Category Archives: Deconstruction: Pern

Dragonsblood: Setting Up The Big Problems

Last time, Wind Blossom retrieved things she “lost” during the Crossing that will allow either them or their descendants to learn how to determine the origin of the dragon and fire-lizard disease and synthesize a cure to keep them all alive. In the future, nobody has answers or ideas, other than cryptic messages, and Arith has now caught the sickness. Even so, nobody seems to be doing a whole hell of a lot in trying to determine how to protect themselves against the sickness.

Dragonsblood: Chapter 16: Content Notes: Casual Ablism,

Firestone, dry
Dragons fly.
Firestone, wet
Riders die.

(Benden Weyr, Third Pass, Day 6, AL 508)

This used to be true, when everyone was using the volatile firestone that exploded on contact with water. But since C’tov discovered the safer firestone and Fire Hold has been mining it everywhere they can find it, this should be less of an issue. Unless wet firestone somehow doesn’t produce enough gas in the second stomach of a dragon for them to belch fire.

The chapter opens with the return of Kindan and Lorana. Lorana vaults off to find and comfort Arith about her sickness, while Kindan reports finding the records of the secret rooms at Benden Weyr, and B’nik has only the suggestion that those rooms, once built, have suffered from cave-ins that obscure them, and the assurance that they’ll dig them out if they can. Arith assures Lorana that she’ll be fine, and since Lorana’s around, Lorana should continue trying to find a cure.

We pop over to Ista, where J’lantir has been appointed as interim Weyrleader by Dalia and elected with unanimity by the Wingleaders, and now he has to fight Thread with a severely depleted fighting strength, and in terrible weather. Dalia is fighting showing emotion about the fact that there will be more dead dragons by the time Threadfall is done, because the reality is far different than what you read in the Records. There’s a quick pop back to Benden, where Kindan is diverted from his task of finding the cave-in spaces to be emotional support to Lorana, because dragons fighting Thread means Lorana feels it all and she might want someone there to comfort her. He provides Lorana with a massage and Arith with pats and scritches through the entirety of the fall and the deaths that come to Lorana. Then it’s back to Ista, where J’lantir has to deal with the casualties of the Threadfall.

M’kir’s left arm was in a sling, his shoulder heavily bandaged where Thread had gouged it, the left side of his head bandaged to hide the gaping hole that had once held a fierce blue eye.
[…everyone looks terrible and tired. J’lantir is staying upright mostly through force of will rather than any real reason to do so…]
S’maj was the only Wingleader left beside himself. B’lon was favoring his left leg, wrapped in a bandage placed over his now-useless flying pants–a long thin line of blood showed where Thread had eaten through it and into his leg, but the score was not deep.

Dalia then comes in with the casualty figures for the Fall, and it’s clear that Ista now lacks the fighting strength to do that again.

But before we can talk through the implications of that, we pop back to Benden and Kindan and Lorana, who are covered in dragon snot and have to get cleaned up before they can take Arith out to get a drink. Where they run into Tullea, who is still being written as someone who is jealous and lazy and indolent.

“Well,” someone behind them drawled, “now that the two of you have deigned to join the rest of us, perhaps you’d care to look for these special rooms I’ve heard so much about.”
They turned to see Tullea leaning indolently against Minith’s foreleg. B’nik was beside her.
“Arith was sick,” Lorana explained, turning back to catch sight of the young queen as she splashed back to the shore.
“All the more reason to search, then,” Tullea responded. “Unless you two are more inclined to cavorting?” She cast a disdainful look at Kindan’s bare chest. “And get some clothes on.”
With that, Tullea turned away from them and headed back to her weyr, B’nik following, stony-faced.

At this point, the narrative is just giving us grief, and letting us yell at all the characters everywhere that they are still not entertaining the weird, not-usual suggestions for causes of Tullea’s problem, because all the usual ones seem to not be working. Tullea can’t necessarily answer the question “are you time-displaced?” because she doesn’t know, but it’s still the most logical explanation for her sudden behavioral shift.

The part that immediately follows here, though, is good writing, and I wanted to highlight it, if for no other reason than to point out that the new author has at least an inkling of an idea of the female gaze and can use it.

“Tullea giving out to you, was she?” Kiyary asked, smiling evilly. “I can see why, too–your bare chest is enough to make a dragon swoon.”
Kindan, who knew full well that most dragonriders were, of necessity, more muscled than he, took Kiyari’s mocking in the well-intentioned manner it was delivered. “it’s all that hard work with my guitar,” he said, grinning.
“And those drums up on the heights don’t hurt either,” Kiyari responded, giving him a more thorough appraisal than when she’d been teasing him. “Come to think of it, maybe Tullea has a point.”

This is good writing. It helps to establish Kindan’s frame (lean and strong, rather than overtly muscular) as well as establishing, generally, that dragonriders are buffer than most people from their work.

Well, dragonriding men, anyway. I would absolutely love to see a Weyrwoman described as buff and muscular from all the work she does feeding and caring for her dragons, because, at least while they’re Weyrlings, it seems like queen riders do exactly the same things for dragon care as everyone else. So there’s plenty of opportunity for them to get strong and muscular as well.

There’s a brief intrlude where Lorana’s riding gear arrives, with metal caos for the steel studs engraved with her animal healer design. Lorana is very, very happy about this, and we get something that’s got a certain amount of gender-subversions in it, even though I’m not sure on which end to put the most subversiveness.

“And I love the brightwork, Kindan. It’s very well done.”
“A friend of mine,” Kindan told her.
“Well, please thank her for me.”
Him,” Kindan corrected with a grin. “But I’ll pass the thanks on.”

I think what we’re supposed to pull out of this is that dudes generally don’t do fine detail work on precious metals. Except, you know, that Mastersmith Fandarel has pretty well been a fixture of being a giant man with the ability to do detail work from the beginning of the series? And I personally would have expected dudes to do that kind of work right from the get-go, so perhaps the gender-subversion is that Lorana defaults to assuming the person who did the fine-detail work is a woman instead of a man. Either way, there’s something going on there.

Still frustrated at not finding any sign of the secret rooms, Lorana and Kindan decide to put the isolation plan into action and group all the sick dragons together. They can’t decide on whether to put them up at the top and hope the cold helps or at the bottom so they can’t infect anyone underneath them, so they ask B’nik about what to do. And B’nik isn’t any help, because he wants to make sure they use the right quarantine protocol rather than one that might end up infecting the whole Weyr. This might go better, except that Tullea is there, and in her infinite wisdom, she decides that Lorana should have to go looking for the secret rooms herself and not to use any more Weyr resources. And she orders Kindan to play for the Weyr tonight with some sprightly, happy songs. During this, Tullea “pressed a hand to her head, as though to ease pain,” which goes uncommented on.

Instead, once everyone is dismissed and Lorana’s alone, Salina appears to help Lorana find the secret rooms. With only a little bit of description of the secret rooms and their absence, Salina immediately twigs that the secret rooms are hidden behind rockslides and cave-ins and immediately goes to get help, because she immediately knows where to go. M’tal, once she explains what she wants to do, says to wait and snag Kindan when he’s done singing, because he’s miner-bred, and therefore either the very best to handle the situation or the very best to get help if the situation goes south. The two hear Kindan singing as they go toward collecting him, first with a change of “The Morning Dragon Song” (boy, there’s a call-back) to make it a gold dragon, and then Kindan decides he wants to sing the song he barely remembered in the Harper Hall Archives, which absolutely pisses Tullea off, and both her and B’nik tell Kindan to cease immediately. Kindan looks ready to pursue the point, but manages to demonstrate some small amount of wisdom and goes back to more traditional songs.

Which leads to Lorana wondering why she had that song about her, and her fear that everyone will see her as the person that brought the disease and hate her forever. Salina has a brief flash of anger at Lorana if it’s true, but it immediately dissipates when she realizes that Lorana stands to lose her own dragon. Because Salina has had that experience, and knows full well that nobody would deliberately do that to their own dragon, and so she pledges to help Lorana solve the problem of the secret rooms and the disease.

Kindan is remarkably upset for having made those particular decisions. For a Harper, though, he’s remarkably at a loss for creative words.

“Of all the stupid, ill-considered, blockheaded, unthinking–”
“Don’t stop,” K’tan told Kindan as the herper poured out a litany of self-contempt. “You forgot fardling.”
“–fardling, moronic, imbecilic–” Kindan paused, groping for more words.
K’tan shook his head sadly. “A harper at a loss for words when they’re so desperately needed.”

Well, apparently fardling doesn’t exist, but the other ones do, and point out that a lot of the words that we use for talking about our lack of smarts are generally ablist in nature. Remarkably, there are no slip-ups where religious terms can sneak in. Also remarkably, nothing scatological makes it into the list, nor anything related to dragons, so it seems like there’s a distinct lack of swearing involved here, despite Kindan being more than upset enough with himself that a long string of swears would be utterly contextually appropriate. But we don’t learn anything more about informal language choices on Pern.

Instead, K’tan and M’tal recruit Kindan to go look at the rockslide space that’s near the Hatching Ground. One that K’tan never went near because it wans dangerous as a child. That is, again, near the Hatching Ground, a space that just about everyone would be near or around at a large part of their lives. While the ability to miss something in plain sight while you’re concentrating on something else is a well-documented effect, certainly, given that it’s a hazard and it’s around the Hatching Grounds, why wasn’t it marked on the map of the Weyr? Plus, Kindan’s been here a long time – surely he would remember the presence of the rockslide? Or any of the other riders tip them off to it, especially since it’s “back by the way we used to come and look at the eggs back when we were candidates”? I’m very glad that Salina is the one to crack the mystery, because hooray for agency for women! But also, it seems like such a prominent feature of the pathway wouldn’t be forgotten so easily. But I’m probably thinking too hard about this, or have unrealistic expectations about these characters.

They dissuade Kindan from trying to excavate the space himself, so instead, Kindan calls on Camp Natalon and brings back Dalor, Renna, and several of the miners from the camp to excavate the cave-in. Once they see the space, Dalor is pretty convinced that this is the right spot to mine. Plus, Camp Natalon immediately acquits themselves as the right people for the job.

“Look here,” Dalor said, pointing. “You can see where the rock faces are formed. They must have hoped the two layers would never slip over each other, or they must not have realized what they were dealing with.”
“Slip?” M’tal, who had been following along, asked.
“Aye, my lord,” Dalor said with a nod. “There are two different layers here, see?” He pointed to the spot where the different colors were close to each other. “You can tell by the color. The layers can slip over each other, which happens when there’s an earth shake.”

An excellent explanation. Not a couple paragraphs later, after trying to figure out how much rock might need to be excavated, Regellan suggests that it’s only a meter or two if the rocks slipped at the layers, so that the roof was the only thing that gave out. Dalor compliments Regellan as “quite the thinker” and then sets his work crews to get things out, telling Kindan and M’tal to get out because they lack miners’ hats. It takes them about a day to get through to the door, and Dalor accidentally refers to M’tal as the Weyrleader in Tullea’s presence, which doesn’t make her happy at all.

Tullea marches in to the corridor, glow in hand, and starts examining the newly-opened space. And the narrative gives us another reason not to like her.

“This looks like a door,” she exclaimed. She hunkered down, peering to either side of it. “What’s this?” she asked, seeing a square plate to the left of the door. She pressed it just as Dalor, who had been watching her actions with growing alarm, shouted “Don’t touch it!”
Too late.
With a rumbling groan, the wall began to slide open and light flooded in from the other side.
Dalor raced to Tullea and pulled her back away from the door. Even as he did, she slumped toward the floor so that B’nik had to catch her other side to prevent her from falling.

Tullea’s just passed out from the “bad air”, thankfully, but I think this is supposed to be the feather in the cap of the way she’s been portrayed as impulsive and selfish as well. She doesn’t know what dangers are there, she doesn’t have protection, and what she did could have endangered everybody there if it caused, say, a second rock slide.

This seems like a good place to stop, as we’re about halfway through the chapter, and there’s a lot to be described coming forward that will hint at what is to come. Because we have now discovered the solution that the First Interval left for the Second. Assuming they can figure it all out.

And there will be more Tullea-bashing yet to come, and I’ve basically had my fill of it to this point. More next week.

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Dragonsblood: A Compound Tragedy

Last time, Kindan and Lorana continued to prove they should have apprenticed to the Healers, while Tullea continued to show signs of being time-split without anyone putting two and three together, and the dragonriders continued to scramble to try and put together enough dragons to successfully fight Thread.

Dragonsblood, Chapters 14, 15, : Content Notes: Consent Issues, Dragon Mating Flights, Cruelty to Clearly Intelligent Species

(Fort, Third Pass, Day 6, AL 508)

Thread Falls
Dragons rise
Dragonriders scan the skies
Dragons flame, Thread dies.

So, a variation on the poem from the last chapter, then.

The chapter starts with the Fort Weyrleader, K’lior, preparing to fly his first Pass against Thread. What’s interesting about this is Cisca, his Weyrwoman, almost certainly has human-human telepathy, in the repeated ways that she can figure out what he’s thinking, even as he tries to hide it from her, and even when he didn’t say anything aloud at all. This is not remarked upon by the narrative in any way outside of K’lior’s confusion at how his thoughts can be so transparent to Cisca. Despite, outside of a small and select number of sentences in this entire series, human to dragon telepathy has been the norm and what is expected. The narrative is not drawing attention to the oddity, and therefore it is important in some way for us to remember that telepathy works between humans, as well.

More immediately, K’lior can’t help but be a monogamous Weyrleader, although he at least goes far enough to acknowledge that there should be all sorts of relationships in the Weyr.

He and Cisca had already formed a strong attachment before her gold rose for the first time, and while he understood and accepted the ways of the Weyr, he was honest enough to admit that he did not want any other dragonman entwined with her.

And there we are again. Good bronze and gold riders are monogamous and het while bad ones aren’t, and all the other colors are freewheeling orgy factories. It’s like there’s a stereotype on display here about gay people and promiscuity but someone is trying really hard not to be as obvious about it as their mother was.

Anyway, we cut to D’gan

proclaiming yet again that all his dragons will fly, including the sick ones. And justifying being an abusive asshole by wondering why nobody takes his shooting at the level he intends it.

“We have only two hundred and twenty-two fighting dragons,” he repeated, ignoring the startled looks on the faces of the other dragonriders milling about the Lower Caverns. They should be used to his shouting by now, he reflected. They should know that his roar was always worse than his flame.

That’s not saying much, given that his “flame” is making sick dragons fly, accusing them of “shirking” if they don’t want to train because they’re sick, physically abusing people he considers beneath him, not caring who gets press-ganged into dangerous and deadly work, and so on, and so on. Yet here he is, proclaiming in his own head that he’s not really all that bad. Just loud. It’s not like he does anything to warrant terror.

