Category Archives: Deconstruction: Pern

The Dolphins of Pern: A Not Very Well-Kept Secret

Last time, Alemi figured out that RTFM works for dolphins as well as computers, Idarolan got to see and communicate with them up close and personal, Menolly came to be the Harper-in-residence, and everyone talked about what kind of a stubborn asshole Yanus is. I hope that’s not foreshadowing.

The Dolphins of Pern: Chapter V: Content Notes: Implied Neglect, Drudgeism

Chapter V starts with Alemi’s shuttle-dragonrider, T’lion, getting curious about the dolphins, too, although they’re very clearly not as good as dragons. We also find out that T’lion came to his bronze in the same way that Mirrim came to her green, which suggests these things happen more frequently than anyone wants to let on.

His brother, Kanadin, had been the official Candidate and, even though he had Impressed a brown, Kanadin had never quite forgiven his younger brother for making such a show of himself and Impressing when he hadn’t even been presented as a possible rider. Impressing a bronze was an even more unforgivable injury.
[…as one might expect, K’din didn’t believe his brother that it was an accident, and T’lion tried to brush it off as a consequence of the grounds, which didn’t have the high tiers of seating…]
It wasn’t as if T’lion had tried, in any way, to attract the hatchling’s attention. He hadn’t so much as moved a muscle. Of course, he had been so flabbergasted to find a little dragon butting him that he had to be urged by T’gellan–the Weyrleader–and the Weyrlingmaster to accept the Impression.
[…Even three years later, the rift is still present between the brothers…]
T’lion was very grateful to T’gellan, the Weyrleader, and his weyrmate, Mirrim, green Path’s rider, because they never once made the youngster feel uncomfortable.
“The dragon chooses,” T’gellan had said at the time, and often at other Impressions, shaking his head ruefully at dragon choice. Then he’d congratulated the stunned family on having two such worthy sons.

(My copy misspells Mirrim as Minim in that quote, but that’s pretty clearly a typo.)

I should certainly hope whatever Weyr Path and Mirrim are in is accepting of someone who becomes a dragonrider without being presented as a candidate. Although it would have been nice to see what the conversation was like between the two of them, because it would have said a lot about T’gellan as to how enthusiastically okay he was with T’lion’s situation. From the sounds of things, T’gellan is already laid back enough about dragon choice that this wouldn’t bother him much, but I can see Mirrim ready to give him both barrels about acceptance, only to be derailed when T’gellan says “Yeah, I’m okay with this.” It would be a nice touch of progressivism in the otherwise feudal-Randian Pern.

Also, Eastern appears to be the only Weyr we know of where the seniormost Weyrwoman is not the weyrmate of the Weyrleader. I wanna see Eastern operate now, so I can see what a functional Weyr with that situation looks like.

As T’lion reminisces, however, we get a wet fish slap of how -ist Pern still is, in the context of how T’lion prides himself on being a discreet and courteous chauffeur.

Or those who tried to order him about as if he were a drudge. No dragon ever chose a drudge personality! Of course, his being so young made some adults feel as if they had to patronize him…him! A dragonrider!

No dragon, perhaps, but at least one very famous dragonrider. Although they would argue that was before she became a dragonrider. And perhaps that Mirrim was a headwoman / dragonrider’s secretary / personal assistant. Still, the idea of the “drudge” as the untouchable caste and the repository of every societal vice is not cool. Maybe when Thread is gone, we’ll witness a drudge revolt, now that the threat that keeps them inside is gone forever.

As for the patronizing, T’lion should talk to K’van about his experiences. I’ll bet they have stories to share.

Ah, yes, the plot. Essentially it’s “dragon flies low, is startled by the dolphin speech”, and then a dolphin interlude that dragons still like them, and then more of T’lion enjoying having private space and liking the kitchen work, instead of seeing it as “drudge chores” like his brother does. (Woe to all you fools who never learned to do chores on your own. When the drudges revolt, you’ll be sorry!) And conveying Menolly a lot, since she’s too pregnant for hyperspace. Which gives him a lot of time to play with the dolphins and note that their pronunciation is shifting toward what is correct for this time.

Oh, finally.

When T’lion sees Alemi again, Alemi deduces that T’lion’s been talking with the dolphins, and the two compare notes about whether or not dolphins can hear dragon telepathy and the linguistic shift the dolphins have to undertake.

“How come they got so…twisted?”
“Ah…” Alemi held up one hand. “We don’t speak the way our ancestors did.”
“We don’t?” T’lion exclaimed, his eyes widening. “But the harpers are forever saying that they’ve helped keep the language pure, just as it’s always been spoken.”
Alemi laughed. “Not according to Aivas. He had to make adjustments to allow for”– Alemi hesitated briefly, trying to get the next words right–“lingual shifts. But let’s not rub harper noses in the fact. I certainly want to keep on the good side of my sister the Masterharper. I’ve only to mention her name and here she is! Good day to you, Master Menolly.”

Does nobody see the sinister implications of the Harpers essentially boasting that they’ve been able to prevent new words from coming into the language for so long? Essentially claiming they have stopped new ideas from getting in? And nobody calls them out on blatant hypocrisy when they throw Norist under the bus for essentially trying to do what they’ve been doing all along? And also, it appears that the information about linguistic shift had not been disseminated widely, possibly because it might break the monopoly of language and infallibility the Harpers currently hold. Somehow, I don’t think the Harpers are going to be spared when the revolution arrives.

Anyway, there’s flying Menolly around (and mention of archivists at Landing, so maybe someone learned proper Archives and Records Management from the AI before it turned itself off?), a worry that Menolly might go into labor and T’lion would be useless (for which he files away a note to ask Mirrim about it, good lad), getting kitchen-drafted, and then T’lion accidentally puts himself into the AIVAS room trying to grab a breather and a bite. Since he’s a dragonrider, though, after the initial embarrassment, AIVAS will talk to him, and appreciates and encourages T’lion’s continued interaction with the dolphins, dropping a nice tidbit that most of the dolphin names encountered so far seem to be derivatives, shortenings, or parts of the names of the original complement of dolphins that first arrived.

After T’lion reports, we switch to Idarolan, who has disseminated the reports he has on dolphin intelligence and tasks, consults the Records of the craft and makes correlations between various incidents and the presence of dolphins, and then gets his own printout and training sheet from AIVAS to spread among the Craft that is interested in more relationships with their dolphins. His efforts are rewarded personally by better fish hauls and avoiding unknown reefs by following the dolphins. It’s nice filler.

Where the plot actually wants to go is with Menolly and Kitrin and the children. Menolly wants to have Alemi come swim with them, and Kitrin mentions he’s off talking to the dolphins, but trying to do it in such a way that won’t upset Aramina or encourage Readis. She can hear the bell call when the wind is right, but she’s afraid Readis will get hurt because he would chase dolphins everywhere.

“Well, I can help distract him from that,” Menolly said. “At his age, they don’t have a long concentration span.” She gave a sigh. “You see to keep one step ahead of them, with something new to do, a game or a challenge. Your girls are a great help with him, by the way. Such biddable children.”
Kitrin sat a bit straighter, delighted at by praise of her Kitral, Nika, and Kami, and neatly diverted away from the previous topic.

Cocowhat by depizan

I don’t think the idea of “biddable children” should be seen as a virtue, but then again, I’m also a 21st century person with a mentality that children are intelligent enough that they can be reasoned with and given some freedom. I also think that women should be destined for something other than motherhood and child-rearing, even from the early days. (I also realize that it’s a societal thing that older children will be expected to help keep an eye on the younger ones.)

That’s mostly griping about how Pern is such a horrible society, which has been going on for books now, though. The reason this is extra horrible, however, is that Menolly should not be talking positively about “biddable children” at all. She is, after all, the child disowned cause she wasn’t biddable. The child maimed because she wasn’t biddable. The child who spent quite some time in hell at the Harper Hall because everyone assumed she was biddable, and has since been flying two middle fingers to Pern’s idea of what gender roles are. We haven’t been able to see what Menolly’s journey to Mastery was like, but it follows that it was probably a lot like her journeyman journey – full of assholes and dicks getting in her way because she’s a woman.

Unless motherhood and being married to Sebell somehow caused a complete Stepford transformation, Menolly’s past should make her someone that is utterly uninterested in traditional gender roles (or traditional anything) ever.

Then again, marriage and babies made Lessa a lot less of the firebrand that she was in the original books. Maybe that is what the author believes is true about marriage and babies.

