Category Archives: Deconstruction: Pern

The Skies of Pern: The Second (and Third) Day

Last time, we actually got to see what the attackers were up to, and there were torture threats, and a plan was decided on for tracing back the Luddites to their leader.

The Skies of Pern: Part 1: Segments VI, VII, VIII, and IX: Content Notes:

It is now 1.2.31, and Haligon is paying a call on Fort’s Runner Station Master, Torlo, who we met, along with Tenna, in the short story Runner of Pern. There’s no word back on a trace from Crom, Tenna’s out on a run, and so Torlo offers formal hospitality to try and figure out what Haligon is up to. Haligon, for his part, is trying not to upset Torlo. Fire-lizards carrying messages hasn’t destroyed the runner system, and Haligon picks up that Torlo might not have a lot of love for the Smiths, but he does find at least some common ground that they both think the Healers have benefited well and spread their new knowledge freely from the AI. Torlo says that the Runners don’t permit propaganda books to travel on their network, but things are still frosty between them, and Haligon is able to finally get Torlo to admit that he thinks the Runners are going to be displaced by either dragons (Haligon tells him they’re too expensive and there aren’t nearly enough riders considering the service) or by the radio devices being developed by the Smiths (Haligon points out the devices lack the necessity infrastructure, like communication satellites, to be truly long-range items, and that they’re very expensive). Haligon’s explanations seem to at least mollify Torlo.

We note that terrestrial line-of-sight radio and telegraph will be available once towers can be erected that will not be destroyed by Thread, but even then there will still likely be need for Runners until you can cover the planet in radio relays. At which point we kind of hope a forward-thinking Runner develops PT&T in partnership with the Harper Hall and things go from there.

Haligon, for his part, after wishing Tenna would espouse him, goes back home to sort petitions, and we switch over to the Keroon Printer Hall on 1.3.31, where Tagetarl is dealing with the problems of having a printing press but not a spell-check program. He needs the dictionaries updated and to figure out a way of spotting errors before they print hundreds of copies. (I presume he knows he needs proofreaders, but even then, as we know in our days here on Terra, things still slip through.)

A sound puts Tagetarl on alert, but it’s Pinch, announcing himself with casual and improper grammar. (“It’s me” is improper – me is an object descriptor, so it should be “It is I”, because I is the subject descriptor. Unlike many of the other problems with the language, I’m more than willing to believe this particular error has persisted through all this time.) Tagetarl calls Pinch out on his grammar, before revealing to us that ever since the propaganda books have shown up, the Printer Hall shreds anything that’s not perfect. Tagetarl also says he has jobs available for anyone that has the skills to proofread. Pinch then reveals the reason for his visit.

Keroon has all sorts of hill folk, you know, the kind that don’t want their kids Harper-taught or Healed. Then there’re the ones who aren’t really hill folk. Who get too many visitors and have had very interesting indoor occupations.”

I still want to know about these “hill folk” and how they came to be, because they’re the best foil I have for the rest of the planet’s social structure. Are they survivalists? Cultists? A group shunned from polite society surviving on the fringes?

Pinch, of course, asks for paper and inks to sketch the people who clearly don’t belong among the backcountry folk, while eating some for himself and his fire lizard. While he sketches the visitors received with fanfare, we get Pinch’s heritage – and the implication that Nip was not the only spy out in the world. Nip trained Tuck (“another nonconformist”, according to the narrative) and let Sebell see inside that world. Tuck trained Pinch (and at least two others), even as Sebell put Piemur to work in much the same way as Nip put Sebell. Pinch will provide other sketches after some sleep, but Tagetarl uses his own fire lizard to send the first few sketches to Sebell, and we pop over to Benden Weyr.

F’lessan is present for a pre-Threadfall briefing of Wingleaders, and although his mind wanders a bit wishing the Weyrleader would take some time off, he comes back to attention in time to get his wing’s assignment. Mostly, at this point, we’re learning that some greens are used as reservists to bring in extra firestone sacks (I thought this was some part of Weyrling duty.) and that F’lessan thinks about what it would be like to fly with Tai. But that gets pushed away in the loading and looking and eventual fighting of Thread.

And then we take a five day time skip to Monaco Bay, where Tai is, as she watches Zaranth stare intently at trundlebugs working in their straight lines. There’s a little bit of “some bugs are terrible, but trundlebugs are okay, and also, bugs and floods are a really good reason to sleep and live off the ground” before we get to just how much progress has been going on.

Tai’s little house was just beyond her hammock: all of its shutters were open to let in what wind there was, the fine-net screens preventing the entry of airborne insects. The afternoon breeze r generally wafted away those clinging to the material. The diurnal ones departed at dusk, the nocturnal ones were noisier but photosensitive. A tall spire of solar panel provided Tai with what power she needed: for lights, the warmer plate, the cold box, and for the occasional hot air during the worst of the cold weather–which, to her, was never as cold as it had once been in Keroon’s foothills.

Quite a bit of progress, indeed. And Pern presumably has all the right minerals and materials needed to construct such complex things as solar panels, refrigerators, and heaters.

The actual point of the trundlebug, though, is that its path would take it into Zaranth’s nostril, so Zaranth moves it out of her way. Not physically, by exhaling or moving her body, but mentally, to Tai’s great surprise.

AIVAS predicted this, and was actually disappointed that the dragons hadn’t developed their telekinetic abilities significantly in the interim. Tai doesn’t know this, of course, and would have lots of questions on the how, except that someone has called for help in dealing with a very large group of felines and T’gellan is turning out half the wing to fight them, including Tai.

Zaranth is very apt at hunting, and after a close call with a camouflaged feline, snags one with a move that snaps its spine before whirling and snapping the neck of its hunting partner. Tai briefly considers trying to lift the cats onto the dragon, so as to skin them away from the pests, but realizes they’re way too heavy for her, and so she gets to work on them, skinning one before taking a break to see how the others are doing.

Dragons also apparently really like the taste of big feline, as Zaranth is apparently drooling while Tai does her work.

One of the herders, Rency, provides Tai with water and fans get to get all the insects off, and offers to accompany her back to he second to help skin it, an offer Tai accepts. Rency is described as having “a short bow and a weyrhide carrier full of the sort of barbed arrows that would be needed to bring down felines”, and I have trouble believing that this is a recent invention, given that the Pernese have been hunting flying creatures for a very long time, and have had some sort of standing military at each Hold for a little less than that. Perhaps they’ve never redeveloped, say, the English longbow and it’s phenomenal stopping power, but it seems reasonable that bows and arrows have been around for quite some time.

Tai offers to help move the herdbeasts in the right direction, since they’re terrified of dragons, and it turns out T’gellan and Mirrim had the same idea. So they do. And then plan to go for a swim once the herds are moving in the right direction again.

That’s the end of Part 1. We’ve spent a lot of time on only a few days. The Luddites look to be the A plot, but F’lessan, Tai, and Zaranth figuring out what, exactly, makes the dragons able to use telekinesis on things they’re not carrying looks to be a respectable B plot, as everyone prepares for the eventuality of After.

More next week.

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The Skies of Pern: More Perspective Hopping

Last time, we looked at the Benden Weyrleaders contemplating getting old and the Southern Holder being as contemptuous as he could get away with without crossing the line into actual rude.

The Skies of Pern: Part 1: Segments IV and V: Content Notes: Torture References

We flit over to the Healer Hall, where Oldive is studying a virus under a microscope that looks suspiciously like one in the AIVAS files, but doesn’t match up exactly enough to be definitively thus. So now I have to wonder if AIVAS was able to teach the Healers about genetic mutation and the general rule that smaller organisms mutate way faster than bigger ones. There have probably been more than sufficient generations of the virus that you could put them in the same family, but this specific strain is likely new.

Oldive is appreciative of the new headquarters he has at the hall, and the increased number of medics studying under him. Sharra surprises him in a stretch, because according to him, everyone with sense is out at the Gather, and not stuck behind the “triple-plated glass” that gives such a nice view without letting the cold in.

Pern has apparently been taught the secrets to insulating panes and layers of glass. And about mutations, too, at least to a basic knowledge, because Sharra asks as to whether this new virus is one, since the Pathology Records mention the possibility, and it’s been long enough for mutation to take place.

Oldive is noncommittal about the answer, and says that Sharra should be with her husband. Sharra has no interest in being bored with proclamations and petitions, and asks whether they will have an electron microscope to use.

What’s not mentioned is the infrastructure that would be needed to actually use such a thing, and with Pern still not really able to manufacture new computers (at least, last we checked), it looks like that dream will be a long time away. Master Morilton is forever in demand, and we finally learn why the other crafts aren’t getting a whole lot of anything – the Healers have priority, and getting Healer Halls stocked fully is the priority of the Healers. Morilton is considering dedicating an entire Hall to fulfilling the Healer requirements. Both Oldive and Sharra are ready to take a meal break when they hear the sound of breaking glass, and understand they’re the only ones in the Hall to deal with the intruders. First Sharra gets her own fire lizards to harass the unseen intruders, then asks Ruth to summon reinforcement lizards to drive them out. Which they do, into the waiting visages of some very angry dragons, but not before significant damage has been done to their storerooms and labs.

Oldive inquires as to why, and the leader of the group shouts for the need for the Abomination to be halted, a name that gives Sharra some shudders. Eventually, as the riders of the dragons arrive, the group is shouting some decent slogans.

