Category Archives: Deconstruction

The Masterharper of Pern: It Only Gets Worse

Last chapter, we set up a fundamental problem between Petiron and his family where Robinton does very well, but only gets cursory praise from Petiron, to Merelan’s quite intense anger. This won’t end well.

The Masterharper of Pern: Chapter III: Content Notes: Slut-shaming, sanctioned abuse, imprisonment, spanking,

First, however, we have to deal with Halanna, the new Hold daughter sent to the hall to study music. Who is naturally talented in her voice, certainly, but…

Halanna arrived, and created an instant impression on all who met her of an overly-confident seventeen-Turn-old young woman who found fault with everything at the Harper Hall, and especially the cottage where she was lodged.
[…she’s what we might call a diva…]
The only one who found her at all bearable was Petiron. Once he heard her sing, he dismissed Merelan’s remarks about her lack of discipline and a lack of general information about music that was close to illiteracy. He was jubilant over having a contralto with such a rich timbre and wide range with no “break” whatever. He immediately began to write contralto solos into the Turnover music he was currently composing. He discounted Merelan’s suggestions that the girl would not be able to “read” the contralto line, much less manage the tempi changes or the cadenzas.
[…Merelan uses every single bit of pull she has trying to teach Halanna the fundamentals of music, but getting written in by Petiron only inflates Halanna’s ego more…]
She sang Ioudly, completely ignoring any dynamic alteration for the appropriate performance of a song or aria, concerned only with showing off the power of her vocal equipment. “Soft” was an unknown quality.

Merelan asks for help from Washell, who dryly notes that if Halanna continues in this vein, she’ll kill her voice in a couple of Turns, and the problem will solve itself. Washell thinks that when Halanna botches Petiron’s composition, he’ll have much less infatuation with her. Merelan thinks that might make Petiron think of her as a poor teacher, but Washell had a plan.

Hold that thought in mind, however, while the narrative continues to make sure there’s nothing we’re supposed to like about Halanna.

Halanna was an accomplished flirt, and quickly isolated those whom she would favor–because of their rank, either from within the Hall, or from prestigious holds. She chose only the attractive journeymen and masters, of whom there were quite a few just then, back at the Hall either for reassignment or to take part in the Turnover rehearsals. Not only did she have a voice, even her worst enemies had to admit that she was a beauty. Blond hair bleached almost silver by the sun of Ista, a flawless tan that accentuated her light green eyes and white, even teeth, a figure more mature than that of most girls her age–and she knew far more than she ought of how to flaunt her sensuality. She did not obey the cottage keeper’s basic rules, deciding they were for children and not the daughter of a holder, though all the other boarders were the same rank, and some more prestigious than hers. She was caught time and again sneaking in late at night.
Then Halanna took a dislike to Robinton.

And there’s our nail in the coffin, everyone. It couldn’t have been anything else that might have signaled that the narrative might not like Halanna, but if she dislikes Robinton, then we know she’s bad. (Her dislike of Robinton is mostly contained to the same reasons Petiron didn’t like Robinton – she doesn’t like being overheard and she thinks he’s a distraction.)

Seriously, though, if you wanted to set up an anti-Menolly, you’d be hard-pressed to do better than Halanna. She seems to be the Harper equivalent of Kylara, and her primary sin seems to be that she’s sexy and she knows it, followed very closely by the part where she expects the world to fall at her feet and give her everything she wants. At this point, I’m starting to feel like the narrative has a serious case of A-Cup Angst, since everyone who’s had a canonically highly attractive body seems to have also been made a terribly slutty-slut villain of some sort. I think the author has a type.

Merelan eventually gets so fed up with Halanna that she passes her off to Petiron, who only needs a single lesson to realize the terrible truth about Halanna. Petiron believes his wife’s accounts of how difficult Halanna is to work with (Yay!) and sets to rewrite the part to match the actual skill Halanna displays.

Naturally, when presented with the changes, Halanna and Petiron have an argument that gets overheard by everyone, whether they want to hear it or not. And then…

Many allowed as how they had heard the crack of flesh hitting flesh. And it was true that the right side of Halanna’s face was darker than the left when she was finally allowed to leave the studio. But she did begin to sing in a much muted voice. And she continued to sing the music as written until she did so correctly, sometimes until she was hoarse.
[Halanna pops out and secretly sends a message to her father that she’s being abused.]
Petiron admitted that he had slapped her, to stop her hysterical ranting–to which everyone in the Hall had been audience. Any master was permitted to chastise a student for inattention or failure to learn assigned lessons.

So Clisser not only won out, it’s considered a best practice to beat your students. We knew that already, as far back as Dragonsong, but it’s still a terrible idea if you want them to learn and think on their own.

Also, because it must be said,

But we’re not done yet.

When MasterHarper Gennell and Journeywoman Healer Betrice interviewed her about the impropriety of her action, not to mention the content of her messages, she was defiantly tearful.
[Gennell tells Halanna she’s been a guest of honor to this point and that she will apologize to Petiron.]
“Apologize?” Halanna rose from the stool in amazement. “I am the daughter of a holder, and I apologize to no one. He’s to apologize for slapping me, or–”
“That’s enough out of you,” Gennell said, be turned to his spouse. “She’s to be quartered in an appropriate room and given only basic rations.”
That was more easily said than done. It took Gennell, Betrice, and Lorra to get her, screeching and struggling, up to the third story of the Harper Hall to one of the spare rooms used by messengers or overflow guests. She refused to eat the food supplied at mealtimes and actually emptied the first three pitchers of water until her thirst got the better of her histrionics. Since it took nearly six days before her clandestine message brought results, she got hungry enough to devour what she was given, though she refused to apologize or promise to remedy her attitude. Such interviews usually resulted in her hurling threats and promises of just retribution at those trying to talk sense into her.

And again,

There’s some confusion at work here, too, as to who actually outranks whom. If Halanna is the higher-ranking person, she’s not being histrionic, she’s right. And if she isn’t, then she’s still got a leg to stand on that she’s being mistreated. Because this is still sanctioned abuse and everyone is basically telling Halanna that she deserves it. She does not deserve to be abused. Summarily dismissed and sent back as a student who has no interest in learning, yes, but not physically abused. But the narrative certainly took its time trying to impress upon us that Halanna is such a clearly spoiled brat and terrible so that we might side with the Harpers doing the abusing instead of the person being abused.

Halamna’s father, Halibran, comes with a force of his sons and apologizes on behalf of his daughter, but it’s not accepted by Gennell. Halibran offers to take his daughter, who is apparently screaming out her window this entire time, home, but Gennell refuses this as well.

“With your permission, we shall continue to discipline her–firmly–until she realizes that such behavior gets her nowhere in either her relationships with others or in learning the lessons you asked us to teach her.”
Halibran was astonished; the brothers muttered amongst themselves.
“That is too fine a voice to be misused,” Master Gennell said, glancing up in the direction of the outraged cries. Strips of clothing flapped out the window and drifted to the ground. “Or abused. We have disciplined recalcitrant students before now. She may be,” and Master Gennell paused significantly, “unusually obdurate, but give me leave to doubt she is beyond redemption.”

Halibran asks what the secret sauce is, and Gennell tells him that if he tells Halanna firmly that there’s no way she’s going to get him to budge on the matter, she’ll give up.

It still takes them three days, and the narrative says that it’s exhaustion that does Halanna in. And it’s explicit that part of Halibran’s convincing of Halanna involves spanking her.

“He uses only his hand, and it’s more her pride that’s been offended than her butt end,” Ginia said. “If the issue is not forced now, she will become far worse in later years and end up disgracing her entire family and hold. That can’t be allowed.”

So Halanna is condemned to be broken into a compliant girl and then taught how to sing. It starts with apologies to Gennell, Petiron, and Beatrice, and Merelan would have been included, except Merelan refused it, since she would have to teach singing to Halanna, and she didn’t want an apology to be a point of contention.

“She brought it on herself,” Halibran said sternly.
“That does not require me to compound it,” Merelan said, lifting her chin to match his attitude.
“You are a gracious lady,” he said, relenting and bowing to her.
[Halanna gets her own room, and her father leaves her with instructions…]
“And, if you should decide this regimen doesn’t suit you,” her father said in so cold a voice Merelan shivered, “and attempt to run away from the Harper Hall, I will have the drums repudiate you across all Pern. Do you understand? You wanted to sing, you wanted to come here to the Harper Hall so you could improve your voice. Now you will do just that and nothing but that! Do you understand, Halanna?”

Having been given no other option but to submit, Halanna does. We’re supposed to believe it hasn’t actually broken her spirit, just that she doesn’t act out any more and Petiron is consequently disappointed in her performance at Turnover because she’s not performing to potential. Merelan counsels patience, and the chapter ends.

