Category Archives: Deconstruction

All the Weyrs of Pern: I’m Making A Note Here

Last chapter presented sabotage and attacks as well as a discovery of Honshu and its secret fuel stores. The Pernese got a look inside a Thread casing, but didn’t learn a whole lot. And now comes more space exercises…

All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapter 14: Content Notes: Toxic masculinity

The chapter opens with the fuel from Honshu deposited into the main tanks, which is unremarkable except for that technology has marched on to the point where Jaxom and Piemur can share klah from a “hot bottle” composed of glass, an insulating layer of plant fiber, and a plastic outside layer. AIVAS called it a thermos when Piemur got it, and Jaxom has a little bit of gadget envy. Piemur dismisses it as Harper privilege to try out new things, and that he was conveniently there to receive it. Having dumped fuel, AIVAS tells them that the next step of the Plan requires dragons to be able to survive the vacuum for at least twelve minutes, ideally fifteen. AIVAS would like Ruth and Jaxom to be the test flyers to make sure the idea of anchoring dragons by letting them grip enclosures that had fuel tanks is sound.

Piemur, normally the daredevil, is hesitant, while Jaxom is game.

Then Piemur fixed Jaxom with a fierce stare. “So you’re going to do it? Without checking with anyone?”
Jaxom glared right back, anger rising. “I don’t need to check with anyone, Piemur. I’ve been making my own decisions for a long time. This time, I get to make it without anyone else’s interference. Not yours, or F’lar’s, or Lessa’s, or Robinton’s.”
“Sharra’s?” Piemur cocked his head, his eye contact unswerving.
[…Piemur continues to be anxious…]
Jaxom gripped his shoulder. “Don’t forget that Aivas cannot endanger human life. And we’ve seen tapes of spacemen doing EVA drills.”

THAT IS PATENTLY FALSE, JAXOM. Unless, that is, you believe the deafening that Aivas did didn’t endanger anyone’s life, even though it did permanent damage to their hearing. It could have really ruptured something that would have endangered life or made it impossible to keep balance or any number of things. And that, I presume, is one of the lower-level protection systems in place. From everything I have seen and heard so far, the AI is definitely not Three Laws Compliant and would probably happily exterminate an enemy of the Plan that proved a threat or danger to it or anyone it needed.

As it is, Piemur helps Jaxom get settled in his suit, and there is an EVA, where Ruth shows a lot of initiative and independence in decision-making where they want to go and when it is time to go back into the ship. Ruth thoroughly enjoys the trip, and Jaxom appreciates the view. Piemur is less happy about it.

Piemur let out an exaggerated sigh. “And if you and Ruth can do it, every other dragon and rider on Pern will feel required to follow your example. Is that what you wanted, Aivas?”
“The result is inevitable, given the friendly competitiveness of dragonriders.”
Piemur raised both hands in a gesture of resignation. “As I said, with a friend like Aivas, you don’t need enemies!”

Indeed so, Piemur. Although I wonder how much of it will be “friendly competition” and how much it will be “can’t be shown up by the runt and the Holder-child.”

When they get back to Landing, Lytol gives Jaxom a mild dressing-down about the unscheduled EVA, followed by the text mentioning that several more were given as each of the other major stakeholders are informed of what happened. D’ram and Robinton immediately see there is a reason behind the reason of getting dragons adjusted to space and decide to go ask the AI, who finally decides to let them and us in on the plan, assisted by Jaxom and Piemur realizing key points along the way – to move the engines on the spacecraft to a chasm on the wanderer, and then engage an uncontrolled matter-antimatter reaction by using the nitric acid already used for flamethrowers to corrode the protective barrier between the two. The resulting explosions should provide enough force at the designated time to permanently shift the wanderer’s orbit into a nonlethal pattern.

“How heavy are those engines?” F’lar asked.
“Their mass is the one weak point of the plan. However, you have constantly stated that the dragons can carry that which they think they can carry.”
“Correct, but no one has ever asked them to carry engines!” F’lar replied, awed by the scale of the loads.
Jaxom began to chuckle and received offended stares. “That’s why the bronzes have been exercising in free-fall–to get them used to things being so much lighter in space. Right, Aivas?”
“That is correct.”
“So if we don’t tell them how much those bloody things weigh…”
“Now, really, Jaxom,” F’lar began.
“No, really, F’lar,” Jaxom replied. “Aivas is applying a valid psychological technique. I think it’ll work. Especially if we think it can work. Right?” He gave F’lar a challenging look.

This “cheeky kid” routine is probably supposed to make us cheer for Jaxom more against the established and slow older generation, and also show us just how much more clever the young ones are, but Jaxom comes off the worse for this exchange, more like the insufferable know it all who impatiently words for everyone to catch up to his genius. He’s convinced of his rightness and nobody is getting in his way. That he’s the main character means the narrative invests in proving him right instead of making him wait.

The plan of making the dragons believe they can receives approval from Lytol and D’ram, and the Benden Weyrleader eventually comes around to it, as well. Lessa voices a practical concern – the distance to travel will be massive, and so dragons and riders both will need protection.

There’s also a quick speculation that the reason why Lessa nearly died during the time jaunt was a lack of oxygen, implying that large time leaps are possible, if one has a spacesuit and sufficient oxygen supply for the trip. The lack of interest in experiencing history or documenting everything more thoroughly is even more glaring now, but since this bit is sandwiched in between other plot points, I don’t expect it to come up again.

AIVAS also gets to tell us about its calculations on how long the jump will be.

“From what has been said by every rider interviewed, only eight seconds elapse to reach most destinations here on Pern,” Aivas went on. “Of those eight seconds, the dragons seem to use a basic five or so to assimilate their coordinates, and the rest of the time for the actual transfer. Using this premise and adapting it to a logarithmic computation, assume that travel takes 1 second for 1,600 kilometers, 2 seconds for 10,000, 3.6 seconds for 100,000, and 4.8 for 1 million and 7 to 10 seconds for 10 million. While this method of transference is still incomprehensible to this facility, it does appear to work. Therefore, knowing the approximate distance from Pern to the Red Star, it is easy to compute an interplanetary jump. It has also been established that dragons are able to function for fifteen minutes before their systems are in oxygen debt–more than enough time to make the journey, position the engines in the chasm, and return. The dragons are accurate fliers.”

I’d like to know how the AI comes to the conclusion of five seconds of orienteering, unless somewhere in the databank is the results of experiments in dragons and their travel capacities. Also, the way AIVAS calculates suggests the dragons either accelerate in hyperspace, or perhaps that folding hyperspace the right way to get to the destination takes a little longer for a dragon to do when the distances are greater.

And no, it’s not just a matter of knowing the distance, it’s knowing the distance and giving the dragons a target point to land, on an object hurtling through the system at speed. It’s so nice that dragons take this into account, if unconsciously. Otherwise, we would have to use computers.