Except, you know, that when, yet again, he says no to the idea of the sick dragons taking a Fall off to recover (“Harper, I heard no ‘buts’ in the Teaching Songs.”), he characterizes it as a “repeated revolt” against his leadership.

But no, to listen to him tell it, it’s everyone else that’s the problem. Why hasn’t he been replaced, deposed, exiled, or otherwise had, say, a massive amount of desertion in protest of his “leadership” before the Weyrs quarantined themselves?

Then on to C’rion, who is hoping that a small area to cover in Fall and the new tactics to account for losses will make his Fall one without casualty. His Weyrwoman, Dalia, reflects on the losses and on a gain — Jassi, filling in for the lack of a Weyr Healer after his dragon died, has essentially become an authoritative figure in running the Weyr. So much so that Dalia thinks she should stand as an egg candidate.

Back to K’lior, who arrived in the right place, but apparently, facing away from the Threadfall’s approach. They get reoriented in time.

Back to C’rion, who pops in with a small concern about the weather, which is affecting the fall and making it unpredictable. It’s his terrible luck that a Thread clump lands directly on him from above and scores him and his dragon, Nidanth, so much that they both go to hyperspace to die, leaving J’lantir in charge of running the fall.

Then to Kindan and Lorana, and the reality that Lorana continues to feel each dragon’s death quite keenly, and Kindan, after being summoned by Arith, discovers that Lorana had been sketching each of the dragons and riders as they die. Not in full detail, but enough to get the point across. To his credit, Kindan asks for scented oil. To his detriment, he doesn’t actually explain that he wants it so he can give Lorana a massage, which he does, first with her neck, then up her hands and arms, and then he get and legs. He’s skilled enough that Lorana enjoys it greatly, and basically falls asleep after he is done, but the narrative doesn’t even bother with the two sentences it would take for Kindan to explain and ask Lorana if that’s what she wants. He does say that it’s obvious her hands are cramping because of the number of drawings, but he doesn’t, say, ask if she wants to be touched while she’s having some serious grief and trauma.

Which makes it that much sharper of an issue when the next scene starts.

In the morning, Lorana woke suddenly with a burning passion, fierce and nearly frightening in its intensity.
Kindan ducked his head in, eyes snapping with emotion. “Tullea’s Minith has blooded her kills.”
“She will mate soon,” Lorana said, stretching her senses and feeling the young queen’s passion. She looked up at Kindan, her eyes warm but also challenging. “Stay with me?”
Kindan gave her a surprised, half-hoping look. Lorana sat up in her bed and patted it.
“I’ve never been near a dragon’s mating flight,” she explained.

I…find that hard to believe, to be honest. Just because the regularity of them would suggest as much, but Lorana has also been in the Weyr for a while. Unless the sickness is also curbing a dragon’s sex drive, the greens should be still trying to get someone to chase them. And, presumably, being in the Weyr for this long has given Lorana ample opportunity to understand what goes on during a mating flight, if she hasn’t had it drilled into her directly because she’s a queen rider and will have to follow the procedure herself soon enough.

The way the narrative phrases it, it’s like they want Lorana to say she’s never had sex before, so that her first time can be with Kindan, the golden boy. The way they’ve phrased it, though, I’m way more worried that Lorana hasn’t been given enough information to understand and consent to what is about to happen to her.

Except Lorana had fire lizards, and back a few chapters, she specifically mentioned that she’s been through fire-lizard mating seasons, so the difference should be understanding the degree to which the emotions affect people.

Except Lorana is already well-poised to understand this, given how keenly she’s been feeling everyone’s death. So Lorana might understand completely. But I still don’t think she would say that she’s never been near a flight before.

Kindan moved to her and, at her beckoning, sat on the bed beside her.
“The emotions from dragons mating are very strong,” he said, his voice low.
At that moment, Lorana gasped as she felt Minith being caught in her mating flight and–
When she could speak again, she leaned up and captured Kindan’s mouth with hers, kissing him deeply.
Kindan responded by clutching her more tightly, returning her kiss as ardently as she had given it. Like dragons entwined, they drew together, burning with a passion born on dragonwings.
Afterward, they broke apart, still touching each other loosely. Lorana looked at him as he lay beside her and traced the line of his jaw lovingly. Kindan turned his head, caught her hand, kissed it, and released it again, all with a gentle smile.

Cocowhat by depizan

Not so much the fade to black, but for the swiftness involved before Kindan can, say, explain to Lorana anything at all and see whether she really wants him there. It will be explained later that the mating flight was shorter than usual, so perhaps Kindan thought he had more time to explain, but when Pellar was with Aleesa, they had time to arrange everyone and gather some form of consent, or at least acknowledgement of what was about to happen. Maybe the author felt that Lorana patting the bed and asking Kindan to stay was consent enough, but by that point, Lorana is probably already being influenced by Minith. Kindan, likely, too, but any of the bronzes in flight. So meaningful consent is shot by the time it could be sought.

And also, depending on how much of other books had been plotted or written at this point, how is Kindan reacting to this based on the trauma of Koriana’s death? Has it been long enough that Kindan feels a pang but has moved on? Is he still mourning for her more than thinking about new relationships? Was he working up the courage to ask Lorana?

That it’s essentially “Kindan and Lorana are totally fine with this and very affectionate torward each other after the mating” skips over a lot of very important questions about how the mating drug works and what everyone actually thinks about it afterward, when they’re not under dragon-influence.

The next scene, after Lorana tells Kindan that B’nik’s dragon flew Tullea doesn’t help.

Tullea walked with the obvious soreness of a woman recovering from her dragon’s mating. B’nik looked equally uncomfortable.
Lorana, on the other hand, moved through her pain, a smile close to her lips, her hand entwined in Kindan’s, projecting the sense that the pain served a purpose that she accepted and welcomed.

Cocowhat by depizan

SEX SHOULD NOT BE PAINFUL.

Seriously. And I would like to believe that dragonriders, to this point, have figured out that if mating flights are going to involve a lot of sex and friction, that there would be lube of some sort easily to hand. And also, perhaps, something to help keep weight off and muscles from getting sore, like hammocks or swings or other things. These should all be solved problems at this point out of necessity. Because the Weyrs are used to this and are culturally much less uptight about sex, or so we get told. And they have mating flights fairly commonly.

K’tan (who is narrating) continues to dissect the flight, wondering why Tullea and B’nik don’t look nearly so happy, before recounting that Tullea couldn’t or didn’t want to control Minith (likely didn’t, given that Tullea looked at B’nik, screaming at her to get her dragon under control, “with a smirk in her eyes”), which led to eating whole beasts rather than just sucking them dry of blood, and that the flight part was pretty short, with Minith diving into the pack of bronzes and getting flown by B’nik’s Caranth.

A short mating flight, gorging on her food–those spoke of a small clutch and more problems for the Weyr with a Weyrwoman who would not control her dragon.

Given that Tullea then acts extremely swiftly to evict Kindan and Lorana from doing research in the Records Room and tells M’tal’s wing to move themselves, essentially, as far away from her as she can send them, I don’t think the problem they should be gearing up for is an out-of-control Weyrwoman.

Lorana still wants to go to Fort to raid their records, but there’s no pathway to that until B’nik shows up and offers to personally escort them while Minith and Tullea are still asleep. Which gets Kindan to Zist for a conference, but first, B’nik (who is way better, in Lorana’s opinion, when he’s not having to be Tullea’s man, just to continue driving home how much we’re supposed to think of Tullea as a shrew) explains to Lorana and us about the consequences of timing it, although he only mentions extreme tiredness, rather than the other consequences that we’ve seen happen from prolonged time splitting.

B’nik and Lorana conference with K’lior and Cisca about numbers and strength.

Cisca was even taller than her Weyrleader, a brown-eyed, brown-haired beauty with a strong, cheerful face. She was much more buxom than Lorana, but she carried herself proudly, her stride neither apologetic nor flaunting.

It’s not quite “She breasted boobily down the stairs”, but I’m not entirely sure how Lorana can tell that Cisca has achieved the socially acceptable balance between apologizing for her rack and shoving it in everyone’s vision.

After talking about fighting strength, we switch to the Harper conference, where no real headway has happened there at all. The only message from High Reaches has been “Wait”, and all Verilan has is the certainty that each successive incident of Thread and sickness is roughly halving the number of available fighting dragons to the point where there won’t be enough to succeed in all of two more Falls, based on the attrition rate.

There’s a jump back to the Weyrleader conference, all now ensconced in Fort’s Records Room where, finally, after a full day of nothing, Cisca finds a mention that a very specific room was built, after much argument, at Benden Weyr at the end of the First Interval. Then back to the Harpers, where everyone has confirmed Verilan’s figures, and Kelsa brings up having rediscovered a fragment of a haunting song, which kickstarts Kindan’s memory enough that he is able to sing back the song he had only a glance at before he had to try and help put out the Archive fire. Kindan is now certain the song refers to Lorana, the “young healer lass”, even though the rest of the song is still opaque. Before more can be put to use on the song, Lorana bursts in and tells them, tearily, that Arith has gotten sick. And that’s chapter 14.

Ecosystems are constantly changing, adapting to new life-forms, while simultaneously life-forms are adapting to the ecosystem. To engineer a change to an ecosystem is to commit to a lifetime of monitoring.

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

(Tillek Hold, First Interval, AL 58)

Chapter 15 starts with fog as Wind Blossom begins her “vacation” at Tillek. It’s very apparent it’s not a real vacation, as Wind Blossom has requested “a bell, a coil of rope, and some planking” from the local Lord, Malon, to accompany a shelter. Malon has no idea why Wind Blossom would want such things.

Insert another caustic rant about how fast knowledge gets lost on Pern, with extra spice because it stands credulity that in fifty years, everyone just about everyone has forgotten that the dolphins talk and can be summoned by bells and are otherwise quite happy to work with people.

It’s premature, because within a few pages, the narrative will tell us that Malon “soon guessed” the reason that Wind Blossom came to Tillek and he tries to dissuade her with the thought that the water is too cold this far north. Wind Blossom is persistent, though, and intends to get the result she is looking for. My point still stands, though, that if Malon can “soon guess” that Wind Blossom is trying to call the dolphins, then he shouldn’t be nearly as clueless as he appears about the materials she requested earlier.

I realize this is an author trying to avoid spoiling a very important point of the series up to this point, but it has the effect of unnecessarily complicating every section after this point and not being clear about what is going on, leaving a new reader without a clue, even as the older readers nod and smile, assuming their own memories are good enough to recall how someone summons a dolphin.

Plus, the title of the leader of all the dolphins is The Tillek. So that particular Hold should have a longer, not shorter, memory.

In between those events, though, we have another instance of foreshadowing, where Wind Blossom discovers that the watch-wher of Tillek has been chained up.

Wind Blossom turned to Tillek’s leader and looked up at him with deadly intensity. “Why is it chained?”
“Oh, Tilsk here was always getting into mischief,” Malon said dismissively. “It’s for its own good.”
“Watch-whers are ‘he’ or ‘she’,” Wind Blossom corrected sternly. [Which fans the editors missed her calling Tilsk an it not two sentences above. Wind Blossom would have said she, because…] “This one is a green; that makes her a ‘she’.”
[…Wind Blossom is very annoyed that nobody has been training with the watch-wher and what that means for the loss of knowledge…]
“What if we start chaining up dragons?” she asked, nodding in satisfaction when both Malon and M’hall recoiled in horror. She looked back up at Malon. “It is the same thing, to chain a watch-wher.”

Wind Blossom also pointedly remarks that chained watch-whers can’t accomplish their purpose of eating Thread when it falls at night, which surprises Malon to learn. And then he agrees to keep that knowledge secret so as not to alarm the Hold, rather than spread out widely so everyone knows to take good care of their watch-wher. So that knowledge will get lost at the next major disaster.

There’s a quick scene between Emorra and Tieran as they try to reduce the surface of the dragon illness problem, with no apparent success, before returning to Wind Blossom, who has successfully contacted the dolphins and had them retrieve some things that were “lost” during the Crossing. M’hall notes the success and Wind Blossom points out to him that these things are on loan, rather than retrieved, and at some point will need to be lost again. Which makes me wonder again about what the plot actually was in terms of throwing away all the equipment during the fleeing, as if that was the exact point decided where there would be no further need for their high tech.

Especially, as the equipment is unveiled, they have significant amounts of power still left in them. The equipment turns out to be a genetic code viewer and sequencer, as well as a mapper that will help those reading genes to understand what they’re looking at. The chapter closes on Wind Blossom agreeing with Tieran that it would be easier for their future descendants to use the equipment in their time, if only they could be taught how to do it.

And one last note, the ships in orbit have collected the name Dawn Sisters from the astronomy students looking at them through a telescope.

So, we are setting ourselves up for a giant time-twist plot that is likely going to make me wonder a lot of things before all is said and done, and only some of them are going to have anything at all to do with the paradoxes that are being invoked or sidestepped because the authors wanted a plot to work more than they wanted to think about the consequences of that plot. That is definitely not a headache I am looking forward to.

Dragonsblood: Making Up For Lost Time

[Mari Ness wonders why The White Dragon waits so long before letting all of its plot out, why everyone keeps picking the wrong reasons to tell Jaxom to shove off, and is disappointed that this first trilogy ends with more of a Bronx cheer than a fanfare.]

Last time, we saw the effects of the first Fall of the Third Pass, and things went disastrously for everyone, because nobody had apparently decided that casualties were a thing that happened.

And an asshole continued to be an asshole.

Dragonsblood, Chapter 13: Content Notes:

(Benden, Third Pass, 4th Day, AL 508)

Dragon, turn
Dragon, climb
Dragonrider, watch for sign
Firestone, chew
Dragon, flame
Char the Thread, make it tame

I know we’ve complained about the quality of the poetry here, but this is terrible. I can’t even figure out what it’s supposed to be, much less anything to say about how effectively it does it.

This chapter opens with M’tal declaring they’re going to run training exercises with mixed wings, and every so often, one of the riders is going to be “injured” to the point where they be to leave the battlefield and everyone else has to pick up the slack. None of the sick dragons are flying. There’s a little grumble about how that realization is a day late, and a persistent grumble that Tullea doesn’t seem to be helping anyone at any time, despite being the Weyrwoman now (and the traditional person to examine Records, rather than Lorana and Kindan, who are.)

It takes them most of the morning before M’tal feels “cautiously confident” they might be able to handle the next Fall.

The narrative hops back to Kindan and Lorana in the archives, and someone has finally put up an answer to the question of why there aren’t fleets of apprentices copying Records, despite obvious signs of disintegration.

