Well, we were sold the idea that this would be Dragonrider, but there’s a Note To Readers right in the beginning of this book to tell us that this is not that thing, but some other thing entirely. In fact, this particular work is neither Dragonrider, as was advertised, nor After The Fall Is Over, which appears to have been a planned work closing out the Dragonriders of Pern by showing us what happened in the time after the Red Star was pushed out of orbit to the point where it no longer drops Thread on Pern. What it is is a collaboration, and one that was apparently worked upon by both sides and where Anne, the older author, is trying to communicate that she’s getting better about sharing and changing. Let’s take a look:
–and, I must confess, I am still a bit possessive when it comes to the futures of F’lar and Lessa. Still, I did talk over some of my ideas with Todd, and he sent me a long list of questions in response that proved thought-provoking, inspiring, and challenging.
I head read and enjoyed his Dragonheart and Dragongirl, and the truth is, the excitement was catching. And so I said: “You know, Todd, how hard it is for me to share…maybe you could show me how?”
Todd got the message and quickly agreed. And it’s been a lot of fun.
[…Anne is very proud of what they’ve made and eager to start on Dragonrider…]
Already we know that Dragonrider will break new ground and old tradition; still, Todd’ll do most of the writing and I’ll do the tweaking and critiquing, just as before.
And after that, who knows? He’s been so good about allowing me to take part in moving his characters around the playing board…maybe I’ll finally let him play with him play with my characters!
Perhaps I am jaded, having worked my way through so many of these works with a critical eye and repeatedly being proven time and time again that Pern is probably on a Bad Timeline, if not the Worst Timeline, but this does not reassure me at all about the work that is being done, in multiple directions.
First, if what Anne says is true, and that for some amount of their collaborative work, potentially including the very first book that was marked as a collaboration between the two, Todd has been doing the bulk of the writing and Anne has been critiquing and otherwise tweaking, then the era of the second author starts farther back than I had initially thought, and all the faults of previous endeavours should be reapportioned appropriately to match this burden of writing versus editorial. It doesn’t mean anyone comes out looking any better, only worse.
Second, the way this is set up is that Todd was the one who had to share and show his mother the way, rather than his mother being the one to decide to share and let Todd write in her era of Pern. Which sounds far much more like a parent telling the older child that they have to be the good example and share with the small child, including those things that the older child would like to keep to themselves, thanks. Which the older child does, because they know very well that if they don’t share whatever the small child demands, they’ll end up having it taken away by the parent as punishment for their “selfishness”.
Not that it would have gone any other way, because we have mentioned before that Anne was the kind of person who made stringent demands of her fans as to what they could do in her sandbox as well. I haven’t really seen any evidence that she was any less stringent with Todd, and this letter seems to confirm that.
Going onward to the note for readers new to Pern, it still says the Red Star’s orbit is cometary, which is right, even though we established a very, very long time ago that no cometary orbit like that would actually stick around throwing spores for fifty years. After the general thing, which still seems to go “authoritarianism, yay!”, we end up with a summary of the last three books in capsule form, a chronology of the major events that have happened so far, and a map of Pern. And then we get into:
Dragon’s Time: Chapter 1: Content Notes:
The way forward is dark and long.
A dragon gold is only the first price you’ll pay for Pern.
No time marker for this chapter.
This book opens with Lorana hurtling herself through time, knowing full well that this decision is going to kill her unborn child, but justifying it because of the problem of the dragons dying out and, apparently, because she believes she’s the only one who can accomplish the feat of jumping into a future past her own present time.
She was the only one with a sure sense of time and place–a gift, she thought, from her special link with all the dragons of Pern–and only she could make the journey forward to such an unknown, unseen time. She used the Red Star to guide her, picturing it and the stars in their stations where they would be fifty turns from her present.