“Tradition must be upheld!” He glared around him, his angular face and burning eyes inciting his followers. “Halt abominations.”
“Turn back to tradition at Turnover!” screeched one of the three women, waving a bloody hand at Ruth, who frowned down at her.
“Our petitions have been ignored!”
“We protest the Abomination!”
“And all its works!”
“Abomination! Abomination!”
Stoically, Sharra and Oldive endured the chanting.
[…Reinforcements for the Healers arrive…]
“Destroy all the Abomination’s devices.”
“Purity for Pern!”
“Turn to Tradition.”
“Avoid abominations!”
[…more reinforcements for the Healers arrive…]
“Abomination away!”
“Restore our tradition!”
“Shut up!” Groghe bellowed, the volume of his voice as intimidating as the powerful runnerbeast he pulled up just short of knocking the leader down. The man rocked back and it was then that Sharra noticed that he, and the rest of his vandals, had the effrontery to be wearing green: not the genuine Healer green but close enough to answer how they had been able to gain access to the Hall.

As a plan goes, it’s good – get colors close enough that you won’t get a second look from the sentries, and then go smash things. And if there aren’t people actually in the Hall, you get away with it and melt back into the crowd.

There’s also a bit there that has parallels to a religious profession of faith in at least the Catholic tradition. At least once a year, instead of reciting a creed, the congregation and priest do it as a question and response. The way it starts (or started, when I was much younger than I am now) was:

“Do you reject Satan?” [“We do.”]
“And all his works?” [“We do.”]
“And all his empty promises?” [“We do.”]

I wouldn’t be surprised if that particular segment about protesting the Abomination and all its works wasn’t inspired by that bit (or its equivalent in other denominations). Seems an appropriate thing to shout at something that you consider is the ultimate evil opposed to your pure traditions.

I’ll also quibble that “Shut up” as a phrase is unlikely to have survived the journey across space and several millennia of a completely different context to have exactly the same meaning. Some form of “Silence!” certainly will, but not that form.

One of the protesters realizes she’s bleeding from a head wound, and the assembled crowd is more than content to let her do so, but Oldive holds true to ethics and patches her up, suggesting that it will require stitches. The Luddites recoil at an “abomination,” but I’m pretty sure wound stitching has been used long before AIVAS. It’s just internal surgery that everyone has been up in arms about.

Thankfully, context arrives in that Oldive’s diagnostics and offer of numbweed are also rejected, with it getting clear that Oldive and the Healers are the “abomination.” Oldive remarks that having given his diagnosis and recommendation, he’s done his job as a Healer, and it’s up to them to accept or reject his suggestions. They reject it, and Oldive moves away. Right afterward, the Healer sent to check on the damage returns with her report.

“The stillroom’s a complete shambles! Every sack, canister, and bottle in the treatment rooms have been emptied, and what they didn’t burn–” She paused in her telling to take a deep breath before she could continue. “–they urinated on!”

This sets the crowd off more, with one going so far as to use his club on a prisoner to beat someone to their knees. Groghe stops things before they get too far, claiming his prerogative as the Lord Holder, before trying to interrogate the group. They have no visible markings, and they’re not talking, so Groghe asks the crowd to help search them. Which they do with a touch more vigor than Groghe wants, and over the protests of the prisoners that they have rights. A holder points out their rights mean precisely nothing in the face of having defied the Lord Holder.

The Healer who gave the damage report, Keita, recognizes one of the group as a person who came for itch cream before, and goes off to see what name was given by the scout. Sebell, who came with the first party of reinforcements, points out the clothing and leathers of the prisoners will get their identities from the merchants they bought them from. Sharra points out that these people aren’t dressed for the party, and that their beasts and saddlebags might provide all sorts of information about them. Which it does, as the beasts were ready for a quick getaway. Possibly to a ship in the harbor. There’s one specific thing in the saddlebags that Groghe takes grim amusement at.

Groghe held up a piece of paper by an edge. “What? You make use of abominations?” he cried, eyes glinting with malice as he turned to the leader. “No less than a map printed by Master Tagetarl’s abominable press. Useful things, abominations!”
Sharra tried not to grin at Groghe’s style; he’d always appeared so pragmatic. Mockery was unusual for him, but today the gatherers loved it.

OOC Is Serious Business, y’all. And while the narrative suggests this is mockery, I think that mockery might be less conscious derision and more incredulity that such a thing would be put to use by those kinds of people. When you stare at rank hypocrisy, one of the first reactions you get is to laugh at it. At least for me, it is. Then you bear down on it.

As the Lords and assembled discover evidence that this Hall was not the only one targeted, the drums rumble in with a message of vandalism at Boll, and injury to Healers, which pisses Groghe off mightily. In retaliation, the prisoners are to be trussed up, sent to a level without lights, given bottled water only, denied contact with anyone else, and the leader delivered to a very specific space for interrogation. Groghe thunders off to Gather requirements, and Oldive, Sebell, Sharra, and the arriving Benden Weyrleaders compare notes about the coordinated attacks, concluding that it’s gone well beyond random attacks to an organized strike. With varying degrees of effectiveness – Tai forestalled a more complete destruction earlier in the book, and Fandarel repelled his invaders. Canon says Tai got “messed about” before her dragon arrived in support, but I’m inclined to believe that even a lightly drunk dragonrider would knock heads unless the assailants were trained fighters. Because trained fighting dragonrider. (Even if the narrative would insist she couldn’t because girl.)

We follow Sebell to the searching of the packs and everyone seems horrified by a bound book where pictures of surgical procedures have been repurposed and re-captioned to make a propaganda volume called Tortures of the Abomination. Sebell thinks of it as amateurish and dismisses it as such in front of Horon, calling it the disinformation campaign that it is. He doesn’t quite seem to solidly get that, without context, the pictures of medical procedures can be quite grisly and ghastly, but he’s at least got an inkling of it so that he can not be seen to be affected by the propaganda.

Sebell sends for someone, who turns out to be the Healer with the surgical specialty, so that he can explain what the pictures and their context actually are, and one of the exuberant holders reports to him that the prisoners are happily naming each other. And so we close out this particular segment…

…and jump back to Landing, where F’lessan is being told he should take a nap after all the excitement. This is how Tai is described:

“I just want to check on Tai. They kicked her around a lot. Persellam said she’d be badly bruised but the gash on her cheek wouldn’t scar.”

Which suggests to me that Tai was ambushed by the vandals in some manner and overpowered that way. I’m still not sure on the how of that, and I’m still waiting to hear the part where she caused plenty of injury herself.

Tai is swimming, described as “a black spot in the sea,” which is regrettably still making her ambiguously brown, in case it’s her hair that’s black and not her skin. F’lessan calls her in to shore, and then we get another thing that doesn’t make sense:

Her body, legs, and arms were covered by bruises. Persellan had done a neat repair of the gash on her right cheekbone.
“What’s wrong, F’lessan?” she asked anxiously, splashing the rest of the way.
“What are you doing?” he demanded, looking but not looking–as was polite–at her long lean figure and her long, lovely legs.

No, I cannot suspend my belief nearly far enough to think that the dragonriders are uncomfortable about naked bodies or have a politeness requirement about such things, and that such a thing has developed over the course of this series. Perhaps in this new world it has always been this way, but it certainly has no precedent in any of the published works before. In fact, I would expect the dragonriders to have the least number of issues with nudity, given that they are likely to encounter each other having dragon-induced sex, and they seem to enjoy communal bathing, especially when the dragons have to be washed and scrubbed. That suddenly it’s polite not to stare, and that it’s a bronze dude doing it for a green rider stains credulity, given the known reputations of both of those rider types and the general lack of evidence that this kind of politeness has come up before. I can imagine this happening if it’s F’lessan trying to get over his reputation and he thinks it a good idea not to actively ogle, but I can’t see that being extended to all the riders.

We finally get to peer in Tai’s head as F’lessan applies numbweed about how things went down. Tai discovered the group, wrestled a crowbar from one of the men, “poked him hard in the groin” and then started laying about her indiscriminately. Apparently, though, it wasn’t enough and Tai might have been seriously injured or killed had one of the vandals completed a swing of his hammer. Like I said, sounds like Tai gave as good as she got. Might have been knocked down and then hit from there, but everyone else had made it sound like she didn’t do a lot of damage to the intruder group.

F’lessan finishes applying the numbweed, makes sure Tai is going home, and then Golanth tells him he’s too loopy from a lack of sleep to go anywhere else but home and to bed, and takes him there. And we jump perspectives again.

This time, it’s a war council composed of Benden and Fort Weyrleaders, Groghe and sons, Jaxom, Sharra, Sebell, and Crivellan, the Healer with the surgical specialty Sebell called earlier. N’ton went to go check and make sure there were no exiles from the last time unaccounted for on their island, which uses the AIVAS date – 2359 – as the time when they were exiled, instead of the Present Pass date, so N’ton seems on board with the new epoch system. Jaxom asks about the ones sentenced to the mines, and so naturally Groghe dismisses the escaped prisoner as likely dead, since he was deaf and not too bright, supposedly.

Lessa wants answers, and now, suddenly, we pick up a thread that hasn’t been used in decades.

However, the ability to sense people’s thoughts–and sometimes cloud their perceptions with the strength of her mind–could be useful in extracting or confirming truths. Aivas had said she was as much a telepath as any of the dragons. [Her weyrmate] had called it “leaning on people,” though she had never been able to cloud his mind. Still, though it was an enervating process and one she disliked being required to use, she had leaned on people to advantage on a number of occasions. Tonight would probably be another.

