Category Archives: Deconstruction

All the Weyrs of Pern: Magic At The Gathering

Last chapter, dolphin language went on the agenda, AIVAS demonstrated it could take care of itself, and the preparations to make the spacecraft a suitable base of space operations continued. Sallah Telgar was buried, and everything got situated for a meeting of the Lords Holder that looks to have a big set of debates on the agenda.

All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapter 9: Content Notes: Sexism, Patriarchy, Randian Paradise

The beginning of the chapter is a sweep over Tillek Hold, site of the Conclave, including the new harbor that Ranrel has put into place that can apparently easily handle the increased sea traffic, even as the ability for passengers to get off their boats is tested through needing to put as many small craft to work as possible.

We find out that Sharra is due up to the Yokohama, to work with Mirrim on getting the algae gardens started again, so that atmosphere can be pumped into the cargo bay and the rest of the ship, before there is a digression into all the new color and fashion on display, all sourced in one way or another from the AI through Master Weaver Zurg. Except Jaxom, who is wearing drab colors in last season’s fashion.

Politics is certainly underway before the Conclave between Jaxom and Sharra:

As it is, it’s just too bad the Craftmasters can’t vote on the succession.”
“They should, you know,” Jaxom replied. “They’re as vital to the smooth management of Pern as any Lord Holder.”
“Ssh,” Sharra said, though her eyes twinkled at his heresy. “You upset sufficient Lord Holders without suggesting that innovation.”
“It’ll come! It’ll come,” Jaxom said. “Once the conservative element among the Holders are replaced.”

And Jaxom would be the person for it, having been the Holder-rider hybrid, backed by the dragons. I don’t know if this is maturity or proximity to the AI that has brought this idea forth for Jaxom, but if the industrial revolution continues on Terran paths, soon enough the Crafts will buy into the aristocracy and then eventually dismantle it completely. Lytol might be the only person that knows that, though. Otherwise, it’s a good idea if you want a more democratic aristocracy.

Speaking of Lytol, the narrative shifts away from Jaxom and Sharra as they go mingle, to where Lytol is keeping Robinton on a short leash as they discuss the likely votes, and Robinton breaches the same idea of Craft involvement to Lytol, who grunts instead of his usual caustic denial. Robinton wonders if its Jaxom’s influence, of course, but I’m guessing it’s AIVAS.

Robinton pulls over Jaxom and Sharra, talks about the great fashion on display everywhere, dropping the fact that Lytol used to also be a weaver (what hasn’t he done?) and Sharra complaints about Jaxom’s dress. Robinton takes the opportunity to make a dirty joke.

“I’d chosen such a beautiful fabric, one of the new brocades in marvelous dark blue-green, and he never managed a single fitting.”
“I fear he fit in other things,” Robinton replied, unable to forgo the wordplay.
“Oh, you!” Sharra rolled her eyes dramatically, laughing.
A singularly lovely ripple of laughter, Robinton thought, grinning back at her. Zair, perched on the Harper’s shoulder, chirped agreement.

Okay, maybe it’s not a dirty joke, but it sure reads like one. And I’m also wondering whether to read that laugh as the kind of polite laugh one gives to someone who thinks they are funny, but aren’t, but also might cause you physical or societal harm if you don’t laugh. Because Robinton certainly can, and I wonder if he’s taking advantage of that. Who is going to call him out for such a thing, since he’s a beloved patriarch and far more likely to be believed than her?

(Just how many of the paying students at the Harper Hall have stories of Harpers, or even Robinton, doing inappropriate things to them?)

Then the doors close, the kitchen opens with refreshments, and the wait begins…

…for those not blessed by the narrative, that is, which jumps to Jaxom inside after detailing the briefing he received the night before where everyone warned him against getting provoked when the anti-AIVAS slurs come out. Jaxom is impatient for the old guard to get out of the way to embrace the new ideas coming through, but promises he’ll behave.

The Lords seat themselves in blocks depending on who they are supporting for the question of succession, and Groghe asks Jaxom’s opinion on Toric’s vote, which Jaxom says is basically going to be “against Ranrel” because Toric is pissed off at Hamian, Jaxom, and the dragonriders, who he considers all to have betrayed him in one way or another. Groghe thinks Toric is making too much of it, and Jaxom shrugs and says, essentially, that Denol has no legal ground for his claim.

“You tell him, then, Lord Groghe. As I understand the tradition of Holding, he doesn’t lose the island, no matter who’s improving it–it remains incontrovertibly his as part of his Hold grant. No one can usurp his title to it. Especially not someone like Denol.”
Groghe swiveled in his chair to face with some astonishment at Jaxom. “Are you sure of that? I mean, about the Holding? That no one can supersede his claim?”
“Of course I am,” Jaxom grinned slyly. “That sort of irrevocable grant is mentioned in the settlers’ Charter. And remarkably enough, Pern still operates, and enforces, the rules and restrictions of that Charter, even if half the world doesn’t know it. So, once given, a grant can’t be rescinded. It can’t even be ceded out of the Bloodline of the original grantee. When the last of the Bloodline dies, challenge decides the new Holder.”
Groghe smiled grimly at that reminder of how F’lar and Fax had dueled to make Jaxom the heir to Ruatha Hold.

Cocowhat by depizan

I want to see that Charter, now, for several reasons. Most trivially, at this point, I want to see the rules of inheritance. If Jaxom is speaking the truth, and the charter doesn’t have anything like “land passes to the oldest son” and is more like “passes to a child of the Bloodline”, then Lessa, Nerilka, and Thella all had valid claims on their Holds. Yes, a patriarchal feudal system that insists that “no penis, no power” stopped all of them from being able to pursue those claims, but their claims are valid. Imagine the potential cultural revolution when every daughter is equally as eligible for her home Hold and whatever Hold she marries into. And since two of the three women had better claims of primacy than Jaxom (Bloodline, but baby), and Larad (younger brother to Thella), those Holds could have been under their direction the entire time. It would have made Lessa a much more formidable power in the world as both a Weyrleader and a Holder. And Thella might have been a better administrator than Larad and made things even more prosperous, if much crueler.

Second, this idea basically would null Fax as any sort of legitimate anything, so long as there was a surviving member who could trace their Bloodline back to the Ruathan one. Again, Fax murders a lot of people and conquers others, but once he’s dead, his name should have been scrubbed from the records and his descendants revoked out of anything he had, unless they continued carving the bloody swath. The Bloodlines at this point have presumably had sufficient time to mix and dilute that just about anyone could make a claim to being of that Blood. (Presumably, there are rules that prevent “one drop” claims, but still…)

Most importantly, though, who gives irrevocable land grants in perpetuity that survive until every last member of your extended family in every generation is dead? It’s like the charterers were setting themselves up for the problem of “too many people, not enough land” in the pastoral society they envisioned. And with no way off planet, either, so no method of bleeding off pressure by sending out colony ships to nearby habitable zones. Were they imagining that the low tech work would keep the birth rate down? Or that they would keep sufficient tech to maintain excellent birth control?

They basically said:

Ugh.

Ah, but wait, there’s more.

“Toric was awarded those specific Southern lands in compensation for Holding during the [time-skipped’s] incumbency of Southern Weyr,” Jaxom went on. “If you’ll remember, the Big Island is within the borders of that grant. No act of Denol’s can alter Toric’s title to the Island.”
“Even if Toric’s not put his own holders there?”
Jaxom grinned. “When Denol first came South, he agreed to hold for Toric. He can’t disavow that. I’m sure he thought that because others had been granted the right to hold in their own names, he could simply cross the water and claim the Big Island. It doesn’t work that way.”
[…Groghe seems impressed…]
“Meantime, Denol’s been improving the place with every cot and shed he’s built, every crop he’s planted. In fact,” Jaxom said with a slightly wicked grin, “if Toric gave Idarolan the word, Denol’s marketable goods could be collected and sold north, and the profit credited to Toric!”
“Well, that would solve that problem, surely.”
‘Yes, but Toric’s not listening, and certainly not reading any messages from Landing,” Jaxom said ruefully.

Cocowhat by depizan

So, not only does the land grant last forever and can’t be revoked, anyone who sets up shop inside that border is immediately a full vassal to that person and can have all their goods seized and sold on the say-so of their landlord.

How many Lords Holder and other landlords have been “accidentally” locked outside during Threadfall again? With their families and every known member of their Bloodline? Because if that’s the only way to break up a Hold and make the land available again, it’s going to be murder to be an aristocrat in this society. Presumably, both Holds and Weyrs are supposed to take only what they are allotted by contract, but it wouldn’t take much for the characters with the military power to decide to abuse that a bit, like someone grabbing a jeweled knife meant for someone else and saying “tough, it’s mine, unless you want to fight me for it.” Or a lot, like Jaxom is suggesting (and Groghe is totally on board with).

This society needs Thread as population control, and also needs Thread to force the issue of how to actually live together on a planet with finite size and resources. Ugh.

Jaxom and Groghe return to who is likely to back whom in the election, with the oldest (Blesserel) basically getting Bitra’s support because he’s so far in hock to them that any other ascendance would mean a default on the debt, and some ready to back the middle son (Terentel) because they don’t like the oldest and don’t want to support Remerel (and by proxy, AIVAS). There’s some questioning from Larad about whether or not Sallah looked human in death, but Lytol calls the Conclave to order before Jaxom has to lie too much about what he saw.

Lytol is chosen to chair the meeting, even though he has a vote out of respect from the Lords Holder for his job as being Warder to Ruatha. After pointing out the ancientness if their process to stop snark from many sides, he calls a first vote, which is conducted in secret ballot with ink pens and tearaway pads. Are those quill pens or ballpoints or some other style? I’d love to know, I really would, because it would help me figure out just how much technology has advanced in the last two years. Obviously there had always been copying methods and ink, but Jaxom comments that everyone at the table is using “new products” to exercise their franchise, suggesting these pens are a cut above your standard quill.

Lytol shuffles the votes as they arrive, so as to preserve the secrecy of their originators, then opens and sorts them before announcing a split vote. The debate proceeds from there, with advocates for the first two sons to speak before a second ballot is cast – Ranrel just edges out Blesserel, but there is still one vote for Terentel. Groghe and Larad advocate for Ranrel as the only one who has both fine honest work and that took interest in the running of the place while Oterel was dying. Sigomal and Sangel attempt to undercut the position, and Asgenar speaks for Ranrel to reinforce the good points. Toric jumps order to claim that Ranrel was expelled from the Hold, an expulsion Bargen says was retracted. Lytol puts the qibosh on that line of debate by pointing to the appropriate precedent:

“And the right of any male descendant to challenge the succession, no matter what bad feeling existed between father and son, has been upheld on numerous occasions.”

…yay, patriarchy. Way to exclude your competent administrators from holding actual power. But it’s not part of the charter, just precedent that it’s only sons.

Groghe needles Toric about father-son relationships, and a third vote is cast after nobody stands for Terentel. Ten for Ranrel. Lytol calls a recess to let the politicking happen, and while Jaxom stays out of any discussion, Groghe, Larad, and Asgenar to to work on the other candidates, telling Toric about his actual rights as Holder and discussing things with others. When back in session, another vote is called and Ranrel wins.

That matter settled, Jaxom updates everyone on the progress of the Plan, fields hostility, invites anyone who wants to go up into the Yokohama to see the planet for themselves, and promotes the increase in general welfare as proof that they’re going in the right direction.

Lytol held up the pad, the ink pen, and a sheet of the weather reports that Aivas had been producing for the past two Turns to the delight and relief of holders, major and minor. Then he pointed to the ornate clock on the wall, ticking away the minutes of the meeting, and to the new clothing in which Begamon was dressed, made from one of Master Zurg’s latest fine fabrics.
“I’ve also heard that you’ve new power to irrigate your fields and portable stoves to heat your orchards during frosts,” Lytol replied. “Not to mention the fact that your youngest granddaughter owes her life to Master Oldive’s new surgical techniques.”
“They’re things we can use, see, touch, Lytol.” Begamon waved his hand over his head. “Not something beyond our reach and our ken.”

Boy, that prohibition against surgery disappeared in a hurry, didn’t it? Presumably its effectiveness went way up with access to good technique, but it’s a bit odd that a deeply-held taboo disappeared, and yet there are some who are stubbornly holding out against the AI. A great example pops right up in Lytol’s next announcement, that the Craftmasters, save Norist, are in agreement on the construction of two new Halls – the Printers, loosely allied with the Harpers, to be housed in Landing, Ruatha, and Lemos (for better synch with Bendarek’s papercrafting), and the Technicians, loosely allied with the Smiths,

“I’ll say no to that one immediately,” Sigomal said, jumping to his feet. “That’s catering to the Abomination and–”
“There will be no vulgar epithets at this table, Lord Sigomal,” Lytol said at his most censorious. “Nor should I have to repeat that the Mastercraftsmen have no need of your permission. You have only to abstain from the purchase of any materials produced by a Crafthall which distresses you. Since it comes to my notice that certain projects of yours have benefited from new gadgetry of which only Aivas could be the source, you would be wiser to refrain from uttering such arrant hypocrisies in the Council.”
Gaping, Sigomal sank back
[…Jaxom notes that this is the first time Sigomal has professed an allegiance on the matter…]
“We will be duly informed when the new Mastercraftsmen are chosen and the parameters of their professional spheres decided. Let me further remind the Lord Holders that such additions to the Crafthalls require no ratification by this Council since the Halls have, by long custom, been autonomous. This is a formal notification of intent.”

But of course, the Lords are over a barrel and they know it – unless they want to only purchase unstamped goods of questionable quality with no warranty or support should they fail, or employ only those that have been dismissed from the official Halls, which would probably involve censure if discovered officially.