I don’t believe for a moment that Halanna brought it on herself. She’s supposed to be the poster child for an indulgent childhood producing a spoiled brat, but the Harper Hall (and Pern, generally speaking) starts at violence and escalates when it comes to raising children, teaching apprentices, and keeping women in line. Halanna is behaving the way someone who has been told she’s better than everyone else is behaving. There’s a rank system in place that she presumably has learned, but I suspect she only learned it in relation to other Lords and not in relation to the Mastercrafters. She’s been behaving, well, normally. It’s just that the narrative has a particular dislike for her overt sexuality and so it goes out of its way to make sure we see Halanna as deserving of abuse (she isn’t).

So far, we seem to be regularly getting worse, not better. And we still haven’t yet gotten Petiron to the point where he’s likely to abuse his own son to the point of a fracture.

Next week, chapter IV.

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The Masterharper of Pern: It Does Not Get Better

Last chapter (and what a long one that was, about double-size), Robinton was born and Petiron and Merelan took a trip away from the Harper Hall on a teaching assignment, where they met a group of people that consider Harpers evil, and Petiron couldn’t get over himself enough to appreciate people just doing music without planning on making a career out if it.

The Masterharper of Pern: Chapter II: Content Notes: Child Abuse

Back at the Harper Hall, Petiron is composing when he hears someone humming the tune he is trying to get down on hide before he loses it. He traces the sound to its source…

“Don’t do that, Robinton,” he said in exasperation.
His son pulled the light blanket up to his chin. “You were,” he said.
“I was what?”
“You hummmmdded.”
“I may, you may not!” And Petiron shook his finger right in the boy’s face so that Robinton pulled the blanket over his head. Petiron pulled it down and leaned over the little bed. “Don’t you ever mimic me like that. Don’t you ever interrupt me when I’m working. D’you hear that?”

“Whatever did he do, Petiron?” Merelan exclaimed, rushing into the room and hiding protectively at the head of the cot. “He was sound asleep when I left. What’s been going on?”
Robinton, who rarely cried, was weeping, stuffing the end of the blanket into his mouth as the tears crept down his cheeks. The tears were more than Merelan could endure, and she picked up her sobbing son and cradled him, reassuring him.
Petiron glared at her. “He was humming while I was writing.”
“You do; why shouldn’t he?”
“But I was writing! How can I work when he does that? He knows he’s not to interrupt me.”
“He’s a child, Petiron. He picks up on anything he hears and repeats it.”
“Well, I’m not having him humming along with me,” Petiron said, not the least bit mollified.
“Why shouldn’t he if you wake him up?”
“How can I possibly work if you’re both interrupting me all the time?” He flung his arms up and stalked out of the bedroom. “Do take him somewhere else. I can’t have him singing in the background.”

Merelan was already halfway across the sitting room, her crying son in her arms. “Then you won’t have him in the background at all,” she said in a parting shot.

You go, Merelan. And don’t come back to him, because he’s never going to get better.

Merelan goes to see Betrice about it, where we learn that Robinton hums on key with whatever he’s hearing. And that Merelan is trying to get Robinton to remember to be quiet when Daddy’s working, which does not bode well for how this is going to turn out. The studio that Petiron has to do composition with is currently taken over by someone else, so that option is out, and Betrice is not a fan of Petiron’s complicated compositions that only he and his family seem to be able to sing well. Merelan doesn’t deny they’re intricate, and says that Petiron is easier to deal with when composing (Ding! Abuse likelihood goes up!) and Betrice says Petiron is lucky to have an understanding mate that can also sing (which is not the signal I want from a friend if I’m contemplating leaving his ass.) Merelan resolves to make sure the studio stays unoccupied by anyone else, and says that in another year, Robinton will be attending school at the Hall, and that will make things better, too. (No, it won’t.) Betrice tells Merelan to do something for herself while she watches Robinton, because it’s no good for Merelan to either have to mind her child or her husband all the time.

Time passes, and it turns out that Robinton certainly has musical talent, given that he picks up a pipe at three and can make good sounds with it…

When Petiron was busy with students, Merelan would often whistle simple tunes within her son’s hearing. Petiron did not like her whistling–possibly because he couldn’t, but more likely because he felt that girls shouldn’t. Despite how much she loved him, she privately admitted that some of his attitudes, including this one, made no sense to her.

Because he’s an asshole!

Anyway, Robinton picks up on the whistles, repeats them, then begins to improvise on them in a way that makes it clear he’s got the knack. Merelan wants to make sure that this talent gets hidden as long as possible, so that Robinton isn’t rushed prematurely into musical training at the Hall that might put him off music entirely. At three. Even though Merelan knows Petiron will do it. So she calls over Washell, ostensibly to help her with a part, deliberately botches it, then lets Robinton play it correctly. As well as his favorite tunes on the pipe, and his variations on that tune, including a new one just thought up while playing the others. Washell gets it, and plans with Merelan to figure out a way of breaking Robinton’s musicality to Petiron gently enough that Petiron won’t break him in his single-mindedness. All contrivance and accident that each of the masters involved should teach Robinton some small thing about their craft, enough so that when he turns out to be a musical genius at six, they can all disclaim they did anything at all and then deliver Robinton to his father as a student that won’t try his patience. Robinton himself, however, is the spanner in the plan because he wants to show his compositions and talents to his music-loving father and keeps getting deflected away from it by his mother.

One day, Robinton comes back from a class with Kubisa, one of the child instructors, with a bloody nose, crying.

“I’ll say this for Robie, he may be young and small, but he knows who needs his protection.”
“Who needs it?” his mother asked, carefully mopping away the blood.
“The watch-wher,” Kubisa said.
Merelan paused, surprised and beginning to feel more pride than concern. The apprentices were not above sticking bright glows into the Harper Hall watch-wher’s lair to make the light-sensitive creature cry. Or throwing him noxious things, knowing the creature would eat just about anything that came within the range of its chain. Rob would always run and tell an adult if he saw such antics.
“Were they being mean to the poor beast again?”
Sniffing, he nodded his head up and down. “I made ’em stop, but one of them busted me one.”
“So I see,” his mother murmured.
[…Kubisa advises self-defense…]
“I used to be able to beat some of my big brothers and cousins when I got going.”
“You?” Robie’s eyes widened at the very notion of his mother beating anything, much less his big brothers and cousins.

So she gave him his first lesson in hand-to-hand combat, and showed him best how to head-butt an assailant. “It keeps you from having bloody noses, too, if you use your head in a fight.” I wonder where that caring child went and how he was replaced by the manipulator we’ve come to know. If Petiron is responsible in some way, I will not be surprised.

Also, learning how to thrash people from your mother seems like a totally awesome thing.

The subterfuge, of course, is not going to last long. On hearing that he is learning his ballads and songs appropriately, Robinton sees the opportunity to shine.

Robinton wanted so desperately to please his father, but he never seemed able to, despite how hard he tried to be good, obedient, courteous, and most of all, quiet.

Petiron cannot be satisfied that way, Robinton. Abusers cannot be satisfied that way. Even when you sing something note-perfect, which Robinton does, they will never be satisfied.

“That was well done, Robinton,” he said. “Now don’t think that learning one song is all you have to do. There’s a significant number, even for children, to be learned, word- and note-perfect. Continue as you have begun.”
Robinton beamed with pleasure, turning to his mother to see if she also agreed.
Merelan could barely keep from sobbing with relief as she came forward and tousled his hair. “You have done very well indeed, my love. I’m proud of you, too. Just as your father is.” She turned to Petiron for his reassurance, but he had already turned back to the apprentice scores he was correcting, oblivious to son and spouse.
Merelan had to clench her hands to her sides to keep from roaring at him for such a curt dismissal. There was so much more Petiron could have said. He could have mentioned that the boy was on pitch throughout, with good breath support and that his voice was actually good. But she controlled her anger and took Robie, who couldn’t quite understand why he hadn’t pleased his father more, by the hand.
“We’ll just see,” she said in a firm, loud voice, “what Lorra might have
as a reward for knowing all the verses and the tempi perfectly!”
When she slammed the door behind her, Petiron glanced over his shoulder, then went back to marking a very poorly executed apprentice lesson.

Okay, at this point, I have to entertain the possibility that Petiron might have something in his brain wiring that makes things like this sequence bizarre to him – he heard a good performance, he complimented it and encouraged it, and yet his wife slams the door as she stalks outside. He’s probably going to chalk it up to something with Merelan, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a neurologist found something abnormal about Petiron’s brain. Which doesn’t excuse him from the issues involved, but might help him and everyone around him figure out ways to relate that don’t involve hurt feelings from unfulfilled expectations.

The other option is that he’s an asshole who doesn’t care about his son and possibly resents him for taking him away from his perfect life.

