Category Archives: Deconstruction

Dragonsblood: Another Always Chaotic Evil Villain?

Last time, we spent a chapter proving that the watch-whers are not, in fact, a useless failure of an experiment, but a vital part of the Thread-fighting apparatus, specifically bred to eat Thread at night when the flashy dragons aren’t able to see.

We also learned that Kitti Ping, at least to Wind Blossom’s perspective, was an abusive mother, and that Wild Blossom is passing this problem on to her own daughter.

Also, it was very strongly hinted that the dragons of the current Pass are about to fall victim to something that has evolved to attack dragons and make them sick.

Dragonsblood, Chapter 3: Content Notes: Plotting Rape, Suicide

(AL 507, Half-Circle Sea Hold)

Wide ship, tall ship,
Tossed on a raging sea.
Fair ship, brave ship,
Bring my love back to me.

This feels like a song, for once! Not as sophisticated as some sea shanties I’ve heard, but something I can imagine actually being sung outside of the Harper Hall, by someone other than a child.

The chapter begins with Lorana scrambling up the mast and sketching the sunrise. When someone calls up to ask about the weather, she calls it back and everyone groans. Lorana doesn’t understand, so we get a charming piece of old Terran lore that has somehow survived all these generations.

Baror shook his head. “The old saying goes ‘Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; Red sky at morning, sailor take warning.’ There’ll be a blow for sure, but I already knew that.”
Lorana had heard from others day Baror had broken his arm years back and was convinced he could tell when the weather was going to change by the way it ached.

And also, a sailor with a weather arm, in case you needed more stereotype in your diet.

I talked about the improbability of “women are bad luck for a ship” last time, but I realize that we’ve never really gotten a good look at just how “Parallel Earth” the planet is supposed to be. The assumption we’re supposed to make is essentially “Like Earth, Except Where Noted.” There’s a different calendar system, though, which would suggest the Gregorian calendar and divisions of time didn’t translate exactly. So there’s a different revolution period. Pern has two natural satellites, instead of one, so that would mean tidal forces and the rotation period are likely different. And while Rukbat is described as a G-type star, The Other Wiki tells us “G-type star” is an imprecise categorization that contains anything from red-hot to white-hot stars and our conception of Sol’s color is strongly influenced by the way Terra’s atmosphere scatters light depending on the relative position of Sol in the sky.

And there’s Thread, which has to have an influence on the weather patterns, and life forms that have adapted to the regular intrusion of Thread, which might do the same. And also, there are humans (and possibly humaniform ETs?) and their climate-influencing technologies like coal forges and furnaces, cows, horses, mines, and the like, that have been going for at least 500 rotation cycles at this point in the narrative.

Which is to say, Pern is nothing like Terra at all, and we don’t my have a reason to believe that stereotypes like a weather arm or advice like “Red sky at morning” are actually useful on Pern without the narrative providing justification. I would think the Pernese would be more frightened of any red sky situation, given that the presence of the Red Star in the sky means Threadfall is on the way.

Which is, admittedly, me being grumbly about a lack of thought with regard to the world that’s been constructed. The MST3K Mantra or Bellisario’s Maxim could certainly be applied here, but it would be nice to know how all this ancient wisdom supposedly survived in a world that hasn’t been described as close enough. And it’s always Terran wisdom, not Cetian or Eridani.

Anyway, the narrative continues with Colfet breaking his arm and Lorana helping to get him below to set it. Well, Lorana helps, but it’s because Colfet refuses the sensible assistance the captain is ready to give Lorana.

Tanner looked alarmed. Catching sight of a seaman coming up on deck, he called, “Gesten, Colfert’s broken his arm. Help him down below so that Lorana can go ahead and get set up.”
“No, it’s all right!” Colfet called back, putting his weight on Lorana, who nearly buckled in surprise. “Lorana’s a stout lass, we’ll manage. Besides, the weather’s picking up–you’ll be needing all hands to trim sail.”
Getting the large seaman down below to get cabin was much harder than she’d figured, but Lorana felt that she’d proved herself “one of the boys” by doing so.

A couple paragraphs later, Lorana blushes under the intensity of Colfet’s gaze, and the whole sequence, bar the first time Lorana tries to set the bone and misses the mark, Colfet seems to be trying to flirt by looking at her drawings (which are in high demand, and also, Lorana finds Captain Tanner nice to look at). After blithely assuming she could support his weight so he could have alone time with her. And her going along with it because she thinks it will help her standing with the boys. (Which is to say, Colfet has really tanked his possibilities, in my opinion, but my opinion doesn’t count.) It’s a nice example of workplace sexism and how sometimes women can’t say no to the situation they’ve been maneuvered into.

Thankfully, there’s no sexual assault, and Colfet is genuinely glad to have his broken bone set and bound properly. He also has some advice for Lorana: hop off after this stop, because Baror hates women and dragonriders in equal measure, so Lorana will be persona non grata.

“Baror doesn’t like women,” Colfet interrupted. “You know that.” He paused and leaned in closer to her. “He doesn’t like dragonmen much, either. And for the same reason.”
Lorana looked intrigued.
“His first wife ran off with a dragonman,” Colfet told her. “I can’t say as I’d blame her–he was never much to look at, and his idea of romance would bore a fish.”
Lorana made to comment, but Colfet held up his good hand to forestall her.
“I suppose he might have changed his mind,” Colfet went on, “if only his second wife hadn’t died in the Plague. He blamed the dragonriders for not helping soon enough.”
“Oh!”
Colfet nodded. “He found a third wife, but she hounds him unmercifully. I think that’s why he was so happy to go on this voyage. Still, he’s no reason to think kindly of women or dragonmen.”

I can’t tell of this is being played for empathy or comedy or just as a straight justification for misogyny. It could be any of them, and the context around isn’t helping any. If this is supposed to be “poor Baror, look at the suffering he’s gone through. The women in his life were unfaithful, dead, and a harridan, respectively” then the crack about how his idea of romance would bore a fish is out of place, because it’s a justification of why his wife would run off with the more sexually adventurous dragonrider. If it’s supposed to be “laugh at Baror, because the best he can hang on to is a shrew,” then the account of his second wife dying is out of place, because that evokes empathy.

This would read way better as “why Baror hates dragonriders and those associated with them” by keeping the first two wives and cutting off the third. That would even work for “hates women and dragonriders” with just those two, but then it’s “and now he’s married to a shrew, so he hates women because of her” and it’s out of place. At least one of these accounts is out of place for trying to find a throughline of making Baror a consistent character. He doesn’t have to be consistent, sure, but it helps.

And if he were consistent, it would be easier to find a thing to hang on to as “Pern is still a terrible place, even to men.” Because there’s a lot bad stereotype at work in Baror’s character and justifications. He’s ugly and unimaginative, so his wife ran off! He hates being cuckolded by dragonriders! And I want to know whether there were sex rays involved, and whether she had a choice to say no to the dragonrider that propositions her, assuming he did. And if she did, I want to know why she married him and whether being a lover of a dragonrider is a better station than a fishwife, so it was a mercenary decision as much of anything…yeah.

Wife number two dying and the dragonriders taking the blame makes sense, so there’s two reasons to hate dragonriders — Baror had his pedestal shattered again. Presumably, he loved her.

And what happened with wife number three? Like, there’s the very real possibility that he’s been taken advantage and is being abused, even if not physically, and he’s decided that it’s fine because he doesn’t deserve anything better, since better keeps getting stolen from him. And he’s stuck in a toxically masculine society that thinks it weak that he’s not the one doing the abusing and controlling, or thinks the solution is simply breaking the relationship and turning her out on her ear. (It’s hard if you love them, because love always believes you can work it out. And abusers are very good at making it seem like you even thinking about breaking it off is a terrible offense that means you don’t love them any more and you’re going to make them suffer because you’re a cruel and heartless person.)

It’s a complex character if you spend as much time thinking about things as I did. If not, it’s another woman-hating grunt with stereotypical reasons to do so. I suspect the latter was meant more than the former.

The ship docks at Half-Circle after several ships try to chase and overtake them for fun and fail. They pay mooring and watching fees (which seem to be highway robbery, based on Colfet’s reaction, but Tanner pays) and Lorana takes Colfet to the Hold Healer. The Healer looks over her work and says he’ll recommend Lorana to the Healer Hall if she wants to go, doubly so when Colfet talks up her drawing skills. The sailors and Lorana get food.

The perspective shifts to J’trel arriving at Half-Circle and having questions about the design of the place and whether that might make it vulnerable to Thread. He nearly gets run over at the Hold entrance by people hauling stones, insulted for being old, then blamed for the insulter, Genin, tipping their wheelbarrow when Talith gives the entire group an angry bugle for the slight.

Everyone around Genin tells him that it’s a terrible idea to provoke a dragonrider, but Genin is too provoked to stand down, and J’trel is determined to teach Genin a lesson.

It is a question of honor, J’trel said. Thread comes soon. Holders must respect dragonriders. Talith accepted the answer reluctantly, taking station and circling watchfully high above the crowd.

The fight itself is short and brutal. Since Genin knows he’s Shunned, no matter what the outcome is, he tries to grab J’trel to break his spine. J’trel gouges his eyes, kicks him in the groin, then in the chest, and that’s it. J’trel finds out where Lorana is while he’s still in a snit (and still very hurt from the fight) and goes over to say hello.

We do a quick shift to Baror, still grumbling about how it’s “not right” for a woman to be aboard a ship, which becomes a plot to…

“She’s a bit plain for my tastes,” Baror grumbled.
“She’d keep you warm at night,” Minet said suggestively. “Especially if you were the captain. She’d have no choice then.”
“My missus would skin me,” Baror grumbled. Minet knew that all too well. He was convinced that getting away from his wife was half the reason that Baror had agreed to this voyage.
“Your missus would skin you only if she found out,” Minet said, his eyes glinting. “As you said, it’s bad luck to have a woman aboard a ship. And accidents can happen.”

…rape Lorana while she’s out to sea with them by taking the captaincy from Tannner, and then also deal with J’trel, by causing “accidents” to anyone who would get in the way, then forcing Lorana with the captain’s authority.

Because we can’t let characters stew in complexity, or be ambiguous, or get hurt by their society and want to hurt others, or anything like that.

I do like the “petty” stakes for this, in the sense of “not trying to overthrow the social order,” not in the sense of “the rape of a woman is not important”. And yet, Baror could just be a greedy cuss, rather than having this plan spark off because dudes want to revenge-rape a woman. Not everything has to revolve around sexual assault.

J’trel sees Lorana, delivers some beaded harness gifts that proclaim Lorana to be an Animal Healer-in-training, to her “bzuh?” She learns from Grenn that J’trel was in a fight, and also that J’trel may have killed the man he fought. Before we can explore whether this is actually the case, Baror appears and plies J’trel with wine loud praise about his fighting ability, and quiet “commisseration” about Genin’s death until J’trel is too drunk to do much as Baror convinces Lorana to come with him because the ship is about to sail. Before she heads out, Lorana hears Talith cough and tells J’trel that it sounds worse than before. Baror leads Lorana so that she doesn’t see the crowd gathering around Tanner, who has been knocked at least unconscious by Baror.

Baror wondered if he had killed Tanner with the blow, but he didn’t really care.

