, everyone makes mistakes,” Fiona said, increasing her stride as Xhinna started walking beside her faster. “It’s what you do about them afterward that matters.”

That concept might very well be new to Xhinna, if everyone treats her the way Ellor was ready to, and disavows her as fast as Zirana does. Someone who is willing to separate “you did mistaken things” and “you are a mistake” would be a very new thing, and would run counter to the pattern of abuse that Xhinna has likely internalized as being her nature.

I’m still looking remarkably askance at the authorial decision to put these two together by giving Xhinna a backstory of being an abused dark-skinned drudge (slave) girl and Fiona a wealthy upper-class light-skinned girl that becomes her only friend and exalts her above her otherwise pitiful station. Presumably, Xhinna will be grateful for Fiona’s blessing on her, but also acutely aware that it can be withdrawn at any time, so Fiona is the only one I expect to walk around with the illusion that they can be friends as peers in this situation, since she’s the one with the privilege to be able to ignore the stonking power imbalance.

Also, have I mentioned enough times what a bad idea it is to make the girl that’s being abused, expected to behave like someone older than she is, and nearly-shunned by everyone else dark-skinned? Because it’s a terrible idea to single out a dark-skinned girl and heap all of this abuse on her alone, given the history of dark-skinned people being abused by lighter-skinned people on Terra. It gives off the impression that the narrative either enjoys it or thinks she deserves it, no matter what the characters might say.

“You mean, you don’t hate me?”
“Because you wanted to be a dragonrider?” Fiona demanded. “Or because you like telling stories?”
“Because–” Xhinna took a deep breath before confessing in a rush, “Because I hoped your dragon would die.”
Fiona gaped at her, dumbstruck.
“I–I thought if–if I couldn’t have her,” Xhinna stammered, “then why should you?” She looked down and began to cry. “I’m sorry. It was mean of me, and I didn’t mean…not really, b-but I thought if I had a dragon then maybe I’d…”
“Maybe you’d fit in,” Fiona finished for her.
[…Fiona remembers having to send away Fire, and how much she misses losing the fire-lizard…]
“But you’ve got a queen!” Xhinna sobbed. “And I’ve got nothing.”
“I’m not going to be sorry for you,” Fiona told her brusquely. Xhinna stiffened in surprise. “You can still Impress–you’re not too old.”
“They won’t let me on the Hatching Grounds,” Xhinna protested miserably.
“They didn’t let me on the Hatching Grounds,” Fiona pointed out to her. “And I still Impressed.”

And that’s a perfect example of what I meant about Fiona being able to ignore the power imbalance. Theh only reason Fiona was there in the first place was because she was the daughter of a Lord. If she had been a smaller Holder girl, she would never have been brought to the Hatching Grounds as a guest. Xhinna had one shot at it, because once they noticed her on the Grounds with a robe, they would make damn sure she didn’t get the opportunity again to disrupt their process. Xhinna had one chance, and Fiona ruined it just by being there. There’s no reason to believe that Xhinna would have Impressed if Fiona hadn’t been there, either, but because Fiona was in the stands, it makes her an attractive target for “if only that meddlesome Hold girl hadn’t been there, the dragon would have been mine” grudges.

The next paragraph is Fiona explaining what she came to get Xhinna for. After that, Xhinna says that she only meant her hope that Talenth died until she met Fiona, and now she doesn’t want Talenth to die at all.

“I only thought that before I met you,” Xhinna said softly. “About your dragon, I mean.”
Fiona turned back to her with a small smile. “That’s what I thought.”

Cocowhat by depizan

I thought Fiona was supposed to be the antithesis of the spoiled rich brat Holder trope, but she’s playing it to the hilt here with Xhinna. Of course the girl whose best shot you usurped couldn’t possibly be mad at Fiona once she met her. Fiona’s just so darn nice and helpful and otherwise a virtuous role model, and Fiona having an expectation that Xhinna would drop her grudge once she got to know Fiona isn’t peak white savior behavior. [/sarcasm]

This entire scene seems to exist for the reason of establishing the power differentials and then making Fiona seem gracious for forgiving Xhinna her justified feelings about some white girl who wasn’t even there getting the prize that Xhinna could only get a shot at by making her own way, rather than waiting for someone to notice her and include her. Like, it might be a character flaw for Xhinna to be salty at Fiona for getting the thing she was hoping to steal, but it makes logical sense to me.

Not that the other swing of the pendulum would be any better. A Xhinna trying to take advantage of Fiona and get in tight with her to bolster her own power in the Lower Caverns plays into a different stereotype about black people spread in certain places on Terra that believe the government is doing everything it can to take away the power of white people and give it to undeserving minorities, who are biding their time until they have enough power to enslave whites and brutalize them.

This is what happens when you tokenize minorities. They have to do too much narrative lifting, and any character traits they might have start being shorthand for what all people who look like them act like, because we don’t see enough people who look like them acting in different ways, so that nobody becomes shorthand.

Also, despite the fact that Fiona explicitly said “like a friend,” not “like a drudge”…

When Fiona and Xhinna arrived at Tannaz’s weyr a half an hour later, Xhinna kept her eyes downcast and followed every one of Fiona’s orders silently, just as they’d agreed.
“Pretend it’s a game,” Fiona had suggested with a grin. “You get a point for every order I give you that you can do without making any noise. This time I’ll make it easy, but the next time–be warned!–I’ll do my best to make you laugh.”
Treating it as a game made it easier for Xhinna to survive Melanwy’s sour humor and bitter jibes.
“Seems you’ve found a leash for her, Weyrwoman,” Melanwy admitted grudgingly as Xhinna dipped her head politely to the old headwoman. “She hasn’t said a word once.” Melanwy paused for a second, then added maliciously, “Usually no one can shut her up.”
Xhinna’s eyes flashed, but she caught Fiona’s look and let the insult pass.