Oh, look, Lessa’s got her psi powers back, as if the author had never buried them in an attempt to make the series much more of a straight fantasy before reintroducing the science fiction elements.

Also, “had never clouded his mind” is bullshit. The Benden Weyrleader did not take one look at her and realize she’s the lost heir, rather than a drudge not worth noticing. He has been consistently able to feel when Lessa is deploying her power (and beat her for it when she did), but he did not pierce her disguise. We are supposed to believe that he has since been encouraging her to use the power rather than dissuading her more. It’s an evolution that can happen, but it needs more than author fiat to be believable.

The war council takes stock of the damage and all the locations that were hit with attempts, and all agree that these were not random attacks, before asking Groghe about what information he collected from his batch of prisoners. Their fears and only having bottled water available for them in the mood for talking. Groghe says “No real discipline in the bunch,” and “harrumphed at such moral weakness before he went on,” which is a pretty shit thing to do. Of course, he’s not the one being tortured so he can continue secure in his untested belief that he could withstand such things.

The running thread through everyone that’s been caught is that they all have a grievance against Healers for not fixing their ailments or because family members died of disease. Nobody knows yet who the leader of these groups are. There’s some discussion about how rumor and negative ideas can spread easily and be very hard to combat, before Haligon suggests using the Runner corps as a vehicle to listen and be listened to about this situation and hopefully provide, warning, a way of combating propaganda, or both. That suggestion is adopted by the table. Likely Haligon will ask Tenna to spread the word.

Then they call for Batim, the leader of the group that smashed up the Healer Hall HQ, and try to get information out of him. Batim says very little but to demand his rights. The Benden Weyrleader casually threatens to leave Batim in hyperspace, and then Lessa casually mentions that they could trace messages back through the Runner network, find out from traders where they sold enough green to clothe a lot of people, and then starts naming places as potentially liable until she gets a reaction from him to confirm where he got his orders from. Without having said anything, Batim is providing enough clues that the council is satisfied, and Groghe orders Haligon to take Batim away.

Whereupon we get yet another place where the Charter and case law have supposedly fallen down – the treatment of prisoners.

“I have rights! Chartered rights! You’re all so big about that blinding Charter of yours,” Batim cried hoarsely as Haligon called the guard in. The prisoner made a frantic surge toward the table but was thwarted by the quick-footed Haligon. Struggling, Batim reached straining fingers toward the glasses. “Water. I’ve had no water all day.”
“Actually,” Lessa said in a cold voice, “the Charter does not cite water in the list of rights.”
“But it has to!”

I’m quite sure it doesn’t. It should, but it doesn’t. That said, as genesistrine pointed out in earlier Charter discussions, it also forbids corporal punishment. There is probably a solid legal argument that denying someone light and water constitutes corporal punishment. (They might be able to weasel around the water part by suggesting that the bottled water is sufficient for that obligation, and that prisoners are free to imbibe or not as they choose.)

As would dropping someone off in hyperspace. Crivellan is horrified that the Benden Weyrleader suggested such a thing. N’ton points out that it is a convincing threat, but it’s empty because dragons don’t hurt people. Which is not common knowledge in any way, and as far as I know, a trained dragon and rider probably could leave someone behind if the rider really willed it to happen. It was used to get Batim mentally off-balance. Knowing that, Crivellan immediately apologizes for doubting the methods. I suppose it’s no more dirty than police officers making empty but convincing threats to get suspects to talk, and there’s plenty of case law here on Terra that allows police to flat-out lie to someone if it gets that person to tell the truth about crimes committed. Which is to say it’s a terrible dirty trick and should be deplored, but it’s probably not forbidden in the Charter to lie to someone else.

Pern needs the equivalent of the Geneva Conventions, the Conventions on Torture, and a whole lot of other laws that would be applicable planet-wide, and it needed them in the actual Charter.

What Lessa pulled from Batim’s mind was mostly him trying to get psyched up for the torture he was sure would happen to get him to talk.

“The very idea!” Master Crivellan was appalled.
“Someone like Batim would probably enjoy being tortured,” Jaxom remarked.”
“Jaxom!” Sharra exclaimed.
“He’s right, you know,” Lessa said. “Don’t deny that you would have liked to help, considering how distressed Master Oldive was.”
Then I would have,” Sharra replied candidly, “not now. I’m sorry they don’t know better.”

…not wrong, Jaxom. Batim probably would use it as fuel to make himself into a martyr. He probably is using what is already being done to him for that purpose.

The assembled have small recriminations about how they’re not really paying attention to how progress is being received, but they mostly just blame it on the people being too stupid to understand the benefits of what’s happened and willing to believe easy lies over hard truths. They lack understanding, and so the plot can continue.

Inquiries are set up to trace people and goods, and Groghe demands exile for his prisoners. This provides a little more illumination as to how the process works…

Crivellan jumped at the crack of fist on wood. “I thought that required a trial and jury,” he said, surprised.
Groghe gestured to include those present. “Masters, Weyrleaders, and Lord Holders. Adequate judges. The vandals were caught in the act. Plenty of people saw what they did. Destroyed valuable property, depriving others of medicines and services. […]”

…but it’s still going to be a kangaroo court. Groghe bullies Crivellan into going along with the idea by saying the Healer Hall needs to make a statement about how you can’t attack them with impunity.

In any actual adversarial process with a presumption of innocence, the torture already underwent by the prisoners would probably be enough to exonerate them, or at the very least have a significant amount of evidence and testimony thrown out as fruit of a poisoned tree. There might be enough impartial witnesses to make a proper case, but Groghe and his sons and any of the parties to the treatment of the prisoners would not be accepted.

Decisions made, the war council breaks apart, and we finally get to the end of the first day of this particular part.

Tomorrow, it’s Haligon and the Runners, and now we know why we stopped off at Runner of Pern first.

The Skies of Pern: An Attempt At Calm

Last time, F’lessan went archive diving to try and confirm the graffiti in parts of Honshu Hold were Stev Kimmer’s, and met Tai, a green rider who gives off signals that she has a very traumatic life, even with a dragon. Tai went to investigate something unknown, but the narrative instead chooses to send us to Benden.

The Skies of Pern: Part 1, Segments 2 and 3: Content Notes: Classism

[Benden Weyr, 1.1.31]

We continue to use the Pern-specific time frame for the subsequent segment, which makes us wonder why we’re including the AIVAS time at all.

It’s Lessa we start with in this segment, arriving with hot pastries in hand to collect the Benden Weyrleader and get them to bed while the revels continue. It being Benden, of course, it’s cold. And the two of them are not nearly as young as they used to be – the Benden Weyrleader is sixty-three, after all. So the quiet is appreciated by Lessa, at least.

Lessa is also trying to get the Benden Weyrleader to think about his upcoming retirement. “After” is apparently the preferred term, and while the focus right now is on closing out the final Pass, Lessa is trying to get her mate to heed the same advice he’s giving the younger riders about learning something else to do with their time and dragons.

The night cold was nothing to the fear that surged through her, making her heart race at the brief trails of fire in the north. Then she was disgusted with her primitive reaction to what she now knew were meteorites burning up in the atmosphere. As a child she’d believed her nurse–that those flares across a night sky were the Ghost Dragons of the First Pass.

That answers that question about what the Ghosts are – they’re meteors, and I’m chalking that up to the author not knowing the difference rather than an AI teaching people improperly.

Given what happened in Beyond Between, however, it’s entirely possible that those might be the ghosts of dragons and riders who were caught in terrible accidents and that Marco hasn’t shuffled on to their final resting places. Because I’m sure that accidents like the one that claimed Moreta still happen to this day.

Lessa remarks on the increased prevalence of meteors this time around, and her mate assures her that while there are more, none of them are necessarily going to touch down on the planet, which would happily give the “Abominators” grist for their own philosophies. None will touch down, of course, other than the one that already did.

Lessa pegs the Luddite faction as responsible for the uptick in vandalism and robbery, based on the fact that they’re not attacking indiscriminately, but only against recently developed innovations and the components needed for them. She thought they’d gotten them all to the islands or the mines, but the reader and the Weyrleader knows and tells about the one meteorite smashing a prison where one person escaped. And points out there are more than enough people with grudges or mischief-making mindsets that they’ll sign on to whatever cause gives them cover.

Lessa also gives her mate a privilege check about the introduction of new technology.

“We just have to speed up the education process to produce the necessary improvements that will reduce drudgery After.”
“I don’t approve of life being made too easy,” F’lar remarked.
“You were never a drudge,” she said caustically, reminding him of her ten Turns as one.
“Don’t forget that this Weyr was scarcely luxurious until Thread started falling again.”
“How could I?” She grinned at him, her eyes alight with laughter.

…no.

While her thirty-five Turns of luxury have been good at softening the edges of it, I think “caustically” is several orders of magnitude too nice for what Lessa would be giving her mate, and not letting him dodge acknowledging that even the poorest dragonrider had it way, way better than a kitchen drudge anywhere still has it. Or even a Lady Holder, really. I think this would be a button that Lessa’s mate should know better than to push.

The two also talk about how new surgery and medicine is still touch and go in terms of public acceptance, before Lessa points out that young riders have no trouble settling in to becoming shipping magnates, because they don’t consider it beneath their dignity (Oh, how Sean is spinning in his grave), but the older riders don’t seem inclined to lift a finger to help anyone out, not even the herders on Southern that could use a dragon to keep the big cats away, and they should know by now that retirement is not just putting up a house and picking fruit all day.