There’s bitching about why more are needed (because everyone is overworked with demand), whether this is a Charter thing (it’s not, but it came about in the First Pass), and a reminder that Sebell and Fandarel sought the opinion of their peers when they didn’t have to, leading to bitching about how if Norist didn’t assent, it’s not really unanimity. Then more about his this is all very sudden and fast, and that soon enough, machine parts will be rusting everywhere…

And probably the Weyrs, too, since this is all their fault.”
“Lord Corman!” Trembling with outrage, Jaxom wrenched his arm from Groghe’s grip and sprang to his feet, his fists clenched. “You may not disparage the Weyrs in my presence!”
He was only barely aware that Lord Groghe had risen beside him and clamped both hands on his left arm, while Asgenar, also on his feet, was restraining him on the other side. Larad was loud in his protest, as were Toronas, Deckter, Warbret, Bargen, and to Jaxom’s immense surprise, Toric.
“Lord Corman, you will immediately apologize to this Council for that remark!” Lytol roared.
With ten Lord Holders on their feet in protest, Corman had no option but to apologize. When he mumbled a phrase, Lytol icily demanded that he speak loud enough to be heard. Then Lytol stared at each of the standing Lord Holders until they sank back into their chairs.

…you were saying something about a lack of superstitions, AIVAS? Where someone laying blame where it can accurately be laid is immediately shouted down and required to apologize because it insults the Weyrs?

Lytol swears the Holders to silence in the matter, asks for a vote on encouraging the new halls, gets enough yeas, explains how the new Halls will be built and staffed, deals with more bitching, and then asks for any other business. Toric asks who gets to be Lord Holder of Landing, and has the joint administration explained to him, asks how much ground that actually covers, is told, and then sinks back into his chair.

Lytol wisely adjourns the meeting, and then delivers the news to Ranrel of his ascension. Jaxom heads to Robinton and delivers his report about what happened and who the difficult Lords are, which confirms what Sebell is hearing as well. Sigomal, Sangel, Nessel, and Begamon. Robinton is happy to have identified the dissenters, but Jaxom isn’t sure. He takes comfort in knowing that the “dissenters are few in number, and all of them old.” And thus, the chapter ends.

Frankly, for a first look inside the Conclave, it’s rather parliamentarian. As if it were a House of Lords instead of a house of lords. Perhaps it is Lytol riding herd on them, but I would have expected a lot more petty things to come through and a certain stubbornness to set in, but apparently when someone they mostly respect is in charge, things go smoothly. And hey, no knife fights!

…and so the point of the chapter was to elect Ranrel and show us the inner workings of a rather polite Conclave. I got a lot out of it because of the Charter point, but a reader who’s here for the plot might wonder what the point was. Maybe something that required the presence of these characters will happen next chapter.

All the Weyrs of Pern: Free Falling

Last chapter, we were denied actually seeing what happened with the rapid reintroduction of industrial age technology to a pastoral and vassalist feudal system, and instead thrown forward to the point in time where dragons and fire lizards went back to the spaceship, bringing back the corpse of Sallah Telgar, preserved sufficiently will in the vacuum and the cold to be transported back. A funeral and public burial is the works…

All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapter 8: Content Notes: None

…but we don’t get to see it immediately. Instead, we are treated to Jaxom and Ruth getting used to microgravity, Jaxom wearing the space suit that Sallah still had. Jaxom is tasked with finding the overrides for the cargo bay doors to see if they can be closed. Jaxom gets to the cargo bay, narrating his way down according to AIVAS’s instructions, and then comes face to face with the void and is talked through getting to the cargo bay console with emergency lights. Jaxom is able to use the manual override, although he uses too much force and almost throws himself into the air. Eventually, though, the doors do close and the mission finishes.

We shift over to AIVAS briefing the Power Trio on just how wobbly the wanderer is, noting a variance of nearly ten years from the fifty year default depending on the pass, and that the long intervals were…something. AIVAS calculates that the Ninth Pass will finish three years early, which is good news, and indicates that the time is right to start sending green dragons and their riders up to get used to microgravity. In pairs. Robinton praises AIVAS’s ability to manipulate people (!), a thing that AIVAS dismisses as just knowing personalities.

The next missions involving the Yokohama involve getting the oxygen-producing algae back up and running, and seeing if some bronze dragons can go out and collect some samples of non-activated Thread. Which produces a pretty big boggle from the assembled, until the AI tells them about the fact that Thread is only dangerous when in an environment that lets it be destructive. Even then, they’re not sure about it, even though the AI tells them it’s an essential item. Pressed for details about the plan, AIVAS deflects with an analogy about how beginners shouldn’t be expected to perform masterful music. The talk turns to the Conclave in a couple days and how the Lords might have a spirited debate about whether or not they give Landing and the AI their blessing.

Then comes the public funeral and ceremony for Sallah, brought in by dragons, borne by Holders, accompanied by a formation of fire lizards, and sealed in by Crafters (and then the accompanying music for the feast by Harpers). We don’t get to see it, though, because Jaxom appears at Robinton’s side to inform him of an attempt to attack AIVAS, taking advantage of the reality that everyone is at the funeral. Heading back to Landing, Robinton sees the aftermath, with plenty of bruised heads on both defenders and attackers and the knowledge that the AI can defend itself if needed, since it used a sonic barrage to knock the attackers out. Piemur has his bloodthirsty grin on again, as he notes one of the attackers has all the scars of being a glasssmith, and assumes everyone came from Norist as a result. As new information comes in, including that the raiders had expensive mounts, there’s more than a few Crafts involved in this particular incident (or at least more than a few Craftmasters). The arrival of dragons means protection for the AI and dialogue between Robinton and Lytol, where Lytol explains to Robinton that if he had studied history a bit more, he would have been better prepared for the cultural upheaval underway. Robinton doesn’t want to believe in Lytol’s cynicism as the right way, preferring his own optimism that technology will provide the way. Piemur backs Robinton’s optimism as a good idea.

Identification of the thugs produces a couple of Bitrans, used to dismiss all Bitrans as mercenaries that will do anything for money, but won’t give up or give in and stay loyal to whomever bought them. There’s a fisher in the group, identified by the net damage. The beasts and their equipment provide no help at all as to their origins. They are eventually shipped off to the mines of Crom for punishment. (Wait, penal mines? How long has this been the case? Have there ever been revolts?)

Otherwise disappointed, Jayge asks for an interview with AIVAS to talk about dolphins. The AI confirms that dolphins can talk to humans, but notes that both Pernese and dolphins would have to adjust their language to be intelligible to each other, and suggests young Readis be trained in dolphin. Jayge suggests that more kids learn dolphin as a way of keeping quiet about the intelligence of the species, which would really upset several of the humans to find out they’re not the smartest creatures on the planet.

Then again, several of the rumors in circulation about the hostile nature of AIVAS (including one where it becomes Skynet and will produce a colony drop to destroy the world) and how well protected it is suggests that there’s plenty of creativity, if not intelligence, at work in the rumor mill. Ultimately, the chapter comes to a close without any of the world-shaking consequences that have been hinted at or glossed over in the previous chapters, making this one a bit of a breather, even though there was the aftermath of an attack that had to be dealt with. Because everyone in the viewpoint always seems to be just behind the action these days, when that action is fighting, rather than in the thick of it, like in the earlier novels. Perhaps it’s because we’re working primarily with Jaxom, who people wouldn’t try to hurt, and Robinton, who is, well, getting too old for this shit.

Next chapter, perhaps, there will be more, as we are now set up for the Conclave of Holders, who have a lot to discuss.

All the Weyrs of Pern: Full Steam Ahead

Last time, AIVAS dangled technology and accounts of history in front of Our Heroes, who snapped it up without a second thought. There’s an anti-AI faction in the Glass-smiths, but they haven’t been given characterization that passes into the second dimension yet. And the march of progress continues anyway…

All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapter 7: Content Notes: Abuse

Present Pass 19. In other words, a two year timeskip, which is, well,

Cocowhat by depizan

The end of the last chapter was the beginning of an industrial and social revolution on Pern, with at least a cartoonish opposition group also getting off the ground. This should be an entire book’s worth of back and forth, with battles, victories, defeats, sabotage, changes of sides, and all the rest. But no, it gets skipped. Not interesting enough. We’re supposed to accept it as foregone that the technological side wins and continues their plans. Because they’re clearly Good.

This chapter opens with Lessa popping awake in the middle of the night and flailing a bit to try and figure out why, before the “lighted clock face” on the side of the bed reminds her that both Weyrleaders have an appointment at Landing early their time.

Cocowhat by depizan

Clocks are not electronic mechanisms, and so would make sense to have on Pern. Lit clocks means lightbulbs powered by batteries, radioactive or reflective painting, or that AIVAS somehow convinced others to synthesize a glow in the dark chemical and apply it to timepieces. These are not things that are just “oh, they have clocks now that glow in the dark!” Can dragonriders use a timepiece as an accurate mental model for time-hopping? Who came up with the time zone designations for the planet? Is there a mass transit system? There’s so much that’s been skipped that I guess we’ll have to piece together through observation.

The Weyrleaders get dressed, banter a bit, make sure the watchrider that’s fallen asleep gets scared witless for doing so (and demoted to carrying firestone sacks during the next Threadfall, normally a weyrling task), and then grab some breakfast before doing a time-jump back to Landing, speculating that today might be the day when AIVAS unveils the Project, the plan to knock the Red Star out of orbit permanently, and how that might affect the politics of choosing Oterel’s successor Lord.

Ah, and more crumbs of how the world has changed.

Lessa had to grin, remembering the fuss Ranrel’s innovative engineering had caused among those who derided or downright rejected any useful products of “the Abomination.” F’lar scratched sleepily at his scalp and yawned.
“And when the other brothers tried to belittle
Ranrel’s project, along comes Master Idarolan, raving about the facilities,” she said.
“That’s not going to hurt when the Lord Holders convene. His mate’s a Masterweaver. She’s interested in having a power loom. I don’t know where she found out that such things were possible.”
Lessa threw up her hands. “Everyone’s gone ‘power’ mad.”
“It sure reduces sheer drudgery.”
“Hmm. Yes. Well, eat up. We’ll be late.”

Nnnnnngh…

That is a violation of characterization. Lessa disguised herself as a drudge to escape Fax, and as recently as a couple chapters ago, roped women until helping her do drudge work. She should know exactly how drudgery is mind killing, body breaking, and how much drudges are exposed to violence of all sorts. She should be at the forefront of getting rid of drudge work through machine labor, not pish-toshing at the craze for electrically powered labor-saving devices. And every woman on Pern should be right there with her.

If anyone should be clueless or failing to understand the implications, it should be the Benden Weyrleader, since he has lived a privileged life, with servants and underlings and the ability to basically take whatever he’s wanted in exchange for protection. That he supposedly has the insight about labor-saving devices to her skepticism is violence done to her character.

Furthermore, the presence of power looms asks more questions. What does the power grid look like on Pern? Does every Hold have its own power station? Does it extend to outlying holders? Does Fandarel’s telegraph get used as a message relay between places? Are all the wires buried, because Thread is hot enough to slice through them? Is it water wheels and dams that provide power? I don’t know, and since we time-skipped, that’s probably never going to get answered.

Second, one of two consequences has happened. Either the output of Pern and its consumption of resources has gone up by the multiplier of these machines, to which I hope there is sufficient demand and need for that output, or there are a lot of people who were attached to a hold that are now holdless, as those Holders realized that with machines, they only needed to feed a fraction of their drudge and staff populations to get the same amount of output. If, say, Thella, Lady Holdless, were present, she could seize upon mechanization as the cause of societal ills, ally herself with the anti-AI faction (possibly through a proxy), and then cause great unrest and insurrection by pointing out that the Lords Holder and the Craftmasters profit from labor far in excess of whatever payment is delivered to the laborers. There should be, or should have been, a popular uprising at some point (or some point soon) that had to be stopped in some way. The fundamentals of the world have changed, but the author seems unwilling to make changes based on the new information. Perhaps because the life of the privileged hasn’t actually changed all that much…yet.

On the way to the meeting, there is triumph about the manufacture of light bulbs by Morilton, and Jaxom worries about the increasing number of people in the anti-AI faction, called “dissidents” by Jaxom, pointing out how Our Heroes think about who should be running the world.

The actual meeting is to send Farli up to the Yokohama to turn the life support system back on. We are treated to what should be a grisly sight, namely the body of Sallah Telgar, apparently preserved all these years in the airless ship, before Farli is sent to her task, since dragons and fire lizards can survive without oxygen for up to ten minutes safely.

(Also, despite it being logical to do so, dragons and fire lizards have no explicit telekinesis, despite being able to hyperspace themselves about.)

Farli doesn’t get it, possibly because Piemur doesn’t, and so the Benden Weyrleaders send out for Canth, the only dragon that’s gone off-world, to try and make an explanation that Farli will understand. Canth and Ruth both tell their riders that Farli gets it, just that she hasn’t been to the right place so as to go back there. After thinking Ruth could fit and deciding that waiting for the reconstruction of suits would take too long, as well as a silent acknowledgement that is HNO3, rather than agenothree, Jaxom is at a loss.

Ruth, on the other hand, gets it and pops up to the Yokohama with the perfect precision needed to fit. And with an anchor there, Farli can follow and achieve her task. Ruth rather enjoys microgravity, and while everyone on the planets is busily shouting for Rough to get back, he executes a few turns and floats and asks Jason if they can come back sometime before finally returning. There is much muted everything, and also one spot that deserves special attention:

“Ruth and Jaxom were not Weyr-trained. But don’t think Ruth’s going to get off easily for this escapade.” He managed a droll grin. “Judging by the look on Jaxom’s face, he’s had a fright that he won’t forget. That will inhibit Ruth far more surely than threats from you and me.” He gave her one of his little shakes. “More important, the less furor there is right now, the fewer rumors will abound.”
Lessa let out a heavy sigh, glared at him, and then gave herself a shake, releasing herself from his grasp.