Really? Baror has gone from husband at least nominally worried about consequences from his missus to a killer that doesn’t give a damn? That easily?

I don’t think the new author is any better at building believably evil characters than the old one was.

The end of the chapter is J’trel waking up from passing out from the drink, Talith’s breathing sounding strained, and both rider and dragon apparently agreeing that they are old, tired, and done with life, having discharged their duties to notify next of kin. J’trel tells Talith to give Lorana his love, assuming she will be able to carry on without them, and then the two take a one way trip to hyperspace together as the last action of the chapter.

I am entirely okay with assisted death decisions, but I usually like them to have been thought out and decided on with more than just a “we’re old, and it’s time, isn’t it?” because part of the reason for dragons and their riders bonding so tightly, as I understand it, is so that neither of them will ever have thoughts of disappearing like that while they’re bonded to each other. Even if we had a bit more about how Talith and J’trel have been thinking about what they’re going to do after they get done, and coming up blank, and maybe having had a discussion between themselves about whether the time was right, that would help this decision feel less like an author needed to get rid of a character and couldn’t figure out a good way of doing so.

And now, I sort of want to see how a rider-dragon partnership happens when the bond of the dragon isn’t enough to overcome depression or suicidal thoughts from happening, but it is enough to make those things less intense or less likely to be acted on, or otherwise sort of like being on meds that work for you.

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Dragonsblood: Making Things Worse

[Mari Ness’s post is about the differences between slow-acting, widespread, small, and sometimes invisible changes that might end up having great environmental impacts versus big flashy loud things that are visible but may not be the most effective at what they’re supposed to do. Which is at least tangentially related to what we are encountering now, where there are characters making decisions about which path to take to provide the most assistance to their descendants.]

Last time…well, we met our main characters last time, found out one of them has the special “talks to all dragons” ability and is a fair hand at both mending bones and drawing whatever she sees, and that the new author was conceiving of the idea that blue and green riders didn’t have to be exclusively gay any more before it showed up in the later works of the series we just finished.

Dragonsblood: Chapter 2: Content Notes: Abusive Parents

(Fort Hold, First Pass, year 42, AL 50)

Which establishes (and retcons the original timeline established in the First Fall-era books, if I remember correctly) that the colonists spent eight years on planet Pern before Threadfall made itself known and forced the abandonment of the Southern Continent. This is a good change, in that it gives the colonists time to deploy and get set up and get used to their way of life before having to make the drastic changes necessary to survive Thread.

Rather than a poem or song fragment, we get prose to start this First Pass chapter.

-ome (suffix): (i) the biological portion of an ecosystem. (ii) the material and genetic information required to re-create the biological portion of an ecosystem. Examples: the “terrome” refers to the biological portion of the Terran ecosystem; the “cetome” refers to the biological portion of the Cetus III ecosystem; the “eridanome” refers to the biological portion of the Eridani ecosystem.

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

One of the nice things about science fiction writing is that you get to make shit up, and so long as it sounds vaguely science-y, not that many readers are going to give you grief about it.

Which is to say that I can’t imagine linguistics going in this direction, even in the far future, because Terrans are much better at portmanteau than this, and I can’t see a phrasing derived from, say “biome” to suddenly take on a meaning that is only a small part of what the original was.

The chapter opens with Wind Blossom (daughter of Kitti Ping, fabled Eridani-trained dragon geneticist) being ejected from a dream, but with the important part still intact.

Even with the dream interrupted, as if against her will, Wind Blossom remembered her mother’s last words: “Always a disappointment you were to me. Now you hold the family honor. Fail not, Wind Blossom.”
Wind Blossom had had the same dreams for the last forty years.

Cocowhat by depizan

Do I even want to dive into figuring out which terribly executed, potentially racist stereotypes are at work here?

Actually, stick a pin in that, there’s more. First, the descriptions of the two of them, in comparison, which is essentially Kitti Ping saved everyone by creating dragons, Wind Blossom is “credited with–blamed for–the creation, through similar genetic manipulation, of the photophobic watch-whers.”

“Always a disappointment you were to me,” her mother’s calm, controlled voice came to Wind Blossom’s mind–a memory over forty years old.

And yet more hagiography of the early settlers and how Kitti Ping saved them all.

Wind Blossom stares herself in the mirror as she starts her morning routine.

Her hair was still dark–it would always be dark–as were her eyes. They stared impressively back at her as she examined her face. Her skin had the same yellowish tinge of her Asian ancestors; her eyes had the Asian almond shape.
Wind Blossom completed her inspection, noting once again that the muscles around her face, which had slackened thirty years before, pulled the corners of her lips downward.
Opening her dresser, she saw the yellow tunic at the bottom of her drawer and sighed imperceptibly as she had at the sight of it every day for the last twenty years. Once, an accident at the laundry had left one of her white tunics with a distinctly yellowish tinge. No one had remarked on it. When the day was over, Wind Blossom had carefully put the tunic away in her drawers. She had worn it again, years later–and no one had noticed. Now, as always, she carefully pulled out one of her scrupulously white tunics. From the lower drawer she pulled out a fresh pair of black pants.

Okay, I think that’s enough potentially-racist material for now. Let’s start again at the top, with what were apparently the last words of Kitti Ping to her daughter. Her sentence construction is more Yoda than anything, which is often deployed in a “the funny foreigner doesn’t have a solid grasp on English language and structure” kind of way. But also, there’s apparently no warmth or love between mother and daughter, for Kitti to have said all of this so dispassionately. That sounds suspiciously stereotypical for Asian parents on Terra. Then Wind Blossom describes herself as having a yellowish tinge to her skin, which is a sign of jaundice rather than ethnicity. Yellow skin was a racist caricature of Asians on Terra, and I doubt somehow that Wind Blossom would describe herself in such a way. The almond eyes also lean into stereotype, but those I might believe are descriptors.

And I really don’t know what to make of this yellow tunic story. Did nobody notice or care because she was the failure daughter of Kitti Ping? Because they thought an off-color mistake was perfect for the geneticist who created the mistakes called watch-whers? Because they thought that yellow suited her well, for fashionable reasons? For racist ones? And when she wore it again, nobody noticed the color change then, either, apparently. Same reasons? I don’t know what this is doing here in the story, because there aren’t any signs to point at or reasons why she held onto an “accident at the laundry” for twenty years so she could sigh at it every morning.

What I can see is that Kitti Ping gave her daughter severe mental trauma as she died, trauma that she is dealing with by herself (because again, there are no therapists on Pern and nobody ever comes up with the bright idea to reinvent them, despite the clear need for them every time we check in on Pern), and that, as we find out, she is passing on to her own daughter.

Wind Blossom spared one more moment to glare at her daughter. “Always a disappointment you were to me,” she muttered before she bent over the boy.

Because a terrible thing about abuse is that it tends to cycle and perpetuate itself on the next generation as well. (And also, if I recall correctly, Kitti Ping died slumped over at her workbench, having just created the dragon program, so if those were the last words between mother and daughter, they happened before Kitti died.)

The plot, such that it is, has someone calling Wind Blossom to come out because a child has been mauled by a watch-wher and needs stitches. Wind Blossom is first amused, then acidly annoyed, by the apparently new conception of calling her “my lady”, and then starts barking orders at the interns on what will need to happen, while she mentally complains that there isn’t any such thing as a true, sterile operating theater to work in, even though there are apparently still sterilized gowns for surgery, and that there isn’t any more supply of suture material, so surgery as medical practice is about to go out the window because technology is fading out without being replaced. Wind Blossom will say as much that learning about sutures is pointless because the technology to support that knowledge is fading, and I am wondering why, despite knowing that they wanted to degrade gracefully, the colonists seem to have not packed the necessary things to be able to create such things as sterile environments, sutures, and the like in their target technology level? Or had the knowledge of it spread widely through the populations?

The boy turns out to be a Tubberman (although his father disavows the name that caused so much trouble on Pern), and because of bloodline records, his father can tell Wind Blossom that the child is O positive. So Wind Blossom, after ordering the preparation of the room, and telling M’hall, Benden’s Weyrleader, that this is the last of the suture material, also orders blood transfusions to the boy before/while/after the surgery is going on, from the three people that can give – his father, Wind Blossom, and her daughter, Emorra. The interns are advising against a woman of Wind Blossom’s age giving a unit of blood, but she thinks it would be poetic if she died giving her blood to atone for her “mistake”, in the same way that she thought it poetic earlier for descendants of Kitti Ping to be helping the descendants of Ted Tubberman.

Wind Blossom passes out from giving the unit of blood, and we get another dream of hers where Kitti Ping is insistent that her designed creature, the one she received accolades for because it appeared to save Cetus III from radiation poisoning, was a visible symbiote and the unnoticed, unsung leechworms were really responsible for the salvation of Cetus III, because they ate (and therefore concentrated) things that had been irradiated by the Nathi in their attempt to wipe out all the humans on the planet. The designed creatures ate the leechworms, and were able to process the radiation. But we don’t get very far in the dream before Wind Blossom wakes up. (And is informed she was out for two days from the blood donation.) Purman (the Tubberman who denies his name) and Wind Blossom then have a conversation that M’Hall will eventually join in on, but we have a few things to note before we get there. First, Purman thinks Wind Blossom is being harsh with her daughter.

“Emorra did not leave your side until she collapsed into sleep herself. I had Carelly take her to her rooms.” His expression changed. “I think you treated her harshly. Was Kitti Ping like that?”
Wind Blossom examined his face before slowly nodding. “It is a great honor the Eridani bestowed on us.”

Wind Blossom, for her part, doesn’t try to deny it and acknowledges that her own mother was the same way, and we can see very clearly here a cycle that is being perpetuated on the next generation and yet nobody, save Purman here and now, seems interested in possibly trying to break that cycle. Purman doesn’t persist in his objections, even when Wind Blossom changes the subject by asking what happened to Purman’s son.

After Purman tells Wind Blossom how his son got mauled, M’hall and Emorra arrive. Wind Blossom tells them both to kill the watch-wher, because she thinks it still has an instinctive reaction that she tried to breed out of it. M’hall shrugs and says the watch-wher’s (Bendensk, which means that whers bonded to places apparently take the name of the place, instead of the name of their primary handler) already killed herself from lack of partner. Because her previous handler got Impressed to a dragon, and her attempt to bond with the young child meant he got mauled. Wind Blossom, upon hearing that the son will need to wake soon and not move his mouth, assigns Emorra to handle that issue.

“My lady!” M’hall protested, “Emorra is the administrator here. She should not be ordered about–”
“She is my daughter,” Wind Blossom replied, as if that were enough. Emorra bit off a bitter response, nodded curtly to her mother, and left.
“Mother or not–” M’hall’s indignation suffused his face

I think by now we can safely say that Wind Blossom lost whatever empathy points she may have picked up by having this version of Kitti Ping as her mother, because she’s doing it just as much to her daughter. Like, we can see it as the tragic continuation of a cycle of abuse all we like, but that doesn’t mean we have to like or excuse anything that Wind Blossom is doing with Emorra. And having that same nightmare every damn night seems like it might induce Wind Blossom to make some changes in her life so that she doesn’t turn out exactly like her mother to her own daughter, but that kind of self-awareness has apparently eluded her. (Which is all too realistic.)