I can’t even. (I will, all the same.) I guess we’re still significantly out from sensitivity readers being part of the regular parlance, but I would like to believe an editor went “you know this is in flagrant contradiction to what Fiona said earlier, right?” even if they couldn’t get or didn’t want to say “you just had the dark-skinned girl willingly take on the stupid servant role to the white girl, and she explicitly has been told she has to take whatever abuse the old (probably also white) woman is going to heap on her if she wants to keep her position as friend, and that old white woman is referring to the dark-skinned girl as if she were an an animal who needed a leash. This is the sort of thing that was said about actual black people in the not-all-that recent history of the United States, where many of your readers are. Are you sure this is the kind of thing you want to be putting on the page for your readers?”

At this point, it’s either deliberate, and the author wants us to be thinking about race and class and how terrible Fiona is as a protagonist, or the author has no idea he’s doing it, and in being clueless about it, is turning in a masterwork about how race and class work on Pern and showing us just how awful a protagonist Fiona is, regardless of whether Fiona’s consciously reinforcing those race and class divisions or not. Given that the rule of Pern seems to be the protagonists are supposed to be seen positively, regardless of whether their actions are actually positive, my money’s on ignorance being beautiful, beautiful bliss.

Playing it off as a game is a thing that might help Xhinna get through it without incident, and gives the reader an out if they want to avoid thinking about it too hard by saying Fiona came up with it as a game to help Xhinna, so there couldn’t have been any ill intent. Which is true, but intent is not fucking magic. And neither of them are old enough to think of this as a consenting kinky relationship, which about the only way I could envision this scene happening and it not being terrible, but I would definitely need to see a negotiation scene beforehand, and both Fiona and Xhinna need to be way older.

As it is, Fiona manages to persuade Melanwy to take a break and let them watch Tannaz and Kalsenth, Fiona rewards Xhinna not with whatever thing she thinks is her reward for a job well done (Xhinna groans audibly when Fiona uses that phrasing) but with watching Kalsenth while Fiona takes care of Talenth. Xhinna provides further insight on why Melanwy is hanging around Kalsenth so much – she wants to hitch a ride to hyperspace on her, since Melanwy didn’t get to do it with the last Weyrwoman-dragon combination that went and left her behind.

Fiona then brings Xhinna with her to the head table for the next dinner, and K’lior pegs her immediately, much to Xhinna’s complete embarassment.

“She wasn’t the first, I assure you,” Kentai added with a wry grin. “It’s a long-established tradition in all the Weyrs.”
“It didn’t work, though, did it?” Cisca asked, not looking at Xhinna but at Fiona. Her look was odd: Fiona couldn’t understand what she meant by it.
“The dragons always know,” H’nez said from his place beside Kentai. “They know blue riders from bronze riders, too.”
What was that supposed to mean? Fiona wondered.
“I thought all the Weyrfolk were allowed to stand on the Hatching Ground when they’re of age,” she said, glancing at Kentai for confirmation.
“We usually limit the number at each Hatching to not more than twice the eggs,” Cisca said as she took a forkful of her cake. Noting Fiona’s curious look, she explained, “So as not to crowd the hatchlings or have too many pointless injuries.”

Well, that’s new. And also, a rather convenient way of making sure not just everyone can stand and catch a dragon. Also, thank you, H’nez, for illustrating that even inside the highest echelons of Pernese society, there is still stratification and hierarchy and prejudice. To a toxically masculine bronze rider, being a blue rider (and, according to the prejudices set forth by Anne in extratextual material, thus the likely receptive partner in any given rider pairing) must seem like the complete opposite of the desired projection. The greens are sluts, and that can be useful to a bronze rider, but the blues are the penetrated, gasp, and so can’t possibly be sufficiently manly ever.

Plot-wise, Fiona asks if she can keep Xhinna close by, to run late-night errands and otherwise be her support personnel. H’nez scoffs at the idea, because his conception of a dragonrider is someone who is entirely self-sufficient. K’lior completes the quote H’nez begins, but points out dragonriders don’t cook their own food or raise their own children, so they’re not quite as super self-sufficient (All Hail Rand!) as H’nez would like to believe.

“I think,” Cisca declared, “that even if Kelsanth were not sick, it would make sense to have someone available to help a queen rider.”
“Like a drudge?” H’nez said with a sneer as he regarded Xhinna. “Certainly she fits the role.”
“H’nez!” T’mar growled warningly.
Fiona glared angrily at H’nez, then turned away from him to Cisca in a move that was an obvious dismissal and slight. The man might be a bronze rider and many Turns older than she, but he had a lot to learn about manners.
“Fioonna,” Xhinna murmured fearfully beside her.
“Weyrleader, Weyrwoman, thank you,” Fiona said with a polite nod for each. She pushed back her chair and rose, nudging Xhinna to do the same. “I think we’d best get back to my weyr so that we can assist Tannaz as she needs.
“Harper,” she said, nodding to Kentai. Her gaze skipped over H’nez and rested on T’mar, as she said, “Wingleader.” With that, she turned sharply and, still clutching Xhinna’s arm, marched out of the cavern.
“Discipline is much lacking in this Weyr,” she heard H’nez declare loudly after her.
“As are manners,” Kentai agreed just as loudly. And, while she wasn’t sure if H’nez recognized the Harper’s tone, Fiona was certain as she walked away that the Weyr’s harper was not referring to her.

Way to stand up for your people, Fiona. I mean that seriously. That’s using your privilege for good ends. And still makes me wonder why H’nez hasn’t been bounced out on his ear long before he had the opportunity to insult Fiona and Xhinna. There always has to be an antagonist of some sort, if you believe that conflict drives plot, but this qualifies as questioning a Weyrwoman’s judgment in her domain, and that’s not smart if you want to stay in any sort of position of leadership and power. Bust his ass back down to private, K’lior, until he can learn manners and respect for the chain of command.

This chapter seems to be moving at molasses pace, honestly, but I think it’s because we’re getting a lot more worldbuilding and society cues and explanations than we were before. The new author is going to some pains to describe the world and its inhabitants more fully than the old author, and that requires some closer reading.