That’s…not okay, Weyrleader. I’m sure we’re supposed to see that as an affectionate gesture (a part I skipped over at the beginning had Lessa muse about how the Benden Weyrleader is amorous in the mornings), but the shaking was violent and abusive and intended to keep Lessa in line when we last saw it. That it is still there at all, and still frequent, makes all of the anger I had at him come flying back in an instant, and I would like to impose a headcanon that Lessa shakes him off because he’s still an abusive prick (even though the narrative wants us to believe she loves him) instead of because of her irritation at Ruth’s independence.

Now that the bridge’s life support is sufficient, the AI intends to send up Piemur with Jaxom and Ruth so that Sallah’s remains can be brought back and a funeral given for her. Piemur idly muses whether the space suit will be salvageable, before the silence in the room points out the faux pas, and then AIVAS steps on that enough to suggest that retrieving the suit was part of the plan all along. Nobody has a shudder at the machine suggesting this, though, and an extra fire lizard is requested to accompany them so that someone other than Farli understands how to get up into the spaceship. Redundancy is a beautiful thing.

Oh, and it’s also minus 10 up there, which is either below freezing or very below freezing. Despite that, the AI believes its perfectly good for humans to go up and do something up there. And after only a little complaining about the cold, the two have an adventure getting used to microgravity and unloading the oxygen tanks that were strapped to Ruth, who is anchoring himself by wrapping his tail around something. Eventually, the two make it to their consoles to program the telescope arrays and check to make sure calculations are correct about the plan. After being transfixed by seeing the entire world from the perspective of the outside, that is. A shower of debris frightens Ruth and the lizards, but AIVAS pulls everyone back to task before they freeze up, which is now starting to have an effect on everyone present. Both Harper and Holder put in their programs and run them, go to put their oxygen tanks into the system, and then collect Sallah’s body to go back.

There’s also some speculation on the subject we’ve been wondering about for a long time – why Bitra Hold exists. Before the quoted part, Piemur says he’ll give “Bitran odds” that the ship is colder than hyperspace. AIVAS corrects him immediately to indicate it isn’t, but notes that they’ve been exposed to the cold a lot more on the ship.

Jaxom tried to feel reverence for the personality that had once inhabited the frozen shell they were handling. Sallah Telgar had given her life to prevent the defector, Avril Bitra, from draining the Yokohama’s fuel tanks in her bid to escape the Rukbat system. Sallah had even managed to repair the console Bitra had wrecked in her fury at being thwarted. Odd that a Hold had been named after such a woman, but then, Bitrans had always been an odd lot. Jaxom chided himself for such thoughts. There are some very honest, worthy Bitrans–a few, anyway–who were not given to gambling and the other forms of gaming that fascinated so many of that Hold. Lord Sigomal kept to himself, but that was far preferable to the late Lord Sifer’s well-known unsavory appetites.

This would be a nice moment for show, rather than telling, but “Bitran” is an expletive, it seems, for people of vicious tastes. And yet, the Hold persists, and is known for their enthusiasm in gambling, a thing that is apparently frowned on in proper Pernese society (despite people as influential as the Masterharper engaging in it on the sly). There’s no given reason why gambling is so frowned upon, given that there are no officially recognized religious practices on Pern nor any cultural reason to believe why it should be sanctioned in such a manner.

Perhaps Bitra Hold exists as the sanctioned unsanctioned space of Pern, where vice of all sorts is allowed to be openly on display, and discretion exercised about who comes to visit, so long as there are no threats to the society that originate from that knowledge. It would be interesting to learn that Bitra Hold has existed in several places over time, moving when the heat gets sufficiently large as to force the issue – or when troops come riding in to exterminate people with too much secret power.

Or maybe Bitra Hold exists only as a passphrase to enter the parts of other Holds that would contain vice. It would explain the pervasive prejudice and the continued existence of Bitra in the face of it. I don’t know how they settled in that particular name, but maybe it’s a happy coincidence.

In any case, Sallah is successfully transported home, removed from the suit, which is still usable with some minor repairs, and housed in a proper coffin, with Larad offered the opportunity to have a public funeral, which will have a full rendition of the Ballad of Sallah Telgar (currently a very popular story for gatherings). And all of this is conveniently timed to happen right before the Conclave of Holders, so that the pro-AI group can point to several marvels, including the retrieval of a worldwide hero, as reasons to sign on to the technological revolution at hand and accept the guidance of AIVAS. When accused of planning it all this way by Larad, Robinton has the good sense to look shocked about it, even though the AI most certainly did such a thing. Plans are made.

And there’s this tidbit:

Aivas remarked to Lytol that since someone would be expected to wear that suit, it was fortunate indeed that superstition was not a facet of Pernese culture. Lytol disagreed. He and Aivas immediately became involved in a discussion of primitive religions and arcane beliefs, so that Robinton was just as glad that he was free to leave for Telgar Weyr with F’lar. The Harper wondered fleetingly if he would have done better to have stayed to listen to what was certain to be a fascinating debate; but he was delving too much satisfaction in being the bearer of such remarkable tidings.

“Ah, look at the possibility of worldbuilding and having to justify ourselves! Time to escape to some other location so we don’t have to provide details!” Because I would like to hear that argument very much, thank you. I think that the narrative wouldn’t let Lytol win, but I suspect his position is a lot stronger than we’re supposed to believe. Lytol, after all, has been on both sides of the Cult of Dragonriders, and so probably knows better than most about superstition.

That makes this chapter a wrap. Maybe next chapter, someone will sit down and explain what has happened in the interim?

All the Weyrs of Pern: From Behind the Black

Last time, more knowledge dispensed from the AI, some skepticism came forth, from both unreasonable sources and very reasonable ones, and there was vandalism and destruction of some of the AI’s batteries, revealing the presence of an anti-AI group that supposedly had been noticed by Robinton, but that hadn’t been arsed to actually be put into the narrative until they attacked and did damage.

All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapter 6: Content Notes: Sexism, ageism, hagiography

The first paragraph of the new chapter makes sure to contrast itself with the vandalism by extolling how the power trio of the retired Harper, the retired Weyrleader, and the retired Lord Holder (Lord Warder, technically), each with a reputation for impartiality, worked extremely well and used their shared knowledge together in the administration of the AIVAS’s time and workstations. I have a feeling, although it might be unvarnished cynicism, that the composition of the administrative team may have also forestalled complaints about favoritism or partisanship by giving nobody an avenue to grouse about their pillar of Pernese society not being represented on the council.

From there, the next few paragraphs are dedicated to what happens when a new thing comes into view – it becomes an outlet for Holders to send their non-inheriting children to in the hope of foisting them off on someone else so they don’t have to be fed or cared for at their Hold. The AI, however, stops the practice by instituting an aptitude test to weed out the candidates that won’t cut it as students.
Then there’s a rundown of how the name characters do with the computers.

Lessa and F’lar never became proficient in their use of a console, mostly because, in the Harper’s estimation, they had little time to spend learning the essentials; but they did grasp the fundamentals of accessing information. [The Brown Rider Rapist] didn’t even try, but his mate, Brekke, joined the Masterhealer’s dedicated group in their striving to regain the lost medical techniques. Mirrim, determined to keep up with T’gellan, struggled on despite a most distressing start and succeeded. K’van became as adept as Jaxom and Piemur.
To the surprise and delight of his close associates, the taciturn Lytol became an avid user, accessing files from the widest range of topics. He insisted on taking the late shift, as he never required me than four hours of sleep anyway.
“Lytol’s always been a deep person, with unexpected reserves–or he wouldn’t have survived as long as he has,” Jaxom replied to those who commented on Lytol’s new obsession. “Though I don’t understand his fascination with all that dry historical stuff when there’s so much more that we can apply to living and working here and now.”
“On the contrary, Jaxom,” the Harper replied. “Lytol’s investigations may be the most significant of all.”

So, young dudes succeed, older dudes don’t get it fully, and the oldest dudes surprise everyone by picking it up really well. Mirrim, of course, had to stumble first, because she’s trying to rise “above” her gender and be a dude in all the important ways, but she has to be reminded that she will not ever be a dude, no matter how much she tries. Whereas Brekke, model of womanhood and sticking with your attacker, joins a group of the best Healers. And nobody young understands why the old guy would be interested in how things were before the demon rain came down, as they work on getting to stop the demon rain from ever coming back. Because apparently only the older people understand what sort of upheaval is about to happen when the biggest threat to life on Pern is no longer present. It feels very dudebro, long before that kind of thing was into common parlance.

The narrative then explains the classrooms that are put to use for instruction in the sciences, taking care to mention that the Weyrs are the most eager groups to send students for general and special instruction without noting that the Weyrs’ relative idleness is what permits them to send wings of students to study. Robinton peeks in on various classes, one on electromagnets, one eventually on refrigeration and the properties of liquified gases that ends up being an excellent demonstration on why personal protective equipment is necessary when a glass thermos explodes in the face of a Smith apprentice. The apprentice is wearing eye protection, thankfully.

There is eventually a discussion of the wisdom of rebuilding a settlement that has already been buried in ash once, but AIVAS assures them that it is still monitoring the volcanoes, with instruments that apparently are still functional some 2500+ revolutions later, and says it’s not likely they’re going to blow up again.

That, however, is apparently less important than the developing problem that Norist is presenting with his strongly anti-AIVAS position. Which should have been in the last chapter, before the vandalism, so that the damage doesn’t appear to have come out of nowhere and there is plenty of plot to work with in investigating whether Norist is responsible.

Anyway,

“As you know, he had threatened to disavow Master Morilton’s Mastery and disown all journeymen and apprentices who have produced glass according to the, ahem, spurious methods and techniques of Aivas.”
“He calls Aivas ‘the Abomination’!” Piemur said with a malicious chuckle.
[…AIVAS apparently doesn’t mind, and Robinton continues after a diversion on whether the AI finds the humans amusing…]
“As the duly elected Mastercraftsman, guiding his Halls, he can only be replaced at a convocation of all Masters. Unfortunately, the Glass-smithcraft is not a large one, and most of the Crafthallmasters are as dogmatic as Norist. On the other hand, I won’t sit by and see Master Morilton disavowed or harassed or humiliated because he has learned something Norist didn’t teach him. He’s certainly proved adept at the new skills.”

This is all really good development work, and sets up the upcoming conflict nicely. That is, if we weren’t in a situation where one of the sides in this argument still has mounted flamethrowers that could presumably be used to intimidate anyone and everyone around them into doing what they want. Pern continues to be a very strange place in that the people who have the power have significant restraint in how they use it. Blame it on the dragons, maybe?

Also, I think this is the first time we’ve really had it explicitly spelled out that the Guild Masters can blacklist people. It’s been hinted at in the last book (considering that expelled apprentices and journeypeople were part of Toric’s strategy to be the juggernaut of the South and Thella’s strategy to be the queen of the holdless) and we knew that craftmasters could blacklist a Hold that wasn’t treating them well, and if we want to think about it, the whole sequence of stamped versus unstamped goods at the Gather back in the Harper Hall trilogy suggests there’s an approval system in place, but knowing that a guildmaster can unilaterally decide if someone is part of the guild fits in really well with Pern, even if it is inconvenient to the protagonists at this point.

And inconvenience is all it will be, most likely, as Lytol decides he might go lean on Norist in the same way that Norist is leaning on Morilton and Wansor, and Jaxom and D’ram both decide to use their offices to get the high quality glass that’s being denied to Morilton.

The Benden Weyrleader asks a smart question, about whether there are closer sand pits that can do the job, Robinton enters the query, and alternative sites are also chosen for examination.

Robinton also remarks that the AI wants more of the bronze and green dragons as possible candidates for the plan, the details of which are not being provided. In further speculation and complaints about how AIVAS is not detailing the plans out, Lessa notices that Jaxom is being singled out for extra attention. Piemur adds that Mirrim and S’len are also getting the intense course, and speculates that the reason why is because their dragons are the smallest and the AI needs small dragons for the grand plan, especially Jaxom and Ruth.

Spoilers: Piemur is right. (Which, arguably, makes Jaxom the main character of the entire series, even if he’s not always in focus.) Since my memory is hazy about the actual eventual Plan, I won’t talk more about it until we get there, but there is a thing that needs to be addressed at this point.

As the comments have mentioned, now that we’ve rediscovered the AI, AIVAS is very deliberately manipulating everyone, through strategic release and withholding of information so as to further its goals and purposes. The aptitude tests are not just weeders for the excess sons, but are presumably looking for people with talent in specific areas that will take to various disciplines. The narrative, through Piemur, informs is that Jaxom has the best three-dimensional navigational mathematics skills, then has Robinton volunteer that he’s been getting fed literature and sagas that Pernese stories are paraphrases of, and privately tells us that the Benden Weyrleader studies tactics, Threadfall forecasting, and draconic healing. Piemur is, of course, fascinated by computers. Lytol has been getting a steady diet of politics, and

“I don’t think any of us realized that our present political structure was handed down from the very Charter of ancestors brought with them. That is historically very unusual, Aivas told me.”
“Why should it be?” F’lar asked, mildly surprised. “It allows Weyr, Hold, and Hall to function without interference.”
“Ah, but interference was a major factor in Terran politics,” Lytol replied. “Spurred by territorial imperatives and, all too often, sheer greed.”

Said the AI to the Warder whose Hold was annexed by Fax before he came to be in charge of it.