Plot-wise, Wind Blossom sent Emorra out so she and M’hall could talk at Purman about the actual function of watch-whers, dragons, and grubs. At least at this point in time, the function of the grubs has not been lost to time, and it turns out that Purman bred a variation that works more closely with the wine vines at Benden so that they aren’t harmed by Threadfall. Which will become important when he actually says it, but for now, it’s a lecture about genetics and why you want to have multiple reasons for introducing a new species into an ecosystem. Watch-whers apparently are meant to fulfill several roles.

“In fact, the watch-whers were created to solve several problems,” she continued. “Dragons, by their nature, would associate with a select few people. But they must become part of the human ecology, if you will. They must not be feared.”
“So you bred the watch-whers as something that most people could see?” Purman sounded skeptical.
“And they’re uglier than dragons, too,” M’hall added. “If you were to try to tell someone who’d never seen a dragon what they were like, you’d say like a watch-wher but bigger and prettier.”
“So their first purpose is psychological?”
“It is not their first purpose,” Wind Blossom replied rather tartly.

The hell is this? There really isn’t any reason at all for the dragons not to be feared – they’re the protectors of the planet and keepers of the way of life. Sean and Sorka seemed to think a healthy fear of dragons and their riders would make things easier for everyone, especially in not having the dragons do mundane things and in making sure their tribute trains stayed uninterrupted. And if Wind Blossom wanted to make people more comfortable with dragons in their midst, she would have done better working with others to try and breed a domesticated fire-lizard. Humans, at least, like small and cute things that are useful to them. Watch-whers fit neither of these purposes, so it seems like, at least for this part, Wind Blossom is talking out her ass.

What follows, however, is something far better, and also makes me wonder if this were something that was strongly fought over or was supposed to be the plan all along, and the first author just never got around to saying so.

“I designed their eyes to be excellent in low-light situations,” Wind Blossom said, choosing her words carefully, “and particularly tuned to infrared wavelengths.”
[…and also that they’re empathic more than telepathic, and that she tried to make them harder-armored, but that didn’t take…]
“Why not incorporate these changes directly into the dragons?” [Purman asks.]
“Two different species are safer,” Wind Blossom said. “Greater diversity yields redundancy.”
Purman nodded but held up a hand as he grappled with his thoughts. Finally he looked up at the two of them. “The watch-whers fight Thread at night?”
“By themselves,” M’hall agreed, eyes gleaming in memory. “I’ve seen them once–they were magnificent. I learned a lot about fighting Thread that night.”
“They breathe fire?”
“No,” M’hall said. “They eat Thread, like the fire-lizards. They don’t need riders, either–the queens organize them all.”
[…The plot gos on to discuss things like “how do they fly?” (The same way dragons do, just with smaller wings to avoid getting Threadscored.) and “why don’t we see them more often?” (it’s usually too cold for Thread to survive when the watch-whers are active.)…]
A look of wonder crossed his face as he recalled the experience. “They swarmed in from everywhere, arranged themselves by their queens, and flew up to the Thread. I was above them at first, and they came up at me like stars coming out at night. And then they were above, swooping and diving for the still-viable clumps of Thread.”
“They see more in the infrared range,” Wind Blossom said. “They can differentiate between the live Thread and the Thread that has been frozen by the night atmosphere.”

Cocowhat by depizan

And yes, that’s why their eyes are terrible, and also, did you know that Wind Blossom thinks of the watch-whers as the second string in case the dragons and their riders die, too?

But we’ve finally established a purpose for the watch-whers other than “Wind Blossom’s failed attempts to recreate the dragons, which she was doomed to fail repeatedly because she was a perpetual and continual disappointment to her mother.”

I’m with Purman, who says in the middle of this new understanding, “Why keep this a secret?” Why, indeed? Wind Blossom’s response is “So that people can sleep at night without the fear of Threadfall while they sleep.” Which doesn’t make sense. I think more people would sleep better knowing that watch-whers were the night patrol during night Threadfalls. And also, not knowing this has basically permitted the wholesale persecution of watch-whers on the planet, instead of understanding their vital role of keeping the planet safe in conditions where dragons and their riders aren’t as effective. I realize that all of the Threadfall mentioned in the books up to this point happens in the daytime, but if it follows a regular pattern, at some point a Hold has to be sieged by Thread during the night. Which would be a problem for the dragons and the riders, but nobody wakes up to find their fields devastated. Now we know why — the watch-whers have presumably been protecting them during the night. But if Aleesa is right and watch-whers have been either turned away or hunted just about everywhere that doesn’t have another use for them, there aren’t enough watch-whers on the planet to eat a full Threadfall. (Unless they breed wild in several parts of the planet and the humans haven’t discovered this.)

Which is to say, all in all, this doesn’t make any sense at all. The night patrol purpose of the watch-whers should be common knowledge, and yes, while they’re ugly, they should be seen as a valuable corps of Thread-fighters. Trying to stitch this knowledge in with the books that we’ve already experienced, near and far, is an exercise in the sort of explanations that comic book continuity is famous for. Expect headaches.

Further patching things on to the world, Purman is able to infer from all of this, and his own experience in having to breed a better grub because a fungus started destroying his grape vines, that Wind Blossom and M’hall suspect that disease vectors that affect fire-lizards could affect watch-whers and dragons, and that since there’s been ample time for mutation, the genetic immunity given to dragons and watch-whers might not be enough against mutated strains. There’s our reason for Talith’s cough, and Wind Blossom, M’hall, and Purman’s worries close out Chapter Two.

That’s a lot of new territory for exploration opened up in a single chapter. I like the way that it redeems Wind Blossom from being unfavorably compared to her mother, because their purposes were different, but something like “watch-whers eat Thread at night” is the sort of thing that should be disseminated far and wide so that, like the grubs, people can always be on the lookout for them and to try and help establish breeding lines and spaces for them. With this new knowledge, Kindan shouldn’t have had any trouble at all finding a new watch-wher to come to the mines, instead of the convoluted plot with Aleesa, Zist, and the others. There doesn’t seem to be any real justification beyond the need to set up the current plot as to why vital information is being kept secret, and other pieces of information weren’t being translated to the desired technology level long before Thread accelerated the loss of that technology.

This is a good chapter for worldbuilding, but it really needed to be in with the previous set of books set at the colony era, and subsequent books needed to take this into account. That way we don’t have to fit it in to the pattern and stare at how poorly it grafts with everything else we’ve seen so far.

Next week, back to the “present,” where there will be more cursing.

Dragonsblood: Flying the Nest

Well, we’ve made it this far. There’s still six books to go that we know of before we reach the end of the line.

This book is solely the product of Todd McCaffrey, or so the blazon proclaims.

Dragonsblood, Introduction and Chapter One: Content Notes:

If we turn to the Introduction, written by his mother, though, after proclaiming that Todd had quite the pedigree of writers and that he’s also accomplished in his own right without having to rely on that pedigree, it mentions there were conflicts between them about the story and that she made him go through her regular beta readers to make sure the canon and the style started true. She feels he did the job admirably, and shows us “another point of view about Pern.” One, of course, that hews to what Anne thinks about Pern, because, well…

You see, I’ve always been paranoid about people writing in my world. If you’d seen some of the lovingly but inaccurately written stories I’ve seen, including a film script that had me cringing in fear that it would be produced, you’d understand how I feel about having my literary child misrepresented.

You don’t say. Much like another Anne who accused her fans of “interrogating the text from the wrong perspective”, it would be an understatement to say that Anne McCaffrey hated fanfic.

It’s taken us a while, but now we finally have a textual excuse for all that extratextual material I’ve been trying to avoid, and will continue to avoid where possible, as justifications for why Pern is the way it is. I still think it’s a mark of poor storytelling if people have to use your outside-the-text conversations and statements to make your text make sense and see where you’re coming from.

There were some authorized outlets where people could play characters on Pern without litigious threats, but those spaces had to obey her very tight rules about setting, sexual orientation, and many other things, to continue to exist, and her lawyers were not above sending cease and desist letters to teenagers that strayed from the path. Among other things. And while it looks like she’s mellowed out some by the time this introduction is written, you can still see the white-knuckle pearl-clutching at work, so much so that even her son had to follow the rules to be able to write in the world.

Based on this alone, I don’t expect things to be different with a new author at the helm, writing supposedly solo. Let’s begin.

Red Star at night:
Firestone dig,
Harness, rig
Dragons take flight.

(Fort Weyr, at the end of the Second Interval, After Landing, 507.)

Chronologically, we’ve moved forward in Pern time, rather than back, so we’ve jumped up past the flu that killed the humans. But we’re still feeling the effects of something, as the new Fort Weyrleader, K’lior, is concerned about not having enough dragons to fight Thread.

D’gan

is still Weyrleader at Telgar, despite everything we saw him do and all the reasons his Weyr could have invoked to have thrown him out by now. And while he has enough supplies, and full tithes, he’s not sharing with anyone. Well, he could share, but then C’rion suggests it’ll all be bronzes so that D’gan doesn’t have to compete as much on the next mating fight and that pisses D’gan off enough that he storms out. M’tal chides C’rion for antagonizing D’gan, and the two haggle a bit about getting personnel in the right place, where it turns out C’rion wants to shift J’trel over to Benden so as to help them with Search…and to get over the loss of his partner.

“But he’s not a scoundrel. And it’s no lie that his blue has an eye for good riders, especially the women.”
“Which is odd, considering his own preferences,” M’tal remarked.
“Well, you know blues,” C’rion agreed diffidently. As blue dragons mated with green dragons, and both were ridden by male riders, the riders themselves tended to be the sort who could accommodate the dragons’ amorous arrangements.
“And you want to get him away from Ista so he can forget about K’nad,” M’tal surmised. K’nad and J’trel had been partners for over twenty Turns.

And that leads into realizations of just how old both Weyrleaders are, too.

I have to note that this book was published before Dragon Harper by a couple years, so this idea of saying that blue and green riders are generally gay without insisting they are exclusively so was already on pace by the time we get to that book. New knowledge. I also wonder if this is one of the things that got fought over.

The fruit that turns out to be vital in saving everyone from the plague gets mentioned here in the future time, too, and J’trel specifically as the person who brings the fruit and knows where it is, which might have caused a recordscratch about how Kindan knows this, but it’s entirely possible I just wasn’t paying attention in the right spots rather than this being an instance where a character knows something they shouldn’t.

We shuffle over to who is likely to be our main character, Lorana, trying to sketch a bug with one hand and keep it pinned down with another. Which works until she has to wipe away sweat, and then the bug burrows away.

Lorana has two fire-lizards, Grenn (a brown) and Garth (a gold), and gets regular visits from J’trel. Who is late to picking her up, but she shows him her sketches of the “scatids,” pointing out a variation between the ones in the north and the ones in the south. J’trel times it ever so slightly to make sure Lorana gets in the ship she’s supposed to on time, but there’s something worrying about Talith.

As the blue dragon became airborne, he gave a soft cough.
Lorana looked at J’trel with her brows raised. “I don’t recall him coughing like that before.”
J’trel waved a hand. “He’s old. Sometimes a thick lungful of air makes a dragon cough. His lungs aren’t like they used to be.”
“Do dragons cough often?” Lorana asked, with natural curiosity–her father had been a beastmaster and had even tended people in emergencies, and she had learned much of his craft.
J’trel shrugged. “Dragons are very healthy. Sometimes they seem to get a bit of a bug, and sometimes a cough.” He made a throwaway gesture, saying, “It doesn’t last long.”
“What about the Plague?” Lorana asked with a faint shudder.
“The Plague affected people, not dragons, and the dragonriders were careful to keep safe.” J’trel’s face took on a clouded look. “Some say we were too careful.”