Which gets Lessa fretting a touch about everyone’s age – and whether Ramoth will continue to mate and clutch until the end of the Pass. Reassurances all around follow, but Lessa still wants her mate to be thinking about After even as they get through the duties of now. Even as they go through remembering the losses of people that also, currently, is inevitable with age.

They also have to discuss the possibility of a woman coming into being full Holder, rather than just consort. Lady Marella has essentially been regent for Sangel, and she is putting forward her daughter, Janissian, to be fully confirmed by the Council, which would be their first ever.

Thella is probably furious from the afterlife, having missed a council that would consider women in the position by a decade or two. It certainly seems like now is a good time, though, given that there is already the Big Change of After looming on everyone’s mind.

A toast to absent friends and angry dragon trumpeting round out this sequence, and we skip off to Southern Hold, because we apparently need to see more of Toric.

Hung-over Toric getting news about someone he grudgingly respects arriving. There’s enough of how Toric hates everyone for what they’ve done to him and his annoyance that others are succeeding far better than him to cover some pages, and for him to irritably try to kick his son, Besic, when Besic tweaks him about how his greed got the better of him.

And then the actual talk with said person, where we find out that Toric has not stopped his scheming, probably because of how strongly he was had the last time we saw him. And, in case we are new to the series, we have to establish him as someone we do not like, based on what we’ve seen so far.

Toric did not approve of the publicity regarding the Charter, a document so old that it should be regarded as an artifact, rather than guidance for this planet’s needs–not twenty-five hundred Turns after it had been promulgated. And harpers were holding “discussion groups” to be sure children and drudges could recite it by rote. There were a few provisions that he would like to see quietly annulled and the clauses that named the perquisites of major landholders extended. He would live to see the last day of this Pass, and he certainly intended to exert his not-so-small influence when the Charter was reviewed–After–and suitably altered once dragonriders were no longer needed. Toric had endured many boring hours to be sure no one in the Council slipped in any more surprises on him. He was developing a few surprises of his own.

Toric still doesn’t really understand the true power structure on Pern. His ego is too big to let him understand why he got beaten, and why he will likely lose again.

There’s a little bit about how the Harpers are going to be offering printed copies of texts for people to read, which seems very much at odds with their mission as it has been conceived to this point. Mostly because the press and widespread literacy were things involved in breaking the Catholic Church’s monopoly over Latin Christendom, and it seems very likely that the Harper monopoly on interpretation will be similarly broken. If, however, we’re supposed to assume that AIVAS gave the Harpers their own history, and their origins as educators and the Teachers’ College, then widespread literacy and distribution of texts is exactly in their remit. I just can’t see Sebell or any other Harper really truly giving up the power they’ve had so far to shape minds through education and song.

Everyone heads down for the Harper Report at the new Turn, at which point we get a nice example of how much Toric hates the personnel around him and yet can’t actually fault them for any sort of dereliction of duty.

The Harper, Sintary, has been suggested by Robinton himself as suitable for the position of Master Harper for Southern. Robinton had been one of the few northerners whom Toric had respected, so he had not appealed the appointment. But he had come to regret the decision, for Sintary was a subtle and stubborn man who took his position as Harper so seriously that he had agreed to no changes even when Toric had suggested several minor alterations to the traditional teaching. The old Harper was very popular, with a dry sense of humor and an ability to improvise lyrics about local incidents that made him a very difficult man to discredit. Toric had tried; he kept hoping that an opportunity might yet arise and he could indisputably be able to send Sintary away.
[…Toric gives a barely-there introduction of Sintary…]
Toric enjoyed giving subtle jabs, especially to harpers and dragonriders. And where were the dragonriders who should be here? Toric glared out across the tanned faces, looking for the Weyrleader. If K’van hadn’t come…Then Toric located him on the left, where trees and the ferny shrubs of this highland formed a bordering park. He counted at least fifteen dragonriders and the three queen riders! Shards! He could make no complaint that they had been delinquent in performing this Weyr duty.
[…Sintary begins to read…]
Hamian and his new Plastics Hall. Plastic indeed, when he should be working metals: especially that lode of–what was it called? box-something–that produced very lightweight and malleable ore. Toric had by encouraged his young brother to pursue his Mastery in the Smithcraft only to have him fritter his skills away on some Aivas nonsense. The summarily exiled MasterGlass-smith Norist had been right to call the artificial intelligence an abomination.

Bauxite. Which will eventually be refined into aluminum. Which will be good for After. As will plastics, assuming that Pern’s methods of extracting petroleum products are not nearly as caustic to the atmosphere as Terran processes are.

As you can see, Toric’s grudge is several furloughs wide and as deep as the Marianas trench. And yet, still in power, holder autonomy, et cetera. Sintary finishes the oral report, calls for any petitions that the assembled might have, and then leaves the stage to post the report that was just read.

Toric leaves after scanning the crowd to see if anyone is giving Sintary any petitions, because the heat is getting to him. As soon as Toric is out of sight, Sintary is deluged with petitions from the crowd as he makes his way to the posting board with his printing-press-manufactured and plastic-coated notice to post, at least till everyone goes home after Turnover.

Then we get to hear Sintary’s opinion of Toric.

Not that Toric was a bad Holder. Quite rightly, he insisted that everyone earn his or her right to hold on his land. The man had had to put up with the vagaries of the [time-skipped] as well as incursions by thousands of folk streaming south, hoping for easier living. For all the tribulations the immigrants left behind, they acquired as many new ones here–but many of their supposed grievances would be minor.

Cocowhat by depizan

I realize Pern is supposed to be Ayn Rand’s wet dream, and that Sintary is expressing the traditional contempt of the peasants from the aristocrats, but we still haven’t bothered enough to actually say what the system of land ownership is on Pern. The Charter and the early Pass book said each person was entitled to stake acres, and the implication was that people could willingly combine their land into bigger family units, but as far as I understood, each person’s land was their land, at least until they died and the land passed to their inheritors. Now that we have a revived Charter, presumably everyone on Pern still has access to stake acres if they pay the fee. So Toric wouldn’t have to deal with them.

“Hold on Toric’s land,” however, suggests a vassalage or landlord-tenant contract at work, and given that Pern does not have planet-wide nondiscrimination rules, presumably that means Toric can rent to whomever he wants by whatever criteria he wants.

What I want to know is how much cognitive dissonance it takes to believe that someone as contemptuous as Toric is of harpers and dragonriders (which can’t be anything but an open secret) qualifies as “not bad.” The “bootstraps!” narrative is essentially held by everyone on Pern, despite it not making any sense for them to do so, so it’s not really a specific point of agreement between the two. The excuses given are mostly non-sequitur – dealing with the time-skipped isn’t relevant any more, and unless the immigrants are trying to squat on his land, Toric really doesn’t have to deal with that any more than the logistics of getting them through port, offering them supplies, and pointing them in the right direction of their new holdings.

It’s certainly not impossible to hold the idea of “I think he’s a terrible person, but he’s a good leader” in your head, but harpers are supposed to be a backbone of society – education, duty, religion, and entertainment. The dragonriders are the police force and the objects of veneration. Someone expressing contempt for either of those institutions, as Toric is doing, even if in taking deniable jabs at them, should invoke a heavy backlash from the pious and the clergy about his suitability to lead.

The section ends with Sintary observing Dorse and another guard moving away from what eventually sounds of breaking glass and an axe hitting wood. Sintary makes an executive decision to drop off all of his petition sheets before investigating.

So we’ll stop, too.

The Skies of Pern: Archive Dive Dinner

Last time, we finished the extended look at villains and watched the rebirth of the Luddites of Pern. Having established there are antagonists, it’s off to see Our Hero(es).

The Skies of Pern: Part 1, Segment 1: Content Notes: Sexist stereotyping, implications of non-consent

This Part is entitled “Turnover,” a term that we be only recently been introduced to as the name of the celebration of moving from one Turn to the next. The celebration itself predates the use of the term, but this seems to be another one of those “has always been here” things.

Our time stamp is “1.1.31 Present Pass Aivas–Aivas Adjusted Turn 2253” which seems to have a duplication in it that might be a bad electronic book conversion.

In any case, it’s still dual timekeeping, even with F’lessan holed up in a reading room with all sorts of AIVAS data. What’s weird to him is that he’s not alone in the reading room. There’s a Monaco Bay green rider studying charts.

Why wasn’t the girl, especially a green rider, out dancing? Why wasn’t he? He grimaced. He was still trying to overcome the carelessly lustful reputation that he had earned early in this Pass. Not that he was any different from many bronze and brown riders. “Just more noticeable,” Mirrim had told him in her candid fashion. Mirrim had astonished everyone, including herself, when she had Impressed green Path at a Benden Weyr Hatching. Being T’gellan’s Weyrmate had mellowed her natural assertiveness, but she never spared him her blunt opinions.

Ah, hello there, Cocowhat.

Cocowhat by depizan

Mostly on the idea that T’gellan blunted Mirrim. Or that Mirrim needed blunting. But also the part where F’lessan is somehow getting called out for behavior that isn’t any different than his peers. Absolutely nobody has called the dragonriders out before this about their lusty behavior. And plenty of the other segments of Pern have been getting it on with frequency with others, too, so they don’t really have a leg to stand on.

If they’re commenting because it’s the son of the Weyrleaders and he’s supposed to be setting a better example…well, then, the only thing I can do is laugh at that, because we’ve spent several books by now showing how the bar is so terribly low.