The narrative is proceeding with all of this on the assumption that the AI is telling the heroes the truth, even though there’s been instances where they have observed AIVAS using what might be described as “skillful means” to achieve its goals. The account of the colonists we read in Dragonsdawn is apparently the story that AIVAS has been telling everyone. There’s no guarantee that it actually is telling the full truth, and seems to be relying on the credibility it receives as a source of scientific knowledge to talk about social, political, and cultural things. Lytol’s skepticism is warranted, and we hope that he is examining the information received with a critical eye and trying to see if he’s getting the entire picture, because in Terran history we repeatedly run across the problem of having only a single source, and usually, that source is the winners of whatever conflict they are talking about.

AIVAS is faithfully attempting to execute its plan to rid the world of Thread. What else is it doing in service of that goal, and what isn’t it saying about those goals? Does AIVAS need to completely rework Pernese social structure so as to gain the manufacturing capacity for the plan? Who will be its mouthpieces and actors? Will AIVAS cut someone off if they start straying too far from the path?

Why do we keep ending up in situations where there are Our Heroes and Cartoon Villains any time an opportunity for social commentary arises? Are our books also records told and spun by AIVAS in service of a master narrative? We don’t know, and the narrative seems determined to indicate there’s nothing behind the curtain at all, move along.

Jaxom and Ruth head to Paradise River, collect some of the sample same, and talk to Aramina and Jayge, who have a story from young Readis and Alemi about squid dragging a boat into a current, a storm capsizing that boat, and shipfish returning them back to shore, and the boat the next morning. Which sounds like a normal story, except that Readis says that the shipfish talk to them while they’re being rescued. Jayge confirms the story, and asks Jaxom to talk to the AI about the shipfish, even calling them doll-fins. Jaxom says he will, and then does a quick time-shift back to Ruatha…in the middle of a blizzard. While fretting about how there’s a lot of stuff going on in her life, Jaxom hits on the solution of how to keep his wife nearby – bring her south on a ship. He purposes this to her, and is met with great enthusiasm, including sex, apparently.

We switch back to the south, where the AI has recommended that the Harper Hall build itself a printing press, so that all the “nonessential” things, like music compositions, can be replicated worldwide. Robinton is a little worried about having the personnel to create it, but AIVAS considers it the right time for this to happen, and details what will be needed to create such a thing, including mentioning the journeyman that brought the initial message to both men as an excellent carver who could create the requisite movable type for the press.

This is the invention that finally smacks Robinton squarely work to realize what sort of changes are about to happen.

The effects on Hold, Hall, and Weyr, only beginning to filter through, would be profound. Lytol, having delved into the history and politics of their ancestors, had always worried about what he called the erosion of values and the subversion of tradition by new demands.
[…and what about the dragons?…]
In Robinton’s estimation, the Weyrs deserved whatever they requested after centuries of service, but would the Lord Holders, and the Halls, agree? That concerned him the most. Yet it seemed to worry the Weyrleaders least. And what if, in the four Turns ten months, and three days specified by Aivas, the attempt should fail? What then?
Perhaps, and he brightened suddenly, all this new technology would absorb both Hold and Hall, to the exclusion of the Weyrs. Hold and Hall had always managed quite nicely to ignore the Weyrs between Passes. Perhaps things like power stations and printing presses were indeed valuable, but for more abstruse reasons, as well as the obvious ones.

Lytol may still be the only person on the planet who has an inkling of what all of this new technology will do to the society. Robinton is starting to understand and think about the right questions and effects. So he goes to AIVAS and asks if everything is really necessary. And gets a rather interesting reply.

“Not to the way of life you had, Master Robinton. But to accomplish what is apparently the desire of the majority of Pern, the destruction of Thread, improvements are essential. Your ancestors did not employ the highest technology available to them: They preferred to use the lowest level necessary to perform the function. That is the level that is presently being reestablished. As you yourself requested in the initial interview.”
Robinton wondered if he had imagined the tone of mild reproof. “Water-driven power…” he began.
“Which you already had available to you.”
“Printing presses?”
“Your Records were printed, but in a laborious and time-consuming fashion that, unfortunately, permitted errors to be made and perpetuated.
“The teaching consoles?”
“You have harpers who instruct by set lessons. You had even managed to rediscover papermaking before accessing this facility. Most papermaking techniques, Masterharper, are refinements of techniques you already employ, made easier by some basic machinery and of no higher level than your ancestors brought with them. It is little more than correcting long-standing errors and misconceptions. The spirit of the original climate is still intact. Even the technology that must be utilized to thwart the return of the wanderer planet will be of the same level as your ancestors’.
[…which could be better if communication were still a thing between here and Terra…]
He could scarcely fault Aivas for doing what had been specifically requested, that Pern be brought back to the level of knowledge it had originally enjoyed. It was obvious that Aivas was obeying the initial request that only what was really needed be revived. It was just stunning to realize how much had been lost.

And how would you know that, Robinton, unless you believe that what AIVAS is telling you is true? An entity that admits to manipulating you is still apparently highly trustworthy? And the machine is selling you this idea that it is only doing what the ancestors wanted, which is conveniently not fact checkable because it is the only surviving link to those same ancestors. It has supposedly had about 2500 years to think and learn about what went wrong, and there’s a good chance it might have concluded that the Randian paradise set up at the outset was the problem. Presented with a feudal arrangement along with some interesting intersections, AIVAS is setting itself up as the ruling entity of the planet, with the end goal of eliminating Thread. Those it favors, it rewards with technology. Those it opposes, it sends minions after to bring them into line.

AIVAS is positioned to become Skynet, should things go in any particular way, and nobody seems to be interested in that problem, since Norist’s objections are described as being basically “TRADITION CAN’T HEAR YOU LA LA LA”.

Lytol might be the remaining hope for thinking through the consequences before diving straight in. We’ll find out soon enough.

All the Weyrs of Pern: Spin Doctorates

Last time, more planning to build up AIVAS, more Craftmasters getting useful information, more people refusing help, and more of Piemur making fun of Jaxom.

All The Weyrs of Pern: Chapter Five: Content Notes: Misgendering, sexism

Chapter Five opens with a different entreaty, from the Benden Weyrleader to Robinton, asking him to be the public voice and strongest advocate for doing things the AIVAS way. Robinton doesn’t fully agree to it, because there’s much fuss about him getting sleep, then bathing and eating in the morning, such that it’s past noon when he sits to food with his handlers, D’ram and Lytol. Telling the story of the AI and the plan to beat Thread, Lytol asks the same question about why the colonists couldn’t beat it then, and why they didn’t come back later.

This is the third time the question has been asked of someone, which makes me wonder if someone is being defensive about a thing that’s extratextual, as if the fans of the series had been asking this question and having to settle for this answer. It’s clearly unsatisfactory to a good many people there.

“And yet … a musical instrument can only do what it is constructed to do, or one of Fandarel’s machines. Therefore, a machine, even one as sophisticated as Aivas, could only do what it/he was designed to do. It/he”–I really must make up my mind how I consider the thing, Robinton thought–“is unlikely to tell lies. Though I suspect he,” Robinton said, making up his mind, “does not reveal the whole truth. We’ve had enough trouble absorbing and understanding what he’s already told us.”

AIVAS has a preference for address. If it hasn’t shown that preference in your presence yet, Robinton, it’s because you’re not paying attention, just like Jaxom wasn’t. AIVAS prefers it pronouns, not he. But because humans want to anthropomorphize, we ignore the stated wishes of the intelligent being for our own comfort. This is bad practice, and I would have thought that having made contact with other intelligent species would have had lasting effects.

As it is, Lytol is skeptical, but D’ram is on board and suggests that Lytol come for the history lesson to be convinced. Robinton believes in it, too, although he thinks having to clutch his towel to prevent nudity affects the dignity of his pronouncement. This idly makes me wonder what a dragonrider and a former dragonrider really would think of male nudity, considering their societal requirements and the tendency of everyone to bathe in the local water pool in this place.

Rather than being a two-dimensional villain, though, D’ram lets on that Lytol’s skepticism is entirely warranted:

“He’s too pragmatic. He told me yesterday that we were far too excited to think logically about the repercussions Aivas will have on our lives. Altering the basic structure of our society and its values and all that twaddle.” D’ram’s snort indicated that he did not agree. “He’s been through several upheavals himself. He’s unlikely to welcome another.”

Uh, D’ram? Lytol is exactly right and should be listened to. Robinton should know that intrinsically, even though he’s enthusiastic about the possible changes. Which, actually, is a bit odd by itself, now that I think about it – Harpers have been tasked with making sure nothing changes for millennia, and yet the presence of an AI changes this? Because AIVAS is the most authoritative source on TRADITION there is?

Lytol is right, and so are all the people who have been snarking at the dragonriders about what their retirement plans are. The permanent removal of Thread as a planet-cleansing menace means that everyone will be able to live openly on their land, instead of having to pay protection to dragonriders and tribute to Holders. The cash system already in place could flourish incredibly. Holders might decide to fight each other for land and resources, now that there’s no threat of Thread and dragonriders. The Crafts could finance these wars and then break the entire feudal system by ruining the fortunes of the hereditary nobility and calling in all their markers all at once. The Holdless might stake claims and tell anybody who says this isn’t their land to get lost. An industrial revolution might happen. The Cult of AIVAS might take over and use the Harpers as its propaganda and enforcement arm.

Hell, the dragonriders might decide Pern is still better off under their rule and use their giant war machines to put everyone under their thumb. What’s absolutely true is that the only way to avoid change now is to bury the AI and kill everyone who has any knowledge of it. Since that includes the most powerful people on the planet, including the Benden Weyrleader, change is inevitable. It’s now a question of how well the cabal that has been running the world to this point will continue to do so, and how much resistance they receive from others.

After talking with Lytol, Robinton returns to a much-changed site of the AI, where a kerfuffle is developing because Esselin is not letting in people who are on errands from Miners and Lord Holders to collect the facts about the AI and report back. They have also been told that the AI is already omniscient, rather than having to bring the records of their own Holds to bolster its knowledge. Realizing that there are already too many to fit into a single go, Robinton tasks D’ram with organizing them into groups by lottery, and goes in to see Esselin and convince him that it’s worth letting even the smallest of officials in to see.

“But they’re only Stewards and small miners…”
“There are more of those than Lord Holders and Crafthallmasters and Weyrleaders, Esselin, and every single one of them has the right to approach Aivas.”
“That wasn’t what I was told,” Master Esselin said, resorting to his usual obstructive attitude, thrusting his heavy chin belligerently forward.
Robinton eyed him pityingly for such a long moment that even the thick-skinned Esselin could not fall to notice his behavior was unacceptable to the Harper.
“I think you will find before the day is out that you will be told differently, Master Esselin. Now, if you will excuse me…” And with that Robinton strode down the hall to the Aivas chamber.

Despite being officially retired, of course Robinton still has pull with everyone and can make it happen. If Robinton were a woman, the narrative would be conspiring and the game might be making argument that she has a tendency toward Suedom, but because it’s an old man instead, this persuasive power is unremarked on, and seen as reasonable, since he rose to the office of the Masterharper of the planet.

Also, I think that’s the first time in all of these books that I’ve seen the collective noun for the Crafthallmasters. Why they wouldn’t be the Craftmasters or the Mastercrafters, I don’t know, but there it is, nice big clunky word there.

Robinton peeks in on a much-enlarged AI chamber as the Smiths and Miners are being shown a crucible and being told that they can use it to remelt faulty and damaged items, and that mixing old and new metal often results in an improved final product. AIVAS gets to a stop point, asks Robinton what he needs, and the Smiths and Miners, save Jancis, file out with their new data. Robinton immediately opens the window to circulate out some of the smell. And we have plot development that has happened while we were elsewhere, much to my annoyance.

“And did you get any sleep last night, young woman?”
Her cheeks dimpled in a mischievous smile. “Indeed we did!” And then she colored. “I mean, we both slept. I mean, Piemur feel asleep first–oh, blast!”
Robinton laughed heartily. “I won’t misconstrue, Jancis, even if it mattered. You’re not going to let all this fuss and fascination delay your formal announcement, are you?”
“No,” she said firmly. “I want to bring the date forward.” She blushed prettily but kept the eye contact. “It would make things easier.” She gathered up her things. “The others are in the computer room. You might want to take a crack at it, too.”

So we’ll stop there for a moment while I get annoyed that Piemur and Jancis are engaged to marriage, and all we got to see was a little bit of flirting here and there. Although, now that I think about it, engagements, marriages, pregnancies, and childbirth have been basically handled off-screen since the beginning unless there’s a significant point to be made with them, such as the coupling of the Benden Weyrleaders or when Alessan proposes to Nerilka as a suicide prevention measure. Menolly and Sebell, Jaxom and Sharra, Mirrim and T’gellan, and now Piemur and Jancis have all had their wishes to officialize things reported to us after the fact and that’s interesting, as if someone doesn’t want to write any sort of romance into their stories for fear that it would stop being taken seriously as genre fiction and be relegated to “romance”. Which is utter speculation on my part, but I would be more inclined to believe that a clearly woman author, Grandmaster of science fiction or no, (her induction, if I remember my trip to the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, is in 2002, and posthumous. [ETA: Memory bad. Induction is in 2005, death in 2011.]) is more of an impediment at that time than the presence of romance.

These lack of romance bits are also denying us crucial worldbuilding bits, like how marriage actually works in things other than Sixth Pass Lords Holder society. Does Piemur give Jancis a promise coin? Something else? How many times do they need to make the formal announcement? How many witnesses are needed? Does one of them have to be a Harper? We don’t know, and nobody is telling.