Except that the method she describes, setting the stars and the Red Star into their proper place for a forward jump, is something that anyone who went to Igen or learned from the traders at Igen should be able to do. The precision of the jump is presumably dependent on the ability of the rider to visualize precisely, but Lorana doesn’t actually have to do this jump herself if what she’s planning on doing is grabbing dragons from the future and bringing them back to fight in the past, so they can ensure their own future. (At this point, Pern’s timeline is held together with string and tape and is praying they’ll get through this space without one of the paradoxes completely breaking everything. And, as we established all the way back where the time travel was first discovered, time travel stories become more and more about the time travel. At this point, it’s all about the time travel.)
All of this is to say that Lorana could have prevented the death of her unborn child by delegating the task of jumping into the future to someone else. I don’t want this to sound like this is the fault of anything but the narrative, however, because the narrative did tell us about the star method and anyone who had trained on it that was still alive would be able to use it. There’s no actual need for Lorana, specifically, to do this thing, other than to fulfill Tenniz’s prophecy and make things even more tragic for Lorana to have sacrificed her child for this. Because, for whatever reason, the narrative of this entire series has decided that when they need someone to suffer tragedy, it’s Lorana, or it’s Kindan if Lorana can’t actually suffer that particular tragedy, or it’s Fiona if neither of them are available.
And to twist the knife in, even more, Lorana’s trip to the future will yield her no dragons at all to come back with her, because when she comes to in the future, she’s dealing with the one person in her life who wouldn’t give her a drink in the middle of the desert, Tullea.
“Help?” Lorana said. She realized that word wasn’t enough and, after another breath, asked, “Will you send help?”
“Dragons from the future?” Tullea said. “Simple, quick, efficient! Oh, yes, no worries for those left behind.” She snorted and added viciously, “Oh, no! No, dragon-stealer, you won’t find any dragons in the future!”
“None?” Lorana opened her eyes only to find the room completely dark.
“None for you,” Tullea snapped back. “You were always meddling when you should have left things alone.”
“Where’s B’nik?” Lorana asked.
“Where’s his jacket?” Tullea retorted. She barked a bitter laugh. “Between, that’s where! Where you left it!”
And since the room is darkened, of course, Lorana can’t see anything, and Tullea hustles her to get going and leave already. Lorana tries to reach out to sense any dragons, only for Tullea to slap her back to herself and rush her onto Minith and send her away to time coordinates that Tullea has provided for her.
After Lorana disappears back in time, Tullea summons back the dragons that have been waiting in hyperspace so as not to give away the game, and then is unhappy at a much older Fiona about having to be bitchy at Lorana, because it means, apparently, that Lorana never learns the truth about Tullea.
“She said that you were horrible to her, gave her not one moment’s kindness.” She paused and added, “Nor one clue.”
“So she’ll never know,” Tullea mused to herself. “She never found out.”
“No,” Fiona replied sadly. “She never had a chance to learn how you’d changed.” She smiled at the older woman. “But I did.”
Which does not impress Tullea at all, and she grumbles at Fiona that she’s played her part in this, now it’s time for Fiona to let her go to her rest. Tullea does ask if Fiona ever got the opportunity to tell Lorana, but Fiona says she didn’t learn until it was too late. Tullea finally asks Fiona not to tell the current Benden Weyrleader, who is apparently Lorana’s son, and whose Weyrwoman is apparently Tullea’s daughter, about the fact that Lorana was here that night.
So, that’s not a good sign for Lorana at all, in that she is apparently going to die before she can find out that Tullea isn’t as terrible as she thought. Which does naturally lead into the question of what changed Tullea. At the end of the last book, we saw Tullea and B’nik’s relationship change from “bitchy Weyrwoman who may or may not still be multiply-in-time, who is very protectively jealous of B’nik, and the Weyrleader who isn’t quite sure how to handle her” into “strong Weyrleader who no longer has time for his Weyrwoman’s moods and bitchiness, for which she loves him even more now that he’s taken her firmly in hand and shown her her proper place.” This was because B’nik thought he was slated to die doing time travel. Which turns out not to have been the case, at least for the incident they thought was the problem and that Tullea had begged Lorana to find a solution to. Did Tullea just continue to be that way after B’nik’s death was averted? Or has there been enough time elapsed in this time tangle that Tullea is finally free of the time-twisting aggravation that made her unpleasant and her actual, unsplit self was finally able to come through, where everyone got to realize that Tullea is actually reasonable and helpful when she’s not having herself fractured across time and space? We saw a little bit of that Tullea when she came back from her own three-year warp and thanked Lorana sincerely for everything that had happened.