Merelan is spitting tacks, wants to kick Petiron for his reaction. Lorra, the headwoman (and therefore counselor), points out, not wrongly, that Petiron’s expectations for Robinton are perfection and therefore there will be no validation or “Well done, son!” for him, even if he is better than many apprentices more than a decade older than he is. This dissipates Merelan’s anger instead of stoking it, for some reason, even when Lorra lays on that it’s unlikely Petiron will notice his son has become a man until his voice cracks. In theory, this inattentiveness will benefit Robinton, in that he will be able to be freely musical around Petiron.

The chapter ends with talk of a new holder daughter, Halanna, arriving at the hall and being put in with the Hold girls while she adjusts to the routine. I hope she fares a lot better than Menolly ever did, both with the girls and in the Hall itself.

As was noted in the last post, this is a very different Hall from when Menolly arrived, with women, and women in teaching and mastery positions. I probably wouldn’t have noticed it until now, so it’s very nice to have commenters that can point things out to me earlier than I might have picked up on it myself. Yet, somewhere in between now and her arrival, the Hall will apparently be purged of women. I doubt we’ll ever find out the how or the why.

The Masterharper of Pern: Did We Really Need This?

We’ve managed our way through another story of Pern, the place that continues to find new ways to suck, despite the fact that we’ve been down this road multiple times. And now, we get to take a swing at the life story of who should be a dear figure to all of us, except for the part where the narrative has shown him to be manipulative and in favor of essentially holding a horrible system static and unchanging. Here we go again.

The Masterharper of Pern: Chapter I: Content Notes: Childbirth

We come barreling in medias res into the point right after Robinton is born to Merelan, his mother, and delivered to Petiron, his father, Menolly’s eventual mentor at Half-Circle, to keep a hold of, and we’re already skirting perilously close to NOPE territory.

He didn’t see the looks passing between midwife and her assistant, nor did he see the younger woman leave quietly to summon a healer. Merelan’s bleeding was not tapering off. The midwife suspected that something had been torn; the baby had been born breech, and was large-headed as well. She packed ice in towels around Merelan’s slim hips. It had been a long labor. Merelan lay limp in the bed, exhausted, her face white and lined. She seemed bloodless, and that worried Betrice more. There was such a risk in transfusion: despite the similarity in color, blood differed from person to person. Once long ago, healers had known how to tell the difference and match the blood. Or so she’d heard.
Betrice had suspected that Merelan would have trouble delivering, for she could feel the size of the child in the womb, and so she had asked the Healer Hall to stand by. There was a solution of special salts that in extreme cases could help a patient overcome the loss of blood.

So help us all, if this starts as a story where the mother dies in childbirth, there will be a wall of swearing that will last for pages.

It is a useful reminder, however, that we are back in the pre-AIVAS era of science and medicine, and so I am really surprised at this knowledge of salts that encourage clotting and blood production. Even as they acknowledge they’ve lost the ability to type blood, if someone were, say, worried about blood loss during labor, and they had the requisite methods to do so and keep it sterile and safe, why wouldn’t they just take a couple units from Merelan well beforehand? That’s blood that can safely be transfused back into her later, regardless of whether you can type it or not.

Mostly, though, that seems rather advanced medicine to have this concoction to deliver.

The narrative tells us that Betrice has a low opinion of Petiron’s parenting skills, and how lucky they are to have a child, given that Merelan has miscarried three times already. The Healer returns with the midwife’s apprentice, and the three of them set to infusing a clear liquid into Merelan, using needlethorn as the delivery system. Blood plasma, perhaps, which is usually safe to give to anyone, regardless of origin? That would require a centrifuge of some sort to spin blood into component parts. Which would suggest that the methods that Capiam figured out in the Sixth Pass survived to this point in time.

In any case, with the help of the women, and having her son nearby, Merelan stabilizes, and all three attendees agree that Petiron should not be trying for another child, even though it’s obvious all across Pern how the two of them love each other. They also agree to suggest fostering when Merelan will inevitably object to only having one child to care for. At this point, I remind everyone that Pern does not have viable birth control anywhere, despite this being a perfect situation for it.

Petiron is against fostering, and Betrice thinks it’s because he’s jealous of his son getting to spend time with his wife. Betrice’s husband, Masterharper Gennell, thinks it’s obsession over Petiron’s Moreta Cantata that’s using Merelan as principal soloist, and that Petiron does love his son.

Betrice firmed her lips together. “Loves him, does he?”
“You doubt it?”
She regarded her spouse critically. “I do.” She curled her hand around his arm. “But then I have you as an example. You were a eager to tend the first of our five as the last, and they have certainly turned out well. Oh, Petiron looks in the cot now and then, or at the child when he’s toddling in the yard, but only if you remind him that he’s fathered a son.”

Neglectful parenting is a thing, but this picture is in contrast to the Petiron we met briefly through Menolly’s eyes, at least potentially. Menolly seemed to think of him as a warmer and more interested figure, but then again, she also had significant musical talent, and so maybe he was kinder to her than he would have been to others.

Merelan sings well, to great applause, but Betrice makes sure that she takes a “restorative drink” in between performances and is unsurprised when Merelan takes ill after the performance is finished. She complains to Gennell that Petiron only cares about Merelan’s voice. Gennell disputes it by telling Betrice all about their early days and how obviously smitten with each other they were.

The narrative takes a short trip to remind us that we are in the time where five of the six Weyrs have been empty for centuries and even the Harpers only have cryptic entries and the Question Song as a result. Gennell makes a mental note to reinstate the song as a required teaching ballad, as we go over the speculation of what happened to the dragons and the fairly widespread belief at this time that Thread will not fall again. We know better, and that this is the end of the second Long Interval caused by Jaxom, Ruth, and a lot more dragons detonating antimatter engines on the wandering planet to send it out of Pern’s orbit, eventually. Still, it’s been nearly five hundred years since Thread has fallen. How many people would take seriously a dire warning from the 1500s about the return of something deadly in the next ten years?

Since Merelan isn’t getting better at the Harper Hall, Betrice arranges for Petiron and Merelan to take a teaching position back near where Merelan grew up and sends them with the Ritecamp trader train to get there, so that the two can teach and Merelan can recover.

Then she [Merelan] winked at her spouse, knowing very well that he hated doing “basics” with beginners, while she enjoyed teaching the very young. So long as the children were taught, it didn’t matter who did the teaching. As Mastersinger, she knew her Teaching Ballads and Songs as well as Petiron did.
[…Petiron is stiff at first, but seems to be warming up to everyone…]
He even enjoyed the nightly music sessions, for almost everyone in the thirty wagons of the train played some instrument and could carry intricate parts. Many had good voices, and he found himself conducting four- and five-part harmonies to some of their favorite ballads and airs, as well as teaching them the newer songs.
“They’re nearly as good as fourth-year apprentices,” he said with some surprise to Merelan at the end of the third evening’s session.
“They do it for fun,” she said gently.
“There’s no reason they cannot do it better and have fun, too,” he said, not at all pleased at her subtle rebuke over his attempt to improve the harmonies.

Okay, Petiron needs to loosen up a lot if he’s going to do anything with his life other than he tucked away in a corner composing. Now, that may be what he actually wants to do with his life, but this kind of monomania is not a sign of being able to relate healthily to other humans without significant training.

As it turns out, the two are alone in their wagon, with Robinton in a crib in a different wagon, and so Petiron and Merelan take the opportunity to have sex. Which is totally a thing that someone would do if they’ve been raising a child for so long and haven’t had the opportunity in a good long while. But that also runs the risk of a pregnancy that Merelan will have complications with. Again, birth control would be lovely here.

The narrative tells us that getting Petiron out of the Harper Hall allows him to mellow out significantly and appreciate things like hunting, fishing, long walks, and learning to be economical with his composition surfaces. Merelan recovers nicely in the fresh air and exercise along the way. Not too far from their final destination, the Runner Station that the train has stopped at hints that things out in the backwoods are not what someone from the city would expect.