Getting back to the plot, Menolly sneaks off to see Alemi. She hears the dolphins before she can see them, and then is introduced to them by Alemi. Who notice, of course, that she has a “babbee” inside. They talk about dolphin things, teaching words, and Menolly and Alemi sing a song for the dolphins, and then Menolly sings a Traditional ballad for all of them. The dolphins are attentive, and then go on from there.

Menolly and Alemi walk back and talk dolphins, fire lizards, and the brave new world their getting in to.

“We have much to be thankful to the Ancients for,” Alemi said in an expansive tone.
“Though I wonder,” Menolly replied thoughtfully, “if we will say the same in a few Turns’ time when Aivas unleashes all the wonders stored up.”
“I thought the Harpers were applauding all the–what is it Aivas calls it–input?”
“Knowledge is sometimes two-edged, Alemi. You learn about all the marvels that used to be and they set the standard for what can be, and maybe shouldn’t be.”
[…Menolly shakes off the worries…]
“Isn’t it up to the Harper Hall and the Benden Weyrleaders to see that we learn only the best of what there is?” He was half-teasing, half-serious.
“Indeed it is.” She was very solemn. “A great responsibility, I assure you.”

And there’s confirmation that the information from the AI is being selectively fed into the population by the people who have yet to show they have enough ethics to make an attempt at getting it right. There’s an argument to be made that dripping the information in is superior to opening the gates and seeing what all floods out, but nobody seems to be making that case, because nobody seems to be making the opposite case. Norist would have had a convincing case to the idea of giving everyone access to AIVAS instead of taking up the cause of Ned Ludd.

It also seems like Menolly is at least cognizant that the AIVAS trove could have unintended societal effects, but of course, she’s not going to get to articulate those further, because that would introduce doubt about whether what Our Heroes are doing is right and proper. These are questions that should have been resolved before tapping in as much as they have to the AI.

The dolphin segment at the end of the chapter is about the songs sung by the humans, which comes with the knowledge that dolphins carry their history in songs that have been taught to them over the generations, in much the same way the Harpers do the same for the humans.

The Dolphins of Pern: Pursuing The Not-Quite-Forbidden

Last chapter, Alemi got told not to involve Readis in dolphin tales, then went to AIVAS to get instructions on how to talk to the dolphins. Rather than read them, Alemi scouts, and then rings, the bell that summons the dolphins, establishing more contact and firmly cementing them as intelligent mammals instead of non-intelligent fish.

The Dolphins of Pern: Chapter IV: Content Notes: References to abusive family

Chapter IV opens with Alemi returning to a Paradise Hold and talking about what he did to Jayge.

“That’s all very well and good, Alemi, I suppose”–Jayge hesitated–“it’s good. We’ve got fire-lizards and dragons, why not intelligent life in the seas? The Ancients apparently knew what is combine to make a perfect world, so those doll-fins had their role to play…” He hesitated again.
“But you’re worried about Readis?”
Jayge let out an explosive sigh. “Yes, I am. He’s still talking about his mam’l…”
“They are,” Alemi said, regaining his perspective on the matter, “mammals.”
[…Jayge is confused that AIVAS has data on dolphin births and such…]
“Look, I’ll keep my findings to myself, then. You didn’t mention my interview with Aivas to Readis, did you? No. All right. I certainly won’t, but I’d like your permission, as my Holder, to discreetly pursue a closer relationship with these creatures.[…]”
[…Jayge asks what Idarolan thinks of it, and then assents…]
Alemi nodded, perversely pleased that he could try to establish himself with the dolphins without having to share the experience.

And also, doesn’t actually mention that he’s planning on building a bell (and a float for it) so that he can summon and talk to the dolphins. How is anyone going to keep a curious Readis from hearing the bell, or from piecing together that the bell summons the dolphins when you ring it? Especially when the narrative tells us that Alemi plans on building a bell bigger than the one that’s currently on his ship to use. It’s going to carry.

We also get more about the strained relationship between Alemi and Yanus, who remains unnamed.

Alemi was extra mindful of some of the precautions Aivas had mentioned–precautions Fishmen always observed but without knowing why: taking care of the size of the nets, as well as the old warnings of the “sin” of netting a shipfish. Even his father, who hadn’t the imagination to be superstitious, followed those precepts. Now Alemi knew the reason behind those practices, but he doubted his father would ever admit to it–much less admit that dolphins could actually talk and were intelligent. One of the many gulfs between them.

No, wait, hang on. The idea of “sin” and “hadn’t the imagination to be superstitious” do not belong in the same description. Yanus does these things in a near-fanatical devotion to TRADITIONS (traditions!), which suggests there’s something driving that belief. “Society collapses if we deviate from the perfect ways of our ancestors” is a perfectly good superstition.

That said, “sin” is a distinctly religious concept, and until AIVAS specifically made reference to it, Pern very specifically never had any sort of religious work. (Unless you count Harper ballads about the Cult of the Dragonriders. Which we probably should.) There’s no Being Represented By The Tetragrammaton, but also no Wiccan Rede, Wheel of Karma, or any other concept that would facilitate the idea of virtue and sin. Netting a shipfish might be a sign of ill fortune, but unless a theology developed somewhere while we weren’t looking, it wouldn’t be a “sin”. (This is where you need a continuity editor, no really.)

Anyway, Yanus’s stubbornness at being proven wrong would have an easier time being accepted if Alemi casually dropped something here about how long and how far Menolly has risen as a Harper, and yet, if you asked Yanus about her, he would say his daughter had ran away to become Holdless [x] years ago and he’s never seen her since. It’s probably bad enough that Alemi is a Masterfisher and went away from the Hold to go South.

There’s also a lot about more settlers coming south to get their own hunk of land to do work with. Which, essentially, temporarily relieves the pressure problem that’s been plaguing the North. Once there’s no more land to grab, though, the problems will start all over again unless the Lords decide there’s some way they can parcel out their land in smaller ways.

Or the end of the threat of Thread is the harbinger of the complete takeover by the Crafts and conversion of the feudal society into a capitalist one, now that there’s no overarching threat to hold the society together. (Assuming the dragonriders don’t get involved, anyway.)

Alemi does inform Idarolan of his plans, framing it as good research toward the end of making sailing and fishing safer – if all ships can summon additional help in bad situations, that’s a benefit to the Fishercraft. There’s a little praise of Menolly, as it’s her methods for fire-lizard training that Alemi used to get his well-behaved Tork.

After discarding the idea of using Jayge’s alarm triangle as a dolphin bell (has the triangle been here for longer than this book and the last one? Or is it an instrument that’s definitely came with the AI? It’s talked about as a “post-Thella” thing, but does that make it post-AIVAS?), Alemi asks Fandarel if he’ll cast him a nice bell. Fandarel says yes, but it will have to wait until all the other commissions are done. Robinton sends a handbell and the possibility that a bigger bell might exist somewhere else.

For the moment, Alemi concerns himself with learning the hand signals and commands for dolphins on the printout that AIVAS provided and shaking his head at the fact that the Pernese have had intelligent species there the whole time and have not put the pieces together. And then offers a useful explanation of the why, although it’s couched in yet another commentary on Yanus, who is finally mentioned by name.

“Yes, indeed, I can just picture my good father, Yanus, listening to a shipfish!” He snorted.
“Exactly,” Kitrin said with some heat, for a moment abandoning the little wrapper she was hemming for their expected child. “I mean no disrespect–well, maybe I do,” she added with a rueful expression, “but he is sometimes…”
Always,” Alemi amended firmly with a smile.
“So set in his ways. You know, neither he nor your mother have ever mentioned Menolly. Though your mother often remarks on ingratitude in my presence.” She sighed. “It’s as if Menolly never existed.”
“I think she prefers it that way,” Alemi said with a wry and slightly bitter grin, knowing all too well the treatment given his talented sister during her adolescence at Half Circle Sea Hold. “Both of them–mother and daughter.”
“Menolly’s never been back? Ever?”
“Not to the Sea Hold. Why should she?”
Kitrin shrugged. “It seems so…so awful…that they cannot accept her accomplishments.” Then she added shyly, “Sebell always remembers to send us copies of her latest songs. Alemi, when are we going to have a harper?”
He grinned, for he knew that had been the main reason for the trend of their conversation.
“Hmmm. I’ve asked Jayge and Aramina. Readis is growing old enough to learn his ballads and so are enough youngsters, including our own, for the hold to have its own harper. Enough for a journeyman surely, and we can offer many benefits here: decent weather and property to develop.”
“Ask if they’ve asked,” Kitrin said with unusual force. “I’m not going to see the girls, or our son“–and she said this defensively, one hand on her gravid belly–“grow up ignorant of what they owe Hold, Hall, and Weyr.”