F’lessan, while he watches the other rider study planetary charts, reflects on the new post-Thread reality. Those who came from halls or crafts, he supposes, will be able to go back to them, but the ones who are born and raised in the Weyr will have to figure something else out when the tithes stop.

F’lessan, of course, has Honshu to fall back on, so he doesn’t have to really worry about it. We get to find out that Impression made F’lessan much less of a class-ditcher, and that having Honshu to restore has been even better at keeping discipline. And that F’lessan is in the archives at Turnover because he’s looking for a very specific thing, and he wanted to find it without any other person knowing what he was looking at. We also find that F’lessan is definitely weyrbred in that he doesn’t think of the Weyrleaders as his parents, even though they give him birthday, Impression Day, and Turnover gifts every year, and that he finds hold kids to be extremely uptight.

He is different that he doesn’t really want to succeed the current Weyrleader and wishes for him to ride out the final turn. Or for the Benden Weyrleaders to announce their retirement. Which could be a nice way of saying, “yes, there is an incest taboo on Pern, even if nobody voices it.” I still suspect that Weyr naming conventions and fostering practices are specifically meant so that you don’t end up in a situation where a person might be under the influence of their dragon and violating close relationships.

Sucks to be him that there’s a green rider in the same room. Or rather, that’s already in the room that F’lessan wants to enter, but worries that he’ll break the other rider’s concentration by doing so. Since there’s nothing to do right now but observe, we are treated to a description of the green rider, before she realizes she’s being observed and turns to stare at him. Realizing he’s been found out, F’lessan goes in and introduces himself to Tai, the green rider, and we get more metaphorical description to complement the workmanlike physical one.

She looked embarrassed, dropping her eyes as soon as their hands had clasped politely. Her handshake was firm, if brisk almost to the point of rudeness, and he could feel some odd ridges, scars on the back of her hand and on her forefinger. She wasn’t pretty, she didn’t act sensual, the way some green riders did, and she was only half a head shorter than he was. She wasn’t too thin, but the lack of flesh on her bones gave her a slightly boyish appearance.

Ah, that explains why the first physical description didn’t linger on anything – Tai is not supposed to be seen as sexy, and she’s also not supposed to be seen as villainous, since she isn’t putting on the attitude that she is sexy. She’s a Wholesome Green Rider, cut from Mirrim’s pattern, I suspect. This makes her a candidate for Designated Protagonist, so we’ll probably see more of her as time goes by.

After introducing himself and apologizing for intruding, F’lessan gets to his actual business – trying to find a connection between Stev Kimmer and Kenjo Fusaiyuki, since there are “SK” carved or etched on several of the surfaces of Honshu, and Stev was the only person that fits the initials that isn’t marked as having gone north. Thanks to Rescue Run, we know the terrible connection between Kimmer and the Fusaiyukis, but that data would be lost to AIVAS. F’lessan is hoping to find samples of Stev’s handwriting to match to the initials carved, so that he can have a more complete history of Honshu. He already knows that the Fusaiyuki clan did not go north, even after repeated invitations to do so, and his explorations are essentially finding the aftermath of the Rescue Run story, when everyone left in a hurry, trying to piece together what had happened, and admiring how self-sufficient Honshu is.

F’lessan’s search comes up empty, and in his hope for Tai’s search to go better, he startles her. She drops the book in her hands, and F’lessan is able to save it before it splats on the ground. He gets a much better look at Tai’s hands and recognizes signs of injury. Tai dismisses it as nothing, but F’lessan insists in applying numbweed (which he has a small stash of on his person) because infections in the South are “peculiar” and can show up even in well-tended wounds. While they wait, F’lessan asks Tai about why she’s researching the Ghosts, having divined her purpose by looking at the materials she was staring at.

From the context we get, the Ghost Showers tend to happen on seven-Turn cycles where they are extremely bright in the sky in the north and completely invisible in the south. After F’lessan puts away Tai’s books, he drops a sigh about how his question may not have an answer at all, and Tai picks up the bait, and demonstrates she was a student at the Landing school. Her family was killed exploring the South, and she was apprenticed to Master Wansor as essentially an audio descriptor and reader to him. Because he liked her voice, a sentiment that F’lessan confirms. Before, that is, she Impressed her green, Zaranth.

Tai then suggests that F’lessan examine the case where the original charter of Pern is for his handwriting sample, since Kimmer would have had to sign it somewhere. This is one recovered from Fort Hold during the AIVAS years, and so I think we’re supposed to assume the Charter copy that Robinton described as being between thick panes of glass at the Harper Hall is a different copy, but there are enough time disparities at this point that it could be more retcon at work to have the original here at Landing, discovered by using an AIVAS-supplied combination instead of being between found at the Harper Hall. Make up your own conclusions, they’re probably equally valid.

Tai’s suggestion is fruitful, and F’lessan picks her up and spins her a bit in his exuberance, before remembering that she was pretty cool to him before and that he might not want to get handsy, even in a friendly way. F’lessan can’t help but find Tai kind of cute, though.

She had a very nice smile, he thought, as the corners of her wide mouth curved up, showing her teeth, white and even, accented by a tanned complexion that was as much heredity as exposure to southern sun.
[…]
Her smile deepened, causing two dimples to appear in her cheeks. He didn’t know any girls with dimples.

But we get a glimpse, thanks to dragon gossip, of Tai’s main motivation in life.

You are a bronze rider and you are F’lessan and she’s shy, Golanth said. Zaranth says she wants to make something of herself for After. She never wants to be beholden to anyone else ever.
Like all dragonriders,
F’lessan is with considerable irony.
Not even to other dragonriders, Golanth added, slightly offended by Tai’s utter independence.

Cut from Mirrim’s cloth indeed. No bet on whether she ends up happily partnered by the end. Or whether the possible tragic reasons why she wants to be independent are taken seriously and worked through.

After F’lessan tells her about his mission to document the history of Honshu, they both lock up the archives, Tai enabling an alarm so that the archives would stay protected against accidents. They both admit to being hungry, and F’lessan, now charmed by Tai, offers to race her to the food while he thinks about whether she’d like to dance with him, since she’s the right height for him. She accepts in deed, but we find out why Tai is studying at odd hours and how much she already knows about F’lessan.

Despite all the tales she had heard from Mirrim about the bronze rider–including dire warnings about his fecklessness–he had acted considerately and courteously toward her in the library. She’d been surprised that he appeared to know his way around the shelves. He had certainly prevented her from getting in trouble with Master Esselin, who had his own ideas about what dragonriders should study. Especially green female riders. After Tai’s first distressing encounter with the pompous Archivist, Mirrim had comforted her with a tale of how nasty Esselin had once been to her, in the early days of the discoveries at Landing, before Aivas was discovered, and how MasterHarper Robinton himself had acted on Mirrim’s behalf. The fussbudget was the main reason Tai tried to pick unusual hours at the library: times when she wouldn’t have to deal with the persnickety old man.

Ah, sexism, still alive and well and living gloriously on Pern. Not to mention that Esselin is essentially a librarian stereotype, back in the days on Terra when librarians were presumed to be men who were insufficiently masculine to succeed at any other profession. (Which made them fussy and effeminate. The part about being very concerned with making sure only appropriate people were using the library is just a general old librarian stereotype.)

I do, however, like the idea of Mirrim starting and maintaining a whisper network, since I’m fairly certain any woman who tried to stand up and name names about the assaults she’s suffered would be buried under the weight of Patriarchy bright to bear on her.

Tai and F’lessan’s race slows slightly as they pass the room where AIVAS was, before coming to an abrupt halt because there’s a couple obliviously making out in their path, and they’re positioned right around a corner. F’lessan catches Tai when she runs into him and holds her no longer than needed to get her balance back, and the two creep around and run off to the food together. F’lessan guides Tai to the tables, haggles with a wine merchant about the price of his Benden (to no avail), then grumbles and passes over his three marks. Pour, toast (“Safe skies!”) and drink, while Tai quietly boggles at the ease in which F’lessan hands over the three marks for the wineskin. Also, food.

And Tai telling us that green dragonriders, including her, are getting into the express shipping game as a side job from their duties at Weyr or other contracts (like research) they are working on. Sean would be so annoyed at his descendants.

F’lessan continues to make small talk at Tai and get information from her, asking about her hand, the dolphins, what she’s doing in the archives (which leads to a shared thing about how Esselin hates that F’lessan is in Honshu), and so forth.

One of the subjects is touchy for Tai.

“Are you weyred along the coast or inland?”
Tai tried not to freeze at the question: bronze riders with an eye to mating with Zaranth the next time she was “ripe” always wanted to know where she could be found. Zaranth wasn’t even close to her cycle. “Coast,” she replied quickly. Almost too quickly.

After F’lessan asks about dolphins instead of dragons,

She made herself relax. She was my overly suspicious.

I don’t think that’s overly suspicious, Tai. That sounds like experience talking about what a bronze rider is interested in from a green. And the implications of how Tai phrased it sounds like those bronze riders don’t particularly care for Tai’s consent in the matter while their bronzes mate with Zaranth. And the use of the word “ripe” only reinforces that idea. The stereotypes about green riders that we’ve been hearing all along still have some pretty good force to them – even F’lessan was buying into them when he thought of Tai as not being particularly sensual.

It’s no coincidence that Tai and Mirrim are good friends, since they’re both giving two middle fingers to the stereotype of the sex-obsessed green rider. And yet, they and Debera are also the only greens we’ve seen given significant amounts of screen time and drilling into their motivations. Because they’re not like all the other girls and boys who ride greens, I guess? Still, even if 99 green riders would willingly sleep with any bronze that came knocking, nobody gets to assume the 100th will, too, and so they don’t have to ask.