Sev scratched his head. “They got odd notions, you might say.”
Merelan knew there was something that he was not saying, he she couldn’t understand his sudden reticence.
“Ah, d’you have something that isn’t Harper blue?” he blurted.
“I do,” Merelan said, “but I don’t think Petiron does. You mean, he might aggravate someone?” She smiled to show that she perfectly understood.
“Ah, yes, that’s about the size of it.”
“I’ll see what I can do about keeping him occupied,” she said, smiling sympathetically.
Everything went very well the first two days. The morning of the third, Merelan was entertaining all the children with game songs and teaching them the gestures that went with them, when a very tattered girl, eyes wide with delight, moved with surreptitious stealth closer and closer. When she was near enough, Merelan smiled at her.
“Do you want to join us?” she asked in a carefully soft voice.
The girl shook her head, her eyes wide now with a mixture of longing and fear.
“Oh, please, everyone else is here,” Merelan said, doing her best to reassure the timid child. “Rob, open the circle and let her in, will you, dear?”
The child took another step and then suddenly squealed when she saw a man charging from the trader’s wagon, right at Merelan’s circle.
“You there…stop that, you harlot. You evil creature, luring children away from their parents…”
[…a near-melee breaks out as the man is restrained from hitting Merelan…]
“She’s singing, ent she? Singing comes first, don’t it? Singing to lure kids away! She’s evil. Just like all harperfolk. Teachin’ things no one needs to know to live proper.
[…the struggle continues…]
“Harper harlot!” Rochers shouted, trying to free a fist to wave at Merelan, who was clinging to Robinton as much as he was clinging to her.
“She’s not a harper, Rochers. She’s a mother, amusing the kids,” the Station Master said, loudly enough to try and down out what the man was saying.
“She had ’em dancing!” Spittle was beginning to form in the corners of his mouth as the men pulled him back to the wagons.

They hustle Merelan out of sight back into a wagon while things get sorted. Merelan was wrong about what was going on, but I’m thoroughly intrigued by this development. Could we have finally found ourselves the long-lost and sorely needed contingent that doesn’t fall in line with the Harper orthodoxy? Well, we could have, if the narrative wasn’t immediately squashing that idea by insisting that these people are only that way because they’re backwoods hicks afraid that their children might learn about the big wide world out there and leave.

“We run into some real odd folk now and then. Some of ’em have never met a harper, and some don’t hold with singing or dancing or drinking. Sev says it’s because they can’t make wine or beer, so it has to be evil. They don’t want their children to know more than they did or you’d better believe it–” and Dalma gave a sour little laugh, “–they couldn’t keep them from leaving those awful jungles.”
“But it was the way he said ‘harper’…” Merelan swallowed at the tone of hatred in which the word has been uttered.

Good on you, Merelan. It’s easy to dismiss someone as just a hick that’s ignorant, but there’s more going on than just that here, and I want to know what it is. This is a potentially stellar worldbuild – what kind of folk belief system has appeared in the absence of the official doctrine? Why music as the evil thing, and Harpers as the evil people that bring it? Is there a dismissed or disgraced Harper leading this competing belief system? A Holder who had all his children go away to Crafthalls and never return? Tell me, dammit! The traders clearly know more than they’re letting on.

Also, personally, I would use “siren,” not “harlot,” for better connotation. Yes, Pern had all of its classical civilization education dumped before the second Pass, but surely that word would have survived in the meaning of someone who sings beautifully to lure people to harm, perpetuated by the Harpers if nobody else.

Merelan is appalled by the state of education out here, though.

It was true that there were really not enough harpers to do more than stop in once or twice a year, but Merelan was still shocked at the realization that there was a significant number of cots and small holdings where no one could read or count above twenty.

This is a normal function of a vassalage system. Literacy is not a valued result for anyone who doesn’t need to know how to read, write, and do figures — the nobles and the merchant class. There’s no incentive. You learn your trade or you work your land, you have kids to pass it on to, and you die. When the priest comes by to teach you your prayers, you learn them by rote and leave the interpretation up to them.

There are no further incidents on the rest of the trip, and Petiron is really enjoying being able to work with his group of musicians. Petiron also is busily sucking up as many variations as he can hear on the various ballads and songs, some that have gotten complex to the point where Petiron isn’t sure which is the original and which is the variant. All this notation, though, means he’s running out of tanned hide to make scores on.

To transcribe this, Petiron acquired some of the reed-based writing material that was a local product. It has a tendency to absorb so much ink that his scores were a bit blotchy, but he could amend that when he got back to the Harper Hall.

…when was anyone going to mention that Pern has rediscovered papyrus, at the very least, if not some form of paper, already. And why is this not far more widespread across the planet? Yes, it won’t have the same archival quality as hides, but most people don’t need archival-quality material for their everyday needs. If one wants a highly literate society, there needs to be plenty of material to practice with! Styluses and clay. Graphite or ash sticks. Wax, for fuck’s sake, although glow baskets might have meant that chandlery is a lost art. Seriously, there are a lot of ways other than ink and hide to do writing with, and yet it’s taken us fifteen books before there’s a one-off mention that the pre-AIVAS Pernese dad something other than hides to write on! Auuuugh.

After saying hello to Merelan’s family, Petiron gets where her talent comes from, and is almost contemptuous that great voices in that hold are still in the hold, rather than having all been shipped off to the Harper Hall for their use. He’s also less than thrilled about their one-bedroom apartment, because it means the kid sleeps in the same room as them, and also he’s a bit weirded out by the fact that just about everyone bathes in the nearby sea. Now I kind of want to go back and see if anyone ever bathes regularly and collectively in the cold waters in the north. Because yay, all sorts of potential problems if they do.

Petiron is also a bit askance at the collective workspaces, and the communal child-raising pens, many already stuffed with toys, including one supposed to resemble a fire-lizard. Petiron says they died out a long time ago, but yields to Merelan’s insistence they exist because of the eggshells they leave behind that have been found. And is still not very attentive or loving to Robinton. But he goes about the business of organizing everyone into their groups and teaching, including an adult learner’s class in the evening. He takes a liking to Rantou, who is one of the evening class’s attendees, there because “I gotta learn so the baby won’t have no stupid for a father.” Rantou has the ear to be able to listen to a part and then play it back on reed pipes, and the skill to manufacture excellent instruments. He also has no desire to go to the Harper Hall, much to Petiron’s consternation.

There’s a useful note here in the argument, though, about music as a career for Rantou.

“But people do learn the Teaching Ballads and Songs, as they have here,” Merelan said. “As I did.”
“Only the usual ones, but not all the important ones,” Petiron said sternly with a scowl. When he frowned like that, his heavy eyebrows nearly met over the bridge of his aqualine nose. Though she never tell him, Merelan adored his eyebrows. “They don’t know the Dragon Duty Ballads, for instance.”
Merelan suppressed a sigh. Was it only people brought up in strict Harper Hall tradition who believed Thread would, not just might return in the next fifty or so Turns? Or was their belief merely an extension of the traditions of the Hall?

So tell me more about these competing beliefs, author. And whether that might have given rise to the anti-Harper faction we saw a small glimpse of. And whether people in places that don’t have a Weyr nearby find the Harpers somewhat silly for their strict adherence to traditions that seem very outdated at this point.

Petiron and Merelan continue to argue, with Merelan sensibly pointing out that a small population area generally doesn’t have extra people to spare for Crafthall education. Petiron counters with the idea that they sent two off to Benden Weyr, and Merelan dismisses that as special circumstances due to the great honor being Searched is. Then the narrative has Petiron blanch entirely at the idea of Robinton being taught swimming, even before he has mastered walking, because of the danger involved. Merelan thinks the trip has been fantastic, even as she wishes she could stay on longer, and that Petiron looks his best and has learned his most about what life is like outside scholarship. Now, if only he would be more attentive and like his son more…

As they sit on the beach, and the chapter is basically over, Petiron wants to have Merelan to himself in the shade for sex, and Merelan readily agrees. “Segonia has given me a potion that will make it safe all the time for us.”

Cocowhat by depizan

WELL. DID IT WORK? Because if it does, then there is, in fact, birth control on Pern and every woman and every Healer should already know about it and be able to prescribe it. Dragonriders have their own method, of course, but you are not going to sell me on the idea that there is effective birth control on a route that is visited by trading caravans, has Healers on staff, and that it has not spread itself completely through Pern, overtly or covertly. So I want to know…does it work?

(It does, or at least appears to have worked, peeking into Chapter II, because Robinton is still the only child of Merelan and Petiron.)

Dragonseye: Anticlimax

Last chapter, Vergerin was held up as a model of virtue, because the narrative likes him, and K’vin finally got Zulaya by behaving how she wanted him to all along – right after K’vin rightly chewed another rider out for his own toxic masculinity. I’m still steamed about that, so we should just finish the book.

Dragonseye: Chapters XVI and XVII: Content Notes:

When we last left the new couple, they were about to sneak off on a clandestine observation of Thread in the south. K’vin and Zulaya find out they are far from the only dragonriders to have had the same idea and time for observation.

Consequently, he was perhaps not as surprised as he might have been to realize the airspace around them, and Meranath and Zulaya, was well occupied. With that extra sense dragons had, the two had averted a collision.

So it is canonical, then, that dragons do not just warp themselves out wherever they are envisioned, but do make adjustments for the presence of others. Then weyrling accidents are because juvenile dragons don’t have that sense fully developed? (If so, though, Moreta’s jump to nowhere should have thrown an error somewhere, along with any of the other dragons that do the same thing, since they are all mature enough to know better.)

In any case, the plan might be to just observe, but the dragons themselves have other ideas about that.