The Benden Weyrleader immediately volunteers himself to make a trip out and back to test the theory, and forbids anyone else from joining him. Jaxom says he’s coming, and that he’ll go anyway if he’s forbidden, so there. Lessa thinks they’re both fools and decides to join them. Lytol is firmly in the camp of caution, on the idea of “if all y’all get killed at this juncture, you can kiss goodbye any chance of restarting this plan for a very long time” and that it is impossible to completely predict the future. He is ignored because there’s way too much toxic masculinity in the room, between the Benden Weyrleader’s “I can’t ask anyone to do what I wouldn’t do myself, because I AM LEADER,” Jaxom’s “I know best out of all of you, so you can’t stop me,” and Lessa’s “I’m not missing out on this just because you think I’m a helpless chick.”

But he’s right, and has been all this time about the dangers of these missions. It’s a Star Trek Away Team mission, composed of the highest bridge and department officers. And if this were a realm where they were the only dragonriders, then sure, caution to the wind. But there are entire Weyrs of dragonriders that could be sent on such a mission, even if there’s only a small subset of them that are trustworthy enough to actually undertake it. Like, say, Mirrim, who has the temperament and desire to prove herself every bit the equal. Why not give her the opportunity to do something heroic and awesome?

The chapter stops here, with the plan agreed to and Lytol pointing out the shortcomings of their confidence. One thing not mentioned that I can think of right now – if the ship engines are teleported and detonated, that leaves the ships themselves as giant hulks of metal on a decaying orbit. Fandarel was rightly concerned with being Colony Dropped when the ships ran out of fuel, and now the plan is to do just that, apparently. Unless the AI believes the massive ships will burn themselves up completely in the atmosphere. Or that dragons can be used to transport the ships safely to the ground where they can be scrapped or studied in case the Pernese decide to go exploring. But nobody is asking in their rush to prove themselves, meaning it will likely be up to Jancis or Fandarel to actually point this out.

Let’s see if they do it next time.

All the Weyrs of Pern: A New Phase Dawns

Last time, someone actually expressed a lack of faith in AIVAS. Since it was Lessa, however, and she was in the presence of two Bros, Jaxom and the Benden Weyrleader, she was summarily dismissed, even when she had keen insight later on. Now, however, it’s time to take big dragons up to space and engage in the satisfaction of roasting Thread before it actually gets to the planet.

All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapter 13: Content Notes: False Humility, Manipulative Behavior

Sharra and Oldive have volunteered to dissect Thread. The big dragons are ready to go up into an airlock. The transfer up goes smoothly. Everyone has to adjust to microgravity, with the Benden Weyrleader commenting on how Lessa has to try it. “I know you don’t weigh much under any circumstances,” he says, and then tells Robinton, “No strain for you, Robinton.” My skin crawls at the casualness of making Lessa diminutive.

After adjustment, each grouping heads to their respective locations – analysis in a cold-sleep lab, the riders to the bridge to observe and destroy Thread. Path and Ruth take each Weyrleader to a different ship so they can enter the commands. Robinton gets to put things in on the Yokohama. As Thread gets vaporized, Sharra complains that no tools brought up can cut the outer shell, and there’s not nearly enough space to use a flamethrower, even if they wanted to. They speculate about whether a diamond cutter could get in. AIVAS casually remarks that laser technology is still beyond them before confirming that the diamond cutter would be effective.

“Then why on earth didn’t you suggest we bring one along on this trip?” [Sharra] demanded.
“The question was not put to this facility.”
“The trouble with you, Aivas,” Sharra continued with some asperity, “is that you only tell us every you think we should know: not necessarily all we need to know or what we want to know.”
A long silence ensued, during which she and Oldive left the laboratory, sealing the door behind them.
“Sharra’s right, you know,” D’ram remarked at last.
“Indeed,” Robinton said.
“But would we have thought that a diamond cutter would be necessary, considering the selection of edged tools Sharra and Oldive did bring with them?” Jaxom asked, though he agreed completely with his mate and was rather proud of her for speaking so bluntly. It was significant, too, that Aivas had not refuted the accusation.

No kidding. The narrative likes giving truthful statements to women. Perhaps because those women will then be taken as seriously as the plot demands of them. But nobody is going to take this idea seriously, as it would mean throwing their lot in with the cartoon villains, instead of taking time to think about whether or not the way they’re being fed information and technology might serve a purpose other than their own. They’ve already anthropomorphized the AI, surely that means they can envision the idea of it having interests of its own, rather than just theirs.

Before the next plot beat, Jaxom reflects on how nice it is to be able to work on two different time zones, so that he can stay with the AI and get the work done of running Ruatha in his twenty-hour days. Because someone might be concerned about the Lord being absent all the time or use that void to plot or otherwise sabotage him.

The plot beat is that a roof of Honshu has caved in and a secret compartment has discovered sacks filled with something. Fighting the urge to go back to sleep, Jaxom joins all the other dignitaries at Honshu, having to navigate fog for landing. F’lessan has been blessed with a little of good sense, so that when he opened a sack to examine the contents, he stopped at the awful smell and didn’t proceed to tasting the liquid inside. Since it’s Kenjo’s secret fuel stash, discovered when a dragon crashed through the ceiling, F’lessan can count himself lucky or prudent.

AIVAS confirms that it’s fuel, and dashes Jaxom’s hopes of being able to take a ship to the source of Thread and destroy it by showing them the actual scale of the Oort cloud that they would have to destroy. AIVAS exhorts everyone not to give up on the plan, even as it is still not forthcoming with the details of how they will alter the Red Star’s orbit. It also quickly changes the subject to say that every dragonrider is going to need to get trained in microgravity, much to the happiness of those riders.

A new enthusiasm swept through all the Weyrs, overcoming the mid-Pass apathy.
Three days later, fires were set among the fuel sacks, but fire-lizards gave the alarm so no harm was done. On hearing of the near disaster, Aivas was unperturbed and, in an offhanded tone, informed the agitated Lytol and D’ram that the fuel was non-flammable.
[…Fandarel wants to know how and is rewarded with a lecture on jet propulsion that confuses everyone…]
That evening Master Morilton dispatched his fire-lizard with an urgent and horrified message that someone had destroyed all the lenses his Hall had ready to be installed in microscopes and telescopes, ruining months of hard and patient work. Later the next morning Master Fandarel found that the metal barrels [a subordinate] had been producing to house the lenses had been thrown into the forge fire and distempered overnight.

That’s a good tactical change for the anti-AI faction. At this point, they understand direct action won’t work, so they’re resorting to sabotage and terrorism, like a good guerilla warfare unit would. Which means the next action should be a targeted attack on someone who seems vulnerable.