“Spoken like someone who never spent days copying old Records,” Kindan responded. “Do you know how boring it is, day in, day out, copying musty old Records?”
Lorana allowed herself a slight smile. “I imagine there would be a lot to be learned,” she said.
Kindan shook his head. “No, not really,” he said. “Most of the Records are repetitious. There are only so many ways you can record crop yields and rainfall. Occasionally there’s a note of a wedding or a birth but–honestly–you’d think whoever wrote those Records was numb! Not a single joke, no songs, nothing but dull, dry facts, Record after Record.”

Data points are pretty compact to copy, and don’t take up much room, I would have thought, and also, I would have expected shorthand and other space-saving ideas to develop quickly so as to make that pain less. Or, again, for someone to have sensibly summarized the dull dry facts into something useful, like “the average rainfall for the First Pass during the wet season was this many millimeters per day” and paying more attention to things that were strong variances in the pattern. Because, for the most part, they don’t need that level of detail to be copied exactly. The trends are important, the data less so. Songs and jokes might also get compressed some, on the mistaken assumption that, say, all Harpers will understand if you say, “Key of C, tempo allegro, 12-bar blues” and then just write the lyrics and where the key changes, rather than copying out complete sheet music.

When faced with more information than you have storage and time to copy, decisions have to get made about what gets kept and what gets compressed and what gets discarded.

In any case, the two have been using a “sandglass” to time how long between calling dragons to drop out of the practice run, and after selecting one more dragon, Lorana suggests they start not at the most recent, but the oldest Records to see what can be found. It’s a good plan, and Kindan acknowledges it, even as he dreads it, but nothing comes of it, and Lorana’s good humor disappears into frustration.

“Musty, old, useless Records!” she swore.
Kindan gave her a shocked look.
“I’m sorry I ever suggested we start with the oldest ones,” she apologized, stifling a sneeze. “My nose is running and my eyes are watering with all this dust. The writing’s barely legible and I’ve probably missed something important because it’s buried in a mass of gibberish!”

And now I wonder how these Records are organized. Because it would seem likely that “The Annals of Benden Hold’s Crop Yields” would be in a different volume, or at least signposted differently, than “The Exploits of the Dragonriders of Benden Weyr”. What it sounds like, though, is that we have a single volume called “Benden” or something like that, where records have been thrown together on the page without even the rudiments of an organization system, no headings for pages, no navigation aids, no date markers, just solid blocks of text that you have to read every word of to find the needle in the haystack.

In a society that prizes literacy and has at least some idea that they want to preserve things for next generations. I’m not saying they have to be perfect at organization, but it’s been a running gag since the beginning of the series that any time someone has to go through the records, they’re always disorganized, disintegrating, and otherwise useless, unless the plot demands that character get lucky and spot the right reference in a book. There are enough times that this happens that someone, somewhere, has to have developed a system to keep the Records straight and easily accessible, even if it is their personal system and nobody else necessarily knows it, and presumably has written that system down in a Record somewhere.

I realize I’m giving this way more thought than the authors have, collectively, but it is a truth of humans that once there’s enough information that some of it has to be referenced, rather than remembered, organization systems are sure to follow. It would be a better plot for the volume that’s needed to be misfiled, rather than the information needed being a single line in a random work.

Right after Lorana swears, Salina arrives and offers to continue while Lorana takes a break to care for her dragon, get food, and otherwise not be devoting all of her waking time to this problem. Salina quips that this is the sort of thing the Weyrwoman is supposed to do, or so she’s heard, and Kindan decides (wisely, in my opinion) he’s not going to say that those grumbles are talking about Tullea instead of Salina.

The next Threadfall has M’tal more confident (and better prepared) except for one giant spanner in his plans – Minith and Tullea appear, which causes problems in the carefully planned wings as, as we saw before, bronze dragons start following their instinct to protect a queen rather than what they need to do for Thread. Tullea insists she’s doing her duty as the Weyrwoman, and M’tal eventually has Lorana explain to Minith that she needs to not be there, and the chaos subsides after the queen disappears.

That royally ticks Tullea off, and she’s ready to give Lorana a knuckle sandwich, but that Arith appears, ready to protect her rider, and Salina shortly after. Lorana explains why she ordered Minith back at M’tal’s insistence.

“I’m sorry, Tullea, but M’tal explained that if Minith were injured, she might not mate.”
Tullea’s eyes widened as the words sunk home. “I was doing my duty,” she said dully. “I’m supposed to take on the duties of the Weyrwoman.”
“When they’re is only one mature queen,” Salina told her, “those duties do not include flying against Thread.”
[…Tullea acknowledges this, but insists again that Lorana has no right to order her around. Lorana shrugs it off and heads to her next patient…]
“This isn’t over,” Tullea growled at Lorana’s back.
“If you’re interested in a Weyr woman’s duties, Tullea, now is a good time to start,” Salina said from behind her. “There is numbweed ready and those who need it.”
Tullea’s hands clenched at her sides and she turned sharply to glare at Salina, but the old Weyrwoman merely gestured toward the Lower Caverns.

And the narrative continues to portray Tullea as someone who can’t do right by anyone and is determined to make every situation worse by being a part of it. In Kindan and K’tal’s conversation in the next scene, K’tan says that Tullea used to be charming to the point where is strongly implied he slept with her, but this was before she Impressed. (There’s also a bit that says Kindan was considered to ascend to a Mastery, but he turned it down to stay at Benden, but I note only because we had so much trouble figuring out what Kindan was actually good enough at that would warrant his promotion in the last book.)

Nobody considers Tullea’s behavior strange enough to have wanted to investigate it then, or to continue to wonder and request examination by the Weyr Healer to see if there is something they can detect that would indicate what’s going on with her abrupt personality shift. It very much snacks of “wimmins be bitches, amirite?” and not wanting to do much examining of someone who will eventually be a Weyrwoman. Plenty of comments have talked about the lack of curiosity on Pern, and here’s yet another example of it.

As was also pointed out before, Tullea might be the senior queen, and Lorana the junior, and Breth gone, but that should mean there are a couple more queens around, right? Unless, and this is reaching back very far into memory, someone decided that three was the maximum number of queens in a Weyr based on the early books instead of the later five or so, at which point everybody’s accounted for.

K’tan wants to know how the other Weyrs fared in their Threadfall, but since Weyrs are autonomous, and some of them don’t feel like sharing, Kindan hatches a plot to send an innocuous-seeming message to Zist so that he can get more information without having to be too obvious about it.

While that echoes, M’tal calls his war council and wants to get an update on his fighting strength. He wants B’nik to lead the next Fall to give him practice and experience at leadership, since it’s extremely likely that B’nik will be taking over once Minith goes into a mating. To that end, he wants B’nik to know what sort of reserves they have, given that the casualties from the last Fall have cut in to their strength again. B’nik says he’s up to the task, even with the projected casualties and sickness that K’tan suggests.

Then things resolve at the Harper Hall, where Kindan’s message comes through – he wants Zist to “trade him news about the Weyrs.” Zist takes his meaning and rouses Masters Jofri, Verilan, and Kelsa (you go, girl!) to discuss the request and its ramifications. Verilan has come up empty so far in searching for previous instances of sick dragons, fire-lizards, or watch-whers. The narrative trolls us again about the shoddy state of the Records.

The Master Archivist shook his head. “They’d much rather be copying your songs than dusty old Records that mean nothing to them.”
“I suspect that in the days to come, your apprentices–and all the students at our Hall–will find their interest in preserving our old Records increasing,” Master Zist said.
Verilan nodded in agreement. “These times do make us appreciate the need to preserve our history.”

…because we haven’t made it startlingly obvious how a classification system and summaries would have to be invented of they didn’t already exist. Rote copying is for sacred texts that have to be done correctly or the magic smoke gets let out. “The Masterharper’s Guide to Planet-Wide Anomalies” should already have any such events. Or something.

Kelsa is charged with both looking into songs to see if any of them sound like they were composed about or in response to sick or lost dragons / fire-lizards and composing a song so that other Harpers can collect the information Kindan wants.

Now that we know what Kindan asked for, we pop back to the Weyr, where Tullea is storming M’tal’s quarters, demanding to know what sort of shenanigans are going on.

Tullea’s nostrils flared angrily. “You will not make B’nik lead the Fall!” she shouted. “You’re trying to get him killed so that your dragon will fly Minith!” She drew herself up to her full height. “Well, it’s not going to happen! I’ll not let it happen, no matter what!”

Lorana and Kindan are drawn by the noise. Lorana volunteers herself to go get some food. Kindan suggests lacing the wine for Tullea with fellis to knock her out, a suggestion B’nik confirms as Lorana meets him in the way down. B’nik is chagrined by Tullea’s outbursts, but manages to calm Tullea down significantly with a well-placed hug after Tullea expresses a heartfelt concern about B’nik’s well-being. Tullea’s behavior is offered an explanation, by Salina, that’s not “she’s a raging bitch” for once.

“Stress does strange things to people,” Salina murmured when their steps faced away.
“She wasn’t like this before,” M’tal muttered, looking puzzled.
“She said she’s always tired, always edgy,” Salina commented. She looked at Kindan. “Could it be something in her diet?”
[…Kindan demurs to K’tan, and suggests Lorana might know a thing. Lorana says that sometimes the animals just go off their feed for no explicable reason…]
“We’ll, Tullea’s been ‘off her feed’ for the past three turns now,” Kindan commented sardonically.
“I think she’s just scared,” Salina said sympathetically. “And who can blame her? These are very worrying times.”

Salina, unsurprisingly, turns out to have a reasonable explanation, as the only one of the lot who has gone through what Tullea has. And yet, despite everyone knowing that things have been strange for a long time, nobody seems to have been investigating or otherwise working on trying to solve the issues that Tullea clearly has. (Grumble. Therapists. There should be therapists.)

And Tullea tells B’nik something, when they’re alone together that should set his hair on end, assuming he knows everything there is to know about dragons and their abilities.

“I never used to be like this,” Tullea continued. “I feel pulled apart, dizzy; I can’t concentrate. I feel out of control all the time, B’nik. And it’s been like this for Turns.”
B’nik nodded sympathetically.
“I want me back,” Tullea cried. “I want to be who I was, not angry all the time.”
She looked into his warm eyes and told him her deepest fear: “And if I lose you, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do that.”

I mean, there’s an amount of unhealthy dependence here, if you think Tullea’s in her right self at this moment, but now, I’m wondering how you can check, discreetly, to see if someone is existing in two places at the same time. J’trel told Lorana at the beginning of the book that being in two places at once produces irritability, and we saw how spending significant amounts of time in the same place as your past self is very unhealthy to your mental state. And it’s been going on for so long, it probably would have ruled out most of the causes they would look for. A brain chemistry change, being twice in time, or an Impression that went off seem like the things that would most obviously cause a strong personality shift. Two of them can be potentially checked for with the level of tech and time travel Pern has.

The rest of the chapter is Kindan, Lorana, and K’tan trying to figure out the method of the disease spreading, with several hypotheses suggested about how based on data that dragons lower down are more likely to be infected, and that more dragons have gotten sick since the quarantine went into effect. Lorana eventually recalls that isolation was the first step toward stopping diseases from spreading in herdbeasts and calls M’tal back to discuss things further. She also suggests a field trip to Fort Weyr to examine their records for anything interesting, following a pattern Lorana and Kindan found in their own search. M’tal says no, because they can’t risk infecting Fort. And the chapter ends without a full set of data for us to draw or own conclusions, and with Lorana not pushing M’tal on the visit to Fort while they wait for Zist to come back with information.

We’re nearly halfway through the book, so things should start resolving soon, right?

Dragonsblood: Battle Plan, Meet The Enemy

Last time, a lot of speculation about the illness that’s attacking fire-lizards and dragons, and an indication that Kindan might have done better as a Healer, and Lorana as a Harper. Additionally, an asshole was an asshole.

Dragonsblood, Chapters 11 and 12: Content Notes: The A+ Parenting of Kitti Ping

We’re still in Chapter 11, and the alarm has rung out that Thread will be falling, and we pick up on the scheduled day of Threadfall over Bitra. Since this is the first live-fire exercise against actual Thread, everone at Benden Weyr is a bit more keyed-up than they might otherwise be.

Tullea and B’nik are late to the muster. Tullea says they were just getting to bed, which doesn’t garner sympathy from anyone, but makes me really start wondering whether Tullea and B’nik are involved in a time-travel plot of their own, and Tullea’s mood and issues come from being double-timed or otherwise existing in two temporal realities at once. It’s been described as something that makes people very irritable, possibly in the same way as when someone expects a dragon to rise to mate.

The sick dragons are flying in the Threadfall, apparently, because the illness didn’t have the courtesy to only affect full wings at a time.

For over twenty turns, M’tal had led Benden Weyr. In all that time, he had had just one thought: to prepare for Thread. This day–now–was the culmination of all he had worked towared.
It was a disaster.
Three dragons failed to come out of between. Their loss cast an immediate pall on the fight.

Did anyone think to tell M’tal about their speculation that sick dragons get disoriented and are way less likely to come out of hyperspace alive? Because if you knew nine days in advance where Thread was scheduled to fall, that’s enough time for dragons to try and get there the long way. Assuming they’re healthy enough to try.

Worse, it threw off the organization of the wings. The teamwork that M’tal had drilled his riders so assiduously in maintaining fell apart before the first of the Thread arrived. Ruefully, M’tal reflected that he had not considered training his dragons in sustaining losses.

I…don’t get what kind of training was going on, that the absence of a person in the wing causes such disarray. There aren’t any utility riders, or reservists whose job it is to fill a hole should one appear? There aren’t backup wings who train but don’t actually fly unless they’re summoned to the battlefield to fill gaps? Riders don’t know how to reform themselves and be effective if they’re one short, or two short, or one extra? I realize that training doesn’t account for every situation, but the possibility of being one or two down in your wing, or having to account for an extra from another wing seems like something that should have been at the forefront of M’tal’s mind, since he is going to be leading people to their potential death or injury. You hope to have no casualties, but you train in such a way that even if everyone around you has to leave, temporarily or permanently, you can continue to be effective by yourself or with others that you may not have personally trained with.

And then everything unraveled. The first cry of a Thread-scored dragon seared M’tal’s ears like a hot poker, thankfully cut off as the dragon went between where the freezing cold would destroy Thread.
Then another dragon went between, and another–and that one did not return.
M’tal issued sharp orders to his wingleaders to regroup, but try as they might, the increasing casualties meant that they never quite recovered from the initial disorder.
The battle against Thread turned more dangerous, desperate. Worse, Gaminth informed him that many of the dragons going between and not returning to the Fall had not returned to the Weyr, either.
The pain of that additional loss weighed heavily on the remaining riders. Those riding ill dragons responded by doing their best to avoid going between–often with worse results. Four, then five dragons were Threaded at once and went between so terribly Thread scored that M’tal knew nothing could be done to save them.
And then it was over.