Thread!
The word seemed to rumble from dragon to dragon, and K’vin had to grab hold of the neck ridge as Charanth started to lurch toward what he had known all his life as his adversary.
I have no firestone! How can I flame it! What is wrong? Why have you brought me here where there is Thread and I have no fire to char it!
It’s all right, Charanth. We’re here to watch. To see.
But it is Thread! I must chew to flame. Why may I not flame when there is THREAD!

[…K’vin tries to reason with Charanth, and notices other riders having similar trouble…]
Then, all of a sudden, Charanth stopped flying toward Thread.
Oh, all right! The tone was that of a petulant child forced by a senior authority to follow orders totally against the grain.

So the queens kick in the override they have (and that Menolly observed in her fire lizard fair) and everyone lands and calms their dragons, before sheepishly admitting that perhaps this idea wasn’t quite as brilliant as they had envisioned. And having a laugh at it. Before someone thinks to thank the queens for their help.

Then everyone present is told that this meeting never happened, before K’vin suggests that the Weyrleaders should agree to rotate wings from every Weyr in for the first few sessions of Threadfall so as to give them practice before the actual thing happens in their neighborhood. Everyone present agrees to the idea, with the seniormost Weyrleader agreeing to present it to S’nan, so that he will listen and agree to it as well.

And that actually closes the chapter out.

Chapter XVII is essentially, “And then Thread came, and they fought Thread beautifully.” There’s some tweaking of S’nan for being serious about things, and lots of description of how the fighting goes, but it’s all from K’vin’s perspective, and in the jumble of everything, he can’t really focus much on anything other than what’s in front of him and whether his wings are staying in the formation.

There is one bit to draw attention to, mostly as the coda to P’tero and M’leng.

K’vin briefly thought of P’tero’s vain attempt to be included in the fighting force Telgar would launch. Maybe he should have put the blue rider in, sore ass and all, to prove that there was a lot more to fighting Thread than having the guts to do it. But to include P’tero would have been to exclude a perfectly healthy and less erratic rider. K’vin had not selected M’leng of the green riders chosen for the First Fall. That would ease discord between that pair: that one had gone and the other had not. Basically, they were good weyrmates, having a reasonably stable relationship ever since P’tero, who was the younger, had Impressed Ormonth.

So it ends well for them, at least at this point. It’s always possible their partnership will be cut short by tragedy, but K’vin exercises good leadership by not putting salt in P’tero’s ass. As he said when giving P’tero his talking-to, there will be plenty of opportunities in the future.

Yes, that’s a big gloss over an entire chapter, but the actual fighting mechanics of the dragons haven’t changed since we saw them before. Flame in formation, all the way through, turn, reload, flame again. Queens pick up the stragglers and help the ground crews catch and roast burrows before they go too far. This first official fall happens over Bitra, of course, because otherwise the plot wouldn’t have nearly as much impact and Vergerin wouldn’t be able to have a pat on the back for getting the hold right with Jesus…err, the dragonriders.

Let’s take a look at what’s next…oh, fsck. The next recommended book is The Masterharper of Pern. Well, at least it was nice having a book that didn’t have Robinton’s hands in it before we get his biography.

So…thanks for sticking around with this book, and also, go support your local public library. Without them, this series would be both expensive and painful. Thanks to the library, it’s just painful.

Dragonseye: Profanity in Compound Meter

Last time, the history-erasing crew celebrated more success, the dragonriders took a vacation, and the most amount of screen time devoted to an actual gay couple had then mauled by lions. If you thought this couldn’t get worse, well, the narrative says “Hold my klah.”

Dragonseye: Chapter XVI: Content Notes: Toxic Masculinity, Consent Violations, “She Really Secretly Wanted It”

We last left P’tero recovering at Southern and feeling really horrible about how his actions led to the damage done to humans and dragons by the lions, and the fact that other people are being inconvenienced caring for him after his injuries. Because of him, several people have to stay longer in the South than originally envisioned, and they suffer consequences, too.

It was three weeks before P’tero’s wounds had healed sufficiently for the trip back. The makeshift infirmary had more patients since there were other hazards besides large hungry and territorially minded felines in the Southern Continent: the heat, unwary exposure to too much sun, and a variety of other injuries. Leopol got a thorn in his foot which had festered, so he joined P’tero in the infirmary shelter until the poison had drained.
Tisha and one of the Weyrfolk came down with a fever that had Maranis sending back to Fort for a medic more qualified than he in such matters. The woman recovered in a few days, but Tisha had a much harder time of it, sweating kilos off her big frame, to leave her so enervated Maranis was desperately worried about her. K’vin sent to Ista to beg a ship to transport her back North since he could not subject her to trying to climb aboard a dragon.
Her illness depressed everyone.
“You don’t really know how important someone is,” Zulaya said, having come down to reassure herself on the state of the convalescents, “until they’re suddenly…not there!”
Her remark sunk P’tero’s spirits. And Tisha was not there to jolly him out of his depression.

What is it about the Southern Continent that gives people firehead fevers when they visit? There doesn’t seem to be rhyme or reason to who is affected by it, but it airways seems to be there. And Leopol gets a thorn in his foot because Readis did, but this one isn’t crippling, because Weyrfolk care and because it’s not a clandestine mission in defiance of a parental ultimatum.

Also, because my good will meter is running a little short, I’m guessing that we’re supposed to infer that Tisha gets the worse of the fever because she’s fat. This is a case where the author might not know science that we do, because there’s at least a few things published in our day that suggest fat people are sometimes better equipped to ride out certain diseases. That, and we also have HAES and understand that fat-shaming is a thing. Not one jot of this means anything to P’tero, who is still stuck in guilt and shame about having caused the whole series of events.

M’leng was, and appeared in the shelter.
“How dare you be so self-centered?” the green rider said in a taut, outraged tone of voice.
“Huh?”
“Tisha’s illness is not your fault. Leopol wasn’t wearing shoes when he was told to and so his infected foot also isn’t your fault. In fact, it isn’t even your fault that we picked that rock out of all the ones we could have picked. It was bad luck, but nothing more, and I don’t want Ormonth upsetting Sith anymore. D’you hear me?”
P’tero burst into tears. Just as he’d thought: M’leng didn’t love him anymore.
Then M’leng’s gentle arms went around him, and he was pulled into M’leng’s chest and comforted with many caresses and kisses.
“Don’t be such a stupid idiot, you stupid idiot. How could I not love you?”
Later P’tero wondered how he could ever have doubted M’leng.

Never underestimate the ability of your partner to help you out of a funk. But also, it can be very difficult to break a loop like P’tero is going through, when it is very easy for him to believe he is the cause of it and that he could have avoided the whole thing by doing all sorts of things that make perfect sense in hindsight but that would often have required ESP or experience to have done beforehand. If this sounds familiar, it’s the pattern that society often foists on the victims of crime, and especially women who suffer a sexual crime. There are things that women can do that increase their potential protection, but ultimately, it’s up to the person committing the crime to not do that, and more often than not, a victim would have had to see through an attacker’s front to the real person underneath. That’s not always possible, and there are lots of times where even being able to see what’s about to happen doesn’t stop it from happening anyway.

M’leng is doing the right thing in avoiding victim-blaming.

When P’tero gets back, his and M’leng’s weyrs have been repainted and given new fabrics. P’tero gets soft cushions for his bed and Z’gal and T’sen (another canonical gay couple!) gift him with a riding pad so that P’tero won’t bruise his ass riding around (because P’tero is determined to be back in fighting form by Threadfall). M’leng caps off the celebration by giving P’tero an Iantine-commissioned painting of the event, as described by M’leng, which means P’tero looks a lot more heroic…and both of them still have their clothes on. (Ormonth wants to know where he is in the picture, apparently able to see the picture in P’tero’s mind as he looks at it.) P’tero is…

“Wouldn’t you rather have it?” P’tero suggested hopefully.
“I’ve a copy of my own. Iantine did two, one for each of us,” M’leng said, beaming proudly at his lover.
So P’tero had to hang the wretched reminder of the worst day of his life on his own wall, just where he couldn’t miss it every morning of his life when he woke up.
“You’ll never know how much this means to me,” he said, and that, too, was quite truthful.
No one thought it the least bit odd that he got very, very drunk on wine that night.

…thoroughly embarrassed and definitely being pressured to go along with a narrative that he’s definitely not comfortable with, because it makes a better story. We should probably keep an eye out for signs that P’tero is not handling it well. I hope he and M’leng get to have a heart-to-heart about how the painting makes him feel, how the whole heroism narrative makes him profoundly uncomfortable, and that he needs reassurance that M’leng loves him all the same, even though he’s different now.