And lo, after talking a bit about how Thread is weird, even for the AI, and pointing out that metal tools get brittle at the necessary temperatures to keep Thread dormant, Sharra is involved in a riding strap break in much the same way that Jaxom’s was. Because, of course, Jaxom didn’t tell Sharra about his problem, nor where he was hiding his own straps, so as not to worry her. Ruth saves her, and then Sharra goes on using a different dragon and rider (called “all right for an [time-skipped]” by Ruth), Jaxom takes care of discipline meetings, and then, when he fesses up to Sharra about what happened, she “[tears] strips out of him for ‘sparing’ her anxiety” and then confirms for us that Jaxom really is the main character here.

“Especially when you’re the leader for all of Aivas’s plans.”
“Me? The leader?” Jaxom stared at her in complete surprise.
“Well, you are, even if you don’t realize it.” Then her severe expression softened. “You wouldn’t.” She gave him a sweetly condescending smile. “You are, though. Take my word for it, and everyone on the planet knows it.”
“But I–I–”
“Oh, don’t get fussed, Jax. It’s one of your most endearing traits that you don’t get puffed up with importance and irritate people with an inflated self-consequence.”

Oh, yes, and it’s “Jax” and “Sharrie” as pet names for each other.

Also,

Jaxom doesn’t get too egotistical, we’re told, despite trying to pull rank last chapter, demanding an apology for the Weyrs before that, and generally having had the privilege of being both Lord and dragonrider before also becoming the leader of whatever AIVAS has planned. And before that, used said dragon to be the hero that returned the egg, to steal his wife from where she was being kept prisoner, and also used his station to get a girl to have sex with him. But he’s not got an inflated sense of self-worth…compared to the other, more senior Lords Holder, perhaps, who have been used to their positions and their power for all their lives, instead of being precariously balanced, as Jaxom has been.

At the scheduled meeting for discussing the vandalism, Jaxom informs everyone else about the incidents with the riding straps and is dressed down by everyone else in the room for not telling them when they happened, over his protests that he’s been careful. AIVAS mandates extra security for the Halls, and is glad the vandals didn’t damage the truly useful things to the plan.

“All that work is divided along several Halls and different locations,” Fandarel said with an air of relief. Then he shook his head, his expression doleful. “I find it very hard to believe that some member of my Crafthall could so wantonly destroy the hard work of his colleagues.”
“Your society is a trusting one,” Aivas said, “and it is sad to see that trust betrayed.”
“It is, indeed,” Fandarel agreed, his voice heavy with sadness.

Cocowhat by depizan

That’s…no. At best, I might describe Pern as a place that espouses “Trust, but verify.” Where “trust” is very specifically spelled out in contracts and agreements that always benefit the aristocrat over anyone else except a dragonrider. Fandarel can’t be ignorant of the politics – even a ruthless drive for efficiency will put you on someone’s bad side. I would believe he usually has a buffer between himself and the rest of the planet, though.

If I were feeling cynical, I would say that was a calculated statement by the AI, to try and make people believe the best of themselves, instead of the reality that the sabotage represents. And I would also point out that we just had a novel all supposedly about the people who are cast aside by this society and would probably enjoy doing damage to it, given resources to do so. Even more so now that there’s a focal point for all that disaffection, and it could create alliances between the disaffected and the Lords who want to keep their hands officially clean.

Security measures are implemented, including watch-whers, fire-lizards, and feline cubs, which Sharra mentions Toric has used, although they need to be locked up during the day. This suggests to me that the Records from the plague in the Moreta/Nerilka time have been lost or destroyed, as nobody that I know of would willingly associate with what was suspected to be a plague-carrier. Sensitive objects are to be sent up to the spaceships as soon as possible, including the fuel.

“Is there any guarantee that they’d be safe there?” Lytol wanted to know. He ignored those who regarded him with anger, dismay, disbelief, or anxiety as he waited for Aivas’s reassurance.
“This facility can efficiently and effectively monitor the Yokohama as you [can] your individual Holds, Halls, and Weyrs,” Aivas replied.
“And the guardian guards himself!” Lytol added in a low voice.
“Q.E.D.,” Aivas said.
“Cue ee dee?” Piemur asked.
“That has been demonstrated.”

And on that cuteness, the chapter ends.

In that last block, it doesn’t seem likely that Lytol would be the person to both ask for reassurance and add an additional bit on the end. I think that last line was intended to be spoken by someone else. But that’s just me.

Lytol is right, though – all it would take is one rogue dragonrider and the spaceship is just as vulnerable as everywhere else. Even though AIVAS would react faster than humans would.

I expect the tempo and seriousness of the attacks to increase, despite the additional security, because that’s what would make a good story at this point. Tune in next week to see if I’m horribly disappointed.

All the Weyrs of Pern: A Smidgen Of Doubt

Last chapter was a bit of a breather, even as it did me characterization violence to Lessa and made sure the banner of the double standard was as spotless as possible for display.

All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapter 12: Content Notes: Bro-Code, the lying AI

Chapter 12 begins with the Crafts swarming over Honshu, cataloging and hauling off everything they can get their hands on, even the sled, which would require someone to manufacture new power banks for it to run. S’len also discovered a rack of functional space suits, which allows AIVAS to adjust some of its plans to include a bit of breathing room. The addition of the other two ships also helps with the plan, and an artist (Perschar, who we met in a previous book) is set to use the telescopes to map the terrain of the wanderer for whatever distinctive features might be useful. The Smiths are sent to learn the construction of the ship and see if there are any other useful things to be scavenged.

On one of these trips up, Fandarel asks a smart question and gets a very curt answer.

Fandarel, thinking about that fuel, wondered why the settlers had dared to leave the colony ships in an orbit that was ultimately destined to decay. Aivas replied curtly that that was not an immediate concern: So far the orbits had not decayed, and the surface of Pern was not at risk–not, at least, from ship debris.

It’s a really good question – why leave a ship up there that is likely to have a very bad effect when it crashes down? Unless the colonists were very sure that the ship itself would break up and vaporize in the atmosphere, there’s basically enough tonnage to perform a Colony Drop on the planet’s surface, and their supposedly low-tech agrarian descendants would be unable to handle it, much less know that it was coming. Sure, it won’t be their problem, because it will take millennia to achieve this and they’ll all be dead, but 20th century Terran technology has to plan very carefully what they do with decommissioned satellites and other such things. It’s unlikely that the characters of Three Hundredth or Three Thousandth Pass Pern would successfully be able to understand why the Dawn Sisters are moving, much less prevent a possible extinction event if they should all land wrong.

Before we can get too far into the ramifications of this, S’len activates the red alert when he sees Thread approaching.