Resuming…

“Me?” The Harper was dumbfounded. “That’s for young resilient minds like yours and Piemur’s and Jaxom’s.”
“Learning is not limited to the young, Master Robinton,” Aivas said.
“Well, we’ll see,” the Harper replied, hedging and running his fingers nervously over his face. He was acutely conscious that he could no longer retain the words and notes of new music and had few doubts that the problem would extend to other areas. He did not think himself a vain man, it excessively proud, but he did not wish to show to disadvantage. “We’ll see. Meantime, we have a minor problem…”
“With that lot out there, determined against all Master Esselin’s prejudice on seeing Aivas?” Jancis asked.
“Hmm, a minor miner problem,” Robinton heard himself saying, and groaned.
Jancis pleased him by chuckling. “It is apt,” she said.

So, Robinton didn’t want to believe himself vain or proud, but he’s totally not going to show any weakness to anybody, even though he knows his memory is starting to go and his mind isn’t able to pick up new things any more. Which is, y’know, pride. And makes me want to know whether Robinton has planned for his eventual decline of faculties. Has he been in contact with Sebell, and possibly Menolly, transferring the wealth of his experience and memory to a written form so that knowledge is not lost between generations? Has he made a directive as to what is to be done with his life when he slips to the point where he can no longer be himself? Has he been talking to dragons and AIs and Healers about the possibility of reversing the damage or staving it off for a long as possible? Confronting death is not easy for anyone, and having the knowledge that your decline is going to be gradual can’t help that, even if it does allow for more planning time. Are there funerary arrangements to complete? Does Robinton want to go anywhere in the past for nostalgia, or try to jump forward on time to the moment of triumph against Thread? We don’t know, and the narration is choosing not to tell us.

The petitioners outside are eventually admitted as a whole, after we are told that people have faith in oracles, and that it would take about 44 hours to explain the word adequately, since the file on religion is large. During the explanation, AIVAS refers to what it is, but then the book misformats and says “Or Aivas, to use the appropriate acronym.” Even though the audience in the chamber can’t hear the capital letters, they should still be printed that way, since it’s an acronym. There is also a rather neat, if unplanned, demonstration of capabilities where a set of crumbling and molded records on microscope manufacture are scanned, reconstructed, and then printed as a new copy, fully restored. This awes everyone sufficiently that they can be shuffled out swiftly, with instructions to give any requests for more time or any questions to be answered to Robinton. Who then also takes on the task of making sure Esselin doesn’t apply his own priorities to who gets to see AIVAS, and shares an admiration for the time-skipped before setting Esselin straight and finding D’ram in the computer room. Piemur tries to get Robinton involved in computing, but Robinton deflects by talking about how ill-suited Esselin is to their tasks.

He’s a thick as two short planks,” Benelek grumbled. “And he doesn’t like any of us coming and going as we need to.”
“I don’t have any trouble,” Jancis said, but her eyes danced with mischief. “All I have to do is give him a cup of klah or something to eat from the tray when I bring it in.”
“And that’s another score I’m going to settle with ol’ Master fuddy-duddy Esselin,” Piemur said heatedly. “You are not a kitchen drudge. Does he never see the Master tab on your collar? Doesn’t he know you’re Fandarel’s granddaughter and top of your own Craft?”
“Oh, I think he will,” Jaxom remarked without looking up from his board, fingers flying across it. “I caught his paternal act this morning, and I reminded him that the proper form of address for Jancis is Mastersmith. You know, I don’t think he had noticed the collar tabs.”

Or, perhaps, Esselin has the ingrained sexism of the planet that prevents him from believing that women can be anything other than drudges, wives, and queen riders. The same sexism that both Piemur and Jaxom have indulged in, before having that notion solidly disabused of them by Mirrim, Menolly, Sharra, and Jancis, in rapid and apparently very attractive succession. (Robinton has some of it, too – Jancis blushes prettily, but holds his gaze earlier.)

That said, if collar tabs instead of shoulder knots are the ways Smiths denote Mastery, then there are probably a lot of Mastersmiths that get mistaken for something else. So it could be genuine not noticing, were it not for the sexist attitude.

D’ram nominates himself as Esselin’s replacement as door guard, to which Robinton provides AIVAS’s earlier suggestion for just that, and both agree that dragging Lytol into it is also a good idea, before Mastersmith Hamian, who is of the same family as Toric and Sharra, concurs from the doorway before asking if he can inquire of AIVAS for the technique and technology to make plastics. The AI says that there shouldn’t be a reason why not, that there’s petroleum on the surface nearby, and that Hamian not only gather equipment to disassemble and reassemble in that vicinity, but to start drafting a staff to assist and to get ready to learn a lot of chemistry and physics to make it possible to make the plastics again. Hamian is ready, and heads out to pick up the machines for study. Conveniently, this also gives an excuse for Robinton and D’ram to relieve Esselin and send him firmly back to the archives. Not too soon after that, Piemur gets a program to run correctly. Despite his earlier recalcitrance, Robinton decides to dive in to computer assembly and programming.

There’s a quick time skip, and we’re treated to a scene where Robinton, waking up when his fire lizard tells him something is very wrong, attempts to stop vandals from smashing some of the battery tanks being used to give AIVAS power reserves. It takes Zair and fire lizards to fend them off enough before they flee. Robinton is furious that he dozed in the first place, even though the damage wasn’t enough to affect capacity and there are spares. And then we get treated to more tell without showing, before the chapter ends with everybody trying to find the vandals.

He knew there was a growing antagonism to Aivas, but he had not really considered, even for a moment, that someone would actually attack the facility.
But who? he wondered, sipping at the wine and feeling its usual efficacious soothing. Esselin? He doubted the fat old fool would dare, no matter how upset he might have been over losing his sinecure. Had any of Norist’s glassmen been at Landing that day?

I’d like to have seen that “growing antagonism”, thank you very much, because otherwise I have to just take your word for it or extrapolate a ton from the one confrontation with Norist on screen. The development of an anti-AI faction, in the way that, say, the Thella storyline from the previous book had been developed, with their perspective, would have been awesome.

Assuming, that is, that they would be treated as competent villains, instead of poor caricatures of them.

All The Weyrs of Pern: Fetch Quests

Last time, we learned a little more about the plan to beat Thread, that Toric is making trouble for K’van, and the first few workstations for AIVAS access came on-line.

And that the AI specifically would like Jaxom to be part of the cohort learning how to use the machines.

All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapter Four: Content Notes: Cancer

Jaxom is on fetch quest duty, a problem of his own making, because he tries to be helpful to requests made of him and Ruth. Back home, Sharra steps in when she feels Jaxom is being taken advantage of, but Sharra’s not here, so Jaxom is doing a lot of running about helping, instead of assembling and programming machines, like he wants to. A stomach rumble reminds him that Sharra also insists that he takes meal breaks. Why isn’t she here? Sharra’s pregnant again, and we know hyperspace has an abortifacent effect. Grabbing food and witnessing the attempts to heal a burnt hand reminds Jaxom that he promised to bring Oldive to AIVAS, so off he goes to collect the Masterhealer, while avoiding the apparent throngs of Harpers that want information or their own rides. Once back to Landing, Jaxom escorts Oldive to the AI, where the three from the last chapter are busily tapping away. Everyone but Oldive eventually removes themselves to another room, so that Jaxom can learn how to assemble a computer properly from components.

Busy disassembling the makeshift table, Piemur shot Master Oldive an indulgent grin. “You’ll get used to a disembodied voice real quick, the kind of sense Aivas talks.”
“Go teach yourself to be sensible for me, Young Piemur,” Aivas said in a jocular tone that startled everyone.
“Yes sir, good Master Aivas, yes, sir,” Piemur quipped, bowing humbly as he backed out of the room, carrying the table board and nearly knocking himself down when he forgot to lower the board to get it through the door.

And thus, the reason why the dodge about whether the AI has a sense of humor – it’s the setup for a joke later.

Alone with the AI, Oldive hears praise from AIVAS about the strength and health of the planet, given the intent for an agrarian society. “To that end, they were receptive to many anti-industrial cultures, like the ancient [Roma], as well as retired military types.”

Oldive demurs the praise, given plague and other things, to which AIVAS points out the survival and strengthening of the whole as the good things, and tries to mollify Oldive by pointing out that plague hit the Ancients hard, too. Leaving the point behind, Oldive gets to querying about the patients with specific symptoms, and we cut away to Jaxom and the other computer people, where Piemur continues to tease Jaxom about his confusion and being behind.

Considering that Piemur nearly died from “pranks” that got nasty, I still find it curious that the narrative continues to insist that he would be mean to someone else about lack of knowledge or otherwise. And that he would use Jaxom, who has spent most of his life being bullied about everything, as his target. Unless we’re supposed to believe that Piemur is still upset with Jaxom for stealing his girl Sharra, even though he has Jancis provided to him by the narrative.

There is much frustration going about learning the computers, with accidental keystrokes erasing work, error messages, and other such things resulting in Benelek and Jancis getting a little upset and Piemur cursing that twilight means the LCDs aren’t easily visible. Lessa pops in to tell Jaxom that Oldive is done, and to rather firmly insist that everyone working at the machines gets some sleep. (Over Benelek’s desire to learn, but AIVAS takes Lessa’s side and remote-shutdowns the machines, assuring them their work is saved.) There is food and drink and Oldive has quite clearly had his mind expanded to the point where there’s a lot more to have to learn than even he knows.

Oldive also asks the next logical question about who to talk to about getting more time with the machine. Nobody appears to have thought that far ahead, and there’s a short squabble about how to use the workstations that have been assembled. Which Lessa cuts off by pointing out how tired everyone is and ordering the lot, including the Weyrleaders, to bed. Jaxom takes Oldive to Ruatha, where Sharra is waiting and pushing them into the office so they can talk. After food and drink.

“My dear, your female patient is suffering a gallbladder malfunction,” the old healer told Sharra. “Unfortunately, the man appears to have a cancerous growth, as we suspected. We can cure the one, for I have been given a specific medication for dissolving the gravel within the organ, but we can only ease the other from life.” Master Oldive paused, his eyes wide and bright with excitement. “Aivas has the most extraordinary fund of medical information, which he is quite willing to impart to us. He can even help us revive corrective surgical procedures, which you know I have yearned to do. Our Craft may have been limited to repair surgeries for lack of proper training, but he can help us recover much of that lost skill.”
“That would be wonderful, Master, but would we be able to overcome the prejudice in the Hall about intrusive measures?” Sharra exclaimed, her face mirroring her hope.
“Now that we have a mentor of unquestionable probity, I think that once we have proved the benefits to patients who will not men without dress take measures, we can overcome those scruples.” He drained his cup and resolutely rose to his feet.

The rest of the chapter is Jaxom gushing to Brand, the steward, about how new and exciting everything is, after Sharra and Oldive head to the infirmary, and Brand asking about whether AIVAS knows how to heat cold holds.

What I want to focus on, though, is that quoted passage. Up to this point, the surgeries that we had seen were for dragon wings, not humans. For a society like Pern, however, a distaste for surgery seems incredibly sensible, considering that while there were sterilization options for tools available in the Sixth Pass, there’s no indication those have survived to the Ninth. Furthermore, there’s probably no way of sterilizing the environment around someone, and so it would be very easy for infections to get into surgical sites and kill people. Oldive is right in that people who see no other way out will accept desperate options, but I don’t see that prejudice about surgery going away until there’s sufficient proof and knowledge available for it to be done regularly without complications.

Second, I know that science fiction stories are often excellent reflections in the time period that wrote them, but I was rather hoping that cancerous growths were a thing of the long gone past. I know that this time has been more than long enough for new mutations and methods to appear, but ugh, fatal cancers.

Next week will hopefully have a better ending note.

Hermione Granger Chapter 12

Hermione Granger And The Goblet Of Sexism

Chapter Twelve: The Feast / The Triwizard Tournament

 

Through the gates, flanked with statues of winged boars, and up the sweeping drive the carriages trundled, swaying dangerously in what was fast become a gale. Hermione sat with her knees pressed together tightly, her Hogwarts robes spread over them, her moody cat tucked up in her cloak under one arm. Lightning flashed and lit the interior of the carriage up like broad daylight as they approached the castle, and for just a moment she could see her companions quite clearly.

Then it was dark again, the rain loud on the roof of the carriage as it pulled abruptly to a halt. Compulsively, she pushed her unruly hair out of her face. Harry and Ron jumped out into the downpour in a hurry, and she and then Neville followed behind. They all hurried up the massive stone steps into the entrance of Hogwarts Castle. Then they stepped into the magnificent, torch-lit, entrance hall. On one side was the opulent marble staircase, leading up to the many floors of classrooms and dormitories above, and on the other was the entrance to the Great Hall.

“Blimey,” said Ron, shaking himself like an excited puppy, and sending water droplets every which way, “if that keeps up the lake’s going to overflow. I’m soak — ARRGH!”

A large, red, water filled balloon had just dropped from the ceiling and straight onto Ron’s head, where it exploded. Drenched and sputtering, Ron staggered sideways and collided with Harry, just as a second water bomb dropped. Hermione ducked out of the way just in time, and it missed her, instead bursting at Harry’s feet. She saw his eyes open wide. People all around them shrieked and started pushing one and other, in their efforts to get out of the line of fire. Just then, Crookshanks leapt out from Hermione’s robes, and darted up the stairs. She hoped he remembered how to get to the dormitory, but he’d never yet gotten lost at Hogwarts.

Hermione glanced upwards, towards the ceiling, rather carefully. And sure enough, there was Peeves the Poltergeist. He was different than the castle ghosts, who were all white-ish and nearly transparent. Peeves was something else entirely — a little man in a bell-covered hat and orange bowtie — and he loved nothing more than to harass the students and make mischief within the castle.

“PEEVES!” yelled a stern sounding voice. “Peeves, come down here at ONCE!”