The narrative shifts over to K’vin, Zulaya, and B’nurrin making secret plans to go with and observe the Threadfall that will be blistering the Southern Continent. B’nurrin admits he wants to go because he’s “…scared [he’ll] be needing clean pants half a dozen times the first Fall [he has] to lead.” and eventually the two Weyrleaders make their pact. Zulaya then volunteers herself along.

“Well, queens’ wings fly a lot lower into danger than the rest of the Weyr does. Makes it quicker for me to change my pants, but that doesn’t mean I want to have to.”

Which sounds like a pretty solid boast from Zulaya, but also a little bit of trying hard to sound like the boys for what I have envisioned of Zulaya’s personality.

The narrative then whisks us away to Bitra Hold (Under New Management), where Paulin is showing the reinvigorated Jamson around. (Jamson’s only fault about his son’s management in his absence is that he voted to impeach Chalkin.) The narrative goes to several paragraphs of showing us how things have improved greatly in Thread preparation and grounds maintenance, before taking everyone into Vergerin’s office, which is similarly lavished with good descriptions. There’s also a mention of how Vergerin is paying for all of this – he found Chalkin’s stash hiding in one of the steps.

“It’s been a lifesaver, both to return unnecessary tithings and to buy in supplies. One thing Chalkin for do correctly was keep records. I knew exactly how much he had extorted from his people.”
Jamson cleared his throat testily.
“Well, he did, Lord Jamson,” Vergerin said without cavil. “They hadn’t even enough in stores to get by on this winter, let alone reserves for Fall. I’m still unloading what we couldn’t possibly use from what Chalkin had amassed.” He gave a mirthless laugh. “Chalkin would have weathered all fifty years of the Pass from what he had on hand–but none of his people would have lasted the first year, let alone have the materials to safeguard what they could plant out. Bitra being established after the First Fall, there were no hydroponics sheds, although the tanks are stored below.”
Jamson gave another snort. “And the gaming? Have you curtailed that?”
“Both here and elsewhere,” Vergerin said, flushing a little. “I haven’t so much touched dice or card since that game with Chalkin.”
“What about his gamesmen?”
Vergerin’s smile was grim. “They had the choice of signing new contracts with me–for I will not honor the old ones–or leaving. Not many left.”
S’nan barked out a cackle of a laugh. “Not many would, considering the hazards of being holdless during a Pass. You have done well, Vergerin.” He nodded an emphasis.

We are reminded once again that the difference between heroes and villains is that the narrative approves of the actions of one and disapproves of the actions of the other. The gamesters are over a barrel – they can either sign new contracts or be turned out (without references, presumably) into a world that is about to rain death upon them. It’s a false choice, and should raise some eyebrows about similarly of tactics between these related people. But no, so long as Vergerin keeps the company line, they won’t oust him.

This also continues to suggest that there are Bitrans stashed just about everywhere else in the world, running games and funneling their profit back to Bitra Hold proper. I can’t quite figure out the mechanics of the banking system that would be needed for it to work and not be rife with robbery, but then again, maybe Bitrans are the ones who do banking, too.

I’m also skeptical of the claim that Chalkin could have stayed fifty years without running out of food. Admittedly, a good pepper could probably make a go at it, but the technology level here doesn’t seem to support the idea of being able to preserve food for fifty years, unless someone has been studying the conditions and techniques used that can produce the jar of wine or oil that stays sealed for millenia in perfect conditions.

As for the visit, S’nan and Jamson gear up to inspect the property, wanting Vergerin to stay behind so he can’t influence the outcome, before the visitors notice that Chalkin’s portrait has been hung prominently in the view of exiting the office, and that Iantine has restored it to the original realistic idea he envisioned, where we are told that Chalkin had “close-set eyes, bad complexion, scanty hair, and the mole on his chin.” In case anyone wondered whether Chalkin looked evil as well as behaved that way.

Jamson harrumphed several times. “And Chalkin? How’s he doing?”
Paulin shrugged and looked to S’nan.
“He was supplied with all he needs,” the Weyrleader said. “There is no need to exacerbate his expulsion by further contact.”
“And his children?” Jamson asked, eyes glinting coldly.
Vergerin grinned, ducking his head. “I feel they have improved in health, well-being, and self-discipline.”
“They stood in great need of the latter,” Paulin said.
“They may surprise you, Lord Paulin,” Vergerin said with a sly smile.
“I could bear it.”
“As the branch is bent, so it will grow,” Jamson intoned piously.”

Pious to what, exactly, given that Pern is still nominally areligious? But also, there’s a thread here that suggests there was more than just talking applied to the children to get them with the program. It comes back after the the three peek in on a lesson from Issony where the children are present and participating.

“Issony’s been right that those youngsters needed competition. The holder kids need no incentives: they want to learn, and Chaldon is determined not to let mere holders get better grades than he. Oh, there’s still whinings and pleadings and tantrums, but Issony has my permission to deal with them. And he does, most effectively.”

Now, if we recall the last major conversation about classroom discipline, many of them, Issony included, said that things only got better in the classroom when teachers could beat their students with impunity. While nobody is saying it outright, I think the context and the phrasing is enough for us to assume that corporal punishment is the method preferred and “effective” for keeping the children in line.

Which becomes even more horrible in the next paragraph, when that implication could be extended to Chalkin’s Lady as well.

“Nadona?” Paulin asked.
Vergerin raised his eyebrows. “She’s learning much the same lessons as her children, but she’s not as quick a study, as Issony would say. She has her own quarters,” and he inclined his head toward the upper levels. “She stays within.”
“And leaves you to get along with the real work?” Paulin asked in a droll tone.
“Exactly.”

Satisfied with the tour, Paulin makes to leave and the other two join in. S’nan is not fond of the idea of gambling in the Weyr or other gamesters loose to cause trouble at Gathers, but Paulin and the narrative regard S’nan as stuffy and otherwise old-fashioned, and we are supposed to as well, as if the idea of a leader having large debts that could be called in or used as blackmail material isn’t something for everyone to be concerned about with regard to the integrity of their government.

In any case, the narrative returns to a livid K’vin giving P’tero a dressing-down and suspension from his fighting wing for trying to get back into the saddle too soon, before he’s completely healed up. The evidence is in the riding pad he received, spotted with old and new blood from the reopening wounds. P’tero is dismayed.

“But…but…Thread’s nearly here!” P’tero cried in anguish, almost in tears with frustration and the fear of being unable to show M’leng just how brave he really was. Not mock-brave, like the lion attack, but real brave in selflessness in the air.

K’vin is having exactly none of this macho bullshit from P’tero and repeats his grounding orders before stalking off in rage. When his dragon tells him that P’tero’s dragon tried to stop it, K’vin demands that he be told immediately if there’s someone out some dragon not one hundred percent fit for duty. Zulaya’s queen tells him that she would never have let anyone get into real danger and he tells her off, too, as he heads to where Zulaya is. Having her queen spoken to that way sets Zulaya off, and the two of them look to have a hashing-out, except

Zulaya stared at him, surprised, for K’vin had never reprimanded her or Meranath, those she had to admit privately that he could have legitimately done so on several occasions she would be embarrassed to admit.

So Zulaya adopts a more conciliatory tone while K’vin continues to thunder on about how he needs every rider ready and not to have secrets withheld from him.

If you’re wondering about the tone shift, because Zulaya has not deferred to K’vin before and generally kept her anger in company, you’re not alone. But don’t worry, the author has a reason for this. You see…

He began pacing now, and Zulaya watched him, smiling with relief and pride. He was going to be a splendid Weyrleader, much better than B’ner would have been.
He halted, just short of where she stood, his eyes, brilliant with his anger and frustration, fixed on her face.
“What on earth can you find to grin about right now?” he demanded, suspiciously, for there was a quality in her smile that he’d never seen before.
“That you’re in full control,” she said, leaving her smile in place.
“Oh, I am, am I?” Then, as she had always hoped he would, he took her in his arms be began kissing her with the full authority of his masculinity and his position as her Weyrleader, without a trace of hesitation or deference. Just what she’d always hoped she’d provoke him to.

K’vin was still very much in complete control even very early the next morning, before dawn in fact, when Meranath told them that B’nurrin and Shanna were waiting for them.

Cocowhat by depizan

Cocowhat by depizan

Cocowhat by depizan

…it was all a test, you see, to bring out K’vin’s latent control and dominance so that he would be able to lead effectively. Y’know, to become the very thing he just shut P’tero down hard for. (And sensibly, too, I might add – bravado would likely get people hurt or killed in actual Threadfall.) Because Zulaya apparently wanted to groom K’vin into being the kind of Alpha Male Dom she wanted as a partner, and apparently didn’t get from B’ner.

This is terrible writing, from a craft perspective. You don’t have a character give someone grief for doing a thing and then get rewarded for doing the same thing unless you want the reader to notice the hypocrisy.