And there’s the thing that should have come first – the easiest way of establishing that Yanus is stubborn to the point of disowning and insisting his daughter doesn’t exist because she bucked his traditional worldview.

Given how abusive Yanus is, I can’t make a judgement on whether Mavi is going along with this because she believes the same thing or because she’s too afraid of him. The questions about ingratitude might be solidarity or attempting to get information about Menolly without appearing sympathetic to her. I realize that Mavi allowed Menolly’s hand to heal improperly, but everything she’s done that’s hurt Menolly has been passive instead of active – she allows Menolly to come to harm instead of actively harming her.

Alemi does inquire of Jayge, who says that all the Harpers are essentially booked to transcribe AIVAS’s data banks. Alemi offers to lean on Menolly to get a Harper freed up to be sent to Paradise River. And gets Menolly herself, who needed to go somewhere warm to compose. And also to give birth to what will be her second child. She came with Camo, who is apparently not just great at taking care of fire lizards, but also children, by virtue, supposedly, of being “not much more than an overgrown baby himself.” Menolly apparently brought mostly instruments and writing instruments and only a couple changes of clothes for herself.

Menolly’s arrival in person causes a scramble, as they erected quarters only for a journeyman and Menolly is far too important for that kind of structure, but Menolly refuses fancier accommodations. In response, Kitrin organizes a baking and cooking storm to make sure there’s enough food of fancy enough making to be appropriate for her rank for the impromptu Gather put on in her honor.

Menolly’s singing brings memories of childhood and adolescence for Alemi (which I am beginning to suspect is a reasonably well-crafted way of bringing new readers up to speed that haven’t read the Harper Hall trilogy, or have forgotten enough of it to need the refresher – it’s been nearly a decade or more since those books came out) as well as what is the narrative’s answer to my speculation before about Mavi’s malevolence.

He had been furious with his parents’ vindictive attitude when she’d cut her hand on a venomous packtail fish and it looked as if the injury might prevent her from playing again. They looked so pleased!

What would have been more useful is if Alemi ever got to see or hear Mavi talk about it in a situation where she could be reassured that her talk wouldn’t get back to Yanus. Because everything that’s presented as evidence is always them together, and really, if you’re in a situation with an abuser and there doesn’t seem to be a way of getting out and living a life in your own (because fucking patriarchy and flesh-eating rain), then you order your life and your thoughts around making sure that abuser doesn’t hurt you, by whatever formula your brain comes up with that it believes will work. Mavi might have been pleased in the sense of “Oh, if that scars badly, then Yanus will stop abusing all of us” and not “what a blessing from God that will stop my wayward daughter from straying from His commands.” The difference is crucial, and the narrative is trying to elide it in insisting Mavi was enthusiastic about the abuse.

After a spell of singing, Alemi thinks to himself that Menolly’s songs continue to do their jobs as effective tools.

Still, that’s what harpering was about, wasn’t it? Getting people to think and feel and, most of all, learn. The Fishercraft fed bodies, but the Harpercraft fed souls.

Setting aside for a second the continuing problems of religious concepts invading the nominally atheist Pern, this line could be read in both a way that’s virtuous, if you believe the Harpers are educators and entertainers, or sinister, if you blame them as propagandists who have been trying to keep a world stagnant from progress for the last two and a half millennia. Think, feel, and learn (what we want you to) sounds very much like the Harpers, and it’s a little chilling in light of what Kitrin said earlier about making sure the children learned their obligations.

Which, actually, I should point out is an insistence that children learn a way of life that has as a keystone a situation (Thread) that could presumably be permanently removed in their lifetime. Because when the threat of being sent out in the deadly rain evaporates, what reason is anyone not currently being benefited by the social structure going to have to continue it? Especially if the dragonriders decide to take retirement and essentially remove themselves from Pern. Someone should be laying the groundwork for post-Thread civilization social contract. The Harpers have the responsibility for it, but they’ve all got their heads in the sand, it seems.

As things are, Alemi sneaks off one night and rings his ship bell occasionally, but only when he hits the Report sequence do the dolphins come, squealing “Bellill!”, because dolphins can’t possibly be expected to get a two-syllable word correct.

There are two good things that comes out of this – dolphins get fish, and finally, Alemi asks what “blufiss” are and gets shown so he figures out that they’re bloodfish and is then able to remove them with his knife. Getting close enough to them allows Alemi to see their distinguishing features and associate them with their names. After cleaning, everyone goes to sleep and there’s a short dolphin interstitial about how they are pleased mans are remembering more of their duties, but mans still haven’t figured out the dolphins know where the best fishing spots are, and there’s no bell for the dolphins to ring yet.

The next morning is frank talk between Idarolan and Alemi, with Idarolan promising not to mention dolphins to Yanus, because they both know that Yanus wouldn’t believe it anyway, much like how he doesn’t believe AIVAS exists. And Idarolan relays a very touching confession from Menolly about why she came.

“You’re why she came, you know. Told me one night she’d never had a chance to get to know you but you were the best of the lot.”
Alemi stared back at his Master. “She said that? About me?” He felt his throat get tight with pride and love of her.

Not that it was a particularity high bar to get over, but yes, Alemi, you were not awful to Menolly.

After that, Alemi rings a report bell and Idarolan gets his first up close with the dolphins…and is mostly bowled over by the legends being true, but also there’s some going over of the contractual bits between dolphins and humans. The mention of Tillek sends the dolphins into a frenzy, asking if there’s a Tillek present. The humans don’t get it, but it’s still essentially a good first contact, and Idarolan leaves with the idea of enlisting those Fishers he believes would be open to the idea of working with dolphins. And that’s the end of the chapter.

Have to say that the Fishercraft are definitely the best so far as a whole at adapting to their new realities.

The Dolphins of Pern: Ring the Doom Bell

Last time, after a promising prologue, we retread the situation where Alemi and Readis were knocked overboard fishing and rescued by talking dolphins.

The Dolphins of Pern: Chapter III: Content Notes: Possible flashbacks, Silly Animals

Aramina has voiced strong objection to Readis continuing to seek friendship on the sea, because he’s supposed to be learning how to be a Lord Holder on land, not chasing things on water. She continues this objection in Chapter III, being grateful to Alemi for teaching Readis much of the Fishercraft, but not wanting him to tell more of the plentiful tales of dolphins that his crews have relayed to him.

“Do me a favor, Alemi?” Aramina asked, her expression severe.
“What?”
“Don’t tell Readis any of those tales.”
“Ara…” Jayge began in protest.
She wheeled on him. “I know all too well, Jayge Lilcamp, what can happen to a child who gets its head full of notions!”
Jayge pulled back and and gave her a sheepish expression. “All right, Ara, I take the point. Alemi?”
“Oh, aye, I’ll keep my mouth shut.”
There was an awkward pause and then Aramina relented. “If he asks, tell him the truth. I won’t have him lied to or put off.”
“You want it both ways?” Jayge asked.
She gave him a scowl, then relaxed a bit with a rueful smile on her face. “I guess I do. But he’s only seven and the least said the best as far as I can see.”

(Do they even have the conception of a favor on Pern, much less this idiomatic construction? I’ve got no reason to believe they do, but at this point, I think I just have to roll with the idea that Terran customs and such survived wholesale to this far flung future society.)

Aramina’s objections make more sense, finally, instead of being classified as “Aramina insists the social structure be perpetuated to the next generation unthinkingly,” which is what they were definitely coming across as. A post-traumatic stress reaction to having been disbelieved, then kidnapped and held hostage, and then hunted by that kidnapper until a relatively recent fight actually killed her? That would mess anyone up about anything, and that it was about a special talent of communication that she had makes Aramina extra sensitive to someone else discovering a similar “hey, we can talk to things we thought we couldn’t” sort of situation, at an age earlier than Aramina’s first narratively-recorded encounter. Because even if Thella is gone, Aramina is probably going to be having nightmares about that for the rest of her life.