It’s not quite a rout, in the sense that the Thread doesn’t drive the dragonriders away, but it’s certainly not the resounding victory that M’tal had in mind, and I still want to blame the training methods of the dragonriders for this. Because in my significantly lower-stakes collegiate marching band, for each rank of twelve marchers in a halftime show, there was one person whose job it was to know that line well enough to step in in case someone got injured or sick and couldn’t go on. And other reserves off the field practicing, who could go in at any time, and who did the uptempo pregame routine themselves in various roles of where they might be, in the hope they might make it to the show themselves. Yet, despite the fact that it’s almost guaranteed there will be injury and dragonriders that might have to withdraw from either the formation or the battle at any time, M’tal hasn’t trained anybody on what to do if you find yourself a dragon down? That seems…like another piece of knowledge somehow got lost in the Interval that really shouldn’t have. I would expect the dragonriders to keep meticulous records about what happened, who was injured, who was killed, and all of those things. So it should have been immediately apparent to anyone that chose to look, and that has had twenty years to look, that injuries are going to happen and that the dragonriders need to be able to adapt to a changing situation at any time. Instead, it seems like once there’s one tiny disruption to the plan, everything goes out the window. The dragonriders have supposedly been drilling and playing the All-Weyr Games as well, but of course, the only thing we saw from that is distance flying and precision-shooting. If it was supposed to be drills for the real Threadfall, the competitions should not have been just individual riders and five-person wings, but groups of two, three, four, and six as well.

Still alive to fight another day, M’tal heads home, where there’s a lot of bustle about getting ready for the inevitable injuries that will bring dragons back to the Weyr. Which is to say, somehow the Headwomen and those in the Weyr know there will be casualties, and yet M’tal never trained his fighters for this eventuality.

Cocowhat by depizan

That’s sloppy writing at best.

Lorana, during all of this, is trying to make sure that Arith stays asleep, but Arith has to pull Lorana back from trying to grab a dragon that’s going to hyperspace to die, even though Lorana feels like she might have been able to pull them back and keep them there. Salina’s arrival keeps Lorana occupied in trying to keep Salina occupied, but the arrival of the wounded completely subsumes Lorana’s attention, and replays several incidences of the horror of watching a dragon go to hyperspace to die for Salina, which can’t be good for her mental health. There’s another bit of scientific knowledge that’s survived, about blood contaminations, after K’tan stops Lorana and orders her to wash her hands after she gets rider blood on them:

K’tan shook his head and gave her a pat. “Dragon ichor isn’t the same. You can mix it any time,” he assured her. “It’s just human blood that can cause problems. People have different blood, and mixing it can cause fevers.”

Despite not having the technology to type the blood, and not really knowing about what sorts of diseases can spread through blood to blood contact, they know that mixing blood is a problem. I suppose that makes sense.

When Lorana nearly faints from hunger, Kindan is there to direct her firmly to the kitchens to get food, since she’s apparently been working a ten hour shift of stitching up dragons and humans. So has Kindan, so he also sensibly takes a break. The kitchen staff do their best to stuff Lorana full of food with cheeriness.

When Tullea and B’nik arrive for food themselves, they don’t get immediately served, as Lorana’s server says sotto voce that she’s helping those who help the Weyr, with clear implication that Tullea has not been. M’tal descends immediately on them as soon as he arrives in the Cavern. (There’s a small bit earlier that I haven’t quoted where Lorana realizes that Tullea should be out helping the wounded dragons as well, and she’s not here.)

“What are the casualty figures?” he asked as he closed the distance.
“What?”
M’tal rephrased his question. “How many riders and dragons are too injured to fly in the next Fall, and how long will it take them to recover?”
“I don’t know,” Tullea snapped. She thrust a hand toward Lorana. “Ask her.”
W’ren, M’tal’s wing-second, entered the Cavern and placed himself by his Weyrleader.
“I am asking you,” M’tal said. “With the loss of Breth, you have become the Weyrwoman of Benden. It’s your duty to keep track of the injured.”
Tullea recoiled from M’tal’s words and then, as the full import of them dawned on her, her eyes gleamed and she gave him a wicked smile. “That’s right, I am, aren’t I?” she said with unconcealed glee. She gave B’nik a knowing glance and returned her gaze to the Weyrleader. “And when Minith rises, who knows who’ll be Weyrleader then? Mind your manners, M’tal, you wouldn’t want to upset your queen, would you?” Tullea purred.
M’tal gave her a hard, penetrating look. “Your duty is to the Weyr, Weyrwoman.”
“I’ll do my duty,” Tullea snapped, “when my queen mates. As for now, ask her.” She cocked her head toward Lorana.
“Tullea,” B’nik said pleadingly.
Tullea looked down at him and merely shook her head. “And there’ll be changes in the Caverns, too,” she said in a louder voice before she sat back down.

Tullea is set up in contrast to Salina, who gets a fire back in her eyes as the habit of being the Weyrwoman takes over when everyone sits down to eat. Salina makes very certain that M’tal is eating, then K’tan, then W’ren, and finally, herself as well as she has Lorana run off the casualty and fatality list that K’tan delivered to M’tal right after this spat with Tullea. First for Benden, which will be down about seventy dragons due to death and injury, with thirty more that will need a week to recover, and so will be sitting out the next Fall, and then Lorana mentions that she felt each of the dragons that died, regardless of whether they were Benden’s or not, and she thinks there may have been around a hundred fatalities across the planet for this Fall.

I am again looking for a more complex reason as to why Tullea is being portrayed this way. We know that dragons choose their riders, and gold dragons are looking for strong-willed people with excellent telepathic abilities. Presumably, the Weyrleaders and bronze riders are looking for someone with leadership capability (and someone who will accept their leadership or want to lead with them). The trickiest part is that if a candidate turns out to be Tullea or Kylara or Lessa, you end up with someone who the bronze riders have to negotiate with, or someone that needs a specific bronze rider they can either control or who is willing to put up with them. Because the dudes don’t like acknowledging that the queen dragon rules the roost, and so, theoretically, her rider does, too.

And yet, because Pern runs on The Patriarchy (thbbbpth), any time a strong-willed woman shows up, the narrative makes quite sure to portray her in a terrible light. With Kylara, it was that she enjoyed sex too much, and had sex with people who weren’t other dragonriders, and thought that her position as senior meant she didn’t have to do any of the work. With Tullea, she’s seemingly not interested in sex at all, unless with B’nik(?), but she’s portrayed as far too enamored of the power she can wield and the prestige she gets from the position to contribute to the running of the Weyr. Lessa, before she decides to work within the system, is regularly beaten for being a woman with opinions and a desire to see them implemented.

We didn’t see Tullea or Kylara (or Jora, if we’re going to go back some distance) Impress, so the only characterization we get from them is their behavior around the dragonriders. Even though Lorana could, albeit accidentally, ask what’s going on with Tullea. And then apologize profusely for it afterward, but it would give her information she desperately needs, and it would humanize Tullea enough for us to form an opinion about her, rather than the suspicious reaction I have because the narrative does not do well by their women characters.

However, before we get back to this puzzle, the narrative shifts over to D’gan

who is absolutely livid about his own losses, which were much more severe than Benden’s. He blames it mostly on the winds making the Thread fall unpredictably. But if he’s drilling his the same way that M’tal drilled his own, then they had the same inability to react to the changing circumstances.

And speaking of getting backstory, we get the reasons why it bruises D’gan’s ego so greatly to have had such a disaster. Because all of the other Weyrs apparently begged off on supplying Igen with a new queen egg, and D’gan made it his mission to Show Them All by becoming Weyrleader of Telgar and then the very best Weyrleader there ever was.

Thankfully, we don’t stay with D’gan, and instead kick over to C’rion, who is dealing with losses, a big clump of sick dragons, and a lot of people who are losing theirs (which causes a bit of having to remember to not contract the name anymore, as the honorific disappears when the dragon dies. Which is pretty shit behavior, I might note, to change someone’s name as a reminder of what they lost.) and who aren’t able to necessarily cope with the loss of their own dragon or comfort others who are doing so. On that downer note, the chapter ends.

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This is as true in ecosystems as it is in phsyics. Any new species will incite a reaction from the ecosystem.

–Fundamental Principles of Ecosystem Design, 11th Edition

Chapter 12 opens with the end of the First Pass. M’hall feels that he’s made it to the end, and while they still set sentries to be sure there aren’t more, the dragonriders (and others) apparently set themselves to the business of having a good drink and party at having survived all the way through to the end. With the first toast to absent friends, of course.

Then we spend a moment of Emorra, who realizes that she’s particularly drunk, wondering where Tieran is, since he wasn’t at the Drum Tower, and then, upon hearing his and Wind Blossom’s voices in the same room, bursts in on the suspicion that they might be knocking boots. That’s not happening – instead, they’re still trying to work out whether the infection in the fire-lizard can cross over ot the dragons. Emorra doesn’t hvae much to contribute to the conversation, being blitzed, but it does allow the narrative to then jump forward to a sober Emorra having a conversation with Tieran, Janir, and Wind Blossom as they each stake out their positions about whether or not the infection is bacterial, or whether the bacterial infection the antibiotics killed was opportunistic, and the fire-lizard managed to fight off the real infection thanks to the antibiotic killing everything else that was trying to get in while the walls were down.

The drunken Emorra scene could probably have been cut, since all it serves purpose is to make Emorra look bad and accuse her mother of favoring Tieran, less elegantly than she would have liked to. I don’t understand the purpose of the scene.

It’s also taken the larger group this long to actually pay attention to the details of the harness, apparently, so be they know to call Grenn by name.

Emorra was studying the beadwork carefully.
“This symbol here–do you see it?” she asked, holding the harness up to the others. “What do you make of it?”
“There’s the caduceus of Aesculapius,” Janir said. “The standard symbol for medicine–”
“Or a doctor,” Emorra interjected. She peered more closely at the beadwork. “But what’s beneath it?”
“It looks like some sort of animal,” Tieran suggested tentatively.
“But it’s hard to tell,” Janir complained.
Emorra looked at them all. “I just received a message from Igen, detailing a plan to begin a beadworks,” she told them. “To my knowledge, there were no beads brought over from Landing, but any that landed with the original settlers.”
She fingered the small beads sewn into the firelizard’s harness.
“These beads should not exist.”

There’s your proof, then, that Grenn’s from the future and they are now involved in a time travel plot. Although in the next scene, Emorra seems to be arguing with Wind Blossom that the fire lizard is still from their time, which doesn’t make sense at all. This is the sort of thing that an editor would hopefully catch and ask for clarification or a reworking of the scene. And since what it really does is give time for M’hall to arrive so they can talk about how it’s pretty close to definite that this fire lizard is from the future, the scene itself could be excised without worries. Especially since M’hall and Wind Blossom point out by everyone knows the time travel trick of dragons and that “oh, some beads must have been missed in the trip” is a plausible explanation to those who don’t know or want to accept time travel, and for those who don’t believe in Joel Lilienkamp’s meticulous records.

M’hall and Wind Blossom discuss the worst case scenario of the illness being communicable between all three fire-lizard family species. Wind Blossom says she hopes the watch-whers will be immune, because they’re a deviation from the original fire-lizard genome (“Dragons ‘writ’ differently,” she says, in response to M’hall saying dragons are fire-lizards writ large.)

Wind Blossom says she doesn’t know enough about the problem to do much about it, and M’hall correctly surmises that getting more information would require more subjects, which might mean bigger subjects.

“Is that why you ordered all that agenothree?”
“Do you mean nitric acid, HNO3?” Wind Blossom asked primly.
The redheaded dragpnrider blushed. “Yes, I do,” he said, looking chagrined. “When you’re flying Threadfall, you tend to slur words, so it becomes agenothree.”
“Mmm,” Wind Blossom murmured noncommittallly.
“You’re teasing me!” M’hall exclaimed suddenly with a startled laugh. “I don’t believe it! You’re actually teasing me.”
Wind Blossom lowered her eyes shamefully for a moment and then raised them again to meet his. “It is very rude of me, I know,” she said sheepishly.
“I never even knew you had a sense of humor.”
“My mother would berate me for it,” Wind Blossom agreed. “However, it has kept me company in trying times. I had hoped to keep it under control but apparently it got away from me again.”
“Oh, you enjoyed that all right,” M’hall said, wagging a finger at her. “Don’t deny it, you enjoyed it.”
Wind Blossom nodded. “I do not deny it.”

Cocowhat by depizan

Not for Wind Blossom having a sense of humor, which is entirely healthy, but that the A+ parenting of Kitti Ping demanded that Wind Blossom suppress her sense of humor. This is probably another artifact of parenting in other cultures I don’t understand, but it seems entirely monstrous to me that a child and woman should be expected never to show humor. Everything would be far less cheerful and colorful and worthwhile without the ability to crack a joke and get / give a few smiles. About the only reason I could see someone wanting to squelch a sense of humor is if it was cruel “humor”, rather than genuine laughs. We can’t tell what Wind Blossom’s actual sense of humor is, based on this small excerpt, but that we don’t know what her sense of humor is (other than “perceived nonexistent”) is a problem. It suggests even more how much Wind Blossom was messed up by her mother.

M’hall and Wind Blossom then talk about Wind Blossom’s short-term memory issues and how the Eridani system of specific bloodlines shepherding ecosystems is a disaster for this planet, given the inevitability of the native ecosystem of Pern providing pushback and the complete lack of knowledge that matter generations will have to effectively manage their ecosystem, barring some basic genetic knowledge. Wind Blossom pins her hopes that some “thousand years or more”, the people of Pern will “re-establish contact with the Yokohama or the other ships in orbit,” and get all that knowledge back.

Of course, we know they will, and they’ll use that knowledge to get rid of Thread as a problem. What happens after that, nobody really wants to write, except perhaps in fanfic, because writing a society that is grappling with the discovery of highly advanced technology left by their ancestors nearly twenty-five hundred years ago isn’t interesting without the dragons and the otherworldly menace.

The chapter ends with M’hall offering what help he can give, and also suggesting that Wind Blossom take a vacation. Which, after thought, Wind Blossom decides to take him up on.

Dragonsblood: Still Puzzling Things Out

[Eerie coincidences continue, as Mari Ness wants to know how a society that is just rediscovering telecommunications has a supply of nitroglycerin tablets on hand to give the Masterharper, and where exactly all the medical professionals are on the planet.]