This is a good stopping point for this week’s post, as within a few pages, there’s going to be something that deserves more of that close reading, and if I put the two of them in the same post, I’m going to end up with a seven or eight-thousand word monstrosity with the quotes involved, instead of the “compact” three thousand or so for this chunk of it. It does look like the pace will pick up a little once we get past these segments, though, so we may be able to make up some ground.

At the very least, we should be able to finish Chapter 6 next week.

Deconstruction Roundup for October 11th, 2019

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who .)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorium Press

Fred Clark: Slacktivist

Froborr: Jen A. Blue

Ross: A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are really annoyed at mass market paperbacks for being small with small typefaces. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragonheart: Facing Reality

Last chapter, Fiona spent a significant amount of time reassuring and talking to others at Fort Weyr to make sure they weren’t ideating or otherwise neglecting themselves, before being put on dinner duty and cooking up something that would be served to all the people at the Weyrleader’s table, as a Fort tradition. Tannaz didn’t tell Fiona where the food was going, because that’s also apparently Fort tradition. Fiona got to meet the headwoman of Fort, who is suffering from dementia, and at the end of the day, participated in an impromptu conference indicating more dragons have become sick and are getting sent to the quarantine zone.

Dragonheart: Chapter Five: Content Notes:

Eyes green, delight
Eyes red, fright
Eyes yellow, worry
Eyes closed, no hurry.

(Fort Weyr, The Next Morning, AL 507.13.15)

Fiona oversleeps. And then starts hearing a dragon cough, and is worried that it’s Talenth. It isn’t, it’s Kalsenth, Tannaz’s dragon instead. Cisca sends Fiona to the kitchen to collect a decoction passed along by Lorana that’s supposed to help with the cough. They manage to get the dragon to swallow the whole bucket-full that’s been crafted for her. Fiona has to then oil and feed Talenth, and when she returns to the kitchen to look for Cisca, Zirina directs her into one of the back hallways. Fiona manages to find her way to the stores, where Cisca and Melanwy are having a battle over getting more of the herbs out. Melanwy doesn’t recognize Cisca and keeps challenging her authority to order anything. Fiona manages to navigate Melanwy’s inability to remember things by identifying herself as a daughter at Fort Hold and spinning a story that the Weyrwoman has promised Fort some of the stores for a sickness. Which works – Melanwy and Fiona collect all the things on Cisca’s list (the only ones we know about are echinacea and ginger) and get them out of the stores, and then Fiona escorts Melanwy back to her own quarters.

After coming back to the kitchen, Fiona asks Cisca whether what she’s experiencing is normal.

Fiona tried to fix the names of the riders, the dragons, and their colors in her head but found, to her annoyance, that she couldn’t.
“I used to be good with names,” she said, frowning. “I know all the names of every holder in Fort Hold and all the heads of every hold minor or craft–”
“Don’t worry,” Cisca assured her. “You’ll learn them all in time.”
Fiona contented herself with a sip from her mug and another bite of her roll. She was surprised that she was so hungry until she remembered that she hadn’t eaten at all that morning…which brought her back to the issue she’d been avoiding. “I seem to be in such a muddle all the time,” she confessed to Cisca. She met the Weyrwoman’s eyes. “I didn’t use to be like this.”
Cisca picked up on Fiona’s unspoken plea. “I don’t think it’s the illness,” she told her.
“But you’ve noticed?” Fiona persisted. “Is there something wrong with me?”
“If there is, you’re not alone.” The speaker was K’lior, who was striding up to them.

There’s a short discussion about how neither Cisca nor K’lior think that Fiona can’t handle her dragon and her responsibilities, and while they expected a certain amount of tiredness from raising a dragon as a teenager, they’re still keeping an eye on everyone affected to see if things change.

Cisca also mentions that K’lior drills his dragonriders in mixed-wing configurations, so that every rider can work with every wingleader without issues. Supposedly, it’s so the riders don’t get bored with their training exercises. Fiona accepts this and compares it to when Bemin switches the posts that the guards have. I’m also a bit blink-blink at this, because mixed-wing drills means that when the dragons start dying, K’lior shouldn’t have too much trouble at all restructuring his wings on the fly and they should have fewer Thread-related casualties, compared to any of the other Weyrs. And also, why hasn’t this idea spread from Weyr to Weyr, so that all of them do mixed-wing drills and thus Benden doesn’t end up in such a terrible situation where they suffer great losses once they start having holes in the formation? Like, this might be an ass-cover from the previous book for things making no sense, but what it does is make the dragonriders look like they hoard knowledge and secrets in the same way the Crafts do. Except that the dragonriders have a shared set of purposes: Fight Thread, Get Tributes, Oppress Everyone. They can be competitive at the Games, but it seems like the sort of things that will make for less Thread casualties would be shared freely. Lots of dragons are a good, and get plenty of tribute, at least in their opinions.

Cisca and K’lior suggest going out to the Holds under their jurisdiction to collect more herbs to help with the dragons. Fiona asks if she can go out to Fort, leaving unstated “so I can see and talk with my father.” K’lior and Cisca give their assent, and Fiona, after taking a hyperspace warp, walks up to the gates, gets recognized (although Fiona’s annoyed that she can’t remember a guard’s name), and is sent on in to the kitchens, after being told Lord Bemin isn’t there at the moment.

Fiona raids half the stores of Fort for echinacea, ginger, cinnamon, comfrey, and hyssop, which Neesa shrugs about, but Marla, one of the new kitchen helpers, is reduced to squeaking about how much is being taken and to what purpose it’s being put to. Neesa and Fiona have a small chat about Fiona’s tiredness and the unnaturalness of that tiredness, and then Bemin returns, having announced his return with a “loud shout” that “Fiona…recogniz[ed] the voice of Lord Holder Bemin in full rage.”

Fiona goes to talk with her father about what’s upset him so.