The narrative stays with Alemi, whose wife (Kitrin) doesn’t really want him to go to Landing while she’s pregnant. Alemi is extremely excited about being to go, but trying to hide it. Because, well, he gets to tell the AI about the dolphins (and that the dolphins are distinguishable by features, colors, scars, and such) and to ride a dragon. There’s a detour into how Alemi came south (Menolly convinced him to do it) and an interesting bit of worldbuilding – any Mastercrafter can call for a dragon to convey them where they want to go. Alemi doesn’t use the privilege much, but that seems like a new invention that doesn’t truck much with earlier books and Sean Connell’s insistence that dragons aren’t supposed to be used as cargo (or people) transporters.

In any case, after a little awkward about how new the bronze rider sent to get him is, Alemi arrives at the AIVAS building at Landing.

Alemi knew the story of its discovery–it had been a harper’s tale at many a gather. It had been one of the last of the Ancients’ buildings to be excavated, a task undertaken by Mastersmith Jancis, Journeyman Harper Piemur, and Lord Jaxom–on a whim, it was said. And Ruth had helped.

That’s…accurate. I’m surprised it hasn’t mushroomed into some giant propaganda story and been embellished into something that’s more useful for the Harpers.

In any case, a short conversation with Robinton reveals the AI is quite happy to hear of the rediscovery of the dolphins and even more pleased that they retained the ability to speak in human-intelligible speech. Considering that Alemi goes in and sees AIVAS right afterward, there doesn’t seem to be a need for Robinton to do anything at all, except show Alemi to the correct room.

AIVAS was hoping for Readis to be there, but Alemi explains Aramina’s reluctance (for the second time in as many pages) and AIVAS continues on to the substance of the matter, asking Alemi to fill in information about the dolphins as it plays archive footage of them. Alemi does, which allows AIVAS to explain that dolphins are, in fact, mammals, and then produce a video of a live video of dolphin birth. Along with more information about them, and Alemi recognizing that all the footage is from a planet other than Pern, we get this gem of an unintentional argument about why Impression is not the best thing in the world.

“Doll-fin ears?” Alemi exclaimed, slapping his knee with one hand as he saw men and women working with the dolphins, both undersea and being propelled across the surface of the water alongside their unlikely mounts. “Like dragons and their riders?”
“Not as close a bond as I am told that is. There is no ceremony similar to Impression as dragons and riders undergo. The association between humans and dolphins was of mutual convenience and consent, not lifelong, though congenial and effective.”

Although Impression is always played up as the best thing and a permanent happiness boost forever, by having a friend that knows you equally as well as you know yourself, we’ve never actually seen whether or not that lasts forever, and whether any rider actually hopes for or asks for some alone time away from their dragon. (Or has a spot in their mind that’s just their space, no dragons or fire lizards allowed.) It would be so much nicer, easier, and cleaner for dragons and riders for their linkages to be voluntary and possibly time-limited.

Alemi totally wants to get to the dolphin communication.

“How do you get them to talk to you, Aivas?”
“It is frequently a matter of record, mentioned by numerous dolphineers, that getting the mammals to stop talking was considered more of a problem.”
“Really?” Alemi was delighted.
“Dolphins apparently have an unusual ability to delay ‘work’ in favor of ‘games’.”

Which segues into a discussion of the recovered Monaco Bay bell, and AIVAS printing instructions for Alemi on how to reestablish contact with the dolphins. Then some flying around and looking for the recovered bell to see it for himself. Even in its barnacle-encrusted state, lacking a clapper, the first thing Alemi decides to do with it is ring it with his finger. Which surprises him that a bell can still ring, so he takes a rock from T’lion, his assigned dragonrider, and then rings the bell much more vibrantly. And continues to do so with rocks until, as he should have been told, the entire bay is full of dolphins. Perhaps even if he had read what the AI had printed for him, he would know that this would have happened.

Alemi expresses concern that the dolphins are going to beach themselves in their exuberance, but wading out to turn them back instead has him be tossed around by the dolphins, much to T’lion’s horror and attempts to rescue him. Eventually Alemi gets everyone calm with a mighty shout and sorts out who is in charge. And then had to understand that ringing the bell actually means something, since he didn’t get it the first few times, presumably.

“We titch. You lis-ten,” Flo said, turning one eye on him so he could see the happy curve of its mouth. “Bellill ring? Trub-bul? Do bluefiss?”
“No, no trub-bul,” Alemi said with a laugh. “I didn’t mean to ring the bell to call you,” he added. And then shrugged because he didn’t understand their last question.
“Good call. Long lis-ten. No call. We…[a word Alemi didn’t catch]…bell. Pul-lease?” She cocked her head–Alemi didn’t know why, all at once, he decided she was a female, but something about her seemed to give that clue to her gender. He was also peripherally aware of how much he had actually absorbed from the pictures that Aivas had shown and the explanations of these…mammals. That was going to shock the conservative fishmen. His father especially. “Fish” had no right to be intelligent, much less answer humans.

And if we have been reading along since the beginning, we remember that Alemi is Menolly’s brother, and therefore the father mentioned is Yanus, who happily let his daughter be maimed to prevent her from practicing arts be believed were forbidden to her gender by TRADITION. (tradition!) And since there’s no way of replacing a bad Lord short of murder, one can only guess how miserable the population of Half-Circle is with this technological, tradition-defying change going on around them.

Alemi promises to build a proper bell for the dolphins at Paradise River, and inadvertently agrees to the part where people are going to scrape off the bloodfish, although he doesn’t know it yet, and then sets down to read the paper AIVAS printed…after rescuing it from his wet jacket. But thankfully, nothing appears to have degraded.

The dolphin part of the chapter is all glee about how the dolphins of Moncobay heard a bell and came, and how the dolphins are extremely excited that the mans have finally remembered things and it’s time for the great partnership to resume between the two species.

I still can’t get over the decision to make the dolphins into crude speakers, though. The dolphin segments are supposed to be showing us that they are still intelligent and can communicate just fine, but the artificial intelligence got to run a subroutine and correct for several thousand years of drift so that it could sound important and erudite. The dolphins, presumably, have had the same opportunities to overhear human speech for the same amount of time. If the dolphins are teaching their calves human from generation to generation, barring sounds that the dolphins can’t actually vocalize, there should be no reason for them not to be understandable, and without the need for this phonetic speech pattern. (And if a lot of human sounds are unpronounceble by dolphin, then the Ancients would have presumably figured out some other way of communication that worked for both species.) Dolphins still should not sound like children. Unless you’re the author, that is, who is basically making them children and then trying to have the narrative tell us that pairing with them children is the best thing for both the dolphins and the children (perhaps because they’re about the same mentality, in the author’s eyes?)

Maybe, hopefully, after communication is more firmly established, the dolphins will lose their childlike patterns. Because it’s getting painful to have to read this.

The Dolphins of Pern: Finally, a new perspective?

Last time, the future came to pass, the Red Star was permanently adjusted, Thread was xenocided, Robinton died, and AIVAS committed suicide before it would face the consequences of its actions.

So, naturally, we’re starting a new book. (It’s 1994 at this point of publication.) And the author, now that the main work is officially done, can focus on writing more books that explore side stories and things that were just details.

Like the dolphins, who have been apparently patiently waiting in the background through all of these tales of dragons, doing what they can to help people. It’s finally your time, fellow mammals. Let’s get going.

The Dolphins of Pern: Prologue and Chapters I and II: Content Notes: ESL Stereotypes, Silly Animals

The prologue starts from the perspective of the dolphins! Yay! A little over one hundred years after Landing, two dolphins are ringing the bell that normally summons the humans to see them. There’s nobody there to feed them or listen to what they have to say, and the dolphins are worried that the humans have all died out, possibly based on the plague (that was mentioned in First Fall). There is a mention of a Dolphin Contract to follow ships and make sure the men on board don’t fall over without a dolphin nearby to help rescue them. Plus, a nice chunk of information about dolphin culture:

Kibbe was one of those who had been chosen to serve time up near the northwestern subsidence, where lived the Tillek, chosen of all the pods for her wisdom. The name given the pod leader was also traditional. He had been taught, as had other dolphin instructors, why dolphins had followed humans to this world, far from the waters of Earth, where they had evolved: the chance to inhabit clean waters of an unpolluted world and live as dolphins had before technology (he had learned to pronounce that word very carefully) has spoiled the Old Oceans of humankind. He knew, and taught this despite the astonishment it caused, that dolphins had once walked on land. That was why they were air breathers and were required by Nature to surface to inhale oxygen. He listened to tales so old not even those who had taught the Tillek knew their origins: that dolphins had been the messengers of the gods, escorting those buried at sea to their special “underworld” place. As dolphins considered the seas to be underworld, this caused some confusion. The humankind underworld was where “souls” went–whatever “souls” were.