Last time, we found Lorana, and so did a queen hatchling. Now with a place cemented in the world, Lorana is being sought after for her expertise in animal husbandry and her skills in art to see whether or not it will be possible to figure out what’s going on with the fire lizards and the dragons.

Lorana also met Tuella, whose queen hasn’t yet risen to mate. Rather than treating it as a serious problem, though, the dragonriders seem convinced that it will sort itself out soon enough. Which comes back to bite them on the ass when the seniormost queen of Benden Weyr goes into hyperspace and doesn’t come back, based on the cough.

Dragonsblood, Chapters 10 and 11: Content Notes:

(First Pass, Year 50, AL 58)

All life functions are the product of the interaction between thermodynamics and chemistry.

–Introduction, Elementary Biological Systems, 18th Edition.

That would be a lot more helpful to someone who understood both of those things, but perhaps if this is your textbook, you already have a fairly solid understanding of those things.

The chapter starts with Wind Blossom awaking with the certainty that there is danger to dragons, before she convinces herself that it was just a dream. There’s then a rundown of what could have been done, with the technology and knowledge that the colonists had before Thread, that would have been extremely helpful in identifying what the green sputum is and how to best counteract is. As it is, the general purpose antibiotic has worked sufficiently that Gren has recovered. Which means the humans can look forward to the end of their decontamination protocol. This is after the dead fire lizard was dissolved in nitric acid, and just about every available surface the fire lizard or the people handling the fire lizard have come in contact with has been sterilized (with ammonia or boiling water) or will be burned (which includes the quarantine tent and the clothes of the people in the quarantine.)

It turns out Wind Blossom’s dream was Kassa’s dream and Emorra’s dream as well, but none of them put any significance to it. Instead, among all the talk of quarantine protocol and Wind Blossom slightly lamenting the lost technology, there is one interesting bit.

In their time together, Wind Blossom has come to respect the young woman and understand that Kassa had been willing to look beyond Tieran’s disfigurement to the young man beneath the surface.

Which is probably about as close as we’ll ever get to a ringing endorsement from Wind Blossom about anyone. Hopefully it also means that Kassa has realized how her previous attempt at cheering Tieran up went and that she might be able to do better the next time, if she is so interested.

The final decontamination procedure promises to be cold.

She had arranged with Janir to to get them a mild acid solution. When they were ready for the final decontamination, they would strip, remove all body hair, leave the tent, and scrub each other with the acid solution.
The acid would instantly turn the oils of their skin into soap and kill any germs on their bodies. It would be a very chilling process, and Emorra had argued against that treatment for her mother, but Wind Blossom has been adamant.
“So we’re all going to be standing out there naked as the day we were born?” Kassa squawked.

It doesn’t sound particularly pleasant, either, considering the “have to remove all body hair”, which I suspect includes intimate hair, and then getting scrubbed up with an acid solution. Also, the science seems quite wrong, as most soap-making that I can find involves the use of a strong base, such as lye, rather than a mild acid, to produce soap from oils. Kassa might also be a bit more worried about being naked around the person she’s interested and his mother and grandmother.

Now that we’re done talking about the indignities to be suffered, they seem to have finally figured out something useful about the infection.

“Threadfall’s over, the dragons don’t have to fight,” Emorra said. “If the infection is just in the lungs…”
“Are you suggesting the shock of between killed the queen fire-lizard?” Wind Blossom asked.
Emorra frowned. “If so, would going between kill infected dragons?”
“So the dragons would be unharmed as long as they could be prevented from going between?”
“If the infection itself isn’t deadly,” Emorra agreed. “And hopefully the dragons will build up an immunity.”

They then talk more about how anything that can infect a fire-lizard is likely to infect a dragon and/or a watch-wher. Wind Blossom thinks the infection is bacterial, because it responded to an antibiotic, but Tieran suggests the bacteria might have been opportunistic, and the actual infection something else, but doesn’t elaborate, and Wind Blossom considers the possibility as valid.

What I want to know, though, is if the potential solution is to keep dragons and fire-lizards from going into hyperspace, then what else is going on that the dragons and fire-lizards are deliberately ignoring their pair-bonded partner’s insistence that they not go into hyperspace? If the bond is as strong as it has been portrayed up to this point, then there should be significant incentive for dragons not to do something that will endanger their bond and is against the direct wishes of their bond partner. Is this some sort of draconic toxoplasmosis, perhaps?

At breakfast, Wind Blossom requests a significant amount of nitric acid be stockpiled for emergencies. Emorra has to translate it into HNO3, which insists the linguistic corruption is already well underway after only a couple generations. Which is really quick, in my opinion, for a useful lay-ish term like “nitric acid” to be replaced with its chemical formula. Even if they’ve had fifty years of the culture calling it by that name. And, as far as I know, this is the only chemical compound to be replaced in such a way. Wine, beer, and liquor still exist, instead of being called EtOH, for example. (Which is a pretty terrible name to have to trip off your tongue.) After some further thought, actually, it seems like “nitric acid” and “HNO3 / agenothree” are both terrible words to use to describe the chemical that is used primarily for the function of killing Thread burrows, and secondarily for fertilizing the ground. I would expect the non-scientifically trained person to call it “Thread-killer” or something that specifically makes reference to its use, as humans tend to call things by names that, at least obliquely, indicate what their function is. Maybe in the Farmercraft the word fertilizer survives and gets applied to the nitric acid as well. Anyway, the point is that the name agenothree doesn’t make sense and this is a really short amount of time for it to completely take over as the standard name for that particular chemical compound.

Gren’s bead harness is a source of additional confusion, as nobody in their time and world has done anything of the sort. But mostly, the rest of the chapter is everyone worrying about the possible devastation to the dragon population if the illness in question turns out to infect them as well as fire-lizards.

Here’s how Chapter 11 starts:

Bronze for golds,
Brown, blue, for greens
So do the dragons
Follow their queens

That sounds not right at all, given that we’ve already established that gold dragon queens command everybody, not just the bronzes. Green dragons don’t command blues or browns, and I suspect the entire dragonrider society would laugh at such a prospect. What we’re seeing here, instead, is the enforced sexual stratification of dragonriders. We know full well that bronzes will chase greens sexually, but only bronzes get to chase gold dragons. And while there’s a shitload of determinism in dragon color choices based on the extratextual material and Kitti Ping’s statements in Dragonsdawn, it can’t be a source of contentment among the not-bronze dragonriders that they’re never going to be part of the leadership past a certain point. At least in most militaries in our time, a person can go to officer training school and continue to rise in the ranks, should they prove themselves competent and able to stay alive.

We’re back in the Second Interval, year 507 AL at Telgar Weyr, which means that D’gan

is involved in this chapter. And is yet again begging the question of why he hasn’t been disposed of as a Weyrleader yet. First, he does the reasonably cautious thing of banning fire-lizards from coming near the Weyr at all, in case they turn out to be disease vectors, but then he decides that there’s no reason to share information with anyone else, and his justification is pure toxic masculine ego getting in the way of rubbing two brain cells together.

“We should tell the other Weyrs–” L’rat began.
“We will tell them nothing!” D’gan roared. He turned away, facing east, away from the Weyr Bowl behind him, away from his Wingleaders, his face into the wind.
“But surely they will have the same problems,” D’nal said.
“Listen, all of you,” D’gan said angrily, whirling around, jabbing a finger at each of them. “Telgar Weyr will take care of itself,” he declared, pointing at D’nal. He turned to L’rat, saying, “I will not have that addled M’tal or that cretin C’rion making fun of us, telling us what to do.
“Remember how they chided us when we brought the two Weyrs together? How jealous they were when they hadn’t thought to absorb poor Igen when our last queen died? How envious they were once we started winning Games, Turn after Turn?
“We are the largest Weyr, the strongest Weyr, the best-trained Weyr,” he said, emphasising each point by slapping a clenched fist into the palm of his other hand. “We will be the best at fighting Thread,” he declared. He turned eastward toward Benden Weyr, then south toward Ista Weyr. “And then they will come asking us for advice.”
To the healer he said, “If you can figure out a way to defeat this illness, then we’ll have something to talk to the other Weyrs about.”

D’gan then orders the isolation of the sick dragons, on the same idea of isolating sick herds that Lorana expressed in an earlier chapter. K’rem is hesitant to do it, because moving sick dragons might kill them, and when he raises an objection about who will look after the sick ones, because his dragon isn’t sick, D’gan says some of the weyrfolk can look after them.

This is written well before the political disaster that was the United States 2016 presidential election, but there’s a certain similarity between the way that D’gan talks about his Weyr and the way that Donald Trump talks about the United States. Lots of bellicosity, braggadicio, machismo, and the insistence that they’re the best in everything and need no help from anyone. And the total ignorance of a serious problem staring them in the face that betrays their complete inability to lead such a large and important operation such as a Weyr. The authoritarian strongman streak is right there, easy for everyone to see, but D’gan has surrounded himself with people either too afraid to gainsay him or who believe in his leadership enough to follow him as loyal lackeys. This won’t be good for Telgar at all, because battle plans have a nasty way of becoming mostly useless when contact is made with the enemy.

Thankfully, the narrative switches over to M’tal at Benden, doing the same thing that D’gan is doing at Telgar – examining the Star Stones to see how soon Thread will arrive. This is grim news for M’tal, because the signifiers say that it won’t be long now at all before the Third Pass begins, and the dragons are still suffering sicknesses and fatalities that will leave the fighting wings lighter than they need to effectively fight Thread. (That’s all the Weyrs, as unlike Telgar, the remaining Weyrs are freely communicating with each other about their losses and their difficulties and trying to pool their resources together to see if someone can come up with a solution.)

Lorana has volunteered to be communications hub for everyone, since she can talk to any and all dragons, and it’s faster to relay through her than any other communication method on the planet. Kindan has reservations about that, because Lorana also feels dragons, including when they die, but Lorana soldiers on. Which puts her in contrast to Tullea.

“Shouldn’t Tullea be here?” he [Kindan] asked M’tal.
M’tal pursed his lips. “She decided that she needed her rest,” he said. It was obvious he was torn between disapproval and sympathy. Kindan could understand that–the toll on all of them had been great.
“What about the other bronze riders?”
“B’nik said he would trust my observation,” M’tal responded. “The others agreed.”
With the death of Breth, Tullea’s Minith was the senior queen at Benden Weyr. When she rose to mate, the leadership of the Weyr would pass to the rider of the bronze she chose. Everyone expected it would be B’nik, even though Tullea had already found the time to tease several of the other ridrs. M’tal had pointedly not risen to any of her taunts, preferring to spend all his spare time consoling Salina.
In fact, that was where Lorana was at the moment–with Salina.

If you’re getting Kylara-Brekke vibes about all of this, you’re not wrong. (And also, you might have been primed by Mari Ness’s rereading having gone through that territory recently.) If Pern were explicitly a series that was explicitly about cyclical things, and how things repeat each generation, but perhaps in slightly different forms, then this recycling of characters and their dynamics wouldn’t be quite so disappointing. There are definitely hints that this kind of “into every generation, a Slayer is born” story was a way that things could have developed. I’ve produced a lot of bytes about how aggravating it is that things supposedly learned in one generation keep getting forgotten remarkably easily when it comes to the next generations, and may of you in the comments have been annoyed right along with me. Had the series stuck more closely to the fantasy-type world that it had sketched out at the beginning, we might very well have landed in that kind of cyclic story, whether you believe in the monomyth or not, because it would be easier to let gaps appear where knowledge gets lost because disaster, plague, invasion, Thread, whatever, and it’s just a thing that happens. It’s part of the fantasy genre that what happens after the great age is always incomplete or more terrible and they’re trying to get back to what they knew of as a mythic age.

But the story wants to be science fiction, and one of the things that science fiction is usually known for is a sense of progress over time. Often in a terribly Western conception where everything is always moving toward a more techonological and scientific future. While there might be the occasional hitch, the arc always moves in a direction that qualifies as “progress” over time. And with Pern, that presents some serious problems, because the future was written and explored first, and now we’re coming back and trying to show the past that will lead to that future. A past that necessitates a gigantic loss of knowledge and technology over time, much of it the sort of thing that seems extremely valuable to preserve. And also, a past that seems to be showing that the future that came first isn’t innovating, discovering, or having anything new happen, but it’s a retread of things that have happened. The future books emulate the past’s books, which causes future Pern to emulate past Pern. Cyclical stories, treading water, and then suddenly the rediscovery of ancient, still-working technology, and the promised “moving forward” starts happening in leaps and bounds. It’s a Renaissance – a rebirth, like what happened on Terra during those time periods CE when older knowledge that had been preserved in different parts of the world were reintroduced, and then expanded upon once the world had returned to about the same technological and societal level. Pern finally gets to break their cycle once they find the AI. But that has the knock-on effect of making only the Ninth Pass science fiction-as-envisaged. Everything else can’t go too far ahead, or it breaks what’s already been established.

Never mind that in Terra’s history, there were plenty of time periods where one nation-state, empire, or political division was able to make leaps and bounds of scientific discovery, gain power, and then collapse, starting again from a new baseline of knowledge. Each of these Passes could be their own empire space.

I guess I expect Pern to function a bit like Foundation did, to bring an old white dude into the discussion. First Pass Pern can be the original Empire, doomed to destruction but seeding its knowledge in such a way as to shorten the amount of time needed to return to itself. Then each Pass and Interval after that can rediscover something, reinvent something, understand something better and then pass that knowledge on in such a way that their deescendants can use it. (Seldon selected a goal of capturing and preserving as much knoweldge as it could in an encyclopedia, which they could then conveniently use when it came time to rebuild.) This is what a Western audience expects, because it comports with the history they’ve been told about Terra, with Empire and the Dark Times, before being reborn again into successive iterations of Empire. And yet, Pern is mythic rather than progressive. And I think that decision has really come back to bite the authors in the ass so, so much.

And now, for some mood whiplash, the author does something extremely right for worldbuilding and the setting. Kindan lags behind after M’tal confirms that Thread is on the way, and the narrative has Kindan appreciate the construction of Benden Weyr, because he’s trained as a miner and therefore knows, in ways that dragonriders who don’t share that background, what kind of architectural marvel the Weyr actually is. Kindan observes the water stream, that services each of the levels of the Weyr, before the waste water stream ends up in a “huge septic dome way beneath a lush field far below and south of the Weyr itself.” Septic fields!

Kindan could always tell newer stonework from the original–while there was clear craftsmanship in every bit of rock carving done in the Weyr, the new work was never as smooth or as clean as the original. The stairs leading from the top level of the Weyr up to the Standing Stones were a case in point. Instead of a handrail of smooth-melted rock, a rope had been bolted at intervals into the wall. The stairs themselves were nearly perfect, but Kindan’s legs noted a subtle unevenness as he descended to the Weyr.