So dragons do get sick as well as injured. (I wonder if this was a thing that got fought about.) And it’s useful to have already traced the Plague all the way through to know what had happened then.

There’s a quick explanation of how they time-traveled to be sure Lorana could get where she needed to go on time, and how being in two places at the same time can be exhausting or irritating or both to dragon, rider, and any passengers along for the ride. And, because it might be the first time someone is looking at Pern, there’s an explanation of how paradox is avoided in the timeline: every time travel incident is a Stable Time Loop. Everything that will happen has already happened. Or as J’trel puts it:

“You can’t alter the past,” he told her. “As long as it never happened in the past, it never can happen in the past.”
“Why not?”
It cannot be done, Talith said. A dragon cannot go to a place that is not.
Lorana looked puzzled.
“I tried once,” J’trel said, shaking his head at some sad memory. “I couldn’t picture the destination in my mind.”
It is like trying to fly through rock, Talith added.
“I wanted to go back to when my mother was still alive,” J’trel said. “I wanted her to see that I’d Impressed, that I’d become a dragonrider. I thought I could make her happy.” He shook his head. “But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t see her and the place clearly enough in my mind to give Talith the image.”
You had not done it, so you could not, Talith explained with draconic logic.
Lorana shook her head, mystified. “Maybe if I think about it long enough, it’ll make sense,” she said[…]

That characterizes this like it’s a failure of imagination that’s keeping the dragonriders from ripping through time and doing things that aren’t in the predestined Stable Time Loop. And frankly, that’s weird, because portraits and drawings and tapestries are very clearly part of Pern, and available to a lot of people. If J’trel had a portrait reference of the right time period, even if it wasn’t the right place, he could presumably do the time warp and then fly to the right place to find his mother once he knew where in the past he had landed. If it’s really solely a problem of not having an appropriate picture, then it really isn’t a problem at all, given how in the very first book of the series, a four hundred year-old tapestry was sufficiently detailed that someone could use the picture on the tapestry as their reference point. (Presumably not the tapestry itself, although being able to picture it hanging in a place where Lessa knew it would be hanging might have also been good enough for some sort of temporal hop.)

There’s a possibility that envisioning something that you saw would cause you to telefrag your younger self by appearing in the same place, but Lessa already proved that didn’t happen, and dragonriders presumably get the same image from others when they are warping through hyperspace, but the dragons seem to be able to sort themselves and their riders out so that everyone isn’t trying to appear in the same space-time coordinate. So that’s not it, either.

So what is actually keeping the dragons in check, other than narrative fiat? And, as usual, what happens on the first go-round, when someone isn’t already back in time to right the wrong or otherwise create the timeline that will save someone from a particular issue?

Does anybody in SF ever really provide a good answer to these questions?

But we should keep an eye on that cough from Talith, as the narrative spins back to how J’trel and Lorana met.

It turns out that Lorana had kept her brown fire-lizard from taking a one-way trip to hyperspace after he suffered a serious wing fracture, and that has J’trel’s curiosity, given that the fire-lizards usually vanish themselves when injured that badly. He inspects Lorana’s work at setting and splinting, says there’s a good chance the fire-lizard will live, and offers to take Lorana and her fair down to the southern continent (although not named as such) to rest and recover. Halfway through the month it took to recover, J’trel is fascinated by Lorana’s drawing skill, she tells him about how the skill was developed and encouraged by her father after they held off a mob that was convinced they’d brought the Plague with them. In return, J’trel let’s on that he doesn’t feel like he belongs, either, because he’s old, he’s not the best fighter, and the partner he loved is dead. He didn’t have a plan after informing the family, but now he’s glad because he’s pretty sure he’s met a future Weyrwoman.

“I’ve never met a woman more fit to lead a Weyr.”
“Lead a Weyr?” Lorana repeated aghast. “Weyrwoman? Me? No, no–I–”
“You’ve more talent than I’ve ever seen,” J’trel told her. “Half the Istan riders of the past thirty Turns were searched by me and Talith.”
He smiled briefly in pride. “And you can talk to any dragon!” he exclaimed.
Lorana crinkled her forehead in confusion. “What makes you say that?” she asked. “I’ve only talked with Talith.”
“While it’s true that a dragon can talk to anyone he chooses, only riders bonded to a dragon can address one–and usually only their own. No rider can talk to another dragon unless he can hear all dragons. Do you know how few can do that?”
Lorana could only shake her head.
“Torene is the only one I can think of,” J’trel said. “And I don’t think she has your way with them. It’s more like you feel than talk to them.”
“You don’t?” Lorana asked in surprise. She looked out to Talith and smiled fondly at the blue. “I’m sorry, I–”
“Lass, when are you going to stop apologizing for your gifts?” J’trel interrupted her gently.

Oh, I don’t know, maybe when your society stops being a patriarchal hellscape. J’trel is a privileged man asking why a woman isn’t using her skills to the fullest. Has he noticed at all how women are treated outside of the Weyr? Has he paid any attention at all to how the Weyrwoman gets treated in the Weyr? I’ll bet he hasn’t, because nobody would want to risk the patriarchal wrath of misbehaving around dragonriders. Plus, although it’s in the future compared to here, Aramina showed us why that talent isn’t necessarily one to flaunt everywhere.

The narrative, however, prefers to say that this feeling of not feeling like you have a purpose in life a symptom of the “deep shock” that came from the utter destruction of the population during the plague and that Pern is suffering survivor’s guilt on a planet-wide basis. But no, Pern doesn’t need therapists, and is steadfastly refusing to reinvent them in the face of the multiple planet-wide disasters that ravage the planet regularly, both scheduled and unscheduled.

J’trel gives Lorana the possible purpose of drawing all the creatures in Pern, and they have a laugh about the recovered Grenn having a less successful first flight because it’s too fat to fly from all the eating and loungng it’s been doing while healing. At least it’s not being fatpohobic about a human. Which is a pretty low bar to clear.

Coming back to the present, there’s some gawking over the drawings that Lorana can produce versus a superstition that has no real business being on Pern about women in ships being bad luck for the sailors. The captain points out it’s supposed to be a short shakedown run and takes Lorana on as Healer to see whether or not this ship can deliver on the promise of being a ship that can run between holds in the intervals between Threadfalls during a Pass.

Which goes smoothly and the chapter ends with J’trel very certain that Lorana will end up as a Weyrwoman, perhaps Pern’s finest.

Nothing like expectations. And also the strong possibility that J’trel might interfere as much as possible to get the result he wants.

As a first chapter, it’s a little weird, honestly. There’s not a lot of foreshadowing, and I guess that Lorana’s ability to draw is going to be the gun on the mantelpiece, unless it’s her ability to talk to all the dragons.

Right now, the narrative seems a bit lost, like the characters claim to be. We got some useful attempts at worldbuilding, and we got to know how these characters met, but I don’t know that anything very specifically contributed to plot in this chapter.

Which makes me worry that the editoral immunity that the first author had got extended to the new one, because the first author was being a helicopter parent with regard to this book.

Well, maybe the plot will work better next week?

Dragon Harper: Actually Moving Forward

[Mari Ness defends Kylara in this week’s post, and does a solid job of showing all the ways that Kylara gets screwed over by the narrative and the society that she lives in. Both Kylara and Brekke can be tragic victims of the society and the narrative. They do not have to compete.]

Last time was a lot of disease porn and unnecessary deaths. And Kindan working miracles to keep people alive, which finally meets Lord Bemin’s standards of “good enough to date my daughter”, long after his daughter is dead.

Dragon Harper, Chapters 15 and 16: Content Notes: Jumping up and down on someone’s trauma triggers,

Rider, dragon, tried and true
All life’s hope now lives with you
Dragon, rider, work and toil
Save the earth, save the soil.

Chapter 15 opens with more advancing of the time-travel plot by having the wing that got drilled in recognition points dispatched to other Weyrs to act as guides to find the smaller holds in their lands and distribute supplies or note their deaths. M’tal is worried whether everyone will be fine, and C’rion points out that if something terrible happened in this mission, the people who are here now wouldn’t be here, because people who die in the past wouldn’t exist in the present. Everyone agrees that the Timey-Wimey Ball is still a bad idea to try and explain or understand, but they are concerned that they can’t strip fruit forever.

The narrative spins back to Kindan, who wants to study Lenner’s notes, and is told that he can have one of the rooms upstairs. Which turns out to be Koriana’s room, specifically chosen for him by Lord Bemin to work in.

And Kindan is apparently supposed to just get on with this work in the room of the girl he loved, with all of the reminders of her around, and the fact that she hasn’t been dead all that long?

“Inconsiderate asshole” is the least foul thing I can say about Bemin.

As Kindan works through the notes, he stays to cry (and say that’s a bad idea because it will run the ink), and falls asleep at the desk. Bemin finds him, gets him out of his dirty clothes and puts him to bed, where Kindan has dreams of Koriana, and also the cruelty of waking up to a world without her. Bemin talks frank logistics with Kindan about keeping the place alive by having enough hale bodies to actually do the work. Kindan takes it as a compliment (“treating me like a son”) and then sets to the task of bathing and clothing himself. And there’s another useful nugget of information that would have been much more useful to be put earlier in the story, or even to make something interesting out of it, or to provide context as to why Koriana was always at loggerheads with her parents.

“Bannor was much bigger than you, but Koriana liked to dress man-style whenever she could, so I thought you might fit in her clothes.”

He does. (“nearly a good fit on him.”)

And also, why wasn’t this talked about more? Koriana seemed perfectly okay with letting her opinions be known, and she spent significant time with the Harpers, and yet we didn’t hear anything about how she hated dresses. Or that she didn’t dress in dresses when she was around the Harpers, and they thought it a good idea because she was an active person. We don’t know why Koriana liked dressing man-style. Did she do it for greater freedom of movement? Because it would piss off Lady Sannora? Because Koriana really wanted to be one of the guys, since they got all the privileges and fun? Because we and the narrative have been misgendering Koriana the entire novel and nobody, save perhaps Kindan, would ever know? Why does Koriana like dressing masc? Alas, we won’t know, because this comes out only after Koriana is dead and can’t tell anyone.

The plot doesn’t spend any time on this, but gets back to Kindan going over Lenner’s notes and piecing together what the likely course of infection-to-symptoms-to-death (or recovery) is and how long each phase is likely to take, and after a short conversation with Kelsa and Verilan, Kindan asks Valla to go get J’trel for an in-person conference where Kindan can detail a plan to save people, at the risk of the dragonriders. What’s the plan?

That’s chapter 16.

Step by step
Moment by moment
We live through
Another day.

Which is essentially what Vaxoram told Kindan, and then Kindan took up as a rallying cry after Vaxoram ran out of days.