Because that question goes unanswered, we still don’t know whether the muzzy-headedness that Fiona has been suffering from and trying to stave off with massive caffeine doses is what Tullea has been suffering from, but instead of making her perpetually tired, it makes Tullea perpetually wired. Which would be a common point of empathy between them and might lead to smoothing over their relationship, but that would be removing Tullea from Designated Bitch status before the narrative wants to, and also doing some worldbuilding about how time travel affects dragonriders. At times, this narrative seems allergic to worldbuilding, and at other times, it seems like it wants to worldbuild hard on things that only make things worse. It’s not a good combination.
Geting back to Lorana, I really would not want her to die in a Moreta kind of way, jumping to no destination at all, or anything like that. We’ve still got one more book to get through, after all, so unless the last book is going to fully focus on Fiona, we’ve still got time for Lorana to do things and discern what it is that her purpose in history is. The time-jump that Tullea gave her, however, was not back to the original time Lorana departed from, but to a different time and place, where she pops out over Red Butte and essentially crashes to sleep from the time travel. Then she meets who it is that she has come back to see, and it’s Tenniz, who is camping out here because he has already seen his future, and knows that Lorana is the person that he is going to die in the company of.
Apparently, to hear the narrative tell it, Tenniz only saw a glimpse of the future, and didn’t know that what his prophecy was going to do was cause the termination of Lorana’s pregnancy. Lorana cries at his shock and apology, and then asks Tenniz if she’s paid enough. Tenniz replies that he doesn’t know, and this is about the time where I wish that someone would tell Lorana a small comforting lie. Even if Tenniz doesn’t know, he could say it in language that would be better for Lorana and might help her avoid being a perpetual state of grief about everything.
Lorana reaches out, reminded of a memory of Fiona, and can feel her in both places at this point in time, but she pulls back before Fiona can follow her all the way back to where she is, since neither of those Fiona have met Lorana yet, and it would be a bad idea to spoil time. Which, conveniently, is the next discussion that Lorana and Tenniz have, about cheating time. Lorana provides the example of Ketan, and Tenniz nods and says that what he sees comes to pass, but it doesn’t necessarily mean what he sees is exactly what happens. And divulges something particularly morbid.
“Among those born with this gift, it is common that the first thing they see is their own death.”
“Your death?” Lorana asked, wide-eyed. “Here? With me?”
Tenniz noddded twice.
“That must be horrible!”
“Not really,” Tenniz said. “I first started seeing around my eleventh Turn, and so seeing myself all ‘grown up’–as I thought then–seeing myself talk to someone whom I was really pleased to meet, was quite an enjoyable image.”