“It’s Thread, Jancis, I’m sure of it,” S’len replied. “Not space debris. There’s this flood of egglike things of varying sizes streaming toward us. Looks just like the stuff Aivas described to us in his lecture. Space debris wouldn’t come in a steady flow, would it? This stuff goes back as far as we can see from the window. Only none of them ever hits the window, and the pilot’s board is all lit up and the engineer’s station is beeping at us.” His words came tumbling out in his haste to describe the situation. Then his voice became agitated. “Bigath and Beerth are demanding that we go outside. They say it’s Thread. I never should have even thought what I thought it is!” Then, in an explosive aside: “No, Bigath, we can’t fly this sort of a Fall. It’s not Thread yet, if that’s what it is! We haven’t any firestone, and there’s no air out there, and you wouldn’t fly outside anyway–you’d float, just like in here. Shards! Jancis, I can’t make her understand!”
S’len didn’t panic easily, and Bigath was not as erratic as some greens.

Ah, yes, that is actually a relevant problem when you have giant creatures bred to fight a thing who see it in an entirely new context. S’len is right, too, that methods that work in a planetary environment don’t work in the vacuum. Considering that AIVAS has said dragons can survive for a while out there, if the dragons could be outfitted with weapons that would work in space, theoretically Thread could be vaporized before it made planetfall. That might speed development of things on the Pern.

The panic continues up here, however, before we can turn our attention to such things.

“When is Ruth coming, Bigath wants to know!” S’len’s tone had altered from dismay to desperation. Aivas’s calm voice continued to exhort the green dragons to listen to reason, but he was using reason that the dragons were not able to hear. Jancis was scribbling a note to Jaxom to come at once when S’len with a cry of relief, said, “Ruth’s here and everything’s under control!”
Jancis looked at the note and then at her fire-lizard, who cocked his head at her quizzically. She considered the matter for a moment longer and then made a decision. There was absolutely no way in which Jaxom and Ruth would have known to come to the bridge. He was in Ruatha today, and Aivas had no way of communicating with him there. She checked the exact time on her watch and wrote it down on the note. She added a final phrase in big letters: “TIME IT!” Then she sent Trig off to Ruatha and Jaxom.
“But if Ruth and Jaxom are here, why send the note now?”
Jancis smiled at her grandfather. “Trig needs the practice, Granddad.”

So Jancis knows the secret but Fandarel doesn’t? Or is Fandarel’s attention just diverted and he’s not thinking through how things are going so far?

In any case, Jancis says she wants to see what Thread looks like in space, and so the Smiths all troop up to the bridge to see what the spores look like. Jaxom is described as having a laugh at the sight of everything, which is in character for him, I guess, since he’s no longer the sympathetic boy from before.

Once everyone gets into a stable state, Fandarel makes exactly the suggestion I had thought of before:

“Fascinating! To be amid Thread and unharmed by it. Truly astounding. It’s a great pity we can’t do something to stem the tide here, before it reaches the surface.”
S’len groaned. “Please don’t even think that,” he said, flicking his hand at the willing creatures whom Ruth was visibly restraining at the window.
“Thread doesn’t look so dangerous right now,” Jancis said thoughtfully as she watched the ovoids sweep in and abruptly disappear.

And then the next logical conclusion happens – Jaxom and Jancis suggest sending out a fire lizard to capture a Thread spore and keep it in an airless airlock for study. AIVAS points out that Lemos and Nabol tried but crashed, and tries to ward off the idea with how dangerous it is. It is ignored. AIVAS, seeing they plan on doing it, recounts the benefits of the plan. Trig is briefed by Jancis and Ruth, and succeeds at snagging a Thread egg and depositing it in the airlock. Which then triggers the hasty construction of an investigation team, to be brought up to study it.

Jaxom takes advantage of the situation to tweak AIVAS again about departure from the planned activities, and the bridge has amused glances as AIVAS recalculates and realizes the ships pass through Thread every fourth Fall. And then leads Jaxom to realize that the deflector shields can also be used as destructor shields, using the Yokohama to vaporize any Thread that gets in the way. Fandarel wants to know if the effect can be extended. On a no, AIVAS endures another round of people asking what the actual plan is and getting nowhere with it before Jaxom suggests that the deflectors on the other two ships could also be used as destructors. Cue a giant clamor of everyone asserting they have the right to do it on the other ships, until Jaxom asserts himself again.

“As Lord Holder, I outrank everyone else, so I will make the decision. Master Fandarel deserves the chance for many reasons, and Jancis, too. However, Bigath and Beerth brought all you Smithcrafters up here, so they can just haul you across to the other ships, as well. You–” He pointed at Balterac. “–can be trusted with switching the screen from deflect to destroy. And you–” He indicated Fandarel. “–can then engage. Jancis, you reprogram the shield, and Evan, you can hit the ENTER key. So you’ll all take part.”

Wait, Jaxom outranks both the Mastersmith and the dragonriders? I don’t think so. For one, that would create a significant imbalance of power, even with the Crafters’ ability to pull all their people out. Second, that contradicts what we learned just a few chapters ago, when Lytol very firmly told off a Lord Holder who believed he could forbid the creation of new Crafts. The Crafts, dragonriders, and Holders are independent of each other and have been deliberately set up this way.

If Jaxom had said “I have the most experience in space,” I’d be willing to go along with that. But “I outrank you all” does not.

AIVAS points out that doing the change in shields will only affect a miniscule amount of Thread, but everyone else notes the morale boost would be substantial and prepares to go do it.

“That is,” Jaxom said, turning to the green riders, “if you and your dragons are amenable…”
S’len and L’zan were more than amenable.

That’s what I thought.

With the bridge clear, AIVAS asks Jaxom a second time about the carrying capacities of dragons.

“Jaxom,” Aivas began, “how much weight can the green dragons carry? Their burdens today weigh more than their body weight.”
“A dragon is capable of carrying as much as he thinks he can,” Jaxom replied with a shrug.
“So if the dragon thinks he can carry the object, irrespective of its actual weight, he will?”
“I don’t think anyone’s actually tried to overload a dragon. Didn’t you tell me the earliest ones were used to transport loads out of Landing following the eruption?”
“That is true. But they were never, as you surmised, permitted to carry great weights. In fact, Sean O’Connell, the leader of those early riders, resented the fact that the dragons were used in such a capacity.”
“Why?”
“That was never explained.”

Wait a minute… If the story we saw in Dragonsdawn is supposed to be the story AIVAS tells the descendants about their ancestors, there’s pretty clear indications of what Sean thinks about the use of dragons as cargo ferries. Is AIVAS extrapolating, or just making things up that sound good to the descendants?

Also, at least two genders of dragons. And the repetition of the fact that dragons violate the laws of physics. Sounds like someone is getting some flak about the unreality of their attempts to make an unreality. The acknowledgements (at the back in this ebook – a print copy had them at the front) gives a very sharp poke at people insisting on consistency and continuity:

The author and Dr. Jack Cohen are fully aware that some of the procedures and developments of new products suggested in these pages would probably take many more months, years, to produce and effect than is here suggested. However, there are certain licenses that an author, and her advisor, may take to produce a novel. Then, too, the Pernese had Aivas to help the, didn’t they?