This is good characterization! Kindan has the eye and the skill from growing up in the mines to be able to appreciate the differences in the stonework and catch the details that others might miss. Through his architectural eyes, we can learn about details of the world and the Weyr that would be clunky if delivered by any other character. Other characters have been able to appreciate the work of the Ancients, but not in the same way. It helps build a better picture of what the place is like, which can be difficult sometimes if an author skimps on the description out of insecurity or a lack or not actually having visualized the spaces their characters live in in any sort of meaningful way.

As he comes back to the Weyr, Kindan proves again why he would have made a reasonably good Healer, if Kindan had stuck with his secondary career and hadn’t been promoted after the Plague years. I wonder what a Healer-trained Kindan would have been able to do, if this is what he can still do alone.

“You dragonfolk are a hearty lot,” Kindan said, “I wonder if it’s the thin air–”
He cut himself off, as his words sunk in. K’tan’s eyebrows furrowed thoughtfully.
“Are you thinking that if thin air is good for riders, thinner air might be better for dragons?” the healer asked.
“Or worse for whatever ails them,” Kindan suggested. He mulled over the idea over then shrugged it off. “Well, it’s a thought.”
“Worth keeping,” K’tan replied, finding a stylus and making a note on his slate.
“If thin air is good, what about between?” Kindan mused.
K’tan shook his head. “The illness seems to disorient the dragons–they would never come back from between.” Kindan frowned and gestured to the records. “You’ve seen nothing about dragon illnesses?”

That’s incredibly useful information, K’tan! It could even explain why the dragons go into hyperspace, despite there being extremely good reasons and anchors on the ground to stop them from doing so. A disoriented dragon might engage their hyperspace drive by themselves, thinking they had a perfectly good destination in mind or sent to them by their rider. Considering how difficult it is to get information out of those who have had their dragons disappear on them, as weird as it sounds, K’tan might want to ask dragonriders to relay to….someone, Lorana, maybe? what they or their dragon is thinking right before they take the last hyperspace hop. It doesn’t necessarily have to be anything all that concrete, but having some last accounts might make it so they can figure out commonalities and what causes dragons and fire-lizards to send themselves into hyperspace where they can’t get out.

K’tan mentions he’s only looked back fifty years. Kindan sympathizes with the disarray of records past that point that K’tan has to deal with, because the Harper Hall’s Archives were similarly disorganized (Resler, you utter incompetent) while he was there. Lorana suggests they go to the Harper Hall and raid the records there for clues, startling them both. She apparently heard their conversation, and it seems like she would make a good Archivist, if Verilan could give her some training.

“I thought Kindan’s idea about thin air might make some sense,” she said, sipping her klah. “Also, cold kills germs, too.”
“So if we could get our sick dragons to cold high places–”
“Without killing them,” Kindand interjected.
“–without killing them,” K’tan agreed, accepting Kindan’s amendment with a nod, “then perhaps…”
Lorana shrugged. “It depends on the infection.”
“We don’t know enough about this infection,” Kindan [K’tan?] swore. Kindan and Lorana sighed in dejected agreement.
“But what about the fire-lizares? Have they ever gotten sick?”
“Not according to these records,” K’tan said with a wave of his hand.
“Maybe we’re looking in the wrong Records,” Kindan suggested. “Maybe we should be looking in the Harper Hall–”
“Or Fort Weyr,” Lorana interjected. When the other two responded with questioning looks, she explained, “Isn’t Fort Weyr the oldest? Wouldn’t the oldest Records of dragons–and firelizards–be there?”
K’tan and Kindan exchanged looks.
“She’s right, you know,” Kindan said.
“Mmph,” K’tan agreed. “But the Weyrs are closed to anyone but their own now.”

The plot doesn’t pick up this research thread any further, which is too bad, because I’m enjoying seeing Lorana be a competent and knowledgeable person about things. Also, inter-library loan is totally a thing, and if Fort’s in the cooperative trying to figure out how to beat the infection, all it would take is Lorana passing a few messages along for the Weyr Harper and/or Healer at Fort to go digging in their archives for mentions of fire-lizard or dragon sickness. Another message might ask Verilan if he can spare some apprentices to go rooting through the Harper Hall archives. As far as I know, Harpers can work together on the same problem, so why aren’t they? Yes, Verilan is still in the process of standing the Archives back up and making needed improvements over Resler’s neglect, but since they’re looking through stuff already, Verilan could put a bug in his apprentices’ ears to look out for something if they should see it while copying and transferring the data.

Where the plot goes, instead, is M’tal sending out riders to be on the lookout for the telltale signs of frozen Thread, on the hope that they might be spared some extra time before having to fight the real thing. Lorana, Kindan, K’tan, and M’tal figure out a way to ask Nuella to have the watch-whers join the network of informants, by having the watch-whers report to Nuella, and Nuella to relay that information to Lorana (likely via a conveniently nearby dragon or tuning in to Arith). They also discuss the possibility that watch-whers might fight Thread, something that we know is true, but that Kindan dismisses out of hand because of watch-whers being nocturnal. As the plot goes, riders report back that there’s black dust, and that sets the schedule for the first Threadfall of the Third Pass.

Which is where I’m going to take a breather, because this chapter is long, I’ve been longwinded, and there’s still more to analyze from what comes up next.

Dragonsblood: Intersecting Timelines

Last time, we went on a tour of parallels about the deaths of Emily Boll and Sorka Hanrahan, with the heavy implication that the story we have learned about how everything went wrong has actually been part of a bigger plan to help shepherd the colonists into their lower tech lives safely, despite the presence of things they have no immunity to, and will likely suffer greatly from. And the big fear is that the dragons or watch-whers will catch a mutated big of their own and die out, leaving everyone defenseless against Thread.

Dragonsblood: Chapter 9: Content Notes: Suicidal ideation, Sexism,

(Back to Bender Weyr, Second Interval, 507 AL)

Jump,
Catch air,
Bound into the sky.
A wink
Between; beyond the eye.

Of course, I would also like less nonsense in the poetry, too.

Chapter 9 starts with Lorana getting found by Tullea, one of the Weyrwomen of Benden, and B’nik, someone who has an interest in her (and/or his dragon has an interest in hers).

“She’ll rise to mate soon,” B’nik told her calmly not a sevenday before. His eyes were clouded with an unasked question. Tullea knew the question but perversely decided to keep the answer to herself. Oh, she was pretty sure which dragon Minith would mate with, but she felt a sneaky thrill at the notion of keeping B’nik on tenterhooks. Besides, she thought to herself, it’s really the dragon’s choice.

Which it is, in the sense that the dragon’s mind seems to be the dominant one in the gestalt, once the tasks of making sure that she doesn’t feast on the flesh of her prey and that she stays outside of hyperspace are handled. But it also seems like the humans sometimes have a choice in the matter, if they like an eligible rider? How much of politics comes into play when jockeying for the Weyrleader position, anyway?

Also, I’m not on board with the characterization of Tullea being “perverse” about keeping her suspicions from B’nik. There are so few things that a woman is allowed to keep to herself on Pern, so it makes perfect sense to me that she would hold on to a secret for as long as she could.

The real reason for Lorana to be found, though, is to reintroduce Kindan to the narrative, this time as a full-fledged Weyr Harper at Benden. (Publication-wise, though, this book came out before we had fully finished with Kindan at the Harper Hall.) Kindan is given care of Lorana in conjunction with K’tan, the Weyr Healer, and there’s a short segment about why Lorana isn’t particularly bothered by the information that she was nearly dead from starvation.

“The Plague.” She remembered how hard she and her father had fought to save her mother, brother, and sister. And how, after battling for a fortnight, they’d lost first her sister, Sanna, then her brother, Lennel, and finally her mother.
After the fever had taken her mother, she and her father had cried in each other’s arms. Neither she nor Sannel had wanted to live. And then she’d caught the plague herself and her nightmares intensified to fill her waking days. The only pleasant thing had been her father peering down at her as he gently wiped her forehead or held her up and spooned down broth. She had wanted to go, to join her mother and siblings, but she couldn’t–the thought of leaving him behind was too much. And the fever had passed, and she’d recovered.
She sensed a motion or a change in posture from Kindan and looked at him carefully. His face had many smile lines on it, but it was carefully schooled; she could see the pain he was hiding and she knew that this man had seen people–many people–die.

Or Kindan is specifically remembering Koriana dying, but whatever. It hurts, and Lorana can see through the façade.

Lorana’s memories all come back in a rush, and she asks to make sure that Colfet is looked for, and is told there’s been no sign of her fire-lizards. In the next scene, at night, Valla (Kindan’s fire lizard) starts sneezing, so Lorana rouses Kindan by herself and finds K’tan’s dragon and asks him to send K’tan over. During the diagnosis, where everyone agrees they’ve never seen this before (except Lorana, who mentions Talith’s cough), Lorana mentions a herdbeast medicine. Kindan provides the paper and stylus, Lorana writes, K’tan assembles the ingredients and brews it up.

While the brewing happens, Lorana sketches Colfet and shows it to Kindan, who is impressed with the sketch, and the sketches she puts down of the variations in the bugs. He wants to know how good she is with colors, and Lorana points out she couldn’t afford colors, so she doesn’t know.

Valla’s not a fan of the brew, and Kindan leaves to go find him, and Lorana says if she needs to get a hold of anybody, she’ll go talk to K’tan’s dragon, which gets both of their attention, and K’tan mentions there’s going to be a Hatching soon. Lorana mentions that J’trel thought she would be a Weyrwoman because of being able to talk to any dragon, but nothing happens immediately.

It also turns out that Sannel and Lorana have been given more information about germ theory, proper quarantine, and sickness practice than some of the humans seem to have been.

She knew, from her work with her father, how some herdbeasts would get sick and pass the sickness on to others. She knew from bitter experience that people could also pass sickness from one to another.
Her father had taught her that the best cure for sickness was among herdbeasts was isolating the whole herd if one became ill.
“Even the healthy ones?” young Lorana had asked in amazement.
Her father had nodded. “They might be healthy today and sick tomorrow. That’s why the quarantine. We keep the sick from the healthy.”
“And if they don’t get sick?”
“Well, we leave the herd isolated long enough to be sure no more beasts are getting ill,” he’d told her.
When the first incidents of Plague had been reported, and worried rumors were flying thick amongst holders and crafters, Sannel had said confidently “This is a human illness. It may affect the herdbeasts, but it won’t affect the dragons or fire-lizards.”
Lorana knew that had something to do with the differences between native organisms and those transplanted from Earth. Could it be, though, that humans or herdbeasts could carry an illness that would affect fire-lizards?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. It’s generally pretty rare across species that don’t share a lot of common genes, but it’s always possible that something that’s harmless to humans could be lethal to fire-lizards. Or, say, that ingesting certain prions from infected cattle could cross the blood-brain barrier and be very harmful to humans. Or that the zombie apocalypse is carried on mosquitoes. It’s entirely possible that humans are a disease vector for things lethal to fire-lizards and their family, and that fire-lizards and dragons are a vector for things lethal to humans.

I mean, I knew that genetics would have to be taught among the Beastcraft, and they would learn/know certain things about infection disease vectors, but how is it that the daughter of a Beast-herder knows more about these things than a Weyr Healer and a Harper that literally rediscovered things like barrier methods to prevent infection? As usual, the science on Pern makes no fucking sense.

Lorana is eventually entranced (perhaps aided some by feeling light-headed) by various pieces of glass set into the Weyr that reflect and direct light into the darker places. And, apparently, they form a network of light reflected from and to all sorts of places. I guess this was what M’hall was talking about when he said he was forced to polish the mirrors until they shone? Lorana follows the light out to the Weyr Bowl where she sees all sorts of dragons and fire-lizards cavorting. It’s a beautiful scene that she tries to catch on paper, but the beauty is also marred by the presence of some unmistakable coughs among the dragons and fire-lizards present. There are sick dragons and fire-lizards, and yet everyone seems to be going off the cultural insistence that dragons don’t get sick.

Lorana gets better. Valla doesn’t. Valla will eventually die, and so Kindan is bereft of yet another thing that he loves and cherishes to illness. But in the interim, Lorana gets an excellent drawing of the green sputum that Valla is coughing up, using colors that Kindan has brought. Kindan and Lorana share their stories of having Plague tear their people from them. We get the summary of Dragon Harper, with emphasis on Kindan being fourteen and all alone after the Harper dies to do the best he can.

“You must have been very brave,” Lorana said in awe.
“I was very tired,” Kindan said with a shake of his head. “I was too tired to be brave.”
“Very brave,” Lorana insisted.
“They needed me,” he said simply, his voice full of emotion. “I couldn’t leave them.”
“What about your family?” Lorana asked, trying to change the subject to something less painful for the harper.
“I have a sister still alive,” he told her. “My father and all my brothers are dead.” He grimaced. “Most died in a cave-in, the last died of the Plague.”
“I’m sorry.”
“My story’s not that different from many others,” Kindan replied with a shrug. “And better than some.”

Keep this sympathetic portrayal in mind for the next part, which is after Valla has died, and M’hall and K’tan make the hard decision to ban fire-lizards from the Weyr as potential disease vectors. Kindan is not holding up well from the death of his fire-lizard, despite Kindan having “survived the loss of a watch-wher, and he lived through the Plague.” (To his credit, K’tan says Kindan is holding up “As well as any,” so it’s decidedly ambiguous about how well Kindan is actually holding up versus what the expectation of his holding up would be, based on his survivor status. So, this is Kindan now:

“You must leave,” K’tan said to her.
Lorana looked up from her drawing of fire-lizards, eyes stricken. Behind him she could see Kindan, his eyes burning with hate.
“You killed the fire-lizards,” Kindan snarled at her. “You brought the sickness.”
“You must leave,” K’tan repeated.
Yes, I must leave, Lorana thought to herself. This is my fault. I must go into quarantine. Until…until…
Lorana woke with a start, sweating. She looked around, trying to place herself. It was late, dark. She had been dreaming.

Oh, well, nevermind then. Lorana’s still mostly keeping to herself, though, because she’s still an uncertain risk for fire-lizards and dragons. With this dream, though, she resolves to get out of Benden Weyr and quarantine herself until she knows she’s not dangerous.

Her plans are derailed quite firmly by the gnawing hunger in her stomach. Which turns out not to be her stomach at all, but a dragonet’s. A dragonet that has specifically left the Hatching Ground looking for her, which wipes out Mirrim and Path as being unique characters on that front. The gold’s name is Arith, and Lorana Impresses because she helps Arith get her claws untangled from her wings. And then, as the company Lorana is in, who have been chasing the dragonet, introduce themselves, Lorana realizes she’s meeting Nuella (who was worried for a moment that the dragonet was coming to Impress her) and M’tal, and that this Impression means she doesn’t have to go anywhere, to get away, or anything else, because now she has a home and a purpose as a gold dragonrider.