And I realize this is 2018 me making critique in a realm where there’s a lot more frank sex talk and a tradition of consent, nascent that it may be, but Pern is still terrible about it.

As we continue through the small talk, there are yet more hints dropped that Tai is not okay.

She knew he was teasing her; she knew she was often too solemn. Even Mirrim said she shouldn’t be quite so conscientious, but that was just how she was. She just didn’t know how to respond to levity.

Yet the narrative is giving plenty of space to how this F’lessan is not behaving at all like how Mirrim described him.

He wasn’t at all what she’d expected based on Mirrim’s tales of some of his pranks at Benden Weyr. Well, that had been Turns ago, before he’d Impressed. He did have a serious side to his nature, along with that most amazing sparkle in his eyes. She should be wary of such a sparkle. Mirrim had said he had been very much a bronze rider! Maybe she should slip away while she had a chance. But that seemed very discourteous. She had barely touched the second glass he’d poured.

This sounds very much like someone who is trying to fight her instincts about someone. Just because he doesn’t match the picture in your head doesn’t mean he’s still not dangerous. But Tai has been socialized life a lot of women on Terra that her leaving now, and trusting those instincts, would cause social problems to come down on her. So she’s hoping that F’lessan doesn’t revert to a bronze dragonrider. In a horror movie, the audience is screaming at her to run from this seemingly charming person, because he’s going to be a murderer.

The Harpers take up their instruments again as both Tai and F’lessan go through seconds, which is something that shows us Tai has not been okay for a very long time.

He had no trouble putting away his second helping of Turnover food. Nor did she, but then, her parents had raised her to “eat what’s on your plate and be thankful.” She took a hasty sip of the white Benden; she hadn’t thought of her family recently. Her life with them had been so different from the one she now had–even before she had Impressed Zaranth. Zaranth–and Monaco Weyr–was her family now, and closer to her than she had ever been to her bloodkin.

Tai grew up poor, then, like most of the people on Pern that the narrative has been studiously avoiding. Like most of the people in Latin Christendom, or the Known World of many re-enactors of the time period of the Medium Aevum. And you know what? Growing up poor affects you both physiologically and psychologically. It seems to me that Tai is exhibiting signs of being a person who grew up with scarcity still adjusting to having plenty, but also trying to figure out which of the old rules still apply and what new rules need to be learned.

Before we can go off into reminiscence and see how terrible Tai’s home life was, F’lessan starts singing along to the ballads. Well, if you call it singing. F’lessan can’t carry a tune in a bucket, but he sings loudly anyway. Tai, on the other hand, can actually sing a little.

His merry eyes caught hers, and from the mischief in them, she suddenly realized that he knew very well how badly he sang and didn’t care. That he was willing to show such a defect in a culture that apotheosized music, and certainly encouraged vocal talents, astonished her. Mirrim might criticize his fickleness and breezy attitudes to weyrmates, but why hadn’t she mentioned his flawed voice?
[…the song finishes…]
“Why do you sing, when you know you can’t?” she demanded in a low voice.
“Because I do know all the words,” he replied, not at all abashed.

Because voices and music are vitally important to Harpers and nobody else. The important songs are educational, and, as F’lessan points out, if you know the words, then you have learned what you are supposed to learn. Now, it certainly helps that F’lessan is the son of the Weyrleaders and a man, so he’s not going to be expected to demonstrate a fine singing voice or musical talent to catch himself a good husband. Privilege matters in this case, and so F’lessan can have a tin ear and a terrible voice for singing.

Before we can get to the humanizing Tai part, since we’ve spent so long on doing it to F’lessan, Mirrim and T’gellan start heading Tai and F’lessan’s way. Tai panics at how the situation might be interpreted by Mirrim and spirits off, keeping her wineglass. Zaranth chides her about it, but otherwise helps make sure that F’lessan can’t find her again.

At the end of the concert, she hears far too much glass crashing for her liking and his to investigate. Cute cutaway to Benden Weyr, and a good point for us to stop.

I’m going to point out here that Tai makes an excellent candidate for the cutaway technique I talked about in the previous post – we don’t know a lot about her, she’s pretty low on the dragonrider hierarchy, and she’s already branching out into new fields. She be a great character to be unaware of the journey she’s about to take. Why did we stick with F’lessan instead?

The Skies of Pern: Meeting of Shadows

Last time, a meteorite crashed into a prison mine, and the son of the leader of the Abomination faction escaped. Even though AIVAS has been off for quite a while, the ripples of its actions are still being felt and fought by those that aren’t convinced of their virtues.

The Skies of Pern: Prologue: Content Notes:

This segment gives us a new time stamp: At a Gather – 6.15.30, which does not have the AIVAS-adjusted time. Given that this is a gathering of people who are less than enthused about the things that AIVAS brought forth, it makes sense to go with the traditional time marker. (What I want to see is the time marker shift back and forth depending on the view of the viewpoint character. I will likely be disappointed.)

Three unnamed characters open this segment by complaining about the reworking of the calendars based on AIVAS data, which shortened a Pass by ten Turns. They’re kind of willing to let it go, because Robinton gave his stamp to it, but they’re definitely not fans of the legacy of AIVAS.

“Pushing things on us whether we want ‘improvements’ or not,” First said slowly, eyeing her [a fourth that has joined them in the last paragraph] in what illumination dimly reached their side table. He saw a thin woman, with an unattractive face, a pinched mouth, a recessive lower jaw, and huge eyes that glowed with an inner anger or resentment.

Because pretty women aren’t allowed to have heterodox ideas. (At least not without consequences, as Kylara, Avril, and Thella will point out to you.)

What distinguishes this meeting from any other gripe session is the introduction of a fifth person with a deep, yet inflectionless voice that eventually draws in two more people to the table, where they demonstrate their various factions. First feels AIVAS turned itself off too early, Third is poking fun at the others for being so serious about things that have improved their lives, and Fifth believes there’s nothing good that comes from AIVAS, and makes the point in a way that only makes sense on Pern.

“Surgery!” In that expressive deep voice the three syllables were drawn out as if he spoke of something immoral.
“Surgery?” Sixth frowned. “What’s that?”
“Ways of mucking inside a body,” First replied, lowering his own voice to match Fifth’s.
Sixth shuddered. “Mind you, sometimes we gotta cut a foal out of its dam or it strangles.” When the others regarded him suspiciously, he added, “Only a very well-bred foal we can’t afford to lose. And I saw the healer once remove a pendix. Woman would have died, he said. She didn’t feel a thing.”
” ‘She didn’t feel a thing,’ ” Fifth repeated, investing that statement with sinister import.
“The healer could have done anything else he liked,” Fourth said in a shocked whisper.
Second dismissed that with a grunt. “Didn’t do her any harm and she’s still alive and a good worker.”

The banter continues, and it seems like most of the people in the group resent that they weren’t consulted on the changes and it’s not easily verifiable that the improvements will improve. They’re suffering a disruption that’s not of their own making and that they can’t control. Third claims that Menolly said to wait and go slowly, which I can see her doing, not because she’s cautious about the technology, but because she recognizes the upheaval that happens when you go full bore on mechanization and industrialization.

Fifth is firmly on the idea that traditional life is the best, which Third mocks, but all of them at the table seem to agree that while hurting people is a bad idea, destroying or removing objects they consider harmful, or taking what they feel is theirs, rather than having to wait in line behind dragonriders, Lords, and Crafters, is an idea they can get behind. What ends up sealing the bargain for everyone is the rumor that AIVAS might have killed Robinton before terminating itself, and the subsequent idea that AIVAS might not have had the best interests of actual humans at heart.

I present to you the Luddites of Pern.

The initial group of twenty at this Gather re-forms the Abomination faction themselves and subsequently gather strength and numbers by promising to give voice to the objections brought on by the new technology and by spreading the rumor that AIVAS killed Robinton, transforming Robinton’s natural charm and beloved-by-all status into a weapon for recruitment. Individual acts of sabotage mostly go unnoticed, but then they escalate to the point where the Craftmasters notice, and then the Craftmasters start conferencing, and it’s a Master Harper, Mekelroy, known as “Pinch” (suggesting the same role as Nip and Tuck, spymaster for Sebell) who puts it all together and figures out the pattern.

And that’s where the prologue stops, and the viewpoint character for the beginning of Part One is F’lessan, so whatever information and data Pinch has collected will only be for the appropriate Masters’ ears and not ours. I realize this is a storytelling device, but the way it usually goes is that you cut away from the very important discovery to the innocent character that is about to begin the adventure they do not actually know is coming. Gollum loses the One Ring, and we go to the Shire to see Bilbo. The prince becomes The Beast, and we go to the sleepy village in rural France where Belle is being her usual self to the town’s residents. Princess Leia is captured, and we cut away to Luke Skywalker. F’lessan does not, in any way, qualify as an innocent unaware of adventure.

Plus, when you do that, it seems like the thing to do to your readers is to have Pinch utter something cryptic that won’t be explained to the reader until a lot later. But there aren’t any prophecies, and we’ve spent all this time with the people who would otherwise be mysterious learning their motivations and decisions. Maybe not their identities, which I suppose makes for some mystery, but I’m not entirely sure what narrative purpose this prologue serves. It’s kind of like an extended teaser for the book itself. Maybe we would have wanted to stay with the villains for a little longer and get some characterization or ideological diversity in their ranks.

In any case, actual content starts next time?