I wonder if there’s a sense of “when” that comes along with this sight, so that 11 year-old Tenniz or so knows not only that he’s seen his death, but he also knows that it’s going to be coming in ten years, or twenty, or something like that. It likely does, if the Sight as described here hews with the way that precognitives were described in the Talents series, since there’s a chapter, or a short story, or a short story that was adapted for a chapter, or something, anyway, where a precognitive makes a bet with a very wealthy man that he can predict the very minute of his death. Said very wealthy man is also suffering from a seemingly incurable disease that would normally kill him much sooner than the date that the precognitive says. So the wealthy man takes the bet, beats the disease (maybe it’s cancer and he goes into remission?) and then throws a party on his death day, where the very minute ticks down, and the narrative rather coyly tells us that because of all the excitement in that minute, his heart gives out and he died. Afterward, someone close to him thanks the precognitive for what he did for the wealthy man, because the wealthy man’s determination to prove the precognitive wrong is what helped him beat the disease and live a full twenty years longer than he would have otherwise. And thus, it becomes a perfect example of what Tenniz is saying, as well: the precognitive is right about the minute of the death, but for all the wrong reasons. A person wearing the Benden Weyrleader’s jacket is observed riding a bronze dragon and dies to Thread. What actually happens is that it’s another rider in the Benden Weyrleader’s jacket and his dragon has been dusted so as to look bronze in the light. Many time travel kinds of stories use this device so that they don’t have to adjust a timeline or worry about the many-worlds theory. Thankfully, after using it as a primary plot device for one book, JK Rowling got rid of the time travel device, and it didn’t reappear until the presumably canonical but generally disregarded stage play that involved time travel and did invoke the many-worlds theory version of time travel to achieve its end.
Getting back to the point I was making, if there’s an accompanying sense of when that goes along with it, that can’t be great for Tenniz, and I wonder how he arranged his life, in subtle and obvious ways, with the knowledge that he was running on limited time, and that he knew how much it was that he had left. I imagine he would have wanted to cram as much as he could into that limited amount of time, so that he wouldn’t feel like he missed out on anything before his time came. I can believe his serenity at this time having arrived, especially since he also has a racking cough that can’t have made his quality of life all that great for the whole time he’s had it.
The plot has Lorana and Tenniz discuss the dangers of revealing too much of the future, and in doing so, as Lorana explains what happened with Tullea and Tenniz offers subtle commentary on the matter, Lorana works out that she could have been played by Tullea, especially if she ended up telling someone like, say, Fiona, about what happened while she was in the future, such that the dragons hide in hyperspace, Tullea slaps her to stop her from noticing them, and time keeps its shape and sends Lorana back to Tenniz instead of back to her original time. Tenniz nocomments Lorana’s logic, but points out that what she’s come up with is equally as plausible as what she had thought before, and thus it’s a bad idea to reveal too much about the future, lest someone end up locking in a future that they don’t actually want.
Tenniz and Lorana both get up, as Tenniz has more things to show Lorana, and wants to do so while he still has time to do so. He says that Lorana and he are going to have a better time at some point in the future, and also that he’s seen how Lorana looks when she “piled the rocks.” Which took Tenniz some time to figure out, but he’s realized that what it means is that Lorana buries him after he dies. So Tenniz is taking Lorana to the place where he would like to be buried after he’s gone, and asks Lorana to bury him when he’s dead.
And that ends the chapter. With someone who Lorana has not met until now, and who has caused her an immense amount of pain with his prophecy and all the results from it before meeting him, asking her to bury him after his death. Which, if we think about it, means that Tenniz isn’t done hurting Lorana yet, since in addition to his prophecy of doom, Tenniz has arranged it so that Lorana can watch him die from something that is already clearly impacting his health. While there are some people in our lives that we wouldn’t mind watching die in a slow and painful manner, I don’t think that Lorana has that opinion of Tenniz (not yet). Plus, Lorana is the person who has seen and felt so much death of dragon and human alike, and yet the narrative is shoving more of this on her.
Much like how Tullea supposedly changed, but Lorana never found out, it seems like all of Lorana’s life is going to be tragedy, either experienced or witnessed. It’s actually kind of hard to remember that Lorana was the protagonist of the first book of this sequence, because since that book (and in that book), she had some temporary successes, but otherwise has been plagued with survivor’s guilt and a prophecy that tells her she can’t ever have actual happiness, because greater tragedies are yet to be visited upon her. It’s weird, because I thought we had trained authors out of the practice of writing novels where the point is to inflict as much tragedy on someone before killing them. The last bastion of that, as best as I had thought, were the stories where queer people weren’t allowed to have happy endings, and we’ve been trying to get those stories out of the canon as well.
So we’ll leave Tenniz asking Lorana to bury him for now and pick up with Chapter 2 next week.