Plus, having a dragon helps to erase your worries and sadnesses.

All the pain, the loss, everything that had gone before in Lorana’s life was redeemed, erased, made nothing in the warmth of Arith’s love.

That’s some pretty powerful shit, man. It’s consistent with what we’ve seen and heard from other dragonriders about their Impressions, but all that tragedy and sadness in Lorana’s life gets wiped away by her new dragon? That seems pretty terrible, actually, if it were a human set of relationships — all your pain and suffering goes away, but at the cost of being utterly obsessed with someone and having them set a psychic bond to you for the rest of your life. If that bond ever goes sour, or the relationship does, that’s going to suck. (It never does, because this is Pern and the dragons are the best therapists on the planet, because they basically absorb whatever emotions get sent at them and don’t particularly care about a whole lot themselves past eating, sleeping, bathing, and spitting fire at Thread.)

Ten of the thirty-two eggs never hatched, Kindan tells Lorana the next day, which is an infinite percentage more than the zero stillborn eggs that have happened with Breth up to this point. We won’t know if any of them would have turned into a Ruth, of course, but given what Jaxom did was considered a severe breach of protocol, they probably wouldn’t even think of it. Nor are they necessarily going to open the eggs and see if there’s anything inside that could provide a useful clue through autopsy. What they are going to do, though, is have Lorana keep sketching any sputum that comes out so they can track changes, talk with other Weyrleaders and see if they have similar rates of stillbirth with their clutches, and otherwise pick Lorana’s mind about herdbeasts. When Lorana protests that dragons aren’t herdbeasts, Kindan points out that they’re not so different that the knowledge pools can’t cross over.

At which point I wonder why dragonriders don’t apprentice out to the Beastcraft, or whether the Weyrlingmaster should always be hired or Impressed from the Beastcraft, and why there isn’t nearly as much cross-pollination of knowledge as there really needs to be so that there are reserves of people who know what they’re doing when animals or people get really sick and there’s a worry that some significant amount of the population isn’t going to make it through the night.

Also, Lorana meets Tullea, and I swear the authors couldn’t have made her characterization “BITCH” any more than if they had decided to tattoo it across her forehead for everyone to see.

“Are you going to wait until she dies from hunger, or were you perhaps hoping that her keening would disturb the whole Weyr?” a voice from behind her demanded caustically.
Lorana spun around to come face-to-face with a woman not that much older than herself. The woman’s face had a pinched look, as if she had been caught in a perpetual sneer. Her blue eyes were pallid and her lips were pulled tight in a thin line. Blond hair was pulled together behind her neck.
“I don’t know where the Feeding Grounds are,” Lorana said apologetically.
“Peh! Some Weyrwoman you’ll make!” the other returned. “Didn’t bother to listen to the orientation, did you? Too high and mighty. Expect the rest of us to look after you, do you?”
“No, I–”
“It’s not as though we all don’t have our own dragons to look after–”
[…Minith, Tullea’s dragon, helpfully directs Arith to the right place, and Lorana thanks her, which seems to wind Tullea up more when Lorana admits she can talk to all dragons…]
The look on the other rider’s face quickly disabused her. Trying to be civil–after all, the queen had helped Arith to the Feeding Grounds–Lorana stretched out her handand said, “I’m Lorana.”
The other eyed her hand dubiously but did not take it. “Tullea, Weyrwoman second,” she said, still looking like she’d just bitten into a bitterfruit. [Lemons! Limes! They exist! Why have they not been mentioned until now?] “Salina asked me to check on you,” she added in a tone that made it clear what she thought of that imposition.
“That was very kind of Salina,” Lorana replied, desperately trying to place the name, but failing. She knew she’d heard it before, but she was too groggy to dredge up the memory.
“You don’t know who she is, do you?” Tullea asked accusingly.
“Her Breth is Arith’s dam,” Lorana temporized, feeling overwhelmed by the other woman’s manner.
“Salina is the senior Weyrwoman,” Tullea snapped. “Don’t you know anything?”” She didn’t give Lorana time to respond before continuing. “Well, obviously you don’t. I can’t see what sort of help you’ll ever be. Perhaps it would be best if–”
Minith erupted in a loud disapproving roar, cutting Tullea off. Tullea looked up at her dragon, her eyes softening somewhat.
“Now look what you’ve done, you’ve upset her.”
“I’m sorry,” Lorana muttered. Silently, she said to Minith, My apologies, gold dragon.
Minith gave Lorana a pert nod, eyes whirling red-green.

This is my impressesd face.

Seriously, is there some sort of rule of literature or storytelling that if you have people in some sort of heirarchical order, whether de jure or de facto, that at least one of the people the protagonist will have to deal with will be someone whose plot purpose is to make life miserable for the protagonist? I’m fucking sick of Mean Girls politics showing up in this world every single time, and apparently everywhere as well, because it happened with Menolly and the Harpers. It probably would have happened with Kelsa and Nonala eventually, but they were the curiosities. And also, there’s Kylara and Brekke. Going back to the well of old ideas in new era does not mean that you have done wonderful storytelling. It means that you’ve managed to avoid growing and changing and making your world better, having had several decades of criticism to absorb and either respond to or ignore. Why don’t we have a Weyrwoman heirarchy where “junior” means “still responsible for stuff, but not the final decisions” and “senior” means “chooses the Weyrleader and has final say on the things that the Weyrwomen have jurisdiction over.” (Of course, what they Weyrwomen have jurisdiction over is far, far less than they should, despite being high-ranking officials in the Weyr.)

And what does everyone think Tullea’s problem is? She needs to get laid, apparently.

M’tal pursed his lips tightly before saying, “Tullea seems to–”
“Have problems dealing with people recently,” Salina finished.
“M’tal arched an eyebrow in disagreement. “Recently being the past three Turns,” he corrected.
“You mean she’s like that with everyone?” Lorana blurted and then clapped a hand over her mouth in surprise. The other three laughed.
“I’m afraid so,” M’tal said when he’d recovered, eyes still dancing with amusement.
“You shouldn’t feel singled out,” K’tan added.
“I’m sure she’ll settle down when Thread comes,” Salina said.
“Or her dragon rises,” M’tal added.
Preferably when her dragon rises,” K’tan murmured.
“Her dragon hasn’t risen yet?” Lorana asked, feeling the beginnings of some sympathy for Tullea.
K’tan leaned in close to Lorana, to murmur, “We’re hoping that a mating flight will calm her nerves.”
“Or something,” Salina added, arching an eyebrow at K’tan.

Because the cure for whatever makes a woman bitchy (although, on Pern, it’s for whatever makes a dragonrider bitchy, so I suppose that’s an equal-opprtunity facepalm?) is to get her laid. Or, in this case, to get her dragon laid. And that seems to be exactly as far as anyone has investigated into this matter, assuming that it will work itself out once there’s either Thread to flame or mating to be had.

I’m pretty sure this is not seen as normal behavior for a dragon, and especially not for a queen dragon. And yet, the incuriosity of Pern persists. They assume that they already know the answer to the problem. Certainly not something they need to be concerned about, and especially not now, when they’ve already seen that dragon fertility might be affected by whatever this ailment is that’s being passed around. (I mean, it’s entirely possible the dragon is ace, or not interested at all in any of the dragons in the Weyr, but they should be trying to rule out biological causes and make sure the dragon is healthy before going on to other theories.) And they’ve had several years to investigate this phenomenon and try to determine what the cause really is, because whatever it is, if there’s no rising to mate, then they can’t test that as a solution and should look elsewhere. Why has the scientific method not survived to Pern? There are several professions and guilds on the planet that could use it, even if it were one of their closely guarded secrets. Argh. The patchworkness of what knowledge survives and what doesn’t is basically plot-driven, and all of these flashbacks to the First Fall era aren’t convincing me that there’s an overarching plot at all.

Getting back to the plot, Arith is apparently a prodigy of a dragon, according to K’tan, who may have observed the entire exchange without doing a damn thing to stop or divert it. Since Arith pops between and back and is making her own kills ahead of schedule, and K’tan says it’s not completely normal for Lorana to always know where Arith is, even when Arith is in hyperspace. Before K’tan can say more, Salina and M’tal arrive to talk to their newest Weyrwoman. Salina asks what it’s like being able to talk to all the dragons, and Lorana suggests it’s like constantly being a room with your best friends. Which sounds like hell if you’re someone who wants to have time alone in your own head (with, perhaps, your own dragon), but Lorana is apparently extroverted enough that this is good for her. Lorana swears up and down that she’s not eavesdropping intentionally, and mentions that the dragons do a lot of conversing among themselves that the humans really don’t know a whole lot about, if anything. Salina speculated on whether Lorana can talk to watch-whers, too, but Lorana says she’s never tried. (Also, it requires a completely different set of visualizations, as we know.)

Salina and M’tal are relieved to hear that Lorana’s experience with fire-lizards includes mating flights, so they don’t ahve to have an awkward talk with her about those things. Although it seems the dragons are filling in the gaps.

“Oh,” M’tal responded, his tone both enlightened and relieved. “So you’ve been through a mating flight.”
Lorana nodded emphatically, “Yes, definitely through,” she agreed, her eyes flashing with amusement.
“It’s a bit more intense when a queen dragon mates,” Salina cautioned. M’tal grabbed at her possessively and pulled her close to him. Salina smiled and curled against him, wrapping an arm possessively around his waist.
“So I’ve been told,” Lorana said. The dragons had just filled her in, and she couldn’t help but smile.
“The dragons told you?” M’tal asked.
“Well, not told, as it were, more showed,” Lorana admitted.
“When?” M’tal asked incredulously.
“Just now,” Lorana answered.
“Showed?” K’tan asked.
Lorana frowned thoughtfully. “Sort of like a flurry of images and emotions,” she reported. She caught the alarmed look that passed between Weyrleader and Weyrwoman and quickly added, “All very dragonish.”
M’tal and Salina looked relieved, and Lorana guessed that they’d entertained the notion that the dragons might have conveyed intimate details.

Which makes me wonder whether dragons have porn, or enjoy replaying their own and others’ memories of mating flights for enjotment. Or whether they have those images of their humans, and enjoy replaying those images and memories of the humans mating. Xeno-pornography would definitely be a booming business, if you could get more than just what was looking on screen as part of your experience. Also, given how much sexual activity happens in the Weyr, and the regular orgies, I am a bit unsure as to why M’tal and Salina would have much embarrassment on modesty grounds about themselves. It’s likely Lorana will be seeing them naked at some point, unless they manage to always get to privacy before the gestalt takes over and they screw like dragons, and Lorana has already pointed out to them that she’s familiar with the emotional states and other things that come with fire-lizard mating. It’s a difference of degree, as Salina points out, rather than of being completely new to the experience.

There is food, and conversation, but Lorana doesn’t pick up on the subtext until it becomes a little too textual, with Breth coughing rather loudly and apologizing for it, as to why everyone might be very interested in Lorana’s knowledge and sketching abilities.

There’s a segment here, but it essentially boils down to “D’gan

doesn’t care that one of his riders’ dragons is sick, seeing it as yet another challenge to his leadership, even as the Weyr Healer says it’s potentially the stuff that the fire-lizards have had. He insists, against common sense, that all his riders must fly their appointed training, without any assistance from the Weyr Healer at that exact moment.”

Why is that asshole still in charge at Telgar? By this point in time, he’s long since proven himself woefully incompetent at leadership, uninterested in things that he really should be paying more attention to, and he’s a terrible person, to boot, all ego and no substance. Why hasn’t he been murdered or run off on an errand somewhere when there’s been a mating flight, or had a conspiracy put against his leadership to make sure that he never gets anywhere near that kind of power ever again? What he seems to have going for him is that he’s a bully who’s not above being violent to his riders. But. Just. Why is he still here?

Also, the sick dragon and rider get lost in hyperspace because their Weyrleader is an asshole. We find this out after we’ve shifted back to Kindan, K’tan, and Lorana, as they try to puzzle out how long it takes for the infection to mature and how the illness progresses in the fire-lizards, since they seem to run a faster course with it, so they can figure out what the dragons will be like, too. All they get out of it is the idea that they should try to prevent any fire-lizard or dragon from warping themselves into hyperspace when they’re sick. Which is a nice idea in theory, but Breth proves to them that they can’t hang on to a dragon in practice, Lorana tries to follow Breth to her destination through hyperspace, even though it’s a very long trip, but she can’t hold on to the queen, and then she seems lost and can’t bring her consciousness back to her. Only after she bumps up against an “other” and is “rebuffed” by them does Lorana pass out.

And that’s chapter 9. The fan is just beginning to warm up for all the things that will be hitting it soon.

Dragonsblood: Is This Making Any Sense?

[To put it mildly, Mari Ness says, as much as everyone loves Ruth as a dragon, it’s not enough to cover over the terrible plots and politics that’s happening on Pern, much less the fact that we’re saddled with Jaxom as a protagonist. A sentiment I thoroughly can get behind. If you’re reading the comments, it turns out the “Mary List” commenter is good if you want a representative example of what someone who thinks that Pern is perfectly fine and we’re all interpreting things from the wrong perspective thinks, and basically rubbish otherwise, for the same reason.]

Last time, Lorana escaped the ship, but ended up in the ocean. She sent her fire lizards away from her to some source of safety. And then we spent more time talking about the collapse of knowledge in the First Pass and the A-Plus Parenting of Wind Blossom.

Dragonsblood, Chapters 7 and 8: Content Notes: Death of a parent, Discussion of suicide, Abusive parenting,

(Still First Pass, Year 50, AL 58)

Genomics: The study of genetic material and the functions of encodes. See DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid).

-Glossary of terms, Elementary Biological Systems, 18th Edition

This chapter opens with the information that Sorka Hanrahan, first queen rider of Pern, is dying. Also, Sorka is M’hall’s mother, so this is extra traumatic for him.

“Is it her time?” Wind Blossom’s voice was calm, flat. She had seen all her friends die, save this one.

This is something worth thinking about. This situation is not unnatural for Terrans who have been gifted (or cursed) with a body that outlives their peers. It’s usually portrayed as a situation that requires remedy or companionship or some other situation, with the understanding that a person is at risk for running out of reasons to continue living. If Wind Blossom were a dragonrider, she would probably be on suicide watch, even if nobody really interfered, in the same way they seemed to know about J’trel, but nobody really tried to intervene.

M’hall went back in time to collect Wind Blossom for this conversation, at Sorka’s direction. Since it’s Sorka’s final moments, Wind Blossom is much freer with her praise for M’hall in her presence.