…so it is possible, then, to develop a system of beliefs that are plausible and make internal sense, even if they aren’t fully accurate to the reader. What I want to know is why the author waited until a book about dolphins to demonstrate the capability.

There’s a certain amount of echo here about the Silly Animals that Ana Mardoll is unhappy about in the Narnia books, where the otherwise intelligent dolphins have beliefs or somehow need to have humans ruling them because they couldn’t do it in their own, but the dolphins are more capable than their Narnian counterparts. They teach their young the names of the dolphins who made the trek across the stars, and sing it while they travel. And while they don’t understand why the humans needed to sleep for fifteen years to make the journey (because dolphins do not apparently require sleep), they repeat the History (that includes the gift of human speech to dolphins) they have learned.

We also learn the specifics of the contract a little later.

Dolphins would protect humans on or in the water to the best of their abilities, in whatever weather and unsafe conditions, even to the giving up of dolphin life to save the frailer humans; they would apprise humans of bad weather conditions, show them where the schools of preferred fish were running, and warn them off sea hazards. The humans promised, in return for these services, to remove any bloodfish that might attach themselves to dolphin bodies, to float any stranded dolphin, to heal the sick and treat the wounded, to talk to them and be partners if the dolphin was willing.

I’d say the humans really got the better end of that deal. I wonder when it was negotiated, and how long the term of the contract was for. The dolphins are probably more than due a rewrite at this point.

There’s mention of the bell at Monaco Bay, that both dolphins and humans promised to answer if the bell was rung, and the various things explored by the dolphins – “the seas and the deep abysses and the Great Currents, the Two Subsidences, Greater and Smaller, and the Four Upwellings.” Which is good – dolphins would relate to things by ocean currents and other sea markers.

The Tillek tells the calves not to use the derogatory “long-foot” or “finless” when referring to humans, and informs the dolphins that the humans suffer from Thread, rather than being able to consume it the way dolphins do. Which is a thing the dolphins have to accept as a truth, even though it’s not their lived experiences. There’s the story of the sleds and flamethrowers, and the great migration north, and then the Sickness and how it affected the bell ringing at Fort. But even with calves that want to break with the humans because they don’t follow traditions, Kibbe is very much TRADITION with the calves.

With no answer to the bell, Kibbe gives up and heads back to report to the Tillek that nobody answered, and so nobody gets dolphin knowledge.

That’s it for the prologue, and likely the least time we’ll see anything from their perspective. Which is a shame, because I like the dolphins a whole lot better than I like the humans.

Chapter One starts with Alemi, now a Masterfisher, and the young Readis. It’s a little bit of a cute exchange of the child eager to go fishing with his uncle being given a reminder of the need for safety equipment, like vests, by virtue of the uncle pointing out that he wears them, too, even though he’s an adult and a good swimmer.

The fishing is for a gather at Swacky’s, and there’s a quick sketch of a summary of Renegades, but since Readis is our viewpoint character for this chapter, he doesn’t really understand much about what happened. He just enjoys both Alemi (the one who tends to gesture rather than talk) and Swacky (who tends to talk at length, and whose gather is to celebrate turning seventy-five) equally well in his life. The narrative tells us that Alemi has three daughters and a fourth child on the way, hopefully a son that can be taught all of these things, but until then, Alemi practices it all with Readis. Which makes it sound a lot less like a happy uncle-nephew relationship and more like Alemi wanting Readis to be his own child. Even if Alemi has to admit that Readis had never “fed the fishes”, even in difficult waters.

There are fishing “rods of the finest bambu, with reels of the stout tight-stranded line, and hooks hand-fashioned by the Hold’s Smithjourneyman,” which makes me wonder what the biomes are like on Pern that they have both bamboo reeds and hardwood forests. And also, I think that’s the first time I’ve seen the compound word construction for a rank under Mastercrafter. And also, this construction would work so much better for differentiation between a Craftmaster (one who has obtained the rank) and the Mastercrafter (the single elected had of the Craft). Continuity!

Anyway, yes, there is fishing, and Readis hauls one in before Alemi tries to do the same, but the fish is pulling the boat, not the other way around. They get it hauled in before the Great Current, but then comes a squall and the fight is on to keep the ship afloat and upright. That doesn’t happen, but the two are rescued by a pod of dolphins and kept safe by them through the storm.

Afterward, the dolphins express what looks like happiness, and there are several pages of dolphins talking to Readis and Alemi and asking about whether Landing is occupied again. Readis, being tiny, takes it all in stride. Alemi, not so much.

The text, probably trying to convey the linguistic shift that AIVAS apparently automatically compensated for, has doll-fins speaking in a pseudophonetic, grammar-chopped way. “Long tayme no talk,” “Men back Landing?” “Wielcame. Uur duty,” and so forth. Admittedly, Alemi is dazed at this point from the storm and not really paying attention, but the effect at this point is to give the dolphins an accent and a grammar that is often replicated to indicate an ESL (English as a Second Language) speaker that is particularly hard to understand, because they have very little experience with English and can’t string together words into normal-sounding sentences. The problem with that is that the dolphins have been talking human languages since before Landing. And have been teaching it well enough through the generations that they are intelligible to people many generations after humans forgot that dolphins were intelligent companions. This is implausible to me. Dolphins should be suffering the same penalty AIVAS was narratively allowed to sidestep regarding linguistic drift.

But also, the heavy accent and chopped grammar make the dolphins appear stupid, when it’s pretty clear they are anything but. I worry we are going headlong into the problem of Animals in the hands of an author that wants them to be intelligent, but to still need humans to rule over them. The dolphins should not be Silly Animals. But this kind of quote, in the context of the pod relating they had made contact with humans and spoken to them, and been spoken to politely in return –

Afo, Kib, Mel, Temp, and Mul swam fast and proud, with great leaps. And Mel wondered if mans would still know how to get rid of bloodfish, for he had one sucking him that he could not seem to scrape off, no matter how he tried.

– is not encouraging at all.

That’s chapter one, giving us a full account of what we covered in the last books from the perspective of those that experienced it, and a little bit at the end from the dolphins. Chapter two is very short, and essentially covers Jaxom’s visit and Aramina’s very fierce resistance to having Readis strike up friendship with the dolphins, with a paragraph at the end about how the dolphins were disappointed that the humans didn’t come to pick off bloodfish, even though the dolphins did the thing they were supposed to and returned the pieces of the ship, calling it to the humans who came for it. It seems that we might get our dolphin perspective, but only after the humans get their near-complete allotment of pages.

I’d like to be wrong about that, if that’s possible.

All the Weyrs of Pern: The Plan Succeeds (As It Was Always Going To)

Last chapter, the plot to get Robinton wrapped up with the trial and exile of everyone involved, Lord, Crafter, and serf alike. There’s only one thing left to do in this book…

All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapters 19 and 20: Content Notes: Suicide

…but it’s going to take two chapters, naturally. The first starts with Fandarel complaining a bit about the waste of the engines and a bit of skepticism about the considerable destructive power of antimatter, as he and a crew of Smiths attach the apparatuses that will corrode the containment units for the antimatter. Then to Hamian, the Benden Weyrleader, and Jaxom, who are all trying to make sure there are enough suits for the lift operations. Jaxom knows there’s an upper limit of suits, but the others do not. Then up to the Yokohama, where everyone is working uptempo to try and find the perfect vector for Thread destruction. They don’t know about the full effect of their weapon, though, and Mirrim remarks that she’s up to batch 98 of trials for the day, so it’s probable there isn’t brainpower to spare to work it out.

Afterward, when Lytol wrote up the history of the Aivas years, he would remember the results, not the frenzy that had accompanied them, though he gave full credit to everyone involved in the different projects.
At last all the preparations had been completed–two full days before the date Aivas had set them.

Ooh, foreshadowing.

As it turns out, they need the extra time because the couplings that would release the engines are stuck and need to be lubricated, and it takes time to manufacture a proper delivery system to get everything in working order again. This allows for some recovery time for Sharra, who had “lost weight and had deep circles under her eyes” from the extended and stressful schedule. Robinton is, in Jaxom’s estimation, “a man going through the motions of living,” and this distresses him.