Kindan’s plan is solid – wait until everyone is sure there have been no new cases of flu, wait three weeks after that and then send in the dragons and their riders to help make the Holds run again. Thirty dragonriders and dragons together can do a lot of the work of other people. Only one Weyrleader actually hears the plan, M’tal, but because it’s a good one, every Hold gets help from the Weyrs surrounding. And there’s a lot of work to be done, cleaning out and clearing out and the reality of “Three large mounds outside the Healer Hall were covered with fresh earth, waiting for spring to cover them with green.”
The Harper Hall’s Headwoman, Selora, survived, which is a huge boon to standing the place back up. She’s the only one not a young apprentice that did, so recalls are out to the Harpers that survived to come back and take up teaching positions. As it turns out, based on seniority, Zist is to become the new Masterharper as the oldest surviving Harper.

Selora sends all of the outcasts to the Archives, and Kindan suggests Verilan lead the recovery efforts, based on his familiarity. Verilan takes it up with a vengeance and organizes several squadrons of apprentices to sort and refile, then start recopying damaged records as they are discovered.

Kindan gets pulled from the task by a single drum message: Report. Despite not actually saying who he wants, everyone in the Archives insists that Zist is calling for his apprentice from the mines, so Kindan needs to get there on the double.

They’re right, and Zist is annoyed that Kindan hasn’t got a full report ready for him yet, so that is what Kindan gets to do in front of Zist for several hours, write the whole affair down. Tears spring to his eyes as he writes about the last days of Vaxoram, and it turns out Zist has been reading the report as Kindan has produced each page.

He was surprised a moment later when behind him Master Zist snorted and exclaimed, “You’ve a long ways to go before you’re a Master, what do you mean making Vaxoram a journeyman?”
Kindan turned to respond hotly. “Vaxoram earned the right. For all I knew, I was the last Harper on Pern.” His voice cooled as tears filled his eyes once more. “It was all he wanted.”
” ‘Want’ is not all that makes a journeyman,” Zist replied acerbically. In a softer tone, he added, “But Journeyman Vaxoram had earned the right.” He gave Kindan a firm nod. “And so the Records will show.”

Zist then calls for the Songmaster to report, and asks Kindan who will show up. Kelsa, he replies, because she’s the best, and she does. Zist tells her to take Kindan’s report and her knowledge of the events of the plague and turn it into a song, to be premiered tonight, after giving her a little grief about whether she actually holds the title (and is told, although he already knows, that the Master is dead).

Zist calls for the Voicemaster and asks Kindan who will show up. Nonala, he says, because she’s the best. And she does. Zist tells her that she’s going to premiere the song that Kelsa is writing right now. She demands her choice of singers, after proving she the right person for the job by calling Kindan’s voice “passable at best,” even when he wasn’t suffering from puberty.

We find out that Dalor is in charge at Camp Natalon, because Natalon and his wife also died of the plague, as did everyone between seventeen and twenty-one. Nuella is fine, as are Zenor and Renna. And Jofri is being summoned back to be Zist’s second in command.

Zist calls one more time, for the Archivist, and Kindan tells him Verilan will show up.

“He should be been made journeyman long ago, but he’s too young.”
“Age is not my concern,” Zist replied. “Experience and maturity are what counts.”

Verilan shows up, proclaims the Archives will be restored by the evening, and is unperturbed at Zist giving him grief about being just an apprentice and claiming to be the Archivist. Zist charges Verilan and the scribes with copying out Kindan’s report for every hold, major and minor, and with copying Kelsa’s song, for similar distribution, and it all has to be done by dusk. Verilan nods and sets to it without a word.

After that’s done, Zist sends Kindan to the kitchen with a message that there’s a new song tonight. Which means Kindan ends up being sous chef for Selora, conveniently keeping him out of the way of everything while the others work. When he and the others finish, they are sent back to change, and there are new clothes in the right hue for all of them to change into. Everyone finds the clothing a little rough around the edges, especially with the apprentice rank marks just tacked on.

It’s not until the group arrives at the dining hall and sees a very large crowd of dignitaries that they start to suspect something is up and this is not the usual dinner. It turns out this is a promotion dinner. Kelsa is called first, promoted to Journeyman as Songmaster. Then, when all are seated, Nonala is called and promoted up as Voicemaster. Then Verilan, as Archivist, although he believes it should be Kindan at the table. Kindan reminds him that he’s lucky to be here at all, considering he’s still officially banished, since nobody has promulgated any sort of reversal of that ban, and then helps him get to his Journeyman table.

After the food, Zist rises again.

“It is the rule of the Harper Hall that a person cannot be promoted until they’ve eaten one meal in their present rank,” Zist said. There was a gasp from all the apprentices and journeymen as these words registered amongst them.
Jofri rose beside Zist and they walked over to the journeymen’s table.
“Journeyman Verilan,” Jofri said soberly, “please rise.”
“Me?” Verilan squeaked. “No, it should be Kindan.”
“Get up, Verilan,” Kelsa commanded him. “Get up, or we’ll lift you.”
Reluctantly Verilan rose.
[…only one other has done this feat, Murenny, and Verilan is the youngest Master on record, we are told. Then, it’s time for Nonala and choir to sing the song Kelsa composed from Kindan’s report. It’s called “Kindan’s Song.”…]
Step by step
Moment by moment
We live through
Another day.

Fever consumes us
Death surrounds us
Still we succeed through
Another day.

That’s at least what we get to hear of it, anyway, as Kindan is lost in the grief and memory of what happened. Until he realizes the song’s been done for a while, and there are people standing behind him. M’tal and Bemin escort Kindan, as “Step by step, moment by moment, Kindan walked the tables.”

So he gets his promotion after all. (As well he should after all of this. If the Harpers didn’t take him, I think the Healers would promote him based on field experience alone.)

And, for the less than a page epilogue, it’s mostly “M’tal made good on his promise to take Kindan as Weyr Harper for Benden.” And one last rhyme:

Harper in your garments blue
Sing a song of tales quite true
Harper with your drum so loud
You make us all feel quite proud.

Which is entirely a pack of lies, based just on this book, but even more so based on the other books in this series. And in other series, too. It’s supposed to be a moment of triumph, but it’s just one more lie.

There is, at the end, authors’ notes in case we didn’t believe that influenza can do all of the damage it did, talking about pandemics happening every three to five years, and explaining that during the flu outbreak in 1918 CE, the immune systems of eighteen to twenty-one year olds were so aggressive at combating the flu that they would attack the lungs of the person infected, causing a death by drowning. Which is why this particular flu on Pern strikes that same population so devastatingly.

I still have questions, though, about epidemiology and Pern and how they keep managing not to notice that clustering people together tends to have bad effects on the population’s health. Because Thread forces this. Or would, were it not for dragons, but there seems to be a tacit agreement that the dragons don’t protect everything. Given what Thread does where it burrows, though, it seems way more likely that the dragons really do protect everywhere where Thread comes in viably hot, because they don’t want to deal with the devastation afterward.

Or they keep forgetting things like vaccinations and they somehow manage not to transmit all the data they need to between generations, or if they do, nobody has actually indexed any of it so that when a pandemic breaks out, they can just consult and go “I need the Records of Lemos Hold, volume four, and the Masterhealer’s Treatment Manual for flu.” It makes for less dramatic storytelling, sure, but presumably, the Pernese have always had the history of Terra and the other worlds the colonists came from, and so this should not be new knowledge in any sort of way, even if the colonists wanted to jettison a lot of the knowledge they had accumulated in their own worlds. Epidemics like this result in lost lives, sure, but why do they also always seem to result in lost knowledge, too?

Also, now that we’re at the end, it seems like almost all of the chapter starts from this book, once we get past the hatching, are likely excerpts from the song Kelsa wrote for Kindan. Maybe they could be arranged in some sort of coherent order to get an idea of how it worked.

We’ve landed at a stopping point for this series, having followed the Harper’s path to this point. Next week, we’ll spin the clock back again and pick up the other strand of the narrative to come, this one involving dragonriders rather than miners and harpers. This is also a solely-Todd affair, so no more hiding behind the other author (if such a thing happened.)

Dragonsblood starts next week.

Dragon Harper: Disease Porn

Last time, plague came everywhere. Kindan was still trying to accomplish his goal of discovering causes and how to beat it, but everyone stood in his way, and in a conflict with Vaxoram about what was important to look for, Kindan ended up starting a fire that got him and Vaxoram banished from the Harper Hall by Resler, the archivist. Now at Fort Hold, Kindan and Vaxoram have become nurses to a hospital and likely infected themselves.

Dragon Harper: Chapters 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14: Content Notes: Unnecessary Character Deaths,

Here’s Chapter 11’s poem, for all the good it will do:

For fever, you take feverfew
For pains, take you fellis too
For vomiting, keep your stomach free
Fur flu, let your eating be.

After where we left off in Chapter 10, it’s disaster porn, essentially. Time stops having meaning, and everyone is working as much as they can, only stopping to rest when they absolutely have to. This goes on for a while, so here are the highlights:

  • Kindan, early on, figures out how to take a temperature of a person without touching them and risking exposure – using a moodstone and interpreting the colors. He sends the request to Benden to see if they can put something together that will let them touch moodstone to a person’s forehead.
  • Everyone in Bemin’s family gets sick. Everyone but Bemin and toddler Fiona dies. Yes, Koriana gets killed from the plague, because otherwise it wouldn’t be tragic enough. A mass grave is dug in the ancestor garden of Fort Hold to hold all the bodies.

  • All the Masters of the Harper Hall die. So does Master Lenner.

    Kelsa invents the double question mark as a drum code rhythm asking for more information.

  • Kindan gets sick. Lord Bemin nurses him back from the worst of it, but he’s down for three days. Kilti dies in those days, leaving Kindan basically in charge of the healing effort. After these deaths, Kindan hits upon the idea of using a mask to cover the faces of infected and carers alike so as to stop the spread of the disease any more than it already is. (Based on a parachute design and a fever dream where said parachute covered the correct places.)
  • Vaxoram gets sick. He won’t recover. We learn shortly before he dies that Nonala is the one he was in love with (damn it, stop queerbaiting, Pern, although Bury Your Gays is not any better) and Kindan engineers a ceremony of sorts where Vaxoram walks a table to become a journeyman, with Bemin swearing that Kindan’s a Master to get him to do it.

Chapter 12:

Harper mourn,
Holder cry,
Every turn,
Till tears run dry.

  • The masks arrive to try and put an end to the disease cycle. There a short discussion of who was most susceptible, and a two-pronged plan to clear out the dead and concentrate the living in the hospital goes into effect. Kindan gets a boost of encouragement (and gets called a healer) from Fiona’s apparent recovery, and a large bout of thanks from women running the kitchen for his effective work at keeping up hope and at treating the sick.
  • After Koriana dies (and Bemin keeps Kindan from committing his own death by kissing her goodbye), he realizes that he can have dragons and their riders airdrop more than just moodpaste and masks, but they can actually drop in useful supplies of food to feed the sick, now that everyone’s stores are basically out.

Chapter 13:

Healer with your craft so sure,
Sickness we can all endure,
Use your skill and healing notions,
To save us with your salves and potions.