This change of Zulaya almost certainly relies on people having read previous books in the series, or relying on being properly Genre Savvy about romance tropes, to know that when someone behaves in this aggressive, dubious-to-nonconsensual way toward a woman, it’s what she secretly wants and she’ll surrender to passion and lovemaking and the partner that displays enough (toxic) masculinity to win her. There are spots of foreshadowing earlier, if you count Zulaya smiling when K’vin makes a firm decision after she has offered him an alternate choice to go along with his suggestion as foreshadowing this outcome, instead of any of the hundreds of other reasons why someone might smile at that point.

Let’s also talk about what a terrible plan this is! Zulaya intends to goad and provoke K’vin, who clearly has the hots for her, to the point where he doesn’t care about anything other than getting his way, regardless of the consequences. She wants him to override her consent and dismiss her suggestions as a sign of true leadership. In anything but a carefully negotiated kinky relationship, this is going to be a disaster, and it’s erasing qualities that will be good for K’vin when it comes to leadership, like taking advice from field officers and benching fliers desperate to prove their machismo to their mates. If it is supposed to be a part of a good kinky relationship, Zulaya never actually articulated this and found out whether K’vin wanted to participate before doing this to him. Consent violations and manipulative behavior do not a good play partner make.

And if this were the end of the chapter, or the book, then that would certainly be a note to end on, but no, there’s still more. Because now it’s time to go South and observe Threadfall before having to fight it.

But I’m going to stop here so that I can avoid filling page after page of swears about how all of this turned out. Back next week with more plot.

Dragonseye: Taking A Bad Turn

Last chapter, business and a party, and also Iantine sexually assaulted Debera, who had to make an appeal to Morath’s innocence to get him to stop. But they’re still dating.

Dragonseye: Chapters XV and XVI: Content Notes: Fat People As Comedy, Gay Men Assaulted

This chapter opens with Clisser taking stock of all the singing and music done over the last few days, both the new suite and the not-mentioned until now Teaching Songs and Ballads, which are earworms. The Duty Song, we are told, will make sure everyone remembers what their Charter rights and responsibilities are, and Clisser spares a thought for all the students doing manual copying by thinking he should suggest a printing press be created by Kalvi. Which he then dismisses because presses need paper, and the word forests are going to be vulnerable to Thread. (Shows how much he remembers about papermaking, though, because Terran history reminds us that wood pulp is not the only thing that you can transform into paper.) Mostly, though, Clisser concerns himself with groundcrew assignments and waiting to hear how the curriculum was taking.

We, instead, are treated to Iantine having a laugh and a marvel at the size and splendor of his quarters in Benden, compared to what he had received at Bitra, as Lady Jane shows him around, makes explicit comparisons to Bitra, and then leaves him to himself. The things Iantine notices about Lady Jane are that she seems very fluttery, and that she wears almost no jewels except her wedding band.

Then we jump back to Telgar Weyr, where K’vin and Zulaya are having a discussion about everything that’s been observed and reported so far on the Weyrlings and their romantic behaviors. K’vin’s concerned about Iantine and Debera, but Zulaya waves him off by pointing out that for as much as they are besotted with each other, they stayed in public places. Jule, on the other hand, has apparently already taken another rider to bed, before her dragon is going to start having flights. The chief concerns Zulaya has are not trying to push the Weyrlings into fighting sooner than absolutely necessary, and trying to figure out how to retire the older fighters without offending them or provoking them into doing dangerous things to prove their worth.

Eventually they settle on the idea of taking their fighting wings south under the pretense of looking for artifacts and checking on the spread and penetration of the grubs. K’vin worries that the grubs will replace the dragons, but Zulaya points out the obvious psychological benefits of dragons charring Thread, even if the grubs are a useful second line of defense. On the day of the excursion, the narrative stops to engage in making fun of Tisha’s attempts to get on a dragon.

The morning had its moment of humor: getting Tisha aboard brown Branuth had been a struggle, involving not only Branuth’s rider, T’lel (who laughed so hard he had hiccups) but four other riders, the strongest and tallest.
[The dragon tries to see what’s going on and gets a cramped neck for it.]
“Stop that and get up here, T’lel,” Tisha was yelling, her thick legs stuck out at angles from her perch between the neck ridges. “I’ll be split. And if I’m split, you’ll suffer. I get should have said I’d come. I should know better than to leave my caverns for any reason whatsoever. This is very uncomfortable. Stop that guffawing, T’lel. Stop it right now. It isn’t funny where I’m sitting. Get up here and let’s go!”
Getting Tisha aboard Branuth had taken so much time that everyone else was in place and ready to go by the time T’lel did manage to get in front of Tisha.
“Not only am I being split, I’m also being bisected by these ridges. Did you sharpen them on purpose, T’lel? No wonder riders are so skinny. They’d have to be. Don’t dragons grow ridges for large people? I should have had K’vin take me up. Charanth is a much bigger dragon…why couldn’t you have put me on your bronze, K’vin?” Tisha shouted across the intervening space.
K’vin was trying to preserve his dignity as Weyrleader by not laughing at the sight of her, but he didn’t dare look in her direction again.

I’m thoroughly displeased with this idea that Tisha is a comedy figure because she’s a larger woman who needs assistance to get into a dragon that is too small for her. Why can’t K’vin take her on his bronze? She’s the headwoman of the Weyr, so presumably any questions about whether she’s high enough in rank to be accorded the honor should be settled. It would make things easier for everyone. I’m also skeptical that there aren’t stools or ladders people can use to mount dragons and that nobody has engineered a method for someone to sit side-saddle on a dragon, because there would have to have been a Lord Holder that complained loudly about how riding “split” was immodest and would provide views of his wife or daughters that nobody but her husband should be entitled to. This comedy routine shouldn’t be present because it’s making fun of someone because they’re fat. But also because the conspicuous absence of basic technology in this regard is unbelievable.

The trip south goes without incident, and everyone immediately procrastinates on their duties to go have a romp in the sand and the water. Tisha gets off of Branuth by way of water landing, and everyone essentially strips their clothes off and goes for a swim.

The narrative decides that we need to go see characters that have until now only been mentioned in passing (I believe): P’tero, blue rider, and M’leng, green rider, who are weyrmates and both confirmed to be men. The two of them ask permission to go off and lounge, and eventually both end up shirtless and pantsless while their dragons are off hunting herdbeasts. P’tero has designs for their privacy, and waves off a warning of a strange smell from his dragon as just new smells of the South.

And then the lions attack them. I’ll spare you the narrative part, but the gist is that both riders are hurt pretty badly, their dragons return and fight the lions, then more dragons arrive, led by Zulaya, and rip the lions apart in a fury. P’tero and M’leng pass out or are knocked unconscious, and that ends the chapter.

Nobody dies. Which is about the only grace I’m willing to give to this scene. As an earlier, younger reader, I wouldn’t have noticed that the first time there are confirmed gay dragonriders on camera, about to have a romantic interlude, they both get mauled by lions, which both conveniently stops the author from having to write gay sex and affection and probably makes a lot of homophobic fans very, very happy that the narrative has finally condemned what it had been trying to bury and not draw attention to in setting up a society where promiscuous dragons would result in gay orgies happening in the regular.

I was ready to give at least a little yay for representation on screen, finally, after all this time, but no. No cookies at all when you put a gay couple on screen only to have them be seriously injured, and especially not in a chapter where you’ve spent time previously making fun of fat people. (Yes, this isn’t actually a surprise to the people that have been following along with the comments made by the author about her understanding of gay men, but it’s the first time those views have intruded solidly in the text. I would prefer the clinical medical language that minimizes the gay population of Weyrs to this.

We’re going to intrude in on Chapter XVI for a bit, because after having written the characters getting attacked and hurt, the author turns around and writes in a rather good description of the guilt and embarrassment that follows from such an incident.

The shame of being attacked, of endangering M’leng, of being responsible for injuring nine dragons–when K’vin had particularly warned everyone to be careful–was almost more than he could bear. M’leng might say that P’tero saved his life–although he had to have his shoulder wound stitched–but P’tero knew that was incidental in the sequence of the attack.

And as more details come in about what happened, the embarrassment grows. Because a makeshift camp has to be set up to make sure the injured heal before returning. Because it requires fetching medics to stitch people up and tend to them. Because they had set themselves up on top of the place where a den of lions were, thank you Ted Tubberman.

And it’s not helping that there’s a narrative being deliberately circulated that’s untrue, at least in P’tero’s eyes.