“Weren’t you at the Harper Hall?”
“I was,” Bemin snapped.
“Are you and Kelsa arguing again?” Fiona asked, her eyes dancing.
Bemin sighed and seemed to deflate where he stood. Fiona was surprised to see the worry lines around his eyes.
“She’s not upset about her gold?” Fiona wondered. Kelsa had Impressed a gold fire-lizard a number of Turns back and was quite attached to her. Fiona was certain Kelsa’a loss of Valyart had hit her hard. She also recalled that Kelsa and her father had made jokes about which bronze would fly when Valyart mated.
Even though she was the Lord Holder’s daughter, or perhaps even more because she was the Lord Holder’s daughter, Fiona had spent a lot of her youth with the herdbeasts and animals of the Hold; more than once she had helped a ewe birthing a lamb, or a herdbeast with a breech birth, so reproduction held no secrets for her.
And so it wasn’t difficult for her to take in her father’s stance and his bellowing, and came up with a shrewd guess: “Kelsa’s pregnant, isn’t she?”
“We were talking names,” Bemin said by way of confirmation. “Kemma if a girl, Belsan if a boy.”

Bemin tells her that he wants to raise the child in the Hold, especially if it’s a boy, and that Kelsa wasn’t having any of it. Fiona tells her father to stop being a ninny about the kilometer’s distance between Hall and Hold, and then bounds off with her herbs.

I’m having a few thoughts about this. Because Kelsa was very young when she was at the Hall at first. It’s been twelve years since then, so it’s not like I have to wonder about whether Kelsa’s of age for a relationship, it’s just that the story about Lady Sannora was that she was sweet on a Harper (Zist) but noting happened. And then there was how much Kindan was very sweet on Koriana, but again, the Lady Holder-to-be couldn’t really behave poorly with a Harper (so much so that it was a scandal they slept in the same bed without any sex happening.) And now we have widower Bemin, and he’s gotten the Song Master of the Harper Hall pregnant. I sincerely hope it was consensual, but I also wonder whether Kindan knows, and what his opinion on the matter might be. Especially since Fiona holds Kindan in a certain amount of respect and awe and possibly even infatuation of a small sort.

This seems to be the sort of situation that, on some soap opera or programming designed specifically for melodrama, would blow up the messiest, most dramatic way possible so that Kindan (and Fiona) would be entirely pissed at Bemin for what he’s done to Kelsa. Especially since Kindan was denied his chance at the Fort Hold person that he wanted. (And because it still seems like it’s a May-December Romance, and while I’ll believe Kelsa if she says that she fell in love or if she says it was supposed to be friends with benefits or any other relationship characterization Kelsa wants to provide, I’m having trouble figuring out why a high-ranking Harper like Kelsa wants to sleep with Lord Bemin at all. She seemed very interested in proving that she was a Strong Independent Woman Who Needs Not Any Man. It’s a story we’re probably not going to get, which makes me lean toward the idea that it’s not as good news as Fiona thinks it is, because this is Pern.

All that’s left in this chapter is for Fiona to get back, oil Talenth, and for both of them to get worried about what happens if Kalsenth doesn’t actually get any better.

Brave dragons, fly high, fly true
Gold, bronze, brown, green, and blue.

(Fort Weyr, Seven Days Later, AL 507.13.22)

Chapter Six starts with Tannaz telling Fiona not to bother with any more of the herbal drink, as it isn’t helping Kalsenth at all, and hasn’t for the last three days. As Kalsenth has gotten worse, so has Tannaz, because the link between them has Tannaz popping awake when Kalsenth coughs, or when any other dragon coughs, and it’s probably not helping much that Melanwy is hanging around, trying to take care of her and her dragon, even if much of the time, Melanwy thinks Tannaz is Nara, the previous Weyrwoman. Cisca, Fiona, K’lior, T’mar, and Kentai have an impromptu conference in the kitchens about the ineffectiveness of the herbal concoction and the general feeling of helplessness the riders have at their dragons being lethally sick. T’mar is unhappy that Kindan seems to be the one leading the effort to save the dragons.

He’s no healer,” T’mar persisted rebelliously.
“No,” Kentai responded agreeably. “he’s not. But it was Kindan who thought of the ways that helped the Holders during the Plague, and Kindan is the only one who has bonded with a watch-wher he Impressed a fire-lizard.”
“I trust Kindan,” Fiona declared hotly. “He saved my life.”
T’mar be her a surprised look, then lowered his eyes and muttered, “He’s no dragonrider.”
“But Lorana is,” Kentai responded. “And it is her herbal we have been using.”

There’s a real resistance here to acknowledging expertise, however fragmentary it is, that doesn’t come from a dragonrider, and I’m going to gleefully appropriate it for a context I’m guessing the original author may not have intended to say this is a perfect example of how anyone in our Terra who doesn’t look like a straight white man gets their expertise questioned and their ideas dismissed (or stolen). Kindan had to improvise barrier methods against infection, a method to determine flu status without touching someone, and a way of getting a starved population enough nourishment to recover. And he’s also had experience, at this point, with all three forms of dragon-like life forms, and bonded to two of them. While it’s entirely possible that Kindan is entirely wrong about everything, the appeal that T’mar is making should be swatted down swiftly. It won’t be, though, because I suspect Cisca and K’lior share that sentiment, even if they wouldn’t be so gauche as to state it aloud. But because Lorana trusts Kindan, they can, too. Because she has the correct status so that Kindan can be believed.

T’mar grumbles at the logic, and accidentally breaks his klah mug while trying to get himself caffeinated. Fiona swiftly offers her mug for T’mar, but he brushes it off to go get another, and interestingly enough, Cisca calls him to the carpet on it. “Are you sure you want to do that? It’s never wise to turn down the favors of a Weyrwoman.” Cisca says. T’mat immediately apologizes to Cisca, and then, with a quick nonverbal prompt from Cisca, to Fiona. Fiona accepts, so we don’t get to see what kind of consequences befall those who aggravate a Weyrwoman. For bronze riders, it might be “Good luck ever becoming Weyrleader,” but presumably it also would affect other dragon colors as well. Perhaps, since the Weyrwomen are in charge of things outside the battle, pissing off a Weyrwoman makes you a gong farmer for some significant time? (Or, possibly, gets you sent off to another Weyr?) There’s obviously a power dynamic going on here, but we don’t get to see anything more about it.