That certainly sounds like someone attempting to wield either Bellisario’s Maxim or the MST3K mantra as a defense. I think it would work better, though, if the author wasn’t trying so hard to move in a harder-science direction. As a story of “characters of a fantasy world discover they are in fact the descendants of a high technology society,” Pern works just fine. As a story of “characters of a fantasy world discover they are in fact the descendants of a high technology society, whose science is totally based in extrapolations of reality in 20th c. Terra, and is easily reconstructed,” Pern falls flat from the dragons forward. There’s another series (the Talents / the Rowan) that started on more SFnal ground than this, and if there’s arc welding trying to get Pern into that universe, there’s a long way to go before it’s plausible.

Picking up where we left off , AIVAS then asks about the other way that dragons violate known physics.

Jaxom smiled to himself. “Dragons can do a lot of inexplicable things.”
“For instance,” and Aivas’s voice altered subtly, “arriving in very timely fashions?”
Jaxom chuckled. “That’s one.”
“How did you contrive such a serendipitous entrance?”
“Jancis was clever enough to put down the time. When I visualized the bridge for Ruth, I also visualized the bridge clock–” Jaxom pointed to the digital face–“at a minute before the one she gave. So, of course, we arrived–” He chuckled again, “–in time!”

Awful puns aside, that answers on the small scale about whether or not clocks could be used to time jump as well as place jump. I also don’t think Jaxom visualized a bridge full of chaos, so presumably, Ruth instinctively picked an exit point where he would avoid telefragging anyone, himself included. If the clock on the bridge also keeps date and year, presumably, that would be a way of transiting back and forth in time without the risk of materializing into something or someone else. Since dragons automatically correct for place, so long as Jaxom just adjusts the bridge clock, he could go anywhere and use the viewers and telescopes to scope out landing points for other dragons to arrive at to study the past. And so long as he kept good records in the computer, Jaxom would be able to avoid paradoxing himself or having anyone be in two places at the same time. There’s going to have to be thought into constructing the stable time loop in the way that Jancis just did, but it would be doable.

After the shields do their work, AIVAS advises they be reset to deflection. Fandarel asks who was on duty at Landing, in anticipation of a discussion between everyone about whether or not to display this stunt as yet more proof of the usefulness of the technology. Jaxom pops over to Benden to inform the Weyrleaders of what went on, gets admonished for using time travel, and then further admonished for having a sample of Thread in the airlock. Which actually leads to the first on-camera discussion of whether AIVAS is fully trustable.

“I’m curious, Jaxom, and you’re more in Aivas’s company these days than we are: This dissection business makes me wonder if Aivas’s basic imperatives conflict with ours.”
“Not where the annihilation of Thread is concerned. Though sometimes I don’t understand why he has us doing some of those endless drills and exercises. Especially now that he has been revealed as fallible.”
F’lar grinned. “Did Aivas ever say he was not?”
“He likes to give the impression that he’s never wrong,” Lessa said in a sharp tone, looking alarmed.
Jaxom grinned. “Good teacher image, and that’s necessary when he has to pound all these ideas into our parochial heads.”
“Is his fallibility a danger to us?” F’lar asked.
“I don’t really think so. I’m just commenting on it since we are private today,” Jaxom went on, “and because I was so surprised when Aivas did not know Thread’s decent passed so close to the Yokohama.”
F’lar blinked, absorbing that information, and Lessa’s down deepened. “Surprised? Or worried?”
“Well, it’s not his fault. The ancients didn’t know it, either,” Jaxom said with some satisfaction.
F’lar grinned back at him. “I see what you mean, Jaxom. Makes them more human.”
“And Aivas not so inhumanly perfect.”
“Well, it doesn’t please me,” Lessa snapped. “We’ve believed everything Aivas had told us!”
“Don’t fret, Lessa. So far Aivas has not lied to us,” F’lar said.
“But if he doesn’t know everything ,how can we now be sure he’s guiding us in the right direction with this great plan of his that’s supposed to destroy Thread forever?” she demanded.

Lessa is being the voice of reason here. It’s too bad that the narrative is trying to portray her as being the hysterical woman concerned about nothing compared to the confident young man and his knowing older mentor. The Lessa I remember plots and schemes and has rational reactions to things (that aren’t Thread – very few people can react to that dispassionately) instead of having so much time spent on her tone instead of her content.

Also, I’m unsure that anyone can claim with confidence that the AI has not lied to them. It may not have told lies on anything they can go and confirm, but AIVAS has already demonstrated understanding of shades of meaning. It doesn’t have to lie to steer the planet in a bad direction. And it has a vested interest in keeping the ancestor-worship alive, because there’s still enough heft in being the archive of the Ancients to draw people who aren’t on board with the idea of technology and modernization. So much like how we didn’t get to hear about Lytol’s objections, Lessa’s objections, echoed or very close to the anti-AI faction’s objections, are being dismissed without being taken seriously. (That it’s Lessa being dismissed is an extra dimension of wrong, based on how she’s been treated by the men of Pern over all of these works.)

Resuming, Jaxom thinks he’s starting to figure out The Plan.

“I’m beginning to figure out what that’s going to be,” Jaxom said so confidently that Lessa gave him a long look. “Aivas is obviously teaching us at the rate at which he feels we’ll be able to absorb the revolutionary ideas; these exercises are what we’ll have to perfect before we can achieve his goals, which are ours, and were our ancestors’.”
“And will you let us in on your conclusions?” Lessa’s tone was as caustic as Jaxom had ever heard it.
[…Jaxom explains a bit, Lessa is unconvinced, but also wants to get in on the action that the green riders already are…]
Lessa cocked her head at Jaxom, her expression thoughtful. “Does Aivas plan for the dragons to move those ships?”
“Move the ships?” Jaxom asked, surprised.
“Why? How?” F’lar asked.
“Remember, F’lar, when Aivas insisted the dragons should be able to move things telekinetically?”
“Dragons can only move themselves, their riders, and what they carry,” F’lar said categorically. “They cannot move things they’re not holding. And what good would come of moving the ships? If his plan is somehow to use the ships to blow up the Red Star, I don’t see what good that would accomplish. Not as I understand his lessons in spatial mechanics.”
“No more do I.” Jaxom took the last gulp of his klah and rose. “Well, I’ve delivered my report of today’s surprise.”
[…Jaxom suggests that the shields can be switched programmatically between destruct and deflect modes..]
“You won’t worry about Aivas’s fallibility, will you, F’lar?” Jaxom asked in a lowered voice when they were in the short corridor beyond the weyr.
“Me? No, certainly not,” the Weyrleader assured him. “We’ve learned so much already from Aivas that, even if his vaunted Plan fails, we’ll surely find our own ways of ridding Pern of Thread by the next Pass. But, somehow, Jaxom,” F’lar said, griping Jaxom’s arm hard to show his implacable resolve, “I know we’ll manage to do it in this Pass! Make no mistake about that! We’ll do it in my lifetime!”