He worried endlessly that M’leng would no longer live him, with such a scarred and imperfect body. M’leng, however, seemed to dwell so on P’tero’s heroism in protecting him with his own body that the blue rider decided not to mention the fact that it had not been entirely voluntary. M’leng had been unconscious from the moment of attack and had a great lump and a cut in the back of his head as well as the wound on his shoulder.
Zulaya had arrived to see P’tero trying to remove the claws from M’leng’s body, so there was little the blue rider could say to contradict the Weyrwoman’s version.
Tisha, coming to give him fellis early one morning, found him in tears, positive that he had lost M’leng with such a marred body.
“Nonsense, my lad,” Tisha had said, soothing back his sweaty hair as she held the straw for his fellis juice to his lips. “He will only see what you endured for his sake, to save him. And those scars will heal quite nicely, thanks to Corey’s neat stitching.”
The reference to the skill of the Head Medic almost reduced him to tears again. He’d caused so much fuss.

Tisha continues to reassure P’tero that everything is fine, and the dragonriders needed a lesson in their own vulnerability, and that the ostensible mission of the trip south succeeded. I’m going to cut off here, because what follows on from this involves more people and also is a catalyst for something else I’m going to shout about next week.

P’tero is written excellently here, based on my own experiences of being so embarrassed that nothing else can penetrate, even as others try to put a more positive spin on it. And also the same about having done a thing that might have saved a life, even though to you it didn’t seem noteworthy or heroic at all. P’tero would like very desperately to know that M’leng still loves him, despite his flaws, and also would like to be left alone, thank you, so as to have a proper processing and worry about everything that happened. If Pern had counselors, P’tero wants to see one who will help him work through his feelings and come to acceptance, instead of trying to spin him a new story and get him to accept what he knows isn’t true.

And if he had someone to talk through things with, maybe what he’ll get up to next time wouldn’t have happened.

Dragonseye: May Auld Acquaintance…

Last Chapter, Chalkin was deposed, his successor found smelling of shit, and Iantine went back to Telgar traumatized by all he had seen and drawn, to have everyone pester him about what happened and then have a laugh at a piece of art he felt shame about.

Dragonseye: Chapter XIV: Content Notes: Sexual Assault

Clearly, this calls for a celebration. Although the chapter opens with telling us about the way that the Conclave meets once on the day before Turn’s End (the day of winter solstice) for any remaining business or referenda that require votes of more than the Conclave (Eh? Since when do feudal arrangements also have mass democracy?), whose votes are collected on Turn’s End and returned so the Conclave can get the results on their first formal meeting of the year on the first day of the new Turn. The first business this year is getting the new Holder formally installed. Vergerin helps cement that things are different at Bitra by throwing a giant party and paying any extra cost out of his own pocket. (Naturally, Chalkin hid his wealth so well that nobody can find it, and nobody is talking about where it actually is.) Vergerin Kai gets released from his promise to Chalkin not to contest a succession, and names heirs of his own that aren’t Chalkin’s kids.

CROM Hold is granted a probationary status, and then there’s a couple more bits of business before Paulin adjourns, including the need to stomp out a rumor that Chalkin was a cannibal while emphasizing that justice happens quickly and publicizing the trials and convictions of the guards.

Then Clisser gets to watch the installation of an Eye and Finger Rock combination at Benden Weyr, with the understanding that all the other Weyrs will get theirs, too.

For the most part, though, the chapter decides to take an intimate focus on Iantine and his feelings for Debera as he sketches the night away, stopping for a bit to actually listen to the new composition being debuted tonight, the “Landing Suite” that’s going to serve as history for generations to come. There’s also a small bit about how everyone is encouraged to read music and pick up an instrument so that there’s always going to be music available wherever anyone is. It’s certainly a difference between this time and the later Passes, where being able to play well can get a girl beaten and maimed for religious trespasses.

Leopol is his usual self, although he’s clearly taken a liking to Iantine and doesn’t want him to leave the Weyr. And Leopol knows, of course, that Iantine and Debera fancy each other, because everyone knows everyone’s secrets in a Weyr. And K’vin and Zulaya cut a very fine first dance, which appears to Iantine’s eyes like Zulaya is flirting quite heavily with K’vin.

Where I’m going to focus, though, is generally the last part of the chapter, where Iantine and Debera are together and Morath is pretending not to listen in on their minds. Morath has said a few times in the past that Debera likes Iantine, and so Iantine is getting ready to confess his feelings for her…and is going to do so in the way that men of Pern confess their feelings — sexual assault.

“Ooooh,” and suddenly Iantine had a hunch. “Tisha gave all the riders that ‘don’t do anything you’ll be sorry for at Turn’s End’ lecture?” She gave him a startled look. And he grinned back at her. “I’ve been read that one a time or two myself, you know.”
“But you don’t know,” she said, “that it’s different for dragonriders. For green riders with very immature dragons.” Then she gave him a horrified look as if she hadn’t meant to be so candid. “Oh!”
He pulled her closer to him, even when she resisted, and chuckled. All those casual questions he’d asked dragonriders explained all that she didn’t say.
“Green dragons are…how do I put it kindly? Eager, loving, willing, too friendly for their own good…”

That’s once she’s resisted. Keep counting as they happen.

She stared up at him, a blush suffusing her cheeks, her eyes angry and get body stiffening against the rhythm of the dance. They were about to pass an opening, one of the corridors that led back to the storage areas of the Weyr. He whirled them in that direction despite her resistance, speaking in a persuasively understanding tone.
“You’re the rider of a young get and she’s much too young for sexual stimulation. But I don’t think a kiss will do her any damage, and I’ve got to kiss you once before I have to go to Benden.”
And he did so. The moment their lips touched, although she tried to resist, their mutual attraction made the contact electric. She could not have resisted responding — even to protect Morath’s innocence.

Cocowhat by depizan

Three times she resisted, but still you had to, Iantine. If you actually liked Debera, you wouldn’t be pressuring her into this. We can also take note of whose side the narrative is on – Iantine’s, and it’s going to use Morath to shore up that position of “clearly, Debera liked it, so nobody should care that she was just violated.”

That’s very nice, you know.
“Morath!” Debera jerked her body upright, though her hands clenched tightly on his neck and shoulder. “Oh…dear, what have I done?”
“Not as much to her as you have to me,” Iantine said in a shaky voice. “She doesn’t sound upset or anything.”
Debera pushed away to stare up at him — he thought she had never looked so lovely.

Because, as we know from Lessa, when women get angry, it makes them cute and sexy instead of terrifying. Iantine forges ahead with admitting that Morath talks to him occasionally, and also knows his name, a thing that might “really distress her”, but that he had to be honest about. Iantine is relieved that Debera hasn’t just stormed off. Truthfully, the narrative is probably holding her in place, and it’s about to make her justify Iantine’s actions toward her.

“I’m glad you do know that [Morath always comes first], but Ian…I don’t know what I feel about you, except that I did like your kiss.” Her eyes were tender and she glanced shyly away from him. “I’m glad you did kiss me. I’ve sort of wanted to know…” she said with a ripple in her voice, but still shy.
“So I can kiss you again?”
She put her hand on his chest. “Not quite so fast, Iantine! Not quite so fast. For my sake as well as Morath’s. Because…” and then she blurted out the next sentence, “I know I’m going to miss you…almost…as much as I’d miss Morath. I didn’t know a rider could be so involved with another human. Not like this. And,” she increased pressure on the hand that held them apart because he wanted so to kiss her for that, “I can’t be honestly sure of it’s not because Morath rather likes you, too, and is influencing me.”
I am not, said Morath firmly, almost indignantly.
“She says…” Debera began as Iantine said, “I heard that.”

Iantine, you are so far in the negative right now that Debera would be well within her privileges to send you out and tell you not to come back. And to report you for what you did, even if she enjoyed it, because you were trying to take advantage of her.

Thankfully, Iantine does respect Morath enough to not try for anything more sexual.

They both laughed and the sensual tension between them eased. He made quick use of the opportunity to to kiss her, lightly, to prove that he could and that he did understand about Morath. He had also actually asked as many questions about rider liaisons as discretion permitted. What he’d learned far been both reassuring and unsettling. There were more ramifications to human affairs than he had ever previously suspected. Dragonrider-human ones could get very complicated. And green dragons being so highly strung and sexually oriented were the most complex.

That’s, what, five times now Iantine has ignored or given pushback to Debera’s boundaries? Morath isn’t the only one that needs maturity here.

I do like the characterization, even if unintentional, of dragonriders as a separate species from humans, since they’re a kind of gestalt being and at least partially incomprehensible. I still think Iantine is taking things in stride a little too well, especially confronted with the very real likelihood that polyamory is the way the Weyr operates, or at the very least, that Morath is likely going to lead Debera into a life of very casual sex and Iantine isn’t going to be her only partner.

Iantine asks if he’s welcome back to the Weyr once he gets done at Benden. Debera says yes, and the two return to the dance with their arrangement worked out, and that’s the end of the chapter. Business, a new song that’s just as great as all the other ones, and a character sexually assaulting another through her no, only for his victim character and the narrative to tell us “no, really, she wanted it, even though it terrified her.”

Blech. Can we get back to politics, please?