The Skies of Pern: Post-AIVAS Blues

Having stopped off to see a short story about how runners might see the world with a romance plot grafted on, we’re back to the novel form, at least for a bit.

A wrinkle to the acknowledgements this time around is a very abridged playlist used in the composition of the work, as well as a new scientist added to the thanks that makes me wonder what this story is going to be about.

The introduction returns! And at this point, since we’re already post-AIVAS, it no longer has to worry about spoilers. This also has the consequence of making it the most SFnal introduction yet. Yet, it reads very much like a radio serial introduction, full of high praise for the Benden Weyrleaders and devoting a single sentence to the widespread opposition that developed to using the AIVAS files and device.

It also sets us up with questions to keep in mind as we read, to see if the narrative accomplishes its goals:

Which technologies can be adopted without disrupting the culture of the planet? And how will the dragonriders integrate themselves and their splendid friends into the new Threadfree society?

Well, the truthful answer to the first question is “none,” as all new technology is disruptive to culture and society. The second has plenty of potential answers, and I suspect it mostly depends on what they want to do. Let’s find out what the narrative thinks, shall we?

The Skies of Pern: Prologue: Content Notes:

We’re back to the old “Part” style of narration for this work. I will have to find my own break points, then.

Right out of the gate, our comfortable time signatures have changed.

Crom Mines–5.27.30-Present Pass
Aivas Adjusted Reckoning–2552

Perhaps it is out of custom that they continue to use “Present Pass,” but for anyone that believes this is the last go-round, I would expect them to use “Final Pass” or “Ninth Pass,” as presumably the AI after being fed all the records it could get its hands on, would have counted and been able to tell everyone they’re in the Ninth Pass. Or for them to adopt the epoch calendar that AIVAS provided, and make it something like “5.27.2552 (Ninth Pass 30)” so that the eventual synchronization will have reference points in this transition era.

Basically, I expected Pern to start referring to the Passes in the way one might refer to the dynastic eras or reigns of the emperors of Japan, and they haven’t.

In any case, the narrative proper starts with a meteorite strike on one of the prison mines of Crom (CROM) Hold. (Mine work has been noted as a punishment before, but I suspect it is only applied to those who can’t buy their way out of punishment from the appropriate justice entity.) Everyone, except for a prisoner by the name of Shankolin, panics at the strike. Shankolin takes the opportunity to escape, and also to tell us that he’s been educated in science enough to call the meteorite by its name as he escaped his prison. As Shankolin escapes, his context is made apparent – he’s the son of Norist, the leader of the “Abomination” faction that repeatedly tried to sabotage and destroy AIVAS, and his hearing is fine, having recovered over a very long time from the sonic pulse he suffered on his last attempt.

Master Norist had been horrified to learn that the Weyrleaders of Pern believed that this disembodied voice could actually instruct them in how to turn the Red Star from its orbit and prevent it from ever swinging close enough to drop the avaricious and hungry Thread.

So far so good. Your leaders believing something that is impossible, based on your understanding of the universe, is often a way of getting someone to take action.

Shankolon does not know this, but he’s working on a time limit, because ultimate success has already happened and/or will without him being able to do a thing about it. Once Thread stops falling and no longer falls as it would be predicted to do (which may cut this Pass abnormally short), he’s out of leverage. The permanent knowledge, of course, will be when the Tenth Pass fails to materialize, but only time-traveling dragonriders will know that in their lifetimes.

If the narrative wanted to keep Shankolin as a reasonable figure and let us get a glimpse as to how someone can believe logical things that happen to be wrong, then it fails out quickly.

Thread truly was a menace to bodies and growing things, but the Aivas Abomination had been a more insidious menace to the very minds and hearts of men and women, and from its disembodied words a perfidous treachery has been spread.

Dictionary (.com), an assist, please?

perfidy: (1) deliberate breach of faith or trust; faithlessness; treachery: (2) an act or instance of faithlessness or treachery. 1585–95; Latin perfidia faithlessness, equivalent to perfid(us) faithless, literally, through (i.e., beyond the limits of) faith (per- per- + fid(ēs) faith + -us adj. suffix) + -ia -y3 (emphasis mine)

Perfidy almost requires an orthodoxy or contract of faith to betray, and I’m not seeing it yet. If the dragonriders are charged with protecting the planet from Thread, then a new entity offering a possible way of doing away with it permanently should be explored as part of due diligence. It would be closer to perfidious if they didn’t.

At that time, when everyone was extolling the miracle of this Aivas thing, his father and a few other men of importance had seen the dangers inherent in many of these smooth and tempting promises. As if a mere voice could alter the way a Star moved. Shankolin was firmly of his father’s mind. Stars did not change their courses. He agreed that the Weyrleaders were fools, inexplicably eager to destroy the very reason why the great dragons were basic to the preservation of the planet!

Wait. Logic foul, offense. The Weyrleaders are either pursuing a strategy that will disarm them against Thread or they are pursuing a strategy that will make the dragons obsolete, but not both. It is either deadly costly folly or it might work and leave a planet with dragons and no Thread to fight.

Or I’m reading something wrong in this passage and Shankolin is being consistent in belief that pursuing the AIVAS strategy will fail and be destructive to the dragons to the point where they won’t be able to fight Thread effectively on its inevitable return. Language is difficult. This is why you have editors.

Additionally, now that Shankolin has seen a meteorite hit, and knows what the word means, I wonder what his position on whether celestial bodies alter courses is. Because meteorites come from somewhere…

There’s also another reason that I’m going to highlight, because I think it’s the real reason Shankolin went along with the attack plot.

He agreed because he was so close to the end of his journeyman’s time. He was eager to prove himself acceptable to his father, to be the one of his sons to receive the secret skills of coloring glass in the glorious shades that only a Master of the Craft could produce: which sand would make molten glass blue, which powder caused the brilliant deep crimson.
So he had volunteered to be one of those to attack the Aivas Abomination and end its domination over the minds of otherwise intelligent men and women.

That sounds like a plausible and very Pernese reason to go along with something that might not have been wise or logical – to please your father and be seen as worthy to have the secrets of your Craft.

As Shankolin escapes, he slips on a stone in a stream and cuts himself fairly well on another from that fall, and bandages himself up as much as he can, continuing the escape. Turns out he had a brush with death in the mines, having smelled a pocket of gas before it collapsed a wall while he was still deafened.

And younger Shankolin was a much different person than this one.

As a younger man he would never have filched so much as a berry or apple from a neighbor’s yard. His circumstances were as much altered now as the tenets of conduct his father had beaten into him. He had a duty to perform, a wrong to right, and a theory he must confirm or forget.

*checks back* Did I miss it somewhere?

Secondly, I’m pretty sure that the use of the word “beaten” is deliberately chosen, given what we know of Norist, rather than a question of Unfortunate Implications.

Which is all adding up to making Shankolin a tragic figure, recruited into a cult and pushed to do things he might not have otherwise done because he sought parental approval. (Paging Masterharper Robinton: your callback is here.) I’m not sure the narrative is on board with this characterization, given the way it treated the Abomination faction in previous works, but it’s doing a very solid job of it. Maybe if he had been given clothing that revealed a secret message about getting out of a hate group when it was laundered, he could have made it to Mastery without the toxic mindset.

As things are, Shankolin is basically stealing a little bit of food and some bedding for himself from a cotholder that’s not actually in at the moment. He’d like new clothes, but the cotholder has no spare clothes. He does have a boat, and Shankolin is able to travel on the river to a slightly larger hold, where he gets more food and a new suit of clothes before continuing on.

As he continues, we learn that Shankolin blames AIVAS for unspecified things he suffered, he was very disturbed at the kidnapping of Robinton, and his mission, such that it is, is to discover the truth of whether Robinton killed AIVAS or AIVAS killed Robinton, and from there, formulate a plan based on how badly AIVAS had warped Pernese society.

In what I suspect is another knock-on effect from the narrative trying to achieve something else, Shankolin has been repeatedly portrayed as a person who is drawing correct conclusions from bad data.

He called to mind those whom he knew had been seriously disturbed by the so-called improvements promulgated by Aivas. By now, eleven turns since the Abomination had terminated, some right-minded thinking folk would realize the Red Star had not changed course simply because three old engines had blown up in a crack on its surface! Especially when Thread continued to fall on the planet–as indeed it should, to be sure that all Pern was united against the menace of its return, century after century.

The narrative is relying far too much on us knowing and remembering from previous books data that was only really available to Mastercrafters, Harpers, and dragonriders. Jaxom may be the only person on the planet with the complete truth of how the Threadfree world came into existence (and the proof that it’s going to turn out okay). Jaxom has reasons not to spoil the future. The dragonriders and Harpers are doing their damndest to tell everyone that this is the last Pass, but the evidence of Thread is still there and they’re going to have to ride it out. And the average person on the planet probably doesn’t understand the raw destructive power of the fusion engines detonated and the fact that the Red “Star” isn’t a star at all, but a planet being thrown from its orbit. We know what’s going on, but everyone else is quite rightly demanding the extraordinary proof for the extraordinary claims being made.

Equally as importantly, Shankolin and others that we are about to meet keep pointing out that there are social and cultural consequences to everything that AIVAS did and introduced. Mechanization displaces the guild system and will likely result in less workers needed to turn out objects and make their living from it. It might also improve farming yields so that not everyone has to be a subsistence farmer if they’re not part of a guild, a lord, or a dragonrider. A lack of Thread to fight leaves dragonriders and Lords alike without a unifying threat to devote their time and energy toward. Which could mean each of them turning on each other and struggling for control and resources.There’s no actual reason for the system as it exists to move forward in its present form past the endpoint of Thread. Jaxom has already set in motion the end of Pernese society as we know it, and all the people pushing AIVAS’s improvements are trying to hasten that change. Stable, traditional society is going to be the most appealing option for a lot of people (privileged by their position in it).