AUGH.

Lessa is entirely on to something here. Jaxom’s casual attitude toward what the actual carrying capacity of a dragon is combinable with the Benden Weyrleader’s assertion that dragons only transport a limited set of things through hyperspace. I think Lessa has it, but isn’t saying anything because she’s not going to get anywhere with those two. If Mirrim should drop by, though, I wouldn’t put it past Lessa to insinuate that some rider somewhere said that Path couldn’t possibly move some extremely large object to Landing and watch with glee as Path digs her claws into it and vanishes it through hyperspace. Because Mirrim was sure Path could, and Path was holding on to it, after all, even if she wasn’t carrying it in her claws.

If the theoretical upper bound is “whatever the dragon thinks they can move”, presumably that means a single dragon, properly convinced, could move the wandering planet by themselves. They’re already lifting and shifting more than their own body weights.

As it is, when everyone gets back from space, Lytol confides that he’s having trouble finding a qualified person to dissect the Thread spore in space, because people understandably think that proximity to Thread equals death. Video of the Thread spore unchanging helps allay fears, and video of the shield destructor accompanies a report that the fall over Nerat was much easier thanks to the effort. Robinton and the Benden Weyrleaders want to go up into space and start training themselves, as well as engage some destructor screens of their own. Everything gets scheduled, and the chapter ends.

Next time, big dragons IN SPAAAAACE!

All the Weyrs of Pern: And Colon Semi-Colon Too!

Last chapter revealed a plot against Jaxom, that Mirrim is being held to a much higher standard than any of the other men around her (and that Jaxom thinks having a man in her life is good for her), and that the Plan, whatever it may be, will need all three of the colony spaceships to be operational.

All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapter 11: Content Notes: Patriarchal Double-Standards

Present Pass 20. We’ve time-jumped again. Despite still being in the middle of a furious cultural and technological revolution, since the goal was laid out at the beginning of the book that an attempt at permanent erasure of Thread, we’re charging ahead to get there by the end, sprinting by books worth of material in our haste.

We start on a Hatching, where the Benden Weyrleaders are musing that it’s nice so many people want to be dragonriders, with the temptation of Landing so close by. Benelek has been elected the first Mastertechnician, and Groghe is wearing insulating boots that make “The Dance of The Hatching Ground Sands” a thing of the past. They’ll be standard issue for dragonriders and everyone else, because they also protect against the cold of hyperspace, thanks to plant fibers embedded in the boots that protect against both extremes.

There’s going to be a new Weyr constructed, because all eight are currently at capacity and dragons are still laying, including Ramoth, who has laid thirty-five eggs, one of which is a queen egg. It will be in the South, preferably equidistant between Southern and Eastern Weyrs.

Lessa reflects on everything the Benden Weyrleaders have done these past few years…

Lessa experienced a flush of pride for what had been achieved by over the past Turns by an ex-drudge from Ruatha Hold and the bronze Benden rider whom noone had wanted to believe.

…and sells herself incredibly short. Just last chapter we were reminded that Lessa has better claim to Ruatha than Jaxom does, so having Lessa describe herself as an “ex-drudge” is very revisionist, trying to make her into more of a Cinderella story of humble beginnings to grand power. Lessa went into hiding because of Fax, and then stepped out once Fax was dead to try and reclaim her Hold. That’s more Fa Mulan, not Belle or Cinderella. And it also very strongly minimizes Lessa in the equation, since being a bronze rider already afforded the Benden Weyrleader large amounts of privilege to act (and take credit for) everything that’s happened. Lessa is being recast in the Exceptional Woman role that she had previously been able to avoid precisely because she wasn’t an ex-drudge raised up to the heights, but an aristocrat forcibly recruited and partnered by the Benden Weyrleader so that she wouldn’t go overturning the social order with her psychic powers and strong will. Which, you know, is a theme.

  • Lessa can’t because she’s too powerful.
  • Kylara couldn’t because she was too sexual with those below her station.
  • Avril couldn’t because she was too much a caricature of a real person.
  • Mirrim can’t because she’s trying too hard to be a guy.
  • Jancis can’t, because nobody will take her seriously.
  • Thella couldn’t, ostensibly because she’s too cruel to be effective.
  • Menolly can’t because she’s got arbitrary restrictions to access and gatekeeping imposed on her.

The general gist of all these Exceptional Women is that they could be effective at changing everything, except that their society reacts incredibly violently to the idea of women holding any kind of power over men. Lessa was and is beaten and shaken, T’gellan is doing something to keep Mirrim in check, Kylara was permanently mindscarred by Brekke, through Wirenth, Avril was defeated by Sallah, Thella was hunted and eventually lost to Jayge on trying to capture Aramina, Jancis has the rest of the Crafthalls to contend with, even if she has powerful allies in Fandarel and Piemur, and unfettered Menolly was immediately censured and then physically maimed to stop her from using her talent before having to run a patriarchal gauntlet that she probably wouldn’t have made it through were it not for Robinton insisting she should. It’s a pattern where women are given incredible potential to change the world and then told they either can’t use it or can only use it in approved ways at the direction of men higher ranked than they are, one of whom they will likely be required to fall in love with or graciously accept the love of. This is a failure of storytelling, and I have to wonder whether there is some sort of editorial interference being run on these stories, under the discredited theory (even for then) that nobody wants to read books about strong women protagonists.

Back swirl bang hash mark question mark swirl bang.

Lessa also notices the graying of the Benden Weyrleader’s hair and wonders if it might be time to retire to Landing themselves, but dismissing the possibility until Thread is gone forever. F’lessan is part of team AI, and Tagetarl is the first Masterprinter to complement Bendarek as papersmith. Lessa looks for Robinton and D’ram, and wonders why those old men took to the new world so readily when others resist it so fiercely. Because retired Warder Lytol, retired Weyrleader D’ram, and retired Masterharper Robinton must have some inner quality that makes them superior to current Lords Sangel, Corman, Nessel, and Begamon and current Masterglass-smith Norist. Couldn’t tell you what it was, though, clearly.

The Hatching begins, and Lessa runs down the candidates for the queen egg…

Cona was Neratian, and Manora had reported that in the sevenday that the girl had been at Benden Weyr, she had already been in the weyrs of three bronze riders. That was not a bad trait in a queen’s rider; it was certainly preferable to a lack of sensuality.

Cocowhat by depizan

Kylara disagrees with you, Lessa. Unless your only problem with her was that she slept below her station, which is still highly problematic for someone billing themselves as an ex-drudge only a few paragraphs earlier to espouse. The retcon continues.