Instead, the narrative makes sure everyone is fed and caffeinated, and Fiona reveals that once she sat by one of the old people in the Hold while they died, when she was almost twelve, (making her about fourteen right now) as a way of explaining that wait and watch and hope doesn’t mean just sitting around doing nothing. T’mar re-evaluates Fiona based on this story, and that Fiona chose that duty willingly based on her feeling of duty, the narrative tells us, and Cisca and K’lior think it’s a good idea to have someone near riders with sick seasons at all times.

As the kitchen fills up with people, Fiona realizes that there are a lot more kids there than she envisioned a Weyr having.

“You’re wondering, why so many children?” T’mar guessed from Fiona’s expression. Fiona nodded.
“The answer’s simple,” Cisca replied with a mischievous grin. K’lior must have kicked her under the table, for the Weyrwoman started and stuck her tongue out at him. She turned to Fiona. “Given that there can be up to five hundred dragonriders in a Weyr, and that each of them is expected to do his–”
“–or her,” K’lior interjected.
“–duty to the Weyr,” Cisca continued with a scowl for her Weyrleader, “you’d expect there to be upward of a thousand youngsters of various ages.”

Cocowhat by depizan

Not the numbers, but this expectation that dragonriders will do their duty to the Weyr and make babies. First, with whom? I thought it was a significant feature of Pern that blue, green, and brown riders are generally not het in their partner preferences. If the line now is that brown, green, and blue riders are bi, then that’s something worth stating outright. Second, though, because the narrative has been focusing on all the people at the top, whether in Weyr or Hold, there’s only been allusion that, say, the head cook has a kitchen staff, and the headwoman presumably has additional departments and drudges that report to her about the upkeep of the space. Somewhere in there, if each of those 500 dragonriders are supposed to make two kids each, there needs to be some significant number of women who can and want to carry children to term in the Weyr. Because otherwise, it sounds like the dragonriders as a whole rely on the sex rays from their dragons to coerce women, wherever they exist in the Weyr, into having sex with them, and then some other form of persuasion to get them to keep and give birth to the kids. Which is entirely in keeping with Pern as it has been shown to us so far.

Also, I can’t imagine a single Weyr Harper having to instruct all thousand of those kids himself in a one-room schoolhouse sort of situation. Where is Kentai’s staff? Or Kindan’s, for that matter, if Benden’s child numbers are approximately the same as Fort’s. The apprentices are all at the Hall, the Masters might be faculty at the Hall or possibly, occasionally, stationed somewhere else in the world, but it always has been presented as the idea that there’s a single journeyman or master harper at each major hold and several of the smaller camps and holds. In small places, a single harper could probably handle teaching and performance duties as well as any court obligations and such, but for exceedingly large places, there’s no way the harper could handle all of it themselves without mainlining caffeine in dangerous amounts. Fort Weyr needs a phalanx of harpers just for the teaching duties, even if Pernese education only goes to the equivalent of middle school. Where are they? (“The Plague” is convenient at this point in history, but I would then expect the Hall to say “Field Harpers, if you have a promising candidate or five, and they sound interested, dub them your apprentices, and if any of them show promise for the Hall, send them on when it’s time and gather more.” As Zist did with Kindan. Ish.

The narrative tries to make this seem like less of a daunting problem, but it doesn’t get rid of the issue completely.

” What happens to them all?” Fiona asked. “Where are they now?”
“Some are taking lessons,” Cisca said, gesturing in the direction Kentai had taken. “Some are helping with the weyr.”
“And some are doubtless getting into trouble,” K’lior added with a grin.
“Doubtless,” Cisca agreed. “And several are probably at this very moment on the Hatching Grounds, looking around and dreaming.”
“I doubt it,” K’lior declared. “I suspect it’s a bit too early for that.”
“What do they do when they grow up?” Fiona wondered.
“Some become dragonriders,” K’lior said. “Some stay on and work at the Weyr: some become weyrmates.”
Most weyrmates work at the Weyr,” Cisca corrected him.
“Some learn a craft and become apprenticed,” K’lior went on.
“We’ve three in the Harper Hall at this moment,” Cisca pointed out proudly.
“And two at the Smithcrafthall,” K’lior reminded her.

Three? I would expect thirty, not three. And similarly for the Smiths, and plenty more in the other professions because it’s pretty explicit that the dragonriders don’t do any work that isn’t directly related to their dragons. Someone has to produce food, raise beasts, make clothes, do leatherwork, metalwork, entertain and teach, and so on, so that the dragonriders can get the best value out of their tributes from everyone else. Perhaps not the entire complement of children, but I would expect most of the ones of apprenticing age are apprenticed out to the various crafthalls or are otherwise employed under the direction of someone who has received craft training.

The whole thing wraps up in a way that shades this from “Cisca and K’lior are justly proud of the accomplishments of the children of the Weyr” to “Cisca and K’lior don’t pay attention to what they are saying and how it could be unintentionally hurtful to others.”

“But you’ll never find Weyrfolk unwilling to help,” Cisca added, “if you ask for it.”
“I think I should check on Tannaz now,” Fiona said, feeling a bit out of sorts–the Weyrleaders were going on about how great weyrfolk were, and while she knew that holderfolk were every bit as kind and good, she didn’t think it would be wise to point that out. Besides, no one had offered to help her since she’d been in the Weyr; she’d done all the helping.
As she rose from her chair, the bronze dragonrider she recognized as H’nez approached their table, saying “More dragons coughing this morning, aren’t there?”
Fiona was glad to leave, she liked him even less for that comment than she had before. As if K’lior wasn’t doing everything he could!