Chapter 13 starts with Kelsa having to take porridge from Conar. It tastes terrible, but it’s the only thing not moldy that he could find, and the two of them are doing their best to keep each other healthy and recovered. Kindan’s message rolls in off his drums to tell J’trel to get fresh fruit from south of Ista. J’trel relays that to J’lantir, and the time travel plot relayed at the beginning of the book finally comes full-circle, as the dragonriders harvest fruits from the South to them airdrop over Holds and keep the survivors alive, while carefully keeping that knowledge compartmentalized so as not to cause a time paradox where someone knows something they shouldn’t at the wrong time. Despite a significantly tight window for all the requisite time travel, fellis leaves and fruits drop in right on schedule, giving hope and sustenance to everyone at Fort.

Chapter 14 picks up immediately after the drops.

What is this I see
I cannot believe my eyes
Fresh fruit and new hope
Floating in the skies.

Kindan, now Healer Kindan to everyone around, says he needs to mount an expedition to the Harper Hall and check on everyone there. We learn a little more solidly about the flu symptoms (people seem to be coughing their lungs out, and it hit the most healthy people harder because of that. Is that a sign of tuberculosis there?) before he sets out. Bemin tries hard to talk Kindan out of going, saying that the progress that’s been made so far is all his credit.

“If we survive here, at this Hold and the Hall, it will be only because of you,” Bemin said. He glanced down, seeing the top of Kindan’s head. “Survive and you can have anything you ask for.”
Surprised, Kindan looked up at the Lord Holder. “You know what I wanted most on Pern.”
A ghost of a smile crossed Bemin’s lips. “No man would have been prouder than I to have you call him ‘Father.’ “

That’s what you say now, after Kindan’s love already died, after you’ve lost your family, and after Kindan has done more than anyone should have to with keeping your Hold alive. You damn well better lie to him about how proud you always have been of him, because you need him. If this hadn’t happened, you would never have given Kindan the time of day, much less your assent to Koriana partnering with him. Kindan calls him on this right before they see the entryway to the Harper Hall.

“We’ll send in a party as soon as we can,” Bemin promised.
“No, we’ll do it, our duty as harpers,” Kindan replied.
“No, as Lord Holder, I am telling you that Fort will do it,” Bemin told him forcefully. In a softer voice he added, “It’s my choice and our honor.”
“I thought you didn’t trust harpers,” Kindan snapped back before he thought about what he was saying. He instantly regretted it but Bemin laughed and waved it aside.
“You’re right: I didn’t trust harpers,” Bemin agreed. He nodded down to Kindan. “But now that you’ve produced fruit from the sky, I’ve had to revise my thinking.”

So all it took was a fucking miracle, and suddenly you’re on board, Bemin? Well, a miracle, Koriana dying, the rest of his family, save a young daughter dying, and seeing a lot of people dying without his leave to do so. It’s pretty clear where your standards are for Kindan.

The last part of this chapter is Kindan finding Druri, J’trel, Kelsa, Verilan, and Nonala alive and bundling them all off to the Weyr. Conar didn’t make it. Kindan also grabs Lenner’s notes, which were entrusted to Verilan, and might have some significance in making the plague lessen. And also, Kindan delivers the bad news.

He heard a noise from Nonala’s bed and saw her looking at him entreatingly. He turned to her and grabbed her hand.
‘It’s all right, help’s here,” he told her.
Her lips were dry and her throat parched. She beckoned him close enough to whisper, “Vaxoram?”
“Journeyman Vaxoram didn’t make it,” Kindan told her with a shake of his head, tears filling his eyes.
Nonala closed her eyes and turned away. Then she turned back and opened them again. “Journeyman?”
“He walked the tables,” Kindan told her. Her eyes widened. “He said that maybe then he’d be worthy. He said he loved you.”
Nonala moaned and turned away again.

And it seems entirely crass of me to point this out at this particular time, but this is a textbook case of telling without showing. Unless we’re supposed to believe Kindan is so wrapped up in himself that he didn’t notice the affection between the two of them, but also the whole duel sparked off because Vaxoram was making a rude joke about Kindan and Nonala. And we haven’t had any further anything about a developing relationship at all, because the narrative has prioritized everything else but showing us this until after Vaxoram was guaranteed to die. It’s terrible.

But that’s also the end of the chapter, so we can stop here and pick up next week.

Dragon Harper: Research Mode

[Mari Ness’s new post is about fire-lizards. And a small (very small) bit about the situation at Southern, the attitudes of the time-shifted, and the kink-shaming of Kylara. Mostly, though, it’s fire-lizards.]

Last time, Kindan found a strong indication that plague had struck the planet in fairly recent history, and when trying to explain this to the Master Archivist, Kindan got dismissed and belittled at every turn, and everyone else seems to think this is somehow Kindan’s fault. Kind of like how 20th-21st century Terra blames the lack of women professionals at high levels (or at all) on the women themselves for not presenting themselves appropriately for the pleasure of men, insisting they get credit for their ideas, rather than allowing them to be stolen by the men around them, and then blames them for letting themselves be erased rather than face such a hostile work environment.

Nobody is giving Kindan useful advice on his crush on Koriana. Murenny is livid that the two of them slept in the same bed without their clothes on, but without having sex, and has basically insisted their relationship is done because of this and that Vaxoram, should he want to, could re-challenge Kindan to her fuel because of Kindan’s behavior. Lord Bemin concurs, but he wasn’t exactly sanguine about the idea in the first place. This is so in a place where being too close to a dragon, or dragon kin, can cause uncontrollable lust. (Yet, this persistence about virginal women. Like, there’s some serious hand-wave going on, such that our characters only find themselves hit by the whammy when the plot needs it or everyone involved is consenting. But you saw that in greater detail and profanity last week.)

Dragon Harper, Chapters 8, 9, and 10: Content Notes: Gross Incompetence, Student Abuse

Harper, to your word be true
Holder, crafter[,] you also hew
To honesty, integrity, and respect
All others without regard to intellect.

I swear, the authors are trolling their audience, especially the long-reading ones. Do we not have multiple examples of lies, misdirections, falsehoods, and tricks bring played by Harpers (and others) being classified as good by the narrative because Our Heroes did it? Seriously.

This chapter starts with the arrival at Benden, and M’tal, after showing Koriana the records room, lights into Kindan about his behavior as soon as they are out of her hearing as they gather supplies. Vaxoram defends Kindan as having done nothing wrong (again) to M’tal, adding that Kindan and Koriana were never out of his sight. This would have been useful to say in front of Bemin, except that “Forsworn, [he] could not provide witness to Lord Bemin.” Which makes sense in one way (your servant is going to cover for you, because their life/job depends on it), but also points out there was an apprentice dormitory full of potential witnesses as well. Including Kelsa and Nonala, who would have been pretty alert to strange things happening near them, given their stated interest in Kindan. But anyway, the first day of research is fruitless, and the Weyrwoman (Salina) pops up to send them to bed right after Koriana nods off for a bit at the end. And also indicates it’s far too late at night for the formalities.

Day two dawns with use of “the necessary” and showers, and a short but non-illuminative conversation between Kindan and Vaxoram ostensibly about Koriana.

“I thought you loved her,” Vaxoram repeated [for the third time in three paragraphs].
“I do,” Kindan said, his heart fluttering. He regarded Vaxoram shrewdly and slowed almost to a stop. “So why did you do it?” [second repetition]
Vaxoram stifled an abrupt response, his face taking on a suffused look.
“Is there somebody you love?” Kindan asked softly, comprehension slowly dawning. “Is that why you did it?”
“That’s not why I did it,” Vaxoram said tensely.
“But there is someone,” Kindan said. He realized that would explain much of Vaxoram’s behavior: He was trying to impress someone.
“It doesn’t matter,” Vaxoram snapped, abruptly stepping forward. “I’m as good as Shunned.”

And the conversation turns to remedies for Vaxoram’s illiteracy.

I’m flabbergasted at the idea that apprentices who wash out end up Shunned, and while Vaxoram is probably exaggerating, I don’t know to what degree, given the strong emphasis on “everyone must work.”

But also, here’s this hint that Vaxoram is interested in someone. If it’s another apprentice, then we’ve hit the trope of “he pulls your hair because he likes you, be proud of the attention,” and that trope can die in a fire with no way of resurrection.

And also, it’s possible that the person Vaxoram is interested in is another apprentice not named Kelsa or Nonala. Maybe Kindan, and that’s the real reason why Vaxoram has been so at ease with his servitude? I would enjoy that outcome, even if it means a terrible trope.

In any case, the three make no headway until they discover a characteristic gap, and the realization that the last plague like this killed a generation, and they were lucky that Thread wasn’t imminent. Kindan and the others realize every Weyr needs to sit this one out, because if they bite it, then there’s no Thread defense. So the boys rush to the drum tower and rattle off a four-alarm emergency message. Only to be told that’s not the communication method that will work, because there’s been no drum relay for weeks. Dragons, on the other hand, are fine, and the message gets relayed that way, and everybody shifts to quarantine protocol immediately to try and reduce the likelihood of spreading the flu and endangering more dragonriders.

That ends Chapter 8.

With yellow and black over hall and hold
Perils and pains do then unfold
Harper, crafter, holder pray
That you may live another day.

Pray to whom, exactly, on this nominally areligious world? On what supernatural being’s mercy do you throw yourself? (The dragons, of course. They’re the only ones not mentioned.)

Chapter 9 begins with the terrible realization that quarantine is in effect at Fort and the Harper Hall. After a short conversation with J’trel and Murenny-by-drum, M’tal takes Koriana home and Resler (who is in charge by dint of all the more senior Harpers being dead or disabled) sends the other apprentices to the Healers to help. After checking on other named cast members (and the implication that it is, in fact, either Kelsa or Nonala that Vaxoram is interested in) Masterhealer Lenner sends the two to the Archives to do more research. Vaxoram is reluctant, but Kindan presses on. And apparently is pissing off everyone right and left by giving orders to get people to do things, even to M’tal, without thinking about the niceties. When, in this situation, it’s pretty clear that people need a leader to get them doing what is necessary for a shot at survival. Kindan may be a brash kid, but he’s saying and doing and getting people to move. They can bitch about hurt feelings afterward, if they survive.

So Kindan tells Vaxoram to get light, any light, so they can continue researching, and Vaxoram returns with a torch.

You know how this ends. The two of them get in a disagreement about what records are important, the torch gets dropped and a large part of the Archives goes up in flame before the bucket brigade can put it out. The thing that sparked the conflagration? A strange rhyme claiming to lead to a stash of Healer knowledge, offering a cryptic hint to where a thing was and what the password is, and it mentions a Healer lass – something Kindan has never heard of.

The fire is out, and Chapter 9 ends.

Dark rewards
Do dark deeds pay;
Harsh words
Do harsh wounds flay.

Which is very interesting to set as the backdrop for Kindan being thrown out of the Harper Hall by Resler for this latest problem.

Kindan didn’t pause as he cleared the archways of the Harper Hall. He didn’t glance back. He didn’t cry, although that took an extreme effort of will.
Gone. All his dreams were gone.
Banished. “And never come back!” Resler had shouted, still hoarse with rage.
Doomed. “You’re to go to the Hold, help as you may,” Resler had said, pointing toward the Harper Hall’s arching entrance.
“But Master Lenner–”
“Doesn’t need your sort of help,” Resler replied. He shook his head furiously. “For almost five hundred Turns we’ve preserved the Records and in ten minutes you’ve destroyed a quarter of them. Never in the history of Pern has there been greater treachery.”

Providing the contrasting opinion is Vaxoram.