Lessa mentally goes over how the new Weyrleaders for the Ninth Weyr will be selected, and then settles in to watch the hatching, including the queen egg, Amaranth, which goes to the oldest candidate, Breda. Ramoth remarks that this one is likely to be a handful, as a “true daughter” of hers. We also find out that Breda is an orphan, raised by her Crafthall and otherwise without options for going out of her Hold. After the new candidates are at to their tasks, the Weyrleaders go to comfort the candidates that didn’t Impress. Unfortunately, that’s all we get to know about what happens to them (along with Lessa noting that Cona is nowhere to be seen, and settling on the idea that is probably for the best for Cona to get consolation in her own way) because Robinton waylays them and asks about why F’lessan is scouting land (not that’s he’s asking because he doesn’t know), treating us to this charming example of a double standard:

With three sons by as many weyrgirls, F’lessan had need to be absent from from their entreaties. He had provided well for each of his children, but he was no more ready to settle down with one than any young, handsome, and popular bronze rider. Manora had even suggested that the absence of that young charmer for a while might result in one or more of the girls settling for an older rider in a more stable, lasting attachment.

So it’s totally okay for a rider to impregnate someone and not form a lasting attachment to them, then? And it’s a good idea for a potential queen rider to be sleeping with the bronze riders? But sleeping with a Lord Holder as a queen rider is right out, and if you choose to have that bronze rider’s kid, you’d better not go asking him for any sort of support for child-rearing. Boys will be boys, and popular jocks, err, riders, can’t possibly be expected to settle during their wild phase. And if those girls get insistent, we’ll encourage the older riders to have a turn with them and attach to them for the support they want.

Sounds like what would have been the Jaxom-Corana arrangement, so at least it’s consistent. And what would make Lessa and Manora’s attitudes more…understandable, I suppose, is if there were a little bit in there about how those pregnancies were during mating flights, when everybody is all horny beyond control, but it’s not, and so the image I’m getting of F’lessan is that he’s a playboy even for the presumably promiscuous Weyrfolk. And that this is encouraged. (Also, weyrgirls =/=
queen riders, so F’lessan is likely sleeping beneath his station, too. Nice double standard.)

Something else in my head says that a much earlier book said children are raised communally in the Weyrs, so as to prevent attachments to biological parents (who could be killed by Thread at any point or so might end up in completely different coupling arrangements at any time, whether mating flight induced or not). If memory serves correctly, then this entire scene of weyrgirls chasing F’lessan makes even less sense, because parenting support should be coming from the Weyr, not the father.

And we still don’t know what happens to the candidates that don’t win. Presumably, Groghe’s daughter will go back to the family, but what about other candidates without families that want them to return?

Robinton keeps the topic on Toric, on finding a new supply for paper pulp, and other things he thinks are innocuous.

“Will we end up having to fight him [Toric] for holdings in the South?” Lessa went on, shooting him [Robinton] a fierce glance for his casual manner.
“My dear Lessa, no one, absolutely no one, is going to challenge a man, or a woman, mounted a-dragon! And let us hope there is never a point at which that is even remotely possible.”
“Southern Weyr?” F’lar reminded the Harper severely.
“Well, yes, now, but that was not aggression–it was abduction.”

Abduction born of desperation, I might note, and from one dragonrider to another, as a fight of equals. The only time we’ve seen anyone else challenge the dragonriders, the mere appearance of the dragons spooked both the horses and the humans sufficiently well to make the fighting force fall apart. So Robinton is correct, at least for now. Because firearms and explosives are probably also in the AI’s database, and they might very well get deployed in some way and he found out to be effective against dragons, too.

Having talked about F’lessan, the narrative shifts over to him playing hooky from both Landing and the Hatching, musing on whether or not he is going to be a Weyrleader (he thinks not, based on Golanth’s abilities), and then investigating a cloud of herdbeasts in different colors before both reflective water and thermals catch Golanth’s attention.

F’lessan is a recipient of one of six wristwatches on Pern (Piemur, Larad, Jissamy, Robinton, and Fandarel are the others), all constructed by Jancis. Hello, miniaturization and also tiny mechanisms and possibly quartz crystals and button batteries if the watches aren’t self-winding. We’ve leapfrogged well past the beginning of the industrial revolution and are well on our way to space age materials and items. On a world that was supposedly settled because it was resource and metal poor. I wonder if that’s been retconned, too.

F’lessan also asks Golanth about finding thermals to glide on, and gets more information than he, or we, bargained for.

My eyes see the variation of air, I smell the difference, and my hide feels the altered pressure.
Really? F’lessan was impressed with the explanation. Been listening in on my aerodynamics lessons with Aivas?
Golanth thought that over. Yes. You listen to him, so I thought I should. Ruth does, and Path certainly. Ramoth and Mnementh don’t. They prefer to sleep on the sun while Lessa and F’lar are here. Bigath listens, and Sulath and Beerth. Clarianth occasionally, but Pranith always and Lioth whenever his rider’s down. Sometimes the listening is very interesting. Sometimes it’s not.
Not only was that an unusually long speech for Golanth, but it gave F’lessan such food for thought that he was kept occupied with the ramifications until the edge of the vast inland sea became visible.

There are quite a few potential ramifications there. They’re not spelled out, of course, but I can think of a few, one of which should be “the intelligent creatures at have pair-bonded with are at least as smart as we are, if not smarter, he can follow along with lectures as well.” Which makes me wonder what a dragon with a working knowledge of science could do with their own abilities, like being able to teleport to a set of coordinates, or even better, to a very specific set of space-time coordinates, without having actually seen the destination in some way. Or possibly to give some assistance to their rider on helping understand or construct things. Or perhaps rearrange themselves into a more efficient coverage method for roasting Thread, doing the same job with less dragons.

F’lessan and Golanth continue to explore the area around them, taking note of the way the trees are growing in the area, and discovering the Xanadu settlement, which F’lessan thinks would be an excellent Weyr when Thread isn’t menacing from the skies. They move on to the Honshu settlement, the one encountered in Rescue Run, which Golanth only spots before dark because he sees herdbeasts going in one of the doors. After camping for the night, F’lessan gives it another shot, and while repulsed by the smell of the dung “up to midthigh in some places”, he explores enough to find a sled, sufficiently preserved to be recognizable as such from pictures that AIVAS had. Emboldened by this discovery, F’lessan explores more until he comes across the murals painted in the main hallway of Honshu that we last saw in Rescue Run, and takes it as independent verification of AIVAS’s account of things (even though he hopefully knows that the settlers had communication devices.)

F’lessan concludes this spot would be excellent for the Ninth Weyr, and the chapter ends, keeping tension alive for, well, until the next page. Which will have to be next week, I guess.