Fiona has every right to be aggravated at this. She’s been doing just as much, if not more, work as Weyrwoman than she would have been as a Lady Holder, and without the support structure (or ability to order other people around) that being Lady Holder would normally grant her. Maybe the Senior Weyrwoman gets that, but she’s the most junior of them, and nobody is offering to help her figure out her duties and what she’s expected to do, or help her through them. She had to learn on the fly, and more often than not, by doing something she’s not supposed to.

Also, why hasn’t H’nez been shuttled off to some other Weyr, before the plague hit, given what kind of asshole he’s being? He thought he should be Weyrleader. Fine, but he’s not, and he’s deliberately sassing the Weyrleaders to their faces. Ship him off to Telgar if he wants to behave that way. He’s more than overstepped his boundaries with Cisca and K’lior. He goaded the Healer into a duel and killed him. There’s no reason he should be in any sort of leadership position at all.

Fiona, upon returning to her own Weyr, catches someone inside, and has a full-boil rage at her about Talenth. But we’ll get to that next week.

Deconstruction Roundup for October 4th, 2019

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who has accomplished something kind of nice.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Elizabeth Sandifer: Eruditorium Press

Fred Clark: Slacktivist

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are really annoyed at mass market paperbacks for being small with small typefaces. Or for any other reason, really.

Dragonheart: Grief and Recovery

Last time, it turned out that Fort was also concerned about the behavior of their Weyrlings. Unfortunately, while they’re not incurious, they also inexplicably think that it’s just a weird thing, rather than wondering whether their weyrlings are part of a future time-displacement plot. Fiona had an offscreen shouting match with Lord Bemin that Tannaz thinks was the best thing ever (while also being able to get in a comment about how hot Cisca is), and the dragon fatalities commenced in other Weyrs.

Dragonheart: Chapter 4: Content Notes:

Their lungs melted,
Their breath turned green,
Sick, listless, ailing,
Dragons fled between

(Fort Weyr, AL 507.13.12)

(Hee! I was right. Thirteen months! (As was pointed out in the comments from last week’s post.))

Also, that’s the kind of poem you tell as a nightmare for Halloween, or something. Not as evening entertainment for the masses.

The chapter opens with Fiona realizing she’s way overslept and popping out into the Weyr Bowl to see what’s going on. The eerie silence unnerves her greatly, and she’s relieved when she finally sees Tannaz about. Who promptly sits her down with a basket of rolls and butter and tells her to eat, before giving her a pitcher of cold klah to draw a mug from and drink. Having done so, Fiona feels remarkably more human again. Cisca arrives not to shortly afterward and also consumes rolls, butter, and klah to make herself feel the same thing.

Apparently, this complete numbness is an aftereffect of feeling the death of a dragon, and with three of them happening in such quick succession, everyone’s been hit particularly hard. And although Fort hoped they might be able to close off the Weyr and prevent the spread of the disease, it’s too late, as one of their own dragons starts coughing. Which summons an emergency meeting of the Weyrleaders and Wingleaders. H’nez plays the grumpy old man who wants action now, but Fort is hindered in their ability to do much because he’s responsible for them being a person down.

“You know why we’ve no Healer, H’nez,” M’kury growled. “It’s because you goaded old Sitarin into that duel.”
H’nez’s jaw worked angrily.

Cocowhat by depizan

I knew that dragonriders were not the smartest hatchlings in the clutch, but shouldn’t there be a rule forbidding involving Healers in duels? Because you need someone to stitch people up afterward, and I somehow doubt the Healer Hall is going to be all that eager to send another person out to a Weyr where they have the chance of dying if they piss off the wrong dragonrider. Even if they weren’t already very short-staffed from the Plague Years, if I were the (likely interim) Masterhealer, I would not send out someone to those knuckleheads at Fort any time soon. And now Fort needs someone who knows something about dragon anatomy and health because of the sickness that’s coming. Way to go, H’nez.

The update is courtesy of Lorana, whose ability to bespeak dragons directly is the same as Torene’s (who is apparently a legendary figure because of this). The only affected dragon so far is the Weyrlingmaster’s, and he quarantines himself and has T’mar (the one who’s been acting weird, remember) take over the instruction of the Weyrlings. Someone suggests fitting the dragons with masks like the humans got during the plague, and while H’nez thinks it ridiculous, the others would go for it, if they felt like they could manage it. K’lior advises caution and demands that anything in relation to the disease be immediately reported to him or Cisca, and the meeting adjourns. Fiona is sufficiently stunned by all of it that she sits there until everyone else leaves, including H’nez, who harbors a grudge about who’s in charge that he says aloud in Fiona’s presence. Only the call of needing to oil the itchy dragon gets her up and moving.

Once she’s done oiling Talenth, Tannaz recruits Fiona to help check on the dragonriders and make sure they’re all doing okay. Fiona quips that it’s like taking care of the sick aunties and the old uncles, but Tanaz is not going along with it, even if she does relent a little and say it’s probably a little like such things. Understandably, Fiona isn’t entirely sure what to do.

“What do I say to them?” Fiona asked, working to keep a whining tone out of her voice.
“You know how they feel,” Tannaz said, her voice turning softer, warmer. “Probably more than most, since you lost your fire-lizard.”
Fiona bit her lip, then shook herself fiercely and nodded for the Weyrwoman to continue.
“So talk to them about how they feel, how you feel. Don’t lie, but be positive.” Tannaz put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed firmly. “You are a Weyrwoman now.”
Something in the other’s tone made Fiona realize Tannaz was bestowing upon her a gift, not weighing her with a burden. Tannaz must have seen it, too, for she let go of the young girl and told her brusquely, “Off you go, now!”

Of course, Fiona doesn’t know where she’s going, but when she turns back to ask, Tannaz shouts down the corridor with the right place to start.