The author has had several shots at thinking through the consequences of these actions. So far, the results have been lackluster. Maybe this time we can get a good look at it?

We’ll pick up next week with more of the prologue, as several shadowy figures discuss tradition (TRADITION!) and the ways in which the machine mangled it all.

Runner of Pern: A Comedy of An Error

Last time, we got Tenna to Fort Hold for a Gather by having her get run off the runner traces and into sticklebush, which required several days of healing to get Tenna back on her feet. She’s currently making the rounds with Rosa and the man Rosa intends to date, Cleve, and has had decided which person is Haligon out of two that could have fit the bill based on the descriptions given.

Runner of Pern: Content Notes: Background Radiation Sexism

I stopped at that point because we’re about to meet a Pernese custom that hasn’t been mentioned before now. And that would definitely have influenced my reading of earlier books if I had encountered it before this point.

“There he is!” Rosa said suddenly, pointing across the square to where a group of young men were surveying girls parading in their Gather finery. It was a custom to take a Gather partner, someone with whom to spend the occasion–which could include the day, the evening meal, the dancing, and whatever else was mutually decided. Everyone recognized the limitation and made sure the details were arranged ahead of time so that there wouldn’t be a misunderstanding of intent.

Oh, really? It’s a social custom for people to pair up for parties, with an expressly negotiated agreement of what that responsibility will entail? That sounds both highly regressive (what if you don’t want a partner? Do men get to refuse, but women have to accept a partner or be thought someone of low morals?) and moderately progressive (negotiated limits on dates!) for Pern. It feels like an author having had two decades of experience and fans putting this in here.

I also have a sinking feeling a lot of those agreements aren’t going to be respected by the end, or that someone in no state to consent will be pressured to do so.

The “he” spotted in this case is Haligon, and Tenna spots a perfect place to cause embarrassment and muck his clothes.

Tenna went right up to him, tapped him on the shoulder, and when he turned around in response, the arch smile on his face turned to one of considerable interest at her appearance, his eyes lighting as he gave her a sweeping look of appreciation. He was looking so boldly that he did not see Tenna cock her right arm. Putting her entire body into the swing, she connected her fist smartly to his chin. He dropped like a felled herdbeast, flat on his back and unconscious. And right on top of some droppings.

Nice punch. As Tenna heads back, another “lad in brown” stops her and asks her what the hell is going on. She explains that it’s revenge for Haligon pushing her into sticklebushes, which stops the somewhat mirthful look on the other lad’s face cold when she shows him the healing injuries.

“I’m sorry to hear that.” And he sounded sincere, his expression somber. Then he gave his head a little shake and smiled at her, a trifle warily, but there was a look in his eyes that told her he found her attractive. “If you promise not to drop me, may I say that you don’t look at all like most runners I’ve met.” His eyes lingered only briefly on her bodice, and then he hastily cleared his throat. “I’d better get back and see… if Haligon’s come to.”

Of course, when Tenna gets back, she finds out that she flattened Horon, Haligon’s twin and a bad man in his own right, and was explaining herself to Haligon. The other girls don’t consider it a bad thing that Horon got knocked out, and they brush off Tenna’s worry when she sees Haligon headed to the runner station, because

“Torlo would love to remind him of all the harm he’s been doing runners.”
“Even if they weren’t as pretty as you are,” Cleve said.

And there’s that word again. Everyone seems to think that Tenna’s pretty, but nobody seems to have the presence of mind to keep it to themselves.

Tenna has business still, in acquiring her leathers, and there’s a piece at a tanner’s that she has her eye on, in nice emerald, a good color for a runner for her area. (Apparently, runners like to match their leather colors to the colors of the soil and ground around them, so the Southern Boll runners like red-browns.) The tanner quotes her nine marks as the price (which is the highest price I’ve heard at a Gather to this point, given that Piemur could get lots of bubbly pies for an eighth mark,) and everyone agrees it’s robbery at that price. And Tenna can’t afford it anyway, because she’s only got four. They look for other leathers that might suit for shoes, but don’t really find anything as spectacular.

Tenna is ready to give up and settle for something when Lord Groghe approaches them, asks for some time at a free table, orders drinks, and apologizes to Tenna in a low voice that won’t travel past the table. Groghe says Haligon is reckless, but he doesn’t knowingly cause injuries, and that Torlo had informed him about several other near-misses. Tenna accepts the apology and asks Groghe to make sure that riders stay off the runner traces.

“I have been well and truly told off, Runner Tenna.” He smiled back at her, his eyes dropping for a split second to her bodice. “You’re a very pretty girl. Blue becomes you.” He reached over and gave her hand a pat before he rose. “I’ve told Torlo the incursions will cease.” Then in his usual booming voice, he added, “Enjoy the Gather, runners, and the wine.”

Does Tenna have some sort of curse on her that every person around her has to tell her that she’s pretty? Because this is well past ridiculous, especially given the description Groghe gets a few paragraphs later.

“But Lord Groghe’s a fair man, even if he usually thinks women are half-wits. But he’s fair.” Then [Rosa] giggled again. “And he said how pretty you are, so that helped, you know. Haligon likes his girls pretty. So does Lord Groghe but he only looks.”

I would like to make a cutting remark here about only looking, but as far as I can tell, it’s accurate.

Haligon joins the table by unrolling the emerald leather that Tenna had her eye on in front of her and sincerely apologizing for the trouble he caused. And then, after getting her apology, asks her for a dance.

Tenna pretended to consider. But she was secretly thrilled, for despite their first encounter, there was something about Haligon that she found very attractive.

And here’s where I start I steam up a tad, because we’ve left the Comedy of Errors and are much more into the territory of Much Ado or the Taming of the Shrew, and I want, just once, for someone to go through the story without ending up falling in love with someone, even though she’s pretty.

Haligon asks if Tenna will be his meal partner, and she accepts.

Tenna returned to the station long enough to put away the beautiful leather. And long enough to get many requests for dances and to be supper partner from other runners who congratulated her.
“Told ya so, dinnit I?” Penda said, catching Tenna’s arm as she was leaving. The woman was grinning from ear to ear. “Pretty girl’s always heard, ya know.”

The word reappears. And again on why Tenna gives Golly first dance with her.

as much because he didn’t expect to get any dances from such a pretty girl as because he asked her first

…and I’m just…rgh.

In any case, Haligon joins Tenna for the next dance, a slower one, “despite the fact that half the male runners at the Gather were now crowding about for a chance to dance with her.” He pulls her in close, and they talk about why she runs and he continues to apologize for his actions as he realizes the severity of what he’s done. There is one more comedy moment where Tenna asks if Haligon paid asking price for the leather, and Haligon refuses to say how much, even though everyone knew how much Haligon needed that leather as apology.

After dancing, Haligon takes Tenna to the shadow of a deserted stall.

She smiled to herself, rehearsing a number of deft rejections if she needed them.

Okay, so she’s not fallen that far for him. That helps some, although there’s a fair amount of kissing going on despite this rejection preparation.

They kissed quite a bit between dances. He was far more respectful of her person than she expected. And said so.
“With the punch you can deliver, my girl,” he answered, “you can bet your last mark I’m not about to risk my brother’s fate.”
He also found other chilled drinks for her to drink instead of more wine. She appreciated that even more.

Which makes me upset – he’s not respecting her as a person, he’s respecting the fact that she can knock him out with a punch. I suspect that in any other story, Haligon is not nearly as gentlemanly as he’s being portrayed here. And so the continued problem of men not respecting women on Pern continues. We can probably thank Groghe and his attitude toward women for that.

Haligon and Tenna do the toss dance, which we finally get details about – apparently, the idea is for the men to throw their partners high enough in the air for them to do a full rotation before being caught. (Kind of like in pairs figure skating or ice dancing.) Tenna and Haligon are a good enough team that Tenna can turn a couple rotations in her dress and execute a finale that leaves Tenna only a little bit above the dance floor when she’s caught by Haligon.

Torlo then tells Tenna she’s on the list to run in the morning, so Tenna calls bedtime and Haligon asks her if she’s wanting to see him more in the future, when he has his own holding and is going to try and breed “runners…beasts, that is.”

“I might.” She smiled up at him. This Haligon was more of a temptation to her than he knew.
Now he smiled back at her, a challenge sparkling in his eyes. “We’ll just have to see, won’t we?”
“Yes, I guess we will.”
With that answer, she be him a quick kid on the cheek and ducked into the station before she said more than she ought right now after such a limited acquaintance. But maybe raising runners–both kinds, four-legged and two–in the west wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

And, story. That’s the end, and my hopes for Tenna staying a childfree career runner are pretty much gone. There was so much promise there.

But, then again, the narrative was doing its utmost to tell us that Tenna was pretty as a way of making sure we knew what kind of story we were really in, and that there would be romance before all was done. So I suppose I shouldn’t have gotten hopeful about it.

And, here at the end, I guess I haven’t actually learned a whole lot more about the world than when I started. Just a look in on a runner and the way that runners work. And a romance.

Well, I guess that means we’re on to another novel, The Skies of Pern, next. Which is putting us close to the point in time where Pern turns over to a new person.