“You’ve got to keep going,” Vaxoram said quietly, nudging Kindan in the shoulders. Kindan turned back angrily, but Vaxoram ignored his look, nodding toward the ramp up to Fort Hold. “Keep going.”
“How?” Kindan asked in misery.
“One foot after the other, one day after the next,” the older apprentice replied. “It will get better.”
Kindan stopped, turning to face Vaxoram bitterly, demanding, “How do you know?”
“Because you taught me.” The answer was so simple, so sincere, that Kindan could not doubt it. Vaxoram bent his head and added, “That fire was my fault, not yours.”
“I could have stopped you,” Kindan said.
“Then it was our fault,” Vaxoram replied. He nudged Kindan gently, turning him toward Fort Hold. “And that’s our destiny.”
“To die in Fort Hold?”
“Maybe,” Vaxoram answered. “But at least your girlfriend’s there.”
Kindan said nothing, he could could think of no response. But, unconsciously, he picked up his pace. Behind him, Vaxoram’s face lit with a brief smile.

Another shared intimate moment. Also, Resler is staggeringly incompetent, but we already knew that.

The two get in and are immediately thrust into helping the makeshift hospital run, including corpse disposal, sheet changing, and all the rest. The Healer, Kilti, calls Resler an idiot before putting the two newcomers to work. And it’s pretty clear everyone is going to get infected.

And then Kilti does something that I have yet to see: he apologizes after striking Kindan over his mistake.

“So are they still looking in the Records?”
“No,” Kindan confessed.
“They’ve stopped?” Kilti barked in surprise. “They can’t! That’s our only hope.”
“There was a fire,” Kindan told him with a sinking feeling in his gut.
“A fire?” Kilti repeated, aghast. “The Records, how are they?”
“We lost as much as a quarter, no less than a tenth,” Kindan told him.
“A quarter?” Kilti gasped. “What happened? Who started it?”
“I did,” Kindan said.
Without warning, the healer took two quick steps and slapped Kindan hard across the face. “Do you know how many you’ve killed?” Kilti roared at him.
“It was not his fault,” Vaxoram called from his position nearby. “I started the fire.”
“So they sent you here,” Bemin said sourly.
Kilti started to say something more in his anger, his be still poised for another blow, but then he shook himself and lowered his hand. “I’m sorry,” he said. “That was uncalled for.”
“I don’t think so,” Kindan said. “Millions will die because of me.”
“Millions will die,” Kilti agreed. “But you don’t own all the blame by yourself.” He shook his head. “I shouldn’t have hit you, it was wrong.”
“I deserved it.”
“No,” Kilti said with a sigh. “No, you didn’t. You made a mistake, right?” Kindan nodded. “Mistakes shouldn’t be punished, shouldn’t be condemned.”
“But there’s nothing I can do that will make up for it,” Kindan protested.
“Yes there is,” Kilti corrected him. “You can live.” He gestured to the listless holders in their cots. “You can live and save them.”

Kindan needed to learn under Kilti. Instead of the Masters who have been essentially punishing him for making mistakes this entire time. And I think this is the first time I’ve seen an adult apologize for striking someone, especially a child, in all of these works to this point. That’s a long time to acknowledge that perhaps beatings aren’t the best way to discipline and instruct.

I’m going to stop at this point, because we’re about to get into the section that is the actual healing bit, and I would like to swear appropriately, rather than as an afterthought at the end of an already long post. Maybe there should have been some stronger reaction for Resler giving Kindan the boot but nobody getting rid of Vaxoram, but it’s entirely in-character for him and I guess I just can’t muster anything other than a dull “of course” about the torch and the entirely preventable fire and how it’s yet again Kindan trying to exercise independence and control of his own life and everyone else, including the narrative, pushing back hard and punishing him for it.

Dragon Harper: Conclusion-Hopping

Last time, Kindan got flung into the Archives to find everything he could about outbreaks of flu, because one is definitely happening elsewhere. The Masters also tried to dissuade him from his pubescent crush on a Lady Holder-to-be, by pointing out that he’s essentially a kid from the wrong side of the tracks and it would never work. Which is true, but not what Kindan wants to hear, and he successfully parlays that into showing up where the shortcomings of Murenny’s “respect the women” argument is coming from.

And also, by some sort of magic, Kindan seems to believe that Vaxoram suffers from dyslexia and that might be some reason why Vaxoram is turning out the way he is.

Dragon Harper, Chapter 7: Content Notes: Corporal Punishment, textbook application of the Peter Principle, The Harper Hall Remains A Trash Fire

When sickness comes to craft and hold,
It is the healer, oh so bold
Who spends his hours in endless toil,
Working for illness and death to foil.

This could have been worded better, because the way it is right now, it sounds like the Healer spends all his time only for death and illness to frustrate him at any turn. I’m pretty sure that’s not what the writer of the poem had in mind for the heroic Healers, but in every Pern book I’ve seen so far with a mass outbreak of illness, the death toll is usually high and the Healers pull through it with a miracle of some sort. (Often found in the Records so they can re-learn a technique.)

The chapter opens up with Kindan, Conar, and Vaxoram in the archives. Conar is lamenting their needle-in-haystack quest, but Kindan and Vaxoram point out Resler, the Archivist, is always fast to beat anyone he thinks is slacking. Kindan’s diagnosis of Vaxoram continues:

Kindan noticed that once again, Vaxoram’s eyes hadn’t moved from the top of the Record. He made it a point every day to surreptitiously check on the older apprentice’s work, not having figured out yet what to do with his knowledge of Vaxoram’s problem. But that was for later, Kindan reminded himself.

Like, I realize that “not ruining someone’s honor” is a thing that Kindan has as a trait, but in this particular case, that means that he’s down a pair of eyes that could be scanning the Records. There’s got to be something else that Vaxoram can do that will be beneficial to the group other than staring at a singular Record and not making progress. And if Conar’s heart isn’t in it, that means that Kindan’s down to himself as someone who can actually do the work of looking through the records.

Why isn’t Verilan helping? Because Resler has him recopying the Record copies that Kindan nuked in the last chapter. That seems like an excellent job for Conar to do, with the artistic skills that he has. We know the Records aren’t going to be illuminated, or anything like that, but an artist’s hand needs the practice at lettering. Verilan helped set up the books, and gave Kindan general advice about hopping through time at big jumps first to see anything that looks like it might be ineresting, and then narrowing the focus once a good candidate is found. Verilan will make an excellent archivist. He should be helping here, especially when there are lives potentially at stake. Because part of the job is being able to find the stuff that you’re keeping records of. Kind of makes me wonder whether there are index volumes anywhere that could be of help in narrowing the search down. But that would mean reading and synthesizing rather than desperately just trying to preserve with recopying. More apprentices would be needed for that.

The way that Verilan makes it sound, the Harper Hall keeps copies of the records of the Holds, either by making copies and sending them on, or inheriting any records from the Holds that are older than fifty Turns, when the Holders send them on instead of destroying them. Conar (he of the Holdbred) doesn’t understand why they wouldn’t destroy them.

Cocowhat by depizan

I realize that the minutiae of the proceedings of the Holds is going to be dry reading (and Kindan notes almost immediately that it is exactly that), but for a world that relies so much on tradition and on what’s been decided in meetings and proceedings, and on proclamations, those Records should be sacrosanct, rather than destroyed. They’d have things like land deeds, craft contracts, business arrangements, harvest yields, tax revenues — basically everything that the officers of the Hold would need to conduct their business and investigate if anyone were not providing their promised amounts or attempting to change the terms of a contract without renegotiation. There’s going to be good and bad in it, and Kindan sees both.

The Records were a collection of the most boring things he’d ever read coupled with tantalizing sections that made Kindan wish for more. Why, for example, when the Lord Holder of Igen had first discovered his wells were running dry, hadn’t he started planting hardier, more drought-resistant crops instead of foolishly reducing his acreage and ultimately starving his entire Hold? What had happened that caused the traders to start charging Bitra Hold–and only Bitra Hold–a surtax on all goods delievered?

If it’s from the Hall Domaize days, it’s because Bitra was always trying to short them and be a pain in their ass, so they pay the “Bitra sucks tax.” And because the Lord Holder of Igen has no reason to look out for anyone but himself and his immediate family and vassals, so why would he assume it’s a drought when it’s probable he can feed the people he really cares about with less acreage? But these are things that should be routinely popping up in the copying and recopying and get sent out for information and investigation. Harpers are supposed to know stuff, and these things are important, so why aren’t questions regularly popping out of the Archives that need answers?

And as if to answer the question, the next section has Conar discover a discrepancy of Record – terrible handwriting and scribbling in his records at a certain Turn. Kindan verifies the bad handwriting and turns up a further discrepancy – a Lord Holder writing the records instead of the Harper and a nearly full-Turn gap in any Record at all. (We’re going to whistle and pretend not to notice that the Records are marked in years After Landing, like this series is, rather than in the “Pass” choronology that will dominate the later eons and not ask where the switchover happened between the one and the other, because it’s likely to cause headaches. Not that it’s impossible, because most of the world is not on a Julian calendar any more, but that it’s a major thing to have happen.) The same discrepancy happens in the Bitra records, and then in the Lemos records as well – a Turn that has basically vanished, and different people (or people with a markedly different hand) picking it up on the other end. The Harper for Lemos has a rather dire summary of what happened.

“I write this with great regret: We are a sadly reduced Hold,” read the first line. “Fields lie fallow, huts are still empty, or, worse, home to carrion that feed on unburied bones.”

Kindan’s found something important, and at this moment, Resler comes barreling in, and he has nothing but contempt for this discovery.

“I think I’ve found the plague,” Kindan said, his voice sounding loud and irreverent to his ears. He gestured to the Records. “I think I know when it started and maybe where.”
“You were supposed to be reading the Benden Records,” Master Resler repeated angrily, advancing into the Archive Room, grabbing Kindan by the ear and lifting him out of his seat. “Can’t you just do what you’re told?”
“Sorry, Master,” Kindan apologized, ducking out of Resler’s grasp and turning to face him, “but I thought I was told to find any Records of a plague.”
“In the Benden Records!” Resler growled in response, gesticulating wildly to the stack beside Conar.
“I found it there, too,” Kindan said. He gestured over to the Bitra Records. “And in Bitra, too, but the Lemos records seem the best so far.” He turned and snagged the Record from the table. “Listen to this: ‘Fields lie fallow, huts are still empty–‘ ”
“That’s the Record of a plauge?” Resler snorted angrily. “A proper Record would have dates, and times, and–”
“I don’t think they had the time,” Kindan interrupted as politely as he could. He gestured to the Record in his hand. “I think they were so shorthanded afterward that they could only press on with their lives.”
“That’s not the way of a harper!” Resler exclaimed. He glanced down angrily at Kindan. “Have you learned nothing since you left your mine?”
Kindan could feel his cheeks burning. “The Records of Benden were kept by the Lord Holder after the plague,” he said. “I think that shows that the times were such that–”
“Lord Holders don’t keep Records!” Resler chided prissily, his jaw jutting and his eye glaring.
“The Record was marked–”
“Such impudence!” Resler roared. “Go! Get out of my sight!”