I’m not entirely sure that Fiona, at thirteen, knows what whining sounds like, but I’m willing to give that she doesn’t want to be seen as whining to Tannaz. I also think the author shorts us on Fiona’s thought process of how she comes to the realization that being asked to talk to the dragonriders is not a burdensome thing, but a position of honor and pride and something to do as a Weyrwoman. Tannaz could have given her a nice logical reason to latch on to, like “Soon enough, these riders will be yours, and it’s a good idea to get to know them early on so they’ll follow you when it’s your turn to be Senior.”

That would have been nice, really, because Fiona has an immediate panic about whether or not she can actually do the thing because she doesn’t have a clue what to actually say.

I can’t do this, she thought miserably, stopping one pace before the entrance to the Weyr. I’ve only thirteen Turns!
[…Fiona thinks about telling everyone her Impression was a mistake, but the thought of giving Talenth up is far too terrible to contemplate…]
Kindan had no one, Fiona chided herself, and he was your age when the Plague struck. He saved you and everyone at Fort.
Well, she corrected herself, tears filling her eyes, almost everyone. He couldn’t save Mother, or my brothers, or even my sister, the girl he loved.
But he saved me, she remembered, and thought of the tales her father told her of Kindan’s bravery. With those in mind, along with images of her own Impression, she lifted her head and stepped forward.
I can do this, she thought, and she called out, “Hello?”

I would expect Fiona to name her mother, brothers, and sister, rather than just referring to them that way. Koriana especially, since she supposedly was the love of Kindan’s life before she died from the plague. Bemin would have called them by name, so there’s no reason to believe that Fiona doesn’t know them. But also, Bemin is doing a significant amount of downplaying his own role in both how much he hated Kindan before the Plague stripped him of his family, save her. I would like to hear how Kindan tells the same story, and how much he would choose to include about how terrible Bemin was about it to Fiona. If she’s in the Weyrwoman mode she was in the last chapter, he might give it to her straight, no chaser.

As it turns out, the first rider she sees, L’rian, knew Lady Sannora, has heard the rumor that she was sweet on a Harper, despite being a Lady Holder, and regales Fiona with a half-hour’s worth of stories from his life. He intuits the reason for Fiona’s visit, and says that he’s ready to go when his dragon does. Fiona wants to know about his loved ones, but he says he’s seen most of them go on from life, so he doesn’t have any regrets. Fiona says that they’re going to need all the dragonriders they can to fight Thread, and when he makes a lewd remark about how they can talk after she’s had her first mating flight, she turns it into a promise (“heard and witnessed!”) that he’ll stick around long enough to talk with her afterward.

Fiona talks with several others for less time, but takes note of who’s talking, the stories they have of the spicy firestone, and which of them are trying too hard to project that they’re fine.

Fiona had been in her father’s company long enough to note those who spoke with a forced heartiness–she’d heard the same tone in prideful holders who had over-farmed their lands or were afraid to admit other shortcomings. Often the neediest Fort holder was the one least likely to ask for aid. Lord Bemin was constantly visiting the smaller holds, always on the pretext of preparing or collecting tithe, but even with only thirteen Turns to her, Fiona had noticed the times when her father had ordered some of the guards to help out with a planting or a fencing, or had sent back to the Hold for some special spices or tubers.
“I’ve so many tubers in our root cellars that I’ll have to get rid of them or let them rot,” she recalled him saying to one farmer whose entire crop had been ravaged by tunnel snakes. “Would you do me the favor of taking some?”
Or, “My men have grown soft on this trip; would you let me put them to work in that field over there?”

In Fiona’s case, she uses the understanding of her father’s indirect methods to suggest she’s hungry, even when she’s not, as a pretext of ordering up some food and making sure the dragonrider she’s seeing has eaten that day.

I also think this is the first time I’ve seen or heard a Lord Holder do anything of this sort, sharing his labor and largesse with his vassals, and taking care to do so indirectly for the ones that would never accept direct help because of their pride. It makes Bemin into a better administrator, and someone who might actually understand how vassalage feudalism works. It makes me wonder whether he was this way before the Plague ripped through his Hold or not. I can totally get behind Bemin deciding to be a much better ruler because he saw the Plague as a punishment for his attitude and effectiveness, even though Pern nominally lacks a God that would send plague as punishment for bad behavior. Bemin before and Bemin after Plague, from those that knew him well, would be a fascinating comparison, should anyone ever decide to do it.

After she completes her rounds, Tannaz flags Fiona and says everyone is supposed to pitch in at the kitchen for the feast tonight. Which makes Fiona the head cook’s apprentice for the night. When asked about whether she sings or dances, Fiona says she’d rather learn how to swordfight, based on stories of Nerra of Crom who apparently learned how, but Bemin never let her. Kentai, the Harper, catches her meaning, and says that Weyrwomen are generally taught bow skills, which segues into a story about how Cisca once put on a demonstration with flaming arrows that nearly set the weyrling quarters on fire.

Zirana, the cook, is cooking in the Southern Boll style and speaks mostly in single words and short sentences, which seems like there’s some sort of something going on here, but I can’t quite put my thoughts on it. Southern Boll style turns out to be stir-fry, compared to the stews that Fiona is used to, and the Igen style that Tannaz promises to teach Fiona when Zirana’s done. (There are also pernooms, funguses native to Pern that are presumably close enough to mushrooms that people got lazy with the naming.) There’s all sorts of things thrown in, including soy sauce (“From soya bean,” Zirana says when she adds it), onions, garlic, ginger, pernooms, and eventually, sliced wherry meat strips.

After showing Fiona how to make three dishes, Zirana tells Fiona to make her own dish. Which she does. Zirana approves of it and then tells her to go serve it to the Weyrleaders and wingleaders. It’s apparently tradition to make the youngest Weyrwoman cook the food for the head table without telling her that’s where it’s going. Cisca, when she stops by, is very surprised that Zirana let Fiona cook, but Ziana points out that Fiona learned more than enough by observing the kitchens from a young age.