It was Professor McGonagall, transfiguration instructor, head of Gryffindor House, Deputy Headmistress, and an extremely accomplished witch in her own right. Professor McGonagall was one of Hermione’s very favorite teachers, and she was dashing out of the Great Hall to put an end to Peeves’ trouble making. Unfortunately, she skidded on the wet floor and slid right into Hermione, nearly choking Hermione in her attempt to keep from falling.

“Ouch — sorry, Miss Granger —” McGonagall breathed.

“That’s all right, Professor!” Hermione gasped.

“Peeves, get down here Now!” McGonagall continued, straightening her pointed hat and looking upward through her square-rimmed spectacles. Despite the collision, she still looked quite dignified.

“Not doing nothing!” cackled Peeves, lobbing a water bomb at several fifth-year students, who screamed and dived for the Great Hall. “Already wet, aren’t they? Little squirts! Wheeeee!” And he aimed another bomb at a group of second year boys, who looked positively terrified.

“I shall call the headmaster! I’m warning you, PEEVES —”

Peeves stuck out his tongue, threw the last of his water bombs into the air, and zoomed off up the marble staircase, cackling wildly.

“Well, move along then!” said Professor McGonagall, looking around at the crowd of students in various states of dampness. “Into the Great Hall, come on!”

Hermione, Harry, and Ron carefully made their way across the slippery floor of the entrance hall, and through the double doors on the right, Ron muttering furiously under his breath the whole time.

After three years of studying magic, the Great Hall of Hogwarts still took Hermione’s breath away. Fresh from a summer away, she found herself gaping at its grandeur, at the magically suspended candlesticks in midair and the ceiling bewitched to look like the stormy night sky, just as she had the first time she stepped foot in it. Her skin prickled. Thankfully, this time she was much less nervous. It was decorated splendidly for the start-of-term feast, and the plates and goblets on the four house tables were made of pure gold. Hermione made her way with Harry and Ron past the Slytherin table, then Ravenclaw, then Hufflepuff, before arriving at the Gryffindor house table at the far end of the hall. They seated themselves in open spaces on the long wooden benches, right next to Nearly Headless Nick, the Gryffindor house ghost.

Like all ghosts, Nick was pearly white and semitransparent. Unlike the other ghosts, Nick’s head had been partially severed during a botched beheading. This evening he was wearing a particularly large ruff, perhaps to disguise it or stop his head from wobbling too much.

“Good evening,” he said, in his usual proper tone, beaming at them.

“Says who?” Harry replied, and he took off his sneakers and poured out the water from Peeves’ water bombs right there on the floor of the great hall. “Hope they hurry up with the Sorting. I’m starving.”

The Sorting of new students in Houses took place at the start of every school year, and it was a big part of the reason Hermione had been so very nervous her first year at Hogwarts. She had wanted desperately to be in Gryffindor house, and had been very relieved when her desire was taken into account in the decision. She thought of the of all the first year students, nervously waiting to be brought in, unsure of the future, just as she had once been.

“Hiya, Harry!” a voice called down the table towards Harry Potter in excitement. It was Colin Creevy, a third year Gryffindor who seemed rather taken with Harry. Hermione leaned back slightly, so the two boys could see each other.

“Hi, Colin.” Harry said, still sounding annoyed.

“Harry, guess what? Guess what, Harry? My brother’s starting! My brother Dennis!”

“Er — good,” Harry replied.

“He’s really excited! I just hope he’s in Gryffindor! Keep your fingers crossed, eh, Harry?”

“Er — yeah, alright.” said Harry.

Colin could be a bit annoying, but it was sort of nice that he wanted his little brother in the same house as him. Hermione wondered vaguely what it would have been like to have a sister or a brother, and if she would have wanted them in the same house as her. She’d always been happy as an only child, but…

Harry turned to her “Brothers and sisters usually go in the same Houses, don’t they?”

“Oh no,” she said quickly, trying to snap herself out of her thoughts. It was stupid anyway, if she had ever had a sibling, odds were they would have been non-magical, and not gone to Hogwarts at all. Harry was looking at her confusedly, no doubt thinking of all seven Weasleys all being in Gryffindor. “Parvati Patil’s twin’s in Ravenclaw,” she added, “and they’re identical. You’d think they’d be together, wouldn’t you?”

He didn’t say anything.

She glanced up at the staff table, and did a quick headcount. “Where’s the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher?” she said.

In her three years at Hogwarts, they had had a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher every single year. The first had turned out to be in the service of Lord Voldemort, the second had turned out to be a thoroughly disappointing fraud who never should have been allowed to teach in the first place, and the third had been a highly capable instructor who also happened to be a werewolf. He’d resigned at the end of last year, when the secret of his condition had been exposed.

However, this year, the seat usually occupied by the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher appeared to be empty. She scanned the rest of the table, from tiny Professor Flitwick, the Charms teacher, to Professor Sinistra, the Astronomy department. And there was of course Professor Snape, head of Slytherin House and Potions Master. Potions would have been a really fun and fascinating subject, if only Snape weren’t such a bad instructor and so hell bent on favoring students from his own house, and he also had a rather weird and intense feud with Harry Potter. It seemed quite unprofessional, really, to be that threatened by a student. But she would need a good understanding of potions if she was to do well in the wizarding world, so she mostly kept her head down and tried to ignore the nonsense. That strategy had served her well so far, in her second year, she had successfully brewed a Polyjuice Potion, a complex and advanced potion that some adult witches and wizards couldn’t quite handle, which allowed the drinker to take on the physical appearance of another.

McGonagall must have still been in the entrance hall, and of course Hagrid would come in with the first years, since it was his job to take them across the lake. In the center of the staff table sat Professor Dumbledore, the headmaster, who was quite famous in his own right. He was very old, though she did not know his exact age, and his sweeping silver hair and beard were shining in the candlelight.

But no, there was no new face anywhere at the staff table.

“Maybe they couldn’t get anyone!” she said to no one in particular.

“Oh hurry up!” Ron moaned from on Harry’s other side. “I could eat a hippogriff.”

The words were no sooner out of his mouth than the doors of the Great Hall opened, and a sudden silence fell. Professor McGonagall entered, leading a long line of first years, all soaked through completely, up to the top of the hall. They looked to be shivering, and she felt for them. Maybe the one’s from wizarding families had some idea what to expect, but for kids from muggle households, they were starting not only at a new school, but in an entirely new world. The student at the very end of the line of first years was wrapped in something furry and enormous, which if she wasn’t very much mistaken was Hagrid’s moleskin overcoat. He looked less terrified than the others, more enthralled and delighted, as though he were taking everything in.

He also looked a bit like Colin Creevy. And indeed, he caught Colin’s eye, gave a double thumbs-up, and mouthed “I fell in the lake!” while positively beaming.

Professor McGonagall now placed a three legged stool on the floor before the row of first year students and, on top of it, an extremely old, dirty, patched witch or wizard’s hat. The first years stared at it, and so did every other person in the Great Hall. There was a moment of total silence and anticipation, and then a long tear near the brim opened wide, as though it were a mouth, and the hat broke into song:

A thousand years or more ago,

When I was newly sewn,

There lived four wizards of renown

Whose names are still well known:

Bold Gryffindor, from wild moor,

Fair Ravenclaw, from glen

Sweet Hufflepuff, from valley broad,

Shrewd Slytherin, from fen.

They shared a wish, a hope, a dream,

They hatched a daring plan

To educate young sorcerers

Thus Hogwarts School began.

Now each of these four founders

Formed their own house, for each

Did value different virtues

In the ones they had to teach.

By Gryffindor, the bravest were

Prived far beyond the rest;

For Ravenclaw, the cleverest

Would always be the best;

For Hufflepuff, hard workers were

Most worthy of admission;

And power-hungry Slytherin

Loved those of great ambition.

While still alive they did divide

Their favorites from the throng,

Yet how to pick the worthy ones

When they were dead and gone?

‘Twas Gryffindor who found the way,

He whipped me off his head

The founders put some brains in me

So I could choose instead!

Now slip me snug about your ears,

I’ve never yet been wrong,

I’ll have a look inside your mind

And tell where you belong!

 

The Great Hall erupted with applause as the Sorting Hat Finished its song.

“That’s not the song it sang when it sorted us,” said Harry, looking a bit confused, but clapping all the same. Hermione remembered that Harry had missed seeing the sorting in their second and third years.

“Sings a different one every year,”  Ron explained. “It’s got to be a pretty boring life, hasn’t it, being a hat? I suppose it spends all year making up the next one.”

Professor McGonagall was now unrolling a large scroll of parchment. At Hogwarts, nearly everything was written on parchment, and Hermione couldn’t recall ever having seen a scrap of regular paper in the whole castle.

“When I call out your name, you will put on the hat and sit on the stool,” McGonagall said to the row of nervous eleven year olds. “When the hat announces your House, you will go and sit at the appropriate table.”

“Ackerley, Stewart!” she said in her official sounding voice.

A boy walked forward, visibly trembling all over, picked up the ancient hat and nervously placed it on his head, and sat on the stool.”

“RAVENCLAW!” shouted the hat.

Stewart Ackerley took off the hat, and hurried to the Ravenclaw table, where everyone was applauding him. It was such a good feeling, to be wanted by one’s house. When Hermione turned to see who was to be sorted next, she noticed that Harry Potter was still staring at the Ravenclaw table…

“Baddock, Malcolm!”

“SLYTHERIN!”

The table on the other side of the hall erupted with cheers as well. Slytherin had a bad reputation. Fred and George Weasley were hissing softly at Malcolm Baddock as he sat down.

“Branstone, Eleanor!”

“HUFFLEPUFF!”

“Cauldwell, Owen!”
“HUFFLEPUFF!”

Hermione remembered her own sorting rather well, how the hat had whispered in her ear, suggesting that Ravenclaw might be a good fit, but when she was certain she wanted Gryffindor that hat had put her there instead. She’d heard a similar story from Harry, that the hat had considered putting him in Slytherin, but he didn’t want to go there, so he went to Gryffindor. She wondered if that was so for everyone. Hufflepuff had very little reputation, so it was hard to image the nervous youngsters before her specifically wished to go there, but maybe she was missing something…

“Creevey, Dennis!”

“GRYFFINDOR!”

Tiny Dennis Creevey, still wearing Hagrid’s massive overcoat, beamed wildly as he took off the hat, and placed it back on the stool. The entire Gryffindor table — and Hagrid as well —erupted in applause now, and Dennis nearly ran to join his brother Colin.

“Colin, I fell in!” he said in a squeaky little voice, climbing onto the bench. “It was brilliant! And something in the water grabbed me and pushed me back in the boat!”

“Cool! It was probably the giant squid, Dennis!” Colin’s tone mirrored his younger brother’s enthusiasm.

“Wow!” said Dennis, clearly overwhelmed by his recent brush with the giant sea monster.

Hermione turned back to watch the rest of the sorting, while the brothers continued to chat. The first years, some looking more frightened than others, continued to step forward one at a time, and place the hat on their heads. As they did so, the line of students behind it slowly dwindled.

“Oh hurry up,” Ron moaned, grabbing at his stomach.

“Now Ron,” said Nearly Headless Nick, “the Sorting’s much more important than food.”

“‘Course it is, if you’re dead…” snapped Ron.

Choosing to ignore the gab, Nick said “I do hope this year’s batch of Gryffindors are up to scratch,” then he stopped to applaud as “McDonald, Natalie” became a Gryffindor. “We don’t want to break our winning streak, do we?”

Each year at Hogwarts, there was an Inter-House Championship, awarded based on points given out to students by the staff. And for three years now, Gryffindor had won.

“Pritchard, Graham!”

“SLYTHERIN!”

“Quirke, Orla!”

“RAVENCLAW!”

And finally, with “Whitby, Kevin!” (“HUFFLEPUFF!”), the sorting came to an end. Professor McGonagall picked up the hat and the stool, and carried them away with rather less ceremony than they had been brought in.

“About time!” cried Ron, seizing his knife and fork.

Professor Dumbledore had gotten to his feet, and now he was smiling all around the hall, his arms opened wide as he grinned at the students.

“I have only two words to say to you,” said the old venerable wizard, “Tuck in.”

And then the empty serving dishes before them magically filled themselves with heaps and heaps of delicious food. It was how every feast at Hogwarts began, yet it always took Hermione’s breath away at the start-of-term feast, when she was finally back in the castle after a summer at home. She wondered if she would ever get tired of it.

“Hear, hear!” cried Ron and Harry, in unison at the top of their voices, as the food appeared before them. Then they all began to serve themselves, loading up their plates with whatever they liked best. Nearly Headless Nick, ever jealous of the living, looked on mournfully.

“Aaah, ‘at’s be’er,” said Ron, his mouth positively full of mashed potato.

“You’re lucky there’s a feast at all tonight, you know,” said Nearly Headless Nick. “There was trouble in the kitchens earlier.”

“Why? Wha’ ‘appened?” said Harry, his own mouth nearly as full as Ron’s.

Hermione took a bite of chicken, only half listening.

“Peeves, of course,” said Nearly Headless Nick, shaking his head so that it wobbled dangerously. “The usual argument, you know. He wanted to attend the feast — well, it’s quite out of the question, you know what he’s like, utterly uncivilized, can’t see a plate of food without throwing it. We held a ghost’s council — the Fat Friar was all for giving him a chance — but mostly wisely, in my opinion, the Bloody Baron put his foot down.”

The Bloody Baron was the ghost of Slytherin house, a gaunt and silent specter covered in silver bloodstains. He terrified many of the younger students, and he was the only one who could ever control Peeves.