Once everything is lubricated, separation of the engines occurs without a hitch. In the meantime, Lessa has been replaced as a leader by N’ton, because Ramoth is pregnant (and Jaxom has exactly zero interest in asking the Benden Weyrleader how he managed that one). This puts a slight wrench in Jaxom’s plans.

Jaxom has no troubles getting the first set of dragons back in time, and then scattering them back to their own Weyrs on the present so their space suits can be collected. (And without Mirrim bringing back a sample of ancient Thread by accident.) The Benden Weyrleader comes back and crows about his success in dropping his engine into place. And there is a drink of good Benden wine, to which Jaxom is offered a drink, confirming (in his own mind) that he’s finally being treated as an adult, instead of the kid Lord and dragonrider.

As it turns out, the re-matching and cleaning of the space suits happens so poorly that it takes enough time that N’ton has to take a new set of pictures from Jaxom to do his warp, solving neatly the problem of how to put one over on the otherwise very experienced Weyrleader. The final engine drop succeeds without issues, and everyone is eventually returned to their Weyrs and their times, even though some appeared temporarily at the right place and the wrong time.

Then there’s dealing with the politics of the matter. More specifically:

“Somehow–” Brand paused to frame his explanation. “A lot of people thought that there’d be no more Thread now. That once the dragonriders has done this explosion thing, Thread wouldn’t fall again.”
“Oh!” Jaxom made a face. “Bloody shards, Brand. Don’t they ever listen? Harpers have been explaining for the last four Turns that we can’t stem this Fall, but there won’t be any more!”

And, of course, any misfortune that befalls people during this period is also the AI’s fault. Jaxom decides to send word along so that the Harpers and Cove Hold are aware of the misunderstanding, and then he and Sharra settle back into Hold life, deciding not to go up on the bridge and watch the explosion of the engine, which is an anticlimax for the observers…and the narrative. Robinton, however, knows exactly how to put his journeyman to work.

“You,” Robinton said, pointing a stern finger at the journeyman, “will now have the unenviable task as a harper of explaining the true facts of the achievement to those who didn’t understand that this effort would not alter the path of Thread during the remainder of this Pass.”
To Lytol’s surprise, Robinton had not been at all dismayed by Jaxom’s report. In fact, the Harper has seemed to expect such disgruntlements.
“Menolly’s already composed one ballad,” Robinton went on, “with a chorus to hammer home the point that this is the Last Pass for Thread, that Pern will be forever free from the end of this Pass.”

I think I see wisdom poking through there, Robinton, about the actual power of your propaganda machine and the necessity of always repeating your message.

Also, I’m surprised Piemur hasn’t been field promoted at this point to a Mastery, given how much work he’s already done. Perhaps Sebell sees him as more valuable as an itinerant journeyman than a Master with an established base?

Now that the time paradox is resolved, AIVAS has a final task for this situation, one he thinks best suited for the browns, blues, and greens, who were mostly excluded from the engine lifts.

“Readings on the orbits of the two smaller ships have shown a marked increase in the frequency of adjustments. The adjustments take more and more power, and the prognosis is that their orbits are likely to decay over the next decades to the critical point.
[…the Yokohama is fine, of course, but the others should be moved into the sun…]
“Burned up?” Lytol asked.
“A heroic end for such valiant ships,” Robinton murmured.
“You mentioned nothing of this before,” F’lar said.
“There were more urgent priorities,” Aivas replied.

Well, there’s the answer to the question Fandarel asked several chapters ago and was dismissed from inquiring further about. So, yeah, someone remembered they had colony ships to deal with. They even acknowledge the destructive potential of even pieces of the ships touching down on the planet instead of burning up.

That said, apparently the Yokohama has backup engines, and so do the others, because their antimatter components were all just stripped and detonated. So this is likely more than just a sinecure for the other colors, but the most efficient way of getting the ships to the star for final destruction.

With the matter settled, all that’s left is to wind down the narrative. Jaxom will still fly for the remainder of the Pass, but apparently his time will be taken up by organizing and patching the holes in his Hold’s records.

Robinton pays a visit to AIVAS, who wants to know why he hasn’t seen Oldive about the fact that he’s also been suffering from fellis poisoning since the incident. Robinton waves him off, saying that there’s “no cures for worn-out human parts”, but expressing his pleasure that the classes are continuing.

“The priorities for this facility have now been met.”
“That’s true enough,” Robinton said, smiling.
“This facility now has no further function.”
“Don’t be ridiculous Aivas,” Robinton said somewhat sharply. “You’ve just gotten your students to the point where they know enough to argue with you!”
“And to resent the superiority of this facility. No, Master Robinton, the task is done. Now it is wise to let them seek their own way forward. They have the intelligence and a great spirit. Their ancestors can rightfully be proud of them.”
“Are you?”
“They have worked hard and well. That is in itself a reward and an end.”
“You know, I believe you’re right.”

That is not an answer, AIVAS. Based on that resentment comment above, I might say your answer is no. You might be proud of their accomplishments, but it definitely sounds like you’re not sure the Pernese are ready for their next steps.

“‘To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven,’ Master Robinton.”
“That is poetic, Aivas.”
There was one of those pauses that Robinton always thought was the Aivas equivalent of a smile.
“From the greatest book ever written by Mankind, Master Robinton. You may find the entire quotation in the files. The time has been accomplished. This system is going down. Farewell, Masterharper of Pern. Amen.”
Robinton sat straight up in his chair, fingers on the pressure plates, though he hadn’t a single positive idea of how he could avert what Aivas was about to do. He half turned to the hall, to call for help, but no one who had the knowledge–Jaxom, Piemur, Jancis, Fandarel, D’ram or Lytol–was near enough at hand.
The screen that had paraded so much knowledge and issued so many commands and diagrams and plans was suddenly blank, lifeless. In the right-hand corner, a single line blinked.
“‘And a time to every purpose under heaven,'” Robinton murmured, his throat almost too tight for him to speak. He felt incredibly tired, overwhelmingly sleepy. “Yes, how very true. How splendidly true. And what a wonderful time it has been!”
Unable to resist the lethargy that spread from his extremities, he laid his head down on the inactive pressure plate, one hand holding Zair in the curve of his neck, and closed his eyes, his long season over, his purpose, too, accomplished.

And thus, both Robinton and Zair breathe their last, having been the perfect witnesses to AIVAS’s final act, and unable to stop it from doing so. If fire-lizards can guide to the place beyond between, then Robinton probably is there, drinking wine and singing songs. For as much as he was responsible for in life (and I suspect we’ll get to a fuller accounting in the book that’s all about him), someone would probably say he received his wounds from the front, as was questioned in the Scottish Play.

AIVAS, on the other hand, could probably be accused of having taken the coward’s way out – it had accomplished the purpose of the destruction of Thread, but now that it might have to face a world where even its prized students would gainsay it, or put its knowledge to uses other that its own, it chooses to self-terminate rather than gave the consequences of its actions. There’s still a world in upheaval out there, and just because the most prominent Lords arrayed against the AI are exiled doesn’t mean they’re the only ones who have that idea.

AIVAS has put all of its students in a much more precarious position in convincing the rest of the world to go along with technological achievements.

Oh, and eventually the Yokohama is going to need to be moved, as well. Will Pern forget about that until it is too late?

Not to mention that I take significant umbrage at the idea that spanning all the worlds and all of the time that’s gone on since humans left Terra, that people believe the writings of an Abrahamic religion are still the best book they’ve created.

No. Unless there’s evidence that the people who programmed the AI held those beliefs, there’s no reason for an AI with a functioning history module to believe that a book that is the justification for so much lost life, inflicted pain, suffering, and war is the very best book humans have created in all of that time.

No. That assertion is not a logical conclusion.

Getting back to the plot, the death of Robinton trips the telepathic telegraph, with everyone racing to Landing (Jaxom and Sharra collect Oldive first) to witness what happened. Asking AIVAS for an explanation yields the other problem, and none of Jaxom’s attempts to restore the AI automatically are successful. Jaxom wants to go back to an appropriate time and save Robinton, but everyone else is firmly against this idea, and also against trying to revive the AI. D’ram plays spokesperson for this thought.

“He has served his purpose in helping us destroy Thread. You will come to realize just how wise Aivas was in this. We were beginning to count on him too heavily.”