When it comes time to serve, Fiona is again a bundle of nerves, and envisions herself tripping and shattering the serving dish, putting all her effort to waste. A voice not her dragon’s tells her in her head she’ll do fine, and she does.

It really is good! Fiona thought, amazed. Tannaz, who was still watching her, chuckled, saying, “What, did you think Zirana would let you serve something that wasn’t good?” Fiona’s look answered her and the Weyrwoman continued, “You’re not at the Hold anymore. You’ll be treated with respect, but no one will lie to you.”

Which is a pretty interesting juxtaposition to have here. Dragonriders believe they’ve managed honesty for everything, and they can also provide respect in that environment to everyone. We might also note that Fort doesn’t have a Healer because the Healer was killed in a duel that he was goaded in to. That makes me think that dragonriders’ honesty is much more like the people that believe they’re being the most honest by proclaiming social conventions to be so much bullshit and that everyone is always acting in self-interest, even if it looks like they’re being nice to someone else.

Tannaz makes a crack about Melanwy forcing Fiona to make three dishes before she’d let her serve, and Melanwy agrees with her, having appeared while Tannaz wasn’t looking. And she gives them grief about things and weyrlings performing before it becomes apparent she has some form of dementia, as she switches to being confused about where she is and what she’s doing. Kentai goes smoothly with it and leads her off to play drums for the performances. Fiona compliments him in his absence, and says that Holds have plenty of people who are addled, and who would rather not have been alive because of that. Melanwy is still headwoman out of pity and out of the fact that when she’s lucid, there’s none better, so Tannaz and Cisca are taking turns learning the craft of running the place from her in those moments where she can impart her wisdom. Fiona offers to help, but Tannaz and Cisca both think it’s a bad idea, given how much Melanwy talks about and is interested in morbid things these days. Fiona presses her case an says that learning would be more important than troubling subjects.

“You made your case.” She frowned and added, “Still, I don’t think it’s fair to rob you so young of your youth. I have a motherly duty–”
“Pardon, Weyrwoman,” Fiona intrrupted, her throat hard, her face hot, “but I lost my mother before my third Turn and, with her, any chance of a proper childhood.”
Cisca gave her a look that was part affront, part surprise, but Fiona met her eyes squarely. “I’m young, I know, but I’ve had to grow up fast and I don’t think I know how to stop.”
[…Cisca is unconvinced, but K’lior manages to convince her to drop it with a gesture Fiona can’t interpret, not having seen her mother and father interact…]
“Don’t be in such a rush to grow up,” Tannaz murmured as the plates were cleared.
“I can’t really tell you when I ever really thought I was a child,” Fiona responded. But in her heart she recalled all the times when she’d been with Kindan and wondered–until the fruit dessert that Tannaz and Ellor had made was served, and she enjoyed it so much that she completely forgot the previous conversation.

I’m not sure what to think about this exchange, because it feels like I want to criticize it for saying that without a mother, Fiona couldn’t have had a childhood, while at the same time knowing that Bemin probably started in early on the training for his last surviving child on how to be the perfect Lady Holder, since she was all he had left and the last opportunity for his bloodline to continue. Which would put Kindan in the place of being someone who saw her and treated her as a child (because she was one) without any of the extra pressure of having to be the survivor of the Plague (which she also was). So, make your own conclusions, maybe, about all of this? It still feels wrong, even though it’s probably more accurate than usual.

Fiona has to leave to handle Talenth, and then comes back to a conference of the Weyrleaders, where she gets to sit on Tannaz’s lap, apparently, and listen to all of them talk about the new sick dragons and what to do about them. K’lior seems blithe about the arrival of a new Healer before things get too out of sorts, but Fiona reminds them of something that the Weyrleaders apparently haven’t known or considered – med school on Pern takes just as long as it does on Terra.

Fiona chewed her lip before confessing, “Father said we didn’t be enough spare hands to send them to the Halls for eight Turns of learning.”
The others looked at her inquiringly.
“That’s how long it takes to train a healer,” Fiona told them. “Four Turns in the Harper Hall, four more in the Healer Hall.”
“Why so long?” Cisca asked.
“Why not just teach healing?” Tannaz added.
“Kindan said that a harper learns a lot of healing,” Fiona replied. “The extra turns at the Healer Hall are to learn even more.”

And because everyone else has been hammered hard by the Plague, nobody else has necessarily been sparing people to the Halls, either, so now it sounds even worse that their Healer is dead from a preventable duel.

I still want to know why becoming a healer requires for years of study with the musician-diplomat-lawyers first, before they can go on to graduate studies at the Healer Hall proper. All the first aid and such they could learn from the Harpers could easily be taught at the Healer Hall as well. On some world where science and knowledge had been better preserved than Pern, I could see the necessity of four years of undergraduate coursework at the College to lay the foundations before going on to med school. As it is now, the world needs field medics with their herbals and the ability to set bones, so if there were enough remaining doctors, they could train up a corps rapidly and then set to replenishing the ranks where possible, eventually phasing out the medics for proper doctors.

After the conference, everybody goes to bed and the chapter ends.

Exchanges like this continue to develop the line that the dragonriders, at least the ones that are Weyrbred, are so insulated from the rest of the world that they’ve no real idea how it works. Given the status of the Weyrs as the elites of Pern, this tracks. It also paints them in a negative light, in that everyone else, including Lords Holder, are the “little people” who should only be bothered with as much as they continue to keep the Weyrs supplied in people and goods. It’s a marked difference from earlier works that would have fallen all over themselves to portray the Good Guys Weyr as infallible in all the ways they could. A little bit of reality is starting to seep into the fantastical setting, and it’s nice. Fiona is helping re-tether them to at least some version of reality, even if it is the one of lords and ladies, rather than of the actual peasants. If this was what the author meant about tempers and such back in the beginning of the work, it’s tepid and mild to say the least, but small progress away from the idea of “the dragonriders can do no wrong” is better than no progress.

We’ll see how things continue next week.