“Yeah, we thought Peeves seemed hacked off about something,” said Ron darkly, looking around the table for something, “So what did he do in the kitchens?”

“Oh, the usual,” said Nearly Headless Nick casually. “Wreaked havoc and mayhem. Pots and pans everywhere. Place swimming in soup. Terrified the house-elves out of their wits—”

At the word house-elves Hermione felt her skin prickle all over. She had been reaching for her pumpkin juice, but she suddenly stopped and the back of her hand brushed the golden goblet… she was only partially aware of it, however, because this was far more urgent.

“There are house-elves here?” she said, vaguely aware that her juice had spilled, but there was magic for that. “Here at Hogwarts?” she demanded of Nearly Headless Nick.

He looked surprised. “Certainly…” he said, “the largest number in any dwelling in Britain, I believe. Over a hundred.”

It had never been mentioned. In three years at Hogwarts this was the first she’d heard of it… even when Harry had befriended Dobby no one had ever mentioned…

“I’ve never seen one!” she said, a little breathlessly.

“Well, they hardly ever leave the kitchen by day, do they? They come out at night to do a bit of cleaning… see to the fires and so on…” Nick was talking as though it were the most normal thing in the world. “I mean, you’re not supposed to see them, are you? That’s the mark of a good house elf, isn’t it, that you don’t know it’s there?”

She thought about it. She didn’t really know all that much about house elves, except that both Dobby and Winky had been severely mistreated, and no one seemed to care. She could bear to think that the same thing was going on at Hogwarts, her beloved Hogwarts! Yet, Nick was so calm, perhaps it was different within the castle.

“But they get paid?” she said, hopefully. “They get holidays, don’t they? And — and sick leave, and pensions, and everything?”

And then Nearly Headless Nick laughed right in her face. He laughed so hard that his ruff slipped and his head flopped to the side, dangling on the inch or so of ghostly skin and muscle that still attached it to his ghostly body. The boys both looked suddenly away from the conversation. Hermione just stared at Nick.

“Sick leave and pensions?” he finally said, pushing his head back into place and securing it once more with his ruff. “House elves don’t want sick leave and pensions!”

It was as though she could see Winky’s pleading, terrified, shaking face, right before her own. She looked down at her plate, her hardly touched dinner, and she felt she was going to be sick. Over a hundred was what Nick had said, a hundred little people like Winky, magically tied to Hogwarts Castle, prevented from disobeying no matter what… all so Hermione could have a comfortable meal. She had quite lost her appetite, and she slowly pushed the plate away.

“Oh c’mon, ‘Er-my-knee!” said Ron, thickly through a bite of Yorkshire pudding. “Oops — sorry, ‘Arry —” he said when he realized he had sprayed Harry with chewed food. He swallowed hard, and looked earnestly at Hermione. “You won’t get them sick leave by starving yourself!” he added.

Even if he was right, she couldn’t eat another bite. “Slave labor, that’s what made this dinner. Slave labor.” the words felt impossible even as she said them. How could it be true? And at Hogwarts, of all places?

Through the rest of the meal, she watched the rain on the windows, and thought about poor Winky, and how she was getting on. No one else seemed very interested in her, or what might become of her next. Harry and Ron ate happily… Perhaps it simply hadn’t sunk in yet how horrible it was. Well, Harry at least would come to his senses, once he thought about poor Dobby and all he had been through. Another loud clap of thunder shook the windows, and lightning flashed across the bewitched ceiling, illuminating the golden plates as the remains of the first course vanished. They were replaced, as they were at every feast, instantly, with puddings.

Only this time she didn’t find it nearly so wonderful.

“Treacle tart, Hermione!” said Ron, smiling and trying to entice her to eat. “Spotted dick, look! Chocolate gateau!”

She just looked at him, wondering how on earth one boy could be so completely clueless.

Finally, mercifully, even the puddings were through, and the last crumbs faded off the plates, leaving them sparkling clear. Albus Dumbledore got to his feet again, and the buzz of chatter filling the Hall ceased. It said something about Dumbledore, that a crowd of excited young people would almost always quite down to listen to him speak.

“So!” he said, smiling around at everyone. “Now that we are all fed and watered…”

Hermione let out a small, involuntary, sigh.

“I must ask once more for your attention, while I give out a few notices.” Dumbledore went on. “Mr. Flinch, the caretaker, has asked me to tell you that the list of objects forbidden inside the castle has this year been extended to include Screaming Yo-yos, Fanged Frisbees, and Ever-Bashing Boomerangs. The full list comprises some four hundred and thirty-seven items, I believe, and can be viewed in Mr. Filch’s office, if anybody would like to check it.”

The corners of Dumbledore’s mouth twitched just ever so slightly. “As ever, I would like to remind you that the forest on the grounds is out-of-bounds to all students, as is the village of Hogsmeade to all below third year.”

“It is also my painful duty to inform you that the Inter-House Quidditch Cup will not take place this year.”

Predictably, there was quite the uproar at this news. Harry Potter nearly shouted “WHAT?” and Fred and George looked like the might fall over. Ron didn’t even play quidditch at school, but he looked equally horrified.

“This is due to an event that will be starting in October,” continued Dumbledore, and the sounds of the dumbfounded students died down again, “and continuing throughout the school year, taking up much of the teachers’ time and energy — but I am sure you will all enjoy it immensely. I have great pleasure in announcing that this year at Hogwarts —”

But at that moment, a great earsplitting roar of thunder drowned out Dumbledore’s voice, and then the doors of the Great Hall opened with a loud bang.

Everyone turned. In the doorway stood a man, leaning upon a long staff, and shrouded in a black traveling cloak. A fork of lightning suddenly flashed across the ceiling. The man lowered his hood, shook out a mane of grizzled, dark gray hair, and then began to walk laboriously toward the other end of the Hall, and the teacher’s table.

There was a dull clunk that echoed through the massive Hall on his every other step. Every set of eyes seemed to be following the man, but his face was still downward, and in shadow. Finally, he reached the end of the top table, and turned right to make his way toward Dumbledore. Another flash of lightning crossed the ceiling, illuminating the Hall.

An audible gasp rang through the crowd of students.

The lightning threw the man’s face into sharp relief, and it wasn’t the sort of face Hermione had expected. It was unlike anything she’d ever seen before, and she wondered how on earth a person could come to look like that. His entire face, all over, was covered in scars, his nose appeared to be missing a piece somehow, and even his mouth looked… damaged. But his eyes were the most arresting of all.

One of his eyes was quite ordinary, it looked dark from this distance, as one would expect. But the other was too large, round as a coin, and a vivid electric blue. And to make it even more alarming, the blue ey was moving ceaselessly, and without blinking, quite independently of the other eye. She remembered reading once, ages ago, that human brains liked symmetry. Well, this man was anything but symmetrical. As the thought that, the blue eye rolled right over, pointing back into the man’s head, and all the students could see the bare whiteness of the opposite side.

She felt Harry squirm by her side.

The stranger reached Dumbledore, and he stretched out a hand that was as badly scarred as his face. Dumbledore shook it, muttering something softly, though she couldn’t quite make out what. The stranger shook his head in reply, and said something in an undertone. Dumbledore nodded, and gestured the man to the empty seat on his right-hand side.

The man took his seat, and shook his mane of gray hair once again. Thought all the food had gone from the other tables, there were a few dishes left on the staff table, and at once he reached for one of them. It was a plate of sausages, and to Hermione’s surprise, he raised them to his nose and sniffed. He then took a small knife out of his pocket, speared a sausage on the end of it, and began to eat. All the while, his bright blue eye was still darting all around the Great Hall.

“May I introduce our new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher?” said Dumbledore with a smile into the stunned silence. “Professor Moody.”

It was so silent in the echoey, cavernous, Hall, that you could have heard a pin drop. Then Dumbledore and Hagrid broke into enthusiastic applause, though she noticed the rest of the staff table didn’t join them. Was it his looks, or something else?

“Moody?” Harry said, reaching over Hermione to talk to Ron in an undertone. “Mad-Eye Moody? The one your dad went to help this morning?”

Evidently, Ron and Harry knew something about this new teacher that she had missed. Well, this was a first.

“Must be,” Ron said, leaning in to talk to Harry so she had to lean way back on the bench to get out of the way.

“What happened to him?” she whispered, hoping for some kind of information. And then, in spite of herself, she said, “what happened to his face?” for as rude as it was to stare, she could not stop looking into that scarred and battered face.

“Dunno.” was all Ron whispered in reply. He was peering up at Moody as well.

For his part, Professor Moody seemed indifferent to the reaction of both the students and the other teachers. Ignoring the jug of pumpkin juice in front of him, he reached into his traveling cloak, pulled out a hip flask, and took a long draught from hit. Hermione thought she saw Professor McGonagall raise her eyebrows just slightly, but she couldn’t be sure.

In the piercing silence, Dumbledore cleared his throat.

“As I was saying,” he said, with a smile as though there had been no interruption at all, “we are to have the honor of hosting a very exciting event over the coming months, an event that has not been held for over a century. It is my very great pleasure to inform you that the Triwizard Tournament will be taking place at Hogwarts this year.”

“You’re JOKING!” shouted Fred Weasley.

The tension that had filled the Hall ever since Moody’s arrival suddenly broke. Nearly everyone laughed, and Professor Dumbledore chuckled appreciatively.

“I am not joking, Mr. Weasley,” he said, still grinning, “though now that you mention it, I did hear an excellent one over the summer about a troll, a hag, and a leprechaun who all go into a bar…”

Now it was Professor McGonagall’s turn to clear her throat.

“Er — but maybe this is not the time… no…” he looked down at his hands, “where was I? Ah yes, the Triwizard Tournament… well, some of you will not know what this tournament involves, so I hope those who do know will forgive me for giving a short explanation, and allow their attention to wander freely.”

Hermione bristled involuntarily. He meant muggle-borns, of course. He meant that witches and wizards with non-magical families couldn’t possibly know the great history of dangerous and lethal sporting events in the wizarding world…

“The Triwizard Tournament was first established some seven hundred years ago as a friendly competition between the three largest European schools of wizardry: Hogwarts, Beaubatons, and Durmstrang. A champion was selected to represent each school, and the three champions competed in three magical tasks. The schools took it in turns to host the tournament once every five years, and it was generally agreed to be a most excellent way of establishing ties between young witches and wizards of different nationalities — until, that is, the death toll mounted so high that the tournament was discontinued.”

Death toll?” she said. Because truth be told, she had only read a little bit about the Triwizard Tournament, and Dumbledore was making it out to be even more dangerous than she had realized. However, she looked around her, and no one else looked anything but excited. She couldn’t, for the life of her, understand it. Harry and Ron were both grinning like idiots, and most of the Gryffindor table seemed to be whispering to one and other.

“There have been several attempts over the centuries to reinstate the tournament,” Dumbledore continued, “none of which has been very successful. However, our own departments of International Magical Cooperation and Magical Game and Sports have decided the time is ripe for another attempt. We have worked hard over the summer to ensure that this time, no champion will find himself or herself in mortal danger.”

“The heads of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang will be arriving with their short-listed contenders in October, and the selection of the three champions will take place at Halloween. An impartial judge will decide which students are most worthy to compete for the Triwizard Cup, the glory of their school, and a thousand Galleons personal prize money.”

“I’m going for it!” Fred Weasley hissed down the table, his face lit up with enthusiasm at the prospect of such glory and riches. He was far from the only one in the hall announcing his intentions to his friends. For herself, Hermione never once considered trying to represent all of Hogwarts. How could she? But it would be nice, perhaps, to meet a few witches and wizards who weren’t from Britain. Yes, that would be a bit of perspective.

“Eager though I know all of you will be to bring the Triwizard Cup to Hogwarts,” he said, “the heads of the participating schools, along with the Ministry of Magic, have agreed to impose an age restriction on contenders this year. Only students who are of age — that is to say, seventeen years or older — will be allowed to put forward their names for consideration. This —” Dumbledore had to raise his voice slightly, to speak over the sudden rush of noise as all throughout the Hall those would-be champions who were not yet seventeen made their displeasure known, “— is a measure we feel is necessary, given that the tournament tasks will still be difficult and dangerous, whatever precautions we take, and it is highly unlikely that students below sixth and seventh year will be able to cope with them. I will personally be ensuring that no underage student hoodwinks our impartial judge into making them Hogwarts champion.” He looked right at the Gryffindor table, right at Fred and George, who both looked furious. “I therefore beg you not to waste your time submitting yourself if you are under seventeen.”

The twins glowered back at the smiling Dumbledore.

“The delegations from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang will be arriving in October and remaining for the greater part of this school year. I know that you will all extend every courtesy to our foreign guests while they are here with us, and will give your whole-hearted support to the Hogwarts champion when he or she is selected. And now, it is late, and I know how important it is to you all to be alert and rested as you enter your lessons tomorrow morning.” he smirked somewhat sardonically. “Bedtime! Chop chop!”

And then Professor Dumbledore sat down again, and turned once again to talk to Professor — Mad Eye — Moody. There was a great scraping of benches as hundreds of students all rose to their feet, and swarmed towards the double doors, headed for the entrance hall, and then their respective house dormitories.

“They can’t do that!” said George Weasley, who had not yet joined the crowd moving toward the doors, but was still standing glaring at Dumbledore. “We’re seventeen in April, why can’t we have a shot?”

“They’re not stopping me entering,” said Fred, with an ugly scowl. “The champions’ll get to do all sorts of stuff you’d never be allowed to do normally. And a thousand Galleons prize money!”

Ron was standing near his brothers, also not moving, looking dreamy and far away. “Yeah… Yeah, a thousand Galleons…”

“Come on,” she said, inching towards the huge double doors, slowly beckoning them all forward, “we’ll be the only ones left here if you don’t move.”