“He has learned wisdom,” Wind Blossom said. It was her highest praise, words she had never before uttered to or about anyone. “He is a good man. Like his brothers and sisters. Blood tells. You and Sean have everything to be proud of.”

The narrative points out that Sean has been gone to hyperspace for eight years at this point after being hit by an oddly clumped piece of Thread. And that Faranth never rose to mate again after that. Which was not due to her age, but for some secret reason that only Sorka and Wind Blossom know.

We don’t get that reason, though, instead going through an extended flashback through a deathbed conversation between Wind Blossom and Emily Boll during the Plague Year. Wind Blossom’s watch-whers had soured relationships between dragonriders and everyone else, so she went into medicine instead at Benden’s request, even as she secretly kept track of all the dragon-related things anyway and Emily knew that the watch-whers were part of the plan. Emily is able to help Wind Blossom a little bit, anyway.

“Wind Blossom,” Emily said, gripping her wrist tightly, “you can talk to me. I know all the plans. When we’re alone, you can tell me anything. It’s not right that you keep everything locked up inside you, and it’s not fair. In fact, as Pern’s leading psychologist, I say that for your own good.” When Wind Blossom said nothing, Emily continued softly, “And I say it as someone who knows how much you’ve suffered.”
For the first time ever, Wind Blossom broke down and collapsed into Emily’s arms. For how long she cried, she did not know. Afterward, Emily gave her one last hug and a bright smile, but they said nothing.

Well, that answers one question, at least – psychological practice dies with Emily Boll, and her students apparently didn’t get enough of it to make themselves useful people on Pern as toxic mindsets took over.

More questions abound, however, as Wind Blossom tends to Emily, who already knows she won’t survive the Fever Year, and is appalled to learn that nearly one-sixth of the colony has already been wiped out by the disease. Dragonrider health and resistance to disease is “Some of that Eridani immune boost” given to them, but not to the general population because there’s not enough for everyone and they can’t make more. Emily demands that Wind Blossom autopsy her corpse to find the cause of the disease and manufacture a cure for it from there, and volunteers herself to be a test subject for measuring the dosage and strength of fellis mixed with fruit juice, since that’s the sort of thing Pern will need in the future to survive.

In the middle, though, there’s more about the Eridani Way and their philosophy on life, and why Wind Blossom thinks they’ve failed so spectacularly, as Emily tries to get more information out of Wind Blossom (and has a revulsion at the idea of a “pain-induced block” being possible so that Wind Blossom wouldn’t be able to tell certain secrets. There isn’t such a thing in Wind Blssom, but it’s apparently something that could happen.)

“In the Eridani Way we are taught that harmony is everything. A good change is invisible, like the wind. It belongs–it seems like an obvious part of the ecosystem.
“You remember the ancient tailors’ saying: Measure twice, cut once?” she continued.
Emily nodded.
“The Eridani Way would say measure a million times, then a million times more and see if you can’t possibly find a way to avoid the cut. ‘A world is not easily mended’, they say.
[…more talk about how this way was drilled into Kitti Ping, Wind Blossom, and her sister, who is back on Tau Ceti, watching that world…]
“No,” Wind Blossom corrected. “Every time an ecosystem is altered there must be those that watch it and bring it back into harmony.”
“More than one?” Emily asked.
“Of course.”
“But here, on Pern–Tubberman?” Emily was surprised. Then she grew thoughtful. “I’d always wondered why it was so easy for him to gain access to such valuable equipment. I realized that the Charter permitted it, but it had seemed odd at the time that no one had been guarding the equipment more zealously.”
Wind Blossom agreed, secretly relieved that the conversation had turned in this direction. She discovered, in talking with Governor Boll, that she was not ready to reveal all her secrets.

Which makes it sound like Ted Tubberman was not one of the Eridani Adepts sent to bring the place back into harmony, or that he was, but that Wind Blossom doesn’t want to confirm that to Emily. I can’t tell if the author is trying to slide some retcons in there and keeps having to couch it in ambiguity, or if these are supposed to be deceptions thrown our way so that we dont find out who the other ecosystem-harmonizers are (or were.)

I’m also thinking that Wind Blossom is holding herself to an impossible standard. The Eridani Way might work in a high-tech galactic society with all those resources and knoweldge available, but Pern is deliberately playing pastoral and has an unexpectedly hostile part of living on the planet. But if Kitti Ping tried to hold her daughter to those standards, then I can see why the resentment. And a little bit of why Wind Blossom thinks that discouraging her own children from trying to discover the secrets of the Eridani Way is a good idea. Her methods are still utter shit, though.

Emily dies, and after her death, there’s another segment that I desperately would like to read queerly. And link to Wind Blossom and Sorka’s knowing of the secret why Faranth never rose to mate again as another queer thing. (Not that it will happen, because queer women don’t exist on Pern textually.)

After a moment, she [Wind Blossom] spoke. “When I first saw her, she was the most beautiful person I had ever seen. She would light up the room, lift the spirits of everyone who met her. She did not allow even the threat of total annihilation to upset her.”
“When the Nathi were bombing Tau Ceti day and night, it was Governor Boll who pulled everyone together. She worked tirelessly, always there, always ready–”
“I had heard,” Pierre [Emily’s husband] interrupted, “but never like this.”
“I was young, still a girl,” Wind Blossom continued. “My mother was often away, unavailable. When I did see her, it was for my lessons–and my scoldings.” She sighed. “Governor Boll always found the time to say something encouraging to me. Even when cities were being obliterated, she would still find the time to talk to to a young girl.”
“I did not know,” Pierre said.
“I did not tell anyone,” Wind Blossom confessed. “My mother would have been furious, and I was too embarrassed to tell Governor Boll myself.”

It’s more likely that it’s hero-worship and someone making a positive, possibly maternal, impression in the life of a young woman who desperately needed good role models while all sorts of chaos was raining down around her, but it could also equally well read as an unrequited crush on Emily Boll, especially with the idea that Kitti Ping would be furious if she knew.

Emily’s donation of her body to science turns out to be the key to breaking the fever — the cause of the illness is a hybrid bacteria formed of Terran and native Pernese elements. The people who were trying to figure out the disease were looking in all the wrong places, based on the correct symptom data they had been working with. Wind Blossom is able to isolate the mutated parts, sequence their genes, and then develop a vaccine that everyone eventually gets. And that stops the epidemic, although the great cost has already been paid.

Then comes a decision that can only be described as “catastrophically unintelligent.”

In private conversations first with Pierre and then with the recovered Paul Benden, it had been decided that it was better to ascribe the epidemic to a “mysterious” illness rather than a crossover infection–at least until Wind Blossom could train enough medical personnel to combat any future crossovers. Because the vaccine had been introduced along with a course of treatment, it was easy to convince most people that the treatments were only palliative and that only those with natural immunitiees had survived, leaving the survivors unconcerned about future recurrences.

Cocowhat by depizan

I can understand not wanting to cause mass panic, and perhaps even not wanting to cause people to despair about the superbugs that could develop at any time and wipe the rest of them out, but tell me again why the current path is chartering itself to remove as much of this learned knowledge and technique as it can? Much earlier on in publication (if later chronologically), the knowledge of vaccination through immune transfer survives and is resuscitated. And if the danger really is that mutations will develop that the Pernese can’t adapt to fast enough before they all die out completely, then the survey team that said this world was a-okay doesn’t get a whole lot of cookies for recommending, say, a long-term experiment was possible as a pilot. (They were also down personnel, on a mission that could have/should have been aborted once they weren’t able to perform their functions adequately, so they shouldn’t be blamed.)

All of this Emily data is to establish that Emily wrote a note when she died, told Wind Blossom to give it to Sorka, and Sorka and Wind Blossom eventually became good friends, so much that Emorra is a portmanteau of Emily and Sorka’s names, and Pierre and Sorka were her godparents.

On the nonreligious world, we might note. Because godparents are supposed to be people who have the same religious faith and promise to bring up the child in that faith and be there for them in relation to that faith. (At least, that’s how I learned it.) Yet another example of “it’s actually really hard to get rid of religion, people!” that the authors haven’t noticed, much less put any effort into excising.

As Sorka is dying, Wind Blossom is concerned that the practical knowledge contained in doing, rather than studying, hasn’t yet been fully transferred from the oldest generation to the youngest. Sorka’s more sanguine about it, saying that lost skills can be rediscovered, but Wind Blossom points out that rediscovery usually comes at a cost, and for certain parts of the collective knowledge, that cost can be incredibly steep. The two then discuss what their fears are about how Pern is going to turn out.

“But it disturbs me because it shows that people are beginning to adopt a caste system.”
“And how does that affect the Charter?” Sorka mused.
“Sociologically, I can see why this ‘elevation,’ this endowing of the old lord and lady titles, makes sense in our young population, “Wind Blossom said.
[…Sorka says they’ve been over this before…]
“The youngsters needed to relinquish a lot of control to the older colonists simply because we older people had learned the skills needed to survive. And survival on Pern is still touch and go–as these young people who do not heed their elders discover with the forefeit of their lives.”
[…Sorka wants Wind Blossom to get to the point…]
“So Pern’s going to have a bunch of lords and ladies in the form of Weyrleaders, Weyrwomen, and the men and women who run the holds,” Sorka supplied when Wind Blossom’s silence stretched.
[…Torene nearly interrupts the conversation with her annoyance at M’hall not informing her of Sorka’s impending demise…]
“So our society will ossify and stratify at least until the end of this Pass.”
“And then?”
Wind Blossom shook her head. “Then population pressures will force an expansion of the Holder population and the creation of new Holds across this continent. The lack of Thread should allow the dragonriders several generations in which to increase their numbers and recover from this first Pass; the dragonriders in the next Pass should be much more able to handle the onslaught. There will be presure in both the Weyrs and the holds to consolidate what they have and to build conservatively. Any skills not directly needed in expansion or retention will atrophy.”
“That’s already happening.”
“By the next Pass the skills needed to maintain our older, noncritical equipment will have been lost.”

It’s an interesting commentary from this author that when faced with an existential threat, what humans do is revert to feudal social structures and ruthlessly prune any knowledge not deemed immediately useful to suvival. The older people who know how to survive are going to be pushed into leadership roles, yes, because they theoretically have the wisdom and experience to be able to lead. Then again, Admiral Paul Benden and Governor Emily Boll might know a thing or two about how to get large groups of people to do what you want them to do and things like logistics and infrastructure and public health. It is entirely possible that the colonists could have adhered to their libertarian form of governance, held together by Charter and other agreements drafted and enacted as cooperative entities. They could have decided on a democratically-elected oversight and governance body. They could have assented to a temporary dictatorship to be dissolved at the end of the Pass. They could have elected two consuls, each with veto power over the other, and then had their decisions promulgated by an administrative staff that also served as peacekeeping officers.

The possible governance situations on Pern in the face of the disasters didn’t have to be “vassalage feudalism in the style of Terran Europe, 400-1700 C.E.”, and the explanations given here by Wind Blossom and Sorka don’t give any reasons why this form of government, guild specialization, and mounted military is actually better than any other. It is going to be this way because the author has to make sure that it goes this way, or his mother won’t approve of what he’s done with the place. I have heard many an author say that restrictions sometimes help make the stories come out better and stronger, but it didn’t seem to help here.

Plot-wise, Sorka tries, as Emily did, to pry some secrets and knowledge out of Wind Blossom, to get her to admit that some of her failed watch-wher eggs were deliberately that way to make Wind Blossom look less skilled than her mother. And Sorka’s not entirely sure she accepts why Benden and Boll were so willing to fling themselves at Pern when their skills were still needed in the civilized world. We learn that the Eridani usualy assign three bloodlines to the task of watching over an ecosystem, and that Pern is the only assignment they made without fully knowing the ecosystem backwards and forwards. Sorka and Wind Blossom agree that dragons and watch-whers are a weak point, because there aren’t nearly enough of them to ensure the species survives, even if several individuals get wiped out by a new bacterial or viral strain before the herd can adapt well enough to fight it off or become immune to it.

The rest of Chapter 7 is “Sorka sees her family in turn, expreses her will that her body is to be autopsied by Wind Blossom, echoing Emily Boll fom many years before, and dies, surrounded by the people that love her and that she loves. After Wind Blossom makes Sorka’s body ready for transport, M’hall takes Wind Blossom and Sorka back to Fort, arriving shortly before his departure.” The only thing that’s worth mentioning in the entire sequence is this:

“What–” M’hall swallowed, and continued more strongly, “What did you do?” He did not need to say “when your mother died.”
Wind Blossom reflected on the question. Then she looked up and answered him honestly: “My mother never loved me. When she died it was my obligation to assume her dishonor, and she savored passing it on to me.”
Wind Blossom gestured to Sorka. “She showed me some of her love. I felt like the desert in a cloudburst,” she continued softly. Her voice hardened. “For my mother, I could never be good enough.”

I’m still not fully cognizant of what this dishonor supposedly is (breaking with the Eridani Way?) nor why Wind Blossom describes Kitti Ping as savoring passing it on. And there’s still this continued unwillingness to show any sort of love or affection for Wind Blossom. Is this Kitti deliberately trying to get her descendants to abandon the knowledge they have? Or is Kitti at least as shitty a parent and fully blameable for how Wind Blossom parents, as well? I don’t know, and of this is supposed to be a big mystery with a reveal, the author is doing a terrible job of keeping my interest.

Proteomics: The study of proteins, typically those created by genetic codes, and how they work.

-Glossary of terms, Elementary Biological Systems, 18th Edition

Chapter 8 is also short, and consists of Wind Blossom’s return, collapse from exhaustion due to time travel, cerebral biopsy on Sorka, her inability to use Sorka as a training cadaver for Tieran’s facial reconstruction (which was one of Sorka’s permissions to Wind Blossom), which leads to Emorra comforting Wind Blossom (and realizing that Wind Blossom never comforted her this way, and neither did Kitti Ping comfort Wind Blossom this way.), and Tieran calling an emergency because two fire-lizards have appeared at his drum tower, one dead, one deathly sick. Tieran wants the fire lizard to get general antibiotic to survive, Wind Blossom tells him there may not be enough to bring the fire lizard back, and if they use it, there won’t be any for his facial reconstruction surgery. Tieran thinks about it, and then demands the antibiotic for the fire lizard again, saying “It’s the only chance he has, Wind Blossom.” And that’s really it. One time loop resolved, another started, because I’m betting heavily that the two fire-lizards now on scene in the First Pass came from Lorana.

Chapter 9 next week. And also, I’m getting really tired of these definitions as our text for the First Pass segments. They’re not really being any sort of helpful in any way.