Right. So the reason that nothing interesting comes out of the Archives is because the Master Archivist can’t see a well-reasoned argument based on sound archival methodology when he has it explained to him. Any actual archivist would be very curious to see why Kindan is coming to his conclusions, and what supporting evidence he has to back this up. He’s found the same pattern in three different Holds’ records at this point, which should be more than enough for Resler to give Kindan enough leash to see where his conclusion goes. But no, Resler is somehow uninterested in this charge because Kindan didn’t figure this all out magically by staying in his lane and reporting it out somehow. Or some other faux pas that I can’t actually see. I suppose it could be sloppy application of a Cassandra Truth trope, in the form of “the kid knows it exactly but the adults don’t believe him because he’s a kid and couldn’t possibly know better,” except that’s not what this is, either. This is Resler explicitly discounting Kindan’s conclusions because he looked at other people’s stacks for corroboration. There’s not much more I can say about this other than what the fuck? (And also, get annoyed at the authors for besmirching a close cousin of my current profession like this.)

Conar offers unhelpful advice to Kindan after the lot are dismissed.

“You aren’t much of a harper, you know,” he said as he fell into step with Kindan. “You’d think you’d know how to handle a Master by now.” He cocked his head at the silent boy. “However do you think you’ll manage a Lord Holder?”
“Maybe I won’t,” Kindan replied sourly, brushing past Conar and racing to catch up with Verilan, whom he spied at the entrance to the Dining Hall.

With you there, Kindan. And still not entirely sure what social norm or rule Kindan has broken. Was he supposed to present the discovery as his team’s work? (He could spin it that way as Conar starting the chain of thought…) Was he supposed to show it as something interesting and let the Master take credit for it? (Fuck that. The Masters have already been willing to let Kindan or Vaxoram die if the other willed it to be.) Resler doesn’t deserve any of Kindan’s credit for the idea and discovery of something. If Kindan needed, say, access to more Records and the way to get to those was to butter Resler up into thinking he was a great guy, then I could see where this advice might be practical, even if it rubbed Kindan entirely the wrong way on the merits. We encounter all sorts of people who hold power who have to be flattered and have their egoes massaged to get things done, yes, but Resler hasn’t been portrayed as that up to this point. He’s been mostly portrayed as a fussy librarian stereotype rather than an egomaniac.

And, of course, Kindan is still likely right on the facts, and that should take precedence, always, even though we know that in the real world it does not, and people who have the facts are often silenced or otherwise harmed because the facts they have are inconvenient, or because someone with power wants those facts disappeared.

As it is, Murenny asks to see Kindan and requests a report on his progress after a drum message booms through indicating the plague is spreading. While Murenny only asked for Kindan, Vaxoram, Koriana, and Conar work their way in with Kindan by refusing to leave. To his credit, Murenny says he’s not concerned with Resler’s feelings about how the Records are being handled, even as he cautions the assembled about actually mishandling them in some way. Kindan says he wants a look at Benden Weyr’s Records, but those records are at Benden Weyr, so Murenny suggests having Kindan send Valla with a message containing his request to M’tal.

Valla poofs off to do so, having been training at least in some way to pass messages between himself and Koriana before this (Kindan is still infatuated with Koriana at this point), and the crew heads back to the Archive Room, with Koriana positioned in such a way that she can “read over Vaxoram’s shoulder” and thus not undeniably tip him off that they know he has lexical difficulties.

That is, until she does it in nearly the worst way possible.

“That’s all right,” Kindan said. “Vaxoram will keep working.”
“But he can’t read,” Koriana declared, brows furrowed quizzically. “Didn’t you know?”
Conar gave a grunt of surprise and Vaxoram turned bright red, looking anxiously at Kindan.
“I meant to talk to you about it,” Kindan said slowly. For some time he’d guessed, which is why he’d asked the Masterharper about reading in dim light over a sevenday before. “Some people have trouble with letters. That doesn’t mean they’re dumb, some of the smartest people have this problem–” he didn’t get any further, Vaxoram ran out of the room.
“I’d better go after him,” Kindan said after a moment.

Koriana has already figured herself out for sleeping and/or working arrangments, and she suggests getting Kelsa and Nonala involved in the Records search, which Kindan thinks is a great idea, and wonders why he hadn’t thought of it before. (Because he theoretically had three people working on it the whole time, even if it turned out to only be one because one couldn’t read it and the other didn’t want to do it.)

Then Kindan heads out to talk to Vaxoram.

“Who else knows?” Vaxoram asked after they shared a long moment of silence.
“No one,” Kindan said. “I’d noticed only recently–with the Records–but I wanted to find a way to talk with you about it.”
“Why?” Vaxoram asked bitterly. “I’m stupid, I can’t read. There’s no way I can be a harper.”

I have to object here, and Kindan will follow this objection with some proof of his own as we continue, but written literacy doesn’t actually seem to be that important of a part of the Harper’s job, especially one out making the circuits. Teaching, singing, performing, listening to the gossip and reporting it back appropriately, being part of the court of the Lord Holder, yes, but writing? Not as much, except in this record-keeping part, and really, if this is supposed to be a place that’s reminiscent of 400-1400 CE on Terra, there’s probably a scribe or two that Vaxoram could borrow for the Records business with a claim that his handwriting is illegible and posterity needs Records they can read. Which is to say, there’s more than a few workarounds for this particular problem.

“You’re not stupid,” Kindan replied. “Master Murenny says that many people who have this problem are very smart–”
“Murenny knows?” Vaxoram asked accusingly. “I thought you told no one.”
“I didn’t,” Kindan repeated. “I only asked the Masterharper about the symptoms, I didn’t mention you.”
“He must suspect, then,” Vaxoram replied bitterly.
“He could think it’s Conar,” Kindan said. “Lots of people with this problem are great artists.” Vaxoram cast a sidelong glance at him. “Others are great with lyrics, particularly long ballads.”
Vaxoram snorted; he was most skilled with the long ballads.
“Master Murenny says that people can learn to work around this,” Kindan told him. “We can teach you.”
“Why would you?” Vaxoram demanded, his voice full of pain. “Why would he?”
“I think he would teach you because anyone with your problem is very smart and he values intelligence,” Kindan said slowly. “I want to teach you so that you can be a harper and stop hating yourself.”
Vaxoram turned to face him, his eyes picking out Kindan’s in the darkness. Kindan found no words to say but he could feel Vaxoram’s emotions.

I’m not sure what to think about this, for the most part. Like, there’s a storied trope tradition about a bully being someone who is hiding their own insecurities, and if you can manage to get past those, they stop being a bully and start being a friend. Maybe this is also some part of an explanation as to why Vaxoram accepted his spot as Kindan’s lieutenant so easily, so that it might draw attention off of him and his learning disability. That Vaxoram feels stupid over all of this is square on for how people feel about a learning disability in a world that doesn’t acknolwedge them much or provide accomodation for them. And there’s a good chance that Murenny may have figured some things out about how students learn, given how many of them pass through the halls and into and out of the hands of his teachers.

I still think it a wonder that Vaxoram was integrated into the group so easily and there haven’t been problems (at least, not noted on screen). I also think that Koriana demonstrated at heart that she lacks tact. Which might be part of why Vaxoram tells Kindan it’ll never work out between them. And then there’s an extended makeout session between the two that ends up with Koriana sleeping naked next to Kindan, who is also naked. Nothing sexual happens with them, and Vaxoram provides them both with an early wake-up so that nobody other than him sees the absolutely scandalous part of the two of them being unmarried in the same bed. That said, the two decide to try and convince everyone they fell asleep in the Archives and head toward the kitchen to try and put together something looking like breakfast and a story. Murenny catches them moving in the direction of the kitchens. Selora doesn’t buy their story (“You’d be a better harper than you are a liar.”) and neither does Murenny, although he waits until everyone, including Vaxoram, is breakfasting in his study before he lays into everyone about what they’ve just done. (There’s also a detail present that Murenny is pemananntly banned from the kitchens because he can’t cook to save his life and can burn water, which might seem to be comic relief before Murenny digs in.)

Murenny opens the topic by asking Vaxoram about whether he remembers dueling codes and the rights that a defeated duelist might have to re-challenge if the victor did something that was dishonorable and related to the reason they fought the duel in the first place. Kindan’s behavior, in Murenny’s opinion, might be the opening that Vaxoram needs to re-challenge. Vaxoram doesn’t, but Murenny really doesn’t need him to.

Murenny’s lips tightened in Kindan’s silence. “Were you hoping to convince us of a lie?”
“Yes, Master,” Kindan answered feebly, feeling totally ashamed.
“Then how can you hope to be a harper?” the Masterharper asked, his voice challenging.
Kindan could onlny shake his head mutely. “I don’t know,” he confessed finally. He felt torn between getting up then and there, packing his things and leaving the Harper Hall, or just leaving. He had never felt so dejected.
[…Vaxoram gets an earful for his role in this, and Murenny is unconvinced that the declarations of love from Kindan and Koriana mean anything at all…]
“Now you will never know how he would have behaved had you come to him honestly, with your heart open, and told him your true feelings.” He glanced toward Kindan. “Nor will you know how I would have responded, how I might have helped you.” He shook his head. “The two of you have betrayed each other as surely as if you’d fought a duel to the death.”

Murenny is angry about this for perfectly good reasons, I’m sure, but I would also like to point out that everyone not named Kindan or Koriana has essentially been dismissing their feelings out of hand as the equivalent of something not serious without doing much of anything to help them with their feelings. Kindan has essentially been fed the line “it’s not going to work, because you’re a Harper and she’s a Lady Holder” any time he’s tried to talk about how he’s having serious feelings for Koriana. (I still have serious misgivings about why a perfectly good polyamory plot got derailed for this lady-and-her-knight-trope bit, but we can set those aside for this argument.) Nobody has really tried to provide any sort of useful advice, something like “yes, you and her have feelings for each other. You can’t do much more than smile at each other because of your stations, but also, you need to finish your studies, Kindan, or you won’t be able to support her at all. If you still have these kinds of feelings for her when you’re a journeyman, we can talk further about what you’ll need to do this, but for now, we need you to focus on being able to make that a possibility in the future.” It’s not the best of pep talks, or even much of a declaration of support, but it at least would give Kindan something to work for, and be more consistent with the position of respecting women that Murenny claims to have.

Before too much chewing out can happen, though, Koriss returns with advance notice that Bemin is on the way with soldiers. And then there’s a hashing-out in the courtyard of the Hall where Bemin tries to control his headstrong daughter and finds out that not only is she pretty headstrong, she also knows several things about turning people’s words against them. This is set against the backdrop of several emergecy drum messages that proclaim plague in new places, and M’tal arriving with J’trel and his mate and children. J’trel is asking for sanctuary for the others against plague, which brings a lot of “but we’re not sure if they’re infected”, but it becomes immediately clear that nobody really knows who’s infected and where it came from and whether everyone here is also already infected just by the normal course of commerce around Pern. Bemin extracts a promise from M’tal and Vaxoram that Kindan will never be allowed to be alone with Koriana again (she does say what happened, but obviously at this point nobody is going to believe her or otherwise think that things are less terrible because there was no sex involved (assuming they did believe her.)) and the two of them fly off with M’tal while Murenny and Bemin head inside with the sanctuary-seekers to discuss all of these matters.

That’s Chapter 7. Last week’s discussion about queer relationships was slotted for next week, but we’ll press on to Chapter 8, instead.