And to her astonishment, they actually followed her. Soon she was walking with Fred, George, Ronald, and Harry, as they debated the ways in which Dumbledore might stop those who were under seventeen from entering the tournament.

“Who’s this impartial judge who’s going to decide who he champions are?” Harry asked the others.

“Dunno,” said Fred thoughtfully, “ but it’s them we’ll have to fool. I reckon a couple of drops of Aging Potion might do it, George…”

“Dumbledore knows you’re not of age, though,” said Ron.

“Yeah, but he’s not the one who decides who the champion is, is he?” said Fred shrewdly. “Sounds to me like once this judge knows who wants to enter, he’ll choose the best from each school and never mind how old they are.” Fred was probably right, though privately Hermione hoped he wasn’t. “Dumbledore’s trying to stop us giving our names.” he said.

“People have died, though!” she said, as they walked through a door concealed behind a tapestry, and started up another staircase on their way to the Gryffindor common room.

“Yeah,” said Fred, dismissively, “but that was years ago, wasn’t it? Anyway, where’s the fun without a bit of risk? Hey, Ron, what if we find out how to get ‘round Dumbledore? Fancy entering?”

“What d’you reckon?” Ron asked, turning to Harry. “Be cool to enter, wouldn’t it? But I s’pose they might want someone older… Dunno if we’ve learned enough…”

“I definitely haven’t,” came Neville’s voice from behind them, catching up. It was the most sensible thing she’d heard since Dumbledore had finished making his announcements.

“I expect my gran’d want to me try, though…” Neville continued, sounding a bit gloomy. “She’s always going on aobut how I should be upholding the family honor. I’ll just have to — oops!”

And Neville’s right foot sank clear through a step, halfway up the staircase. There were quite a few of these trick stairs at Hogwarts, and while many of the older students had learned precisely where they were (and tended to jump over this particular step) Neville was always forgetting exactly which one was which. He gave an embarrassed smile as Ron and Harry seized him under the armpits and pulled him out. Meanwhile, a suit of armor at the top of the stairs creaked and clanked, laughing wheezily.

“Shut it, you,” said Ron, banging down the armor’s visor hard as they passed. Finally, they made their way to the entrance to Gryffindor Tower, which was concealed behind a large portrait of a fat lady in a pink silk dress.

“Password?” she queried.

“Balderdash,” said George with confidence. Then he added, “a prefect downstairs told me.” The password changed at the start of each term, so many students didn’t yet know what it was.

The portrait swung inward, to reveal the wide hole in the wall which was the entrance. They all took it in turns to climb through, and were met with the sounds of a warm, crackling fire. As Hermione pulled herself into the circular common room, outfitted with squashy armchairs and old battered tables, she remembered that that fire had almost certainly been lit by a house elf.

“Slave labor…” she said under her breath.

She was embarrassed to admit that she had never given such comforts much thought before. When she had first started at Hogwarts, four years ago, it had all been part of the magical charm of the place. She hadn’t grown up with any servants or even a visiting cleaning lady, and she’d always been part of the household chores back at home, but here at Hogwarts there never seemed to be any such work to be done. If she had ever wondered how the sheets were always so fresh, the fires always bright and merry, the dishes always spotless, she supposed it was just part of the magic of it all. It was a shock to learn that, far from a few benign spells that kept things tidy and in order, it was a different sort of magic: an entire race of magical beings, enslaved to do the work no humans in the castle wanted.

Ronald and Harry were both looking at her with trepidation. She knew they didn’t want to talk about it.

“Well, goodnight then.” she said, as normally as she could, and made her way towards the staircase on the righthand side of the room, which led up to the girls’ dormitories.

Up the spiral stairs she marched, trying hard not to notice her hungry stomach, until she found the door marked “fourth year.”

It was a stone room, with three rather large four poster beds with crimson hangings. It seemed to be just the right size for the three beds that occupied the room, and Hermione supposed that it would have magically expanded had their been more girls in Gryffindor that year.

Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil, the two other occupants of the dormitory, were already there. When Hermione entered, they glanced at her, and waved silently. They were best friends, and they were sitting on Lavender’s bed in their pajamas, chatting about their summers.

Somehow, over the summer with her eagerness to return to school, she had forgot how awkward she always felt around Lavender and Parvati. It wasn’t just that they both came from wizarding families, though that was certainly true (and Parvati’s twin sister, Padma, was at Hogwarts as well, in Ravenclaw house). It was that Lavender and Parvati both made sense in Gryffindor, and they made sense together. It made all the sense in the world for two fourteen year old girls to be happily chatting together, about where they’d gone on holiday, cute muggle boys they’d seen, the latest fashions in dress robes.

Whereas, Hermione Granger? She didn’t exactly make sense anywhere.

Her trunk was already at the foot of her four-poster, and Crookshanks was curled up in the very center of the bed, as though he was trying to take up as much room as possible. As quickly as possible, trying to make herself small, she pulled off her long witch’s robes and threw on her nightgown. Then she climbed into her bed, gave a falsely cheery “goodnight!” to the room at large, and closed the bed curtains.

In the dark of the crimson hangings, she pushed her snoring cat a little to one side, and cuddled up to him. He was a weird cat. Instead of scampering away, he gave a little grunt, and then started purring. The bed was immensely comfortable. She hadn’t realized how tired she was, not until now.

Just before she drifted off to sleep, she thought “I’ve got to do something about all those poor elves.

***

Deconstruction / Notes

 

Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness.

This chapter is 17 pages in the google doc I’m working on it in and let me just say, it’s too long. I’m not sure what could have been done about that exactly, because obviously there’s a lot to fit in at the feast and what have you. But my god, seventeen pages. I just checked, and chapter four was a whopping SEVEN.

Ok, we talked about this in the comments last week (if you don’t read the comments, you may want to, lots of good analysis in there, and not just mine) but Crookshanks. Where the hell is Crookshanks? I added a Crookshanks bit in here, because it desperately needed it, but it isn’t in the original text. He’s in Hermione’s robes, scratching her, not riding in his traveling basket for reasons we are never told… and then he’s just… gone. I don’t have my other books handy at the moment, but I believe at some point we’re told that the luggage is magically transported to the dormitories for them. Ok, fine. But is a cat luggage? An owl in a cage, I guess I can kind of see… But a cat? And not just a cat, but a loose cat? The treatment of pets at Hogwarts is really troubling, once you actually look at it and try to parse out what is happening.

Also, I love Professor McGonagall and so does Hermione, and I won’t hear a word against her. Just so you all know. I loved writing McGonagall here and I look forward to more scenes with her because she is generally reasonable and responsible and in my dreams she is promoted to Headmistress immediately because she is already doing the work goddamn it.

Other than that, there’s potentially a lot to unpack in this chapter, and I frankly don’t have the bandwidth to get into the teeny tiny details of everything. I think many of the descriptions of Moody are borderline ableist (except the ones that are blatantly ableist) and I think that the treatment of Hermione as being nervous about the Triwizard Tournament is basically gaslighting. In this chapter we have these two things — the Triwizard Tournament and professor Moody — introduced for the first time. Both are going to seriously drive the plot for the rest of the book, so we’ll have plenty of time to pick them apart.

Instead, we need to talk about house elves yet again. Because this is important, and I think that this chapter, the moment when Hermione realizes that there are, in fact, house elves living and working at Hogwarts, is a huge character defining moment for Hermione Granger. Hermione may be brainy as all get out, but she also loves justice and fair play as much as any Hufflepuff. And she loves Hogwarts damn near as much as Harry Potter does, and she assumed that the things she had learned about it were true and that it was a good and fair place where she could feel (relatively) safe. It is therefore major for her to discover, now, at the start of her fourth year of school, that the school is entirely reliant on a slave class of non-human people.

You may be wondering how Hogwarts can even have house elves, since as they’ve been previously defined they are bound to serve one family forever more. Who is the master of the Hogwarts house elves? Put those thoughts out of your mind, we will never have an answer. This is just going to be one of those incredibly frustrating thing that makes no sense and, if you are like me, you’ll stay up late trying to find a way you can make it make sense. So far, I have been unsuccessful. Institutional house elves, as far as I can tell, make no sense with the mythology of elves we are given. The only way they would make any sense is if they were all more or less free, not serving at Hogwarts because they are bound but because they enjoy serving in a beautiful castle. But we’ll find out later that this is very much not the case. No explanation about who these elves “belong” to will ever be given.

Hermione will make grave errors in her activism for house elves, of course. But right now, she is just a fourteen year old girl who suddenly discovered that the place she loves isn’t so lovely after all.

Harry Potter, of course, is discovering this for the very first time as well. He saw the horrible conditions Dobby was in, so he knows how bad things can get for elves. He, at least privately, is aware that the treatment of Winky has been incredibly unfair. Yet he is shown to have no emotional reaction whatsoever to the news that a hundred house elves are bound to the castle he views as his home.

As an aside here, when I first read this series, I didn’t actually like it at all. And one of the reasons I didn’t like it was that there are so many moments like this. The whole series is filled with revelations that really shouldn’t be revelations, things that seem like they should just be known. Like in book three, when everyone consistently refers to dementors as “the Azkaban guards” until the word “dementor” is uttered once and then they are never once referred to in such a way again. If Nearly Headless Nick can so casually mention the house elves now, it seems very unlikely that they’ve never come up in three years. These books are positively full of moments like these, big reveals of things that “have been this way all along” but our POV character never knew for… reasons. Harry’s outsider status gives the reader a glimpse into the magical world that makes sense to them, but the formulaic nature of these reveals starts to feel a bit tired a few books in. It’s like each book requires that early on, we learn a new thing about the magical world, and by the end of the book it will play a major role. The dementors were certainly like that, as was Dobby himself, and we’ll see a similar pattern with the Thestrals in book five.

But here it doesn’t really work, even as that sort of cheap trick. Why? Because the existence of house elves at Hogwarts will always only be a side story, a minor interest of Hermione’s that everyone else won’t be bothered to think too much about. Hermione Granger’s obsession with house elves will become more and more of a joke as time goes on, and less and less integral to the plot (at least in this book).

So, we’ve set up this massive reveal that actually doesn’t make terribly much sense. And we’re only going to use it to… make fun of the nerdy girl.

And it starts now. Here is Hermione Granger, a fourteen year old idealist and intellectual, a girl desperately trying to fit in and make sense in the magical world while also being true to herself, a girl trying to strike an impossible balance. And after seeing a house elf cruely abused — what was it, a week ago now? — she’s suddenly learned that her entire school, her beloved temple of learning, runs on the labor of house elves who are unpaid and enslaved. She is overcome with emotion, suddenly, she can’t eat. This isn’t a case of teenage girls not eating in books because girls don’t eat when they’re upset! She’s just learned that the meal that is before her, the luxury of a feast, is the product of slavery. The Hogwarts kitchen is filled with a hundred Winkys. She’s realizing that she is complicit in oppression, and she suddenly cannot bring herself to participate.

That’s a very reasonable response, as far as I’m concerned, even if it isn’t sustainable. It brings to mind the saying “no ethical consumption under capitalism” for me, because if you try to consume ethically, eventually you’ll be overwhelmed with how impossible it is (or at least I am, I may be projecting). Tomorrow morning, Hermione will realize that this is the food that is available at Hogwarts, that circumventing that system is impossible, and won’t help dismantle it. But for now, this evening, she can’t bring herself to take another bite.

And Ronald Weasley, a young man who is supposedly her friend, mocks her for this. The criticism of Hermione is always that she’s too bookish, too well read (until you need her massive store of information, of course). But here we have a very earnest display of emotion and passion, a simple response that isn’t intellectual or very well thought out at all, it’s automatic, “if I think that’s wrong, I can’t do it.” And Ron thinks that’s very funny. It’s mean, it’s cruel, and I think it betrays something about our trio of friends here. Hermione is friends with Harry, and Ron is friends with Harry, but are Ron and Hermione friends? Or do they just tolerate each other to keep Harry’s friendship, until they eventually develop feelings for each other?

Ok, one more thing before my brain has to leave the potterverse for awhile. Let’s talk about the dormitories.

So typically, for these re-writes, I’m not looking a ton of stuff up, and especially not online. I’m going from my memory of the series, and from the physical books themselves, and primarily just the chapter at hand. But every once in awhile, I have a question and I need it answered before I can move forward.

That happened at bed time. Because I could not, for the life of me, remember who all slept in Hermione’s dormitory. I could think of Parvati and Lavender, but it seemed like I must be missing someone. So, I googled. Harry Potter wikia lists the known dormitory residents as:

Lavender Brown
Hermione Granger
Parvati Patil
Two unknown Gryffindor girls

Oh. I tried to look on Pottermore to see if this was confirmed anywhere, but I couldn’t find anything at all about the girls’ dormitory residents. But if it is true, if it was written to be a dorm with five pupils in it (just like on the boys’ side) and two of them are never mentioned by name in text, that’s a problem. Hermione is Harry’s second best friend in the universe, it seems utterly impossible that she could sleep in the same room as four people, and over the course of six years at school, Harry only ever learns the names of two of them. And even without that, they’re in Gryffindor in the same house, which means they have classes together every single day. So what we have here is either a case of very very bad writing (oh, I guess there are more girls, Harry can’t be bothered about them) or a case of the fandom assuming that there couldn’t possibly be only three girls in the dormitory.

And this is one of those cases, where for this project, as a writer, I had to make a decision. And I just couldn’t put two more girls in that dorm and otherwise keep the story as-is. There was no possible way it could have worked, and anyway, variation in class sizes does make a bit of sense.

So for the purposes of our story here, there are only three fourth year Gryffindor girls. Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil are, of course, best friends. So Hermione is, once again, isolated.