Cocowhat by depizan

You still are counting on it, every time you access the data stored in the machines that you teach with, that you research with, that you work with. The only thing you can’t count on any more is the interactive mode that the voice system provided and its calculations and advice. Which, frankly, terrifies me, because now Pern has the approximate tech level of 20th c. Terra, with knowledge in the databases, presumably, about the atom, antimatter, and with the experience of engineering a legal plague to another life form. If the Great Filter exists, Pern is probably rubbing right up against it. The Union of Concerned Pernese Scientists are setting the clock very close to midnight at this point. If AIVAS were still here, it might take on a Hari Seldon role and try to steer the planet through what are going to be some very tough decisions and scenarios, but no, it decided that once the people on the planet became collectively teenagers in their development, that it was time to check out permanently. Asshole AI.

The rest of the chapter, and the book, is the burial of Robinton, and Ruth getting Jaxom to give up on his bitterness at being bereft of his mentor, teacher, and an entity that treated Jaxom as important and an adult in the company of his peers. Ruth points out that the knowledge is still there, and that none of what has been accomplished would have been done without them. So, instead of with a birth of a child, the book ends with the birth of a planet, with Jaxom and Ruth going back to Cove Hold, “ready to delve into the legacy of knowledge that Aivas left for them.”

Good luck, Jaxom. May you make better decisions with your power than the societies before you.

This would be the logical point of the end of the Dragonriders of Pern. The Great Menace is defeated, the torch is passed to the next generation, the mood is theoretically optimistic toward the new knowledge to be learned and the technology to be applied, and the narrative is handing it all to us in a bow.

*checks how many books are yet to come*

Wait, seriously?

Then again, it’s not like we don’t have several previous Passes that could be mined for more adventures and stories.

All right, then. Join us next time, when someone finally gets around to the fact that humans and dragons aren’t the only intelligent and communicative species on Pern. It’s time to go swimming with The Dolphins of Pern.

All the Weyrs of Pern: Throwing the Book

Last time, AIVAS unveiled the True Plot to defeat Thread – use the starship engines at specific points in the past to move the orbit of the Red Star in such a way that the final explosion will do the rest of the job, and seed the planetoid with a parasite that will kill the entities of the Oort Cloud that use that symbiont in their own lives. Jaxom is given the charge to do it, because he has already done it, and also receives proof that it works by jumping into the future. Xenocide is on the table as a consequence of defeating Thread permanently, and nobody seems inclined to give a reason why it shouldn’t happen just like that.

The second half of the chapter involved the execution of the plan to kidnap Robinton, which works without a hitch, but is foiled on the getaway when the kidnappers are spotted by a fire lizard and hell comes in its wake. We pick up in the aftermath…

All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapter 18: Content Notes: Murderous Intent,
Mob Mentality, “Enhanced Interrogation”

…where Robinton seems to be willing to forgive, now that Zair is fine, but he’s shouted down immediately by everyone else, with special sessions called of both the Lords and the Mastercrafters to sit trial of the persons involved. Lytol is scrambling to find precedent of a joint session, while Robinton continues to believe that it’s a failing of the Harper teachings, somehow, that brought on this plot and rebellion. Menolly kills that line of inquiry in fury before it gets anywhere and throws everyone else out so that Robinton can rest.

Of course, Robinton is right, and probably on the way that he is thinking – it is definitely a clear failure of propaganda that people plotted against the designated leaders of Pern and an even greater failure that they acted and succeeded at it. So there is clearly something wrong with the Harper teaching, in that it wasn’t robust enough to handle the rapid reintroduction of technology to the society that has built itself up to require large amounts of people in very stratified social roles.

Robinton’s cause isn’t being helped, either, by the generally extrajudicial attitude being taken by his supporters toward the plotters.

The riders had been forced to protect the nine men from being torn to pieces by the incensed crowd. Jaxom had them interned separately in some of the small, dark inner rooms of the Hold, supplying them with only water and dim glowbaskets. The little drudge who had served the Harper the drugged food was found, and although she was plainly of limited understanding, she was also placed in confinement.
The ship’s captain, it turned out, was one of Sigomal’s sons, which strongly suggested the Bitran Holder’s involvement. It was remarkable, N’ton commented, how willing a man became to talk after he had been dangled awhile in midair from a dragon’s forearm.
When a wing of Benden dragonriders had appeared at Bitra Hold, Sigomal loudly and indignantly denied any involvement in such a dreadful, contemptible business; he had bitterly denounced a son who would bring so much dishonor to his sire and his Hold.
F’lar admitted later that he had come very close to smashing Sigomal’s lying mouth–only Mnementh had saved the man. The big bronze dragon had been so incensed by his rider’s anger that a little curl of flame had escaped his lips, which had had the immediate effect of silencing Sigomal.

And beyond that, it appears that several of Norist’s smiths are implicated, and there is the name of the workman who built the wagon itself on it.

I realize that Pern has never been a democracy, and at its most egalitarian, it’s an oligarchy at best, but there’s a lot going on here that’s going to seem like arbitrary justice, especially for testimony obtained while someone’s life was threatened.

As it is, the trial proceeds on two counts – kidnapping and murder. The drudge that was the instrument of the poisoning is exonerated by reason of not knowing what she was doing, but just following orders to give specific food and drink to Robinton and his fire lizard. Since she was innocent, she also didn’t trip any hostile intent markers, either, so neither dragon nor did lizard knew anything was up. Thus, the Three-Laws Compliant way of poisoning someone with robots discussed in some of the early Asimov books and stories works just as well with drudges. Lessa is unhappy at the use of someone disabled in such a manner, and Sharra will keep her on as kitchen staff, since she’s apparently very good with the spit animals.

This seems to be a trend, actually, that the mentally disabled or neurodivergent end up in the kitchens, since Camo was the same. They all apparently are quite good at it.

Lytol looked for someone to speak and represent the defendants at their trial, normally a function of a Harper, but since there’s a massive conflict of interest in getting a Harper to do it, and nobody else is willing to do it, the accused have to defend themselves. Jaxom starts with the confessions of the men hired to kidnap Robinton, who implicate Lords Sigomal and Begamon as financiers and suppliers for the kidnappings and the attacks and sabotage earlier. Glassmasters and journeymen are also implicated as couriers and purchasers, all working under the direction of Norist.

During the trial, Sigomal protests his innocence, only to have his son testify firmly that he’s a leader of the plot, to which Sigomal punches him in the face to shut him up.

The wagon kidnappers explain that Sigomal hired them, but that they didn’t intend to kill anyone, only that their conspirator had to drink some of the poisoned wine to make it seem authentic. The ship kidnappers say that Begamon offered an island off his coast to harbor them until the ransom was done. Nobody in either crew is part of the Fishercraft, to Idarolan’s relief.

Norist has no regrets, and regrettably, because he’s a villain, the parts that he says that make sense are going to be lost.

“I did what my conscience dictated, to rid this world of that Abomination and all its evil works. It encourages sloth and dalliance among our young, distracting them from their traditional duties. I see it destroying the very structure of our Halls and our Holds. Contaminating our Pern with vicious complexities that deprive honest men of work and their pride in workmanship, turning whole families away from what has been proved good and wholesome for twenty-five hundred Turns. I would do it again. I will do all in my power to destroy the spell this Abomination has placed on you!” He extended his arm and swept his pointing finger at every one of the Masters who sat in judgment on him. “You have been deluded. You will suffer. And all Pern will suffer because of your blindness, your lapse from purity of our culture and knowledge.”
Two of his Masters and five of his journeymen cheered their master.

For all the bluster about purity (which might have a common antecedent with the Harper insistence on language purity), Norist’s main point is something worth considering – the introduction of mechanization does mean more idle bodies that may or may not be locked into learning the trade of their parents, and that could cause significant social problems if new work doesn’t spring up to put them in professions. Not to mention that once the threat of Thread is gone, that means there will be a lot more idle people with flame-throwing creatures. Pern has presumably had many Turns to parse out what the possible ramifications can be, and has hopefully already started making provisions for putting all of those characters to work. They haven’t done a thing about it, because Pern, but they at least had the opportunity.

As an aside, I don’t think the concept of magic made it to Pern, not like that, but it’s also entirely possible that the concept re-developed over the lost period. I don’t know that the word spell would have made it, but at this point, it’s more of an annoyance that words that don’t really have a demonstrated need to be there still keep showing up.