All the Weyrs of Pern: Struggling for Understanding

Last chapter, more technology porn and a polite meeting of the Holders, where we found out that the Charter of Pern is boggling in the way it sets the world up for giant conflict later on. There’s still feasting and dancing to be had, though, so we’re going to stick with this setting…

All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapter 10: Content Notes: Patriarchy

…and start with how much Master Idarolan got drunk over the stress of the election. Classy. It does tell us that there was a backup plan to move the Fishercraft Hall all the way down to Monaco Bay if Ranrel hadn’t been elected, but otherwise it’s basically Jaxom and Sebell helping Idarolan avoid pissing himself by taking him to “the nearest head” (a fine nautical term for Tillek Hold) and then trying to sober him up after he passes out soon afterward. With Sebell gone, Jaxom ducks into the stall with Idarolan when more people enter the head.

For his trouble, he overhears a plot to kill him while he’s up in space and put Pell, one of Barla’s sons, in charge at Ruatha.

That’s Barla, as in mother of Aramina and mother-in-law to Jayge. I wonder what the opinions of those three would be with regard to such a plot.

Jaxom doesn’t see the three plotters, and neither does Sebell, so we skip ahead past the festivities for Jaxom to go home and fly Thread with Ruth. And learn the name of his second son, Shawan. Before going off to fight, Jaxom confides in Brand, the steward, about what he heard at Tillek, and Brand points out that not only would they have to deal with Jaxom’s sons, but F’lessan’s as well, since Lessa also has a birthright claim on the place. (He refers to it as a deferral, rather than what it actually was.)

Then there is Threadfall, described again with new reverence from Jaxom now that he knows more about the history of the dragons. (And a lot of “ancient” and “age-old”.)

And one tiny accident where a flying strap nearly breaks in the middle of a sharp turn. Jaxom takes the tongue-lashing in good humor after he determines it’s not sabotage, and cuts himself new straps that night.

Then it’s on to Landing to take Sharra up into space. Mirrim is excited.

As soon as they entered the Aivas building, Mirrim, who had been chatting with D’ram, ran to greet them.
“I’m ready when you are,” she announced.
“Easy, girl!” Jaxom laughed. Her association with T’gellan had calmed her considerably, but she still tended to become overzealous in her enthusiasms. Not necessarily a bad trait, Jaxom realized, but it could be wearing on her companions.

Not necessarily a bad trait, the author realized, after having had Jaxom make fun of Mirrim’s enthusiasm and the assertion that having a man in her life has made Mirrim much more bearable to everyone. Have we had any suggestions of how T’gellan handles his weyrmate? The Benden School that we’ve seen so far isn’t one I’d want to have replicated worldwide.

Preparations continue, with the AI briefing Jaxom about the tasks at hand for this trip. Once that is done and the dragons are getting loaded, Jaxom gets fed up with Mirrim adjusting and readjusting the burden on Path.

“You’re wasting time, Mirrim,” Jaxom said finally, when she insisted on padding the knots across Path’s back. “The load sits fine and we’re not flying straight, you know.” Privately he wondered if Mirrim was covering up a case of nerves. Sharra was composed enough, and so was S’len, though his face was flushed with excitement.
“I just don’t want them shifting,” Mirrim replied stiffly.

Oh, Mirrim.We understand that you’re struggling against a patriarchy that insists women are useless except as a babymaker and possibly, domestic servant. And that you’re an Exceptional Woman among the dragonriders, so you’re suffering under extra scrutiny for everything that you do and everything that happens will be taken as representative of your entire gender. Jaxom doesn’t fully get it, since he’s had the silver spoon since birth. So yes, there’s nerves there, but the burden on Path is only the surface item of a much deeper set of nerves.

There’s some useful information about draconic capabilities, although AIVAS is still having difficulty with the inability to use telekinetic abilities.

For instance, how much weight could a dragon carry? For which the answer was: your much weight did a dragon think he could carry? An answer Aivas found specious–and certainly not helpful when what was needed was hard numbers.
Then there was the question, How do dragons know where to go? “Their riders tell them,” did nothing to explain the actual process to Aivas. While Aivas did accept teleportation, it could not understand why telekinesis was so impossible a concept to explain to the dragons and the fire-lizards. Especially when Ruth had indeed understood what Farli had not: to go to the Yokohama.
In checking the details of this joint trip to the spaceship, Jaxom had asked Ruth if he could carry two riders, as well as two padded barrels, one of pure water and one of carbonated water. Ruth’s felt had been affirmative although, as Aivas saw the load, it was more than the dragon’s slight frame ought to be able to bear.

So dragons can violate physics by being able to carry more than what their frame should be able to, and instinctually know how to traverse hyperspace to a picture in their minds. But they don’t understand how to move things with their mental powers.

Anyone asking about the science behind the dragons, in other words, is going to get nowhere. (Not that it would ever stop the determined fans of the series and their fanwork capabilities to try and make it work anyway.) I saw speculation on a wiki, I believe, or the fansite that I’m taking the reading order from that the dragons do have telekinesis, but it’s a field they exert on themselves and whatever they’re carrying, with the mental powers kicking in whatever additional lift is needed to pick up even things that should be impossible to physically lift. But because that field is instinctual, instead of learned, the dragons lack the ability to understand it and project it. Thus, no telekinesis and no way of pulling objects through the void to them instead of pulling themselves through the void. It’s as good an explanation as any without any actual data, which is in perennially short supply for a series that is trying to reinvent itself as a science fiction story.

There is the transfer to space, and the “it’s bigger on the inside” moment of witnessing Pernrise and then Mirrim unstraps Path a little too forcefully and pushes herself up to the ceiling. “Mirrim had been too startled to cry out; also, she had no great wish to show to disadvantage.” says the narrative, still pointing out the extra weight Mirrim is suffering under without acknowledging the cause of it.

The riders get to watch the planet on the viewscreens, and then S’len pops over to a different ship, the Bahrain, to help get it ready as well with oxygen and algae, while Mirrim and Sharra take care of the Yokohama. Jaxom reorients the telescopes and gives AIVAS more data about the skies. Once the Yokohama is done, Mirrim and Sharra shift over on Path to the Buenos Aires to do that ship as well. With algae in place, everyone goes back to Landing, where there is a lesson in bacteria and antibiotics waiting for them, to be delivered to them, from Oldive and Brekke, described incredibly improperly as “introverted”. There is now an ultrasound machine from Fandarel and petri dishes and microscopes from Morilton. The lesson is actually on how to turn the various components of bacteria against each other so to defeat them without antibiotics. But before we get too far into the weeds, the chapter ends.

There’s a lot of possible plots warping by in our focus on the end result of the Plan. The plot against Jaxom would be a good one, as might the formation of the new Halls discussed in the last chapter. There’s a lot going on which might provide worldbuilding or a clearer picture of what is going on in relation to the industrial revolution underway, but no, we’re resolutely zipping past those things because the March of Progress can’t be stopped and shouldn’t be stopped.

I wonder what we’ll blow past in the next chapter.

All the Weyrs of Pern: Magic At The Gathering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cocowhat by depizan

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

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

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

They basically said:

Ugh.

Ah, but wait, there’s more.

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

Cocowhat by depizan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the Weyrs of Pern: Free Falling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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