In any case, as the last piece of evidence before deliberations, Oldive testifies that the death of Biswy, the Robinton impersonator, was likely due to ingesting too much fellis by his own hand, and the subsequent heart failure that resulted. Jaxom drops the murder charges in light of the evidence, and the Lords and Craftmasters begin deliberations. After Robinton addresses the audience and attempts to convince everyone that the technology brought forth is nothing more than what the ancestors intended for the planet, and that the attempt to sever the link to the past provided by the AI is the great folly of Norist’s viewpoint. And then:

Master Robinton looked at the three abductors. “I forgive you for myself; but you took marks to do evil, which is a great wrong. And you tried to silence a Harper, and that is a greater wrong, for when speech is restricted, all men suffer, not just I.”

Nothing beats an opportunity for a little propaganda. Also, since when is free speech a Pernese value? Unless he means it solely for the Harpers, or maybe for the Lords, riders, and Crafters. A lot of this book has been about suppressing speech, and more than a few instances of the past, including the Renegades book, has been about preventing speech or putting someone in an impossible position over that speech.

As things are, the Lords and Craftmasters don’t take much time to deliver their verdict. Sigomal and Begamon are stripped of their Holds and sentenced to exile for their kidnapping… as the second part of the reasoning. The first is “to plot and carry out a punitive action in another Hold or common property, which is the designation of Landing”. It seems more important for them to be punished because they took action in another Lord’s sovereign territory than for actually kidnapping and planning on extorting a ransom for their hostage.

Gomalsi, Sigomal’s son, is also sent to exile for his acts, and for the crime of “setting himself up as a captain of a seagoing ship without qualifications,” which “offended all members of the Fishercrafthalls.” Norist is stripped of rank and exiled, as are all other Glass-smiths involved. All the others who are neither Lord nor Crafter are also sent into exile by Jaxom, as he apparently has the power to decide (as the Lord on which the offense happened, I guess). In a bit of mercy, Jaxom says their families can accompany, should they desire to do so.

That closes the court, and the rest of the chapter is lots of people, and Ruth, too, reassuring Jaxom that he did excellently in administering the court and fairly in his choice of punishment, and the actual act itself of exile. The last part is a lead up into the fact that there are only a few days left before the Plan happens, where Jaxom will have to get two separate groups of dragonriders to drop engines and parasites at their appointed places and times. It sounds like it’s going to be logistical.

All the Weyrs of Pern: Halfway-Competent Plotters

Last chapter, the major action was the discovery of a plot to kidnap Robinton and ransom him in exchange for the destruction of the AI, which is a damn sight better than “kill Jaxom and replace him with a puppet,” certainly. The action continues…

All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapter 17: Content Notes: Plotting xenocide, murder, poisoning, kidnapping

…or rather, doesn’t, as chapter 17 opens with the lack of attempts on the plot, even as most of the Crafts withdraw their masters from Bitra and Nerat Holds, although not from Keroon, as Lord Corman seems to be distancing himself from any possible plotters, the Weyrs keep a lock on the dragonriders, and the Harpers run down every whisper of a lead.

On board the Yokohama, Mirrim discovers where Thread keeps its genetic material, and not too soon after, a viable pathway for a pathogen to infect and spread through the organism. There’s a little wonder why the Ancients themselves didn’t do all of this destructive revenge against Thread, but it passes mostly in smugness, because there’s a thought that the AI might be having some feelings of its own.

“Aivas hates Thread, inasmuch as an inanimate machine is capable of hatred. He hates what it did to his captains and Admiral Benden. He hates what it’s done to us. He wants to be sure it can never menace us again. He wants to kill it in the Oort Cloud. He calls the project ‘Overkill.'”
Jaxom regarded her in puzzled astonishment. “He’s more vindictive than F’lar!”

No, it’s plotting contingencies, given that you have already demonstrated that dragons could potentially warp out to the Oort Cloud and back, given a sufficient oxygen supply. Then again, nobody said explicitly whether the AI had been programmed with a personality…

As it is, the overkill project essentially is to infest Thread with a malicious version of a parasite helper it already has, even though the work will likely leave Sharra too exhausted for the Gather.

Which makes it all the more interesting when AIVAS drops the bombshell on Jaxom that he’s already done two of the three necessary explosions for altering the path of the Red Star, using Ruth as the leader of a time travel group that created the current chasm with the two previous explosions. Based on the records already scanned in, that talk about bright flashes on the Red Star at the ends of the Fourth and Eighth Passes. When Jaxom protests that something might go wrong, the AI points out that if that were true, Jaxom wouldn’t be here talking now, and his group would similarly be missing from the timestream. Jaxom protests, but AIVAS tells him the only reason for the Long Intervals that it can determine is the detonation of engines in attempts to knock the Red Star out of orbit.

Jaxom changes tactics, telling AIVAS that no dragonrider would willingly time it 1800 Turns in the past, to which it tells him that nobody actually is going to know they’re warping across time as well as space, since all they’re doing is going to a picture. And they’ll already have oxygen, so they won’t notice the time lag for the temporal part of the journey. Jaxom doesn’t want to risk Ruth, but Ruth is pretty confident that it can be done. Still, Jaxom resists until AIVAS lets slip the real reason why it has to go that way.

“You already have, Lord Jaxom. You are the only one who could, can, would, has. Think this proposal over carefully and you will see that the project is not only within the capabilities of yourself and Ruth, but feasible. And essential! Three explosions at this point in time will not have the desired effect on the future path of the Red Star.

Ah-ha. There’s not enough oomph in the engines to blow the planet out of orbit, and AIVAS knows it. So, instead, with a dragon that can pinpoint in time, the engines are to be used strategically to nudge the planet away. Beyond that, though, it turns out that Jaxom will also be seeding the wandering planet with the malicious parasites each time he visits with an engine, as well.

“But if these mechanicals could be contaminated, infected with our disimproved parasite, they would carry it with them to destroy all similar life-forms in the Oort Cloud itself, probably including the note intelligent ones, too. Then, no matter what happens, Pern will forever be freed of this menace.
[…AIVAS explains the Long Intervals…]
“I’m also to be a disease carrier?” Jaxom was not sure which he felt more keenly: indignation, fury, or incredulity at the audacity of Aivas’s scheme.

Worse, Jaxom: You’re going to be the instrument of the xenocide of several intelligent species in the Oort Cloud. I’d like to believe that this fury and resistance is Jaxom’s conscience ringing alarm bells at this plan, but it is most likely just his reluctance to risk Ruth and himself on a mission like this.

So Jaxom demands proof that the Plan works. AIVAS has him pull up the plan of the current orbit of the Red Star, then tells Jaxom to jump forward fifty Turns, gather the same printout, and make comparisons. Every self-preservation instinct Jaxom had says not to do it, but Ruth’s confidence and his curiosity win out over the realization that time paradox is a definite risk. So Jaxom commits himself forward fifty Turns, grabs the printout, tries to tell the AI about his findings (and gets no reply. This seems significant, although I don’t know how) and hops back to admit defeat, as the new path clearly shows the wanderer in a decaying orbit around the fifth planet of the system. Having been snared into following through with the True Plan, Jaxom heads back to eat, sleep, and then enjoy the Gather that’s underway when he wakes up.

Jaxom and the protagonists have a good time at the Gather. So much so, that even though they are reminded of the plot by the conspicuous absence of the plotters, nobody notices that Robinton’s been switched for a dead man and his fire lizard poisoned until well after the switch is done. Fellis in the food and wine, served by one of the new drudges hired for the party, because of course you need extra staff to handle it, and who pays attention to drudges, anyway, and the kidnap plot succeeds.

It really shouldn’t, considering Lessa disguised herself as a drudge for a decade to beat Fax’s notice, and Piemur did the same for a shorter time to sneak in and gather intelligence on people shipping goods South. Why is anyone not on a trusted list getting anything to Robinton, knowing that there’s still a plot against him?

That said, props to the kidnappers for choosing the right venue and method most likely to succeed at the task, assuming you could get everyone distracted long enough to make the switch.

Suffice to say, once noticed, care is summoned for Zair and all the dragonriders and fire-lizards, save Jaxom, fan out to try and find where Robinton is being held (and naturally, Ruatha is beyond the maximum range of the locator device provided to Robinton.) No luck through the night, and searches are imposed on any and all travelers that intend to leave the Gather.

As you might guess, though, with add many fire lizards dispatched on the finding mission, it isn’t long before one notices a cart and wagon staying very far off the roads and trails and determines Robinton is inside, which essentially summons the air force to stop the wagon, which is searched, its secret compartment discovered and opened, and Robinton recovered and sprinted back for medical care after Sharra’s field assessment says he needs better hands than hers.

The chapter ends with the Healers ring to heal Robinton with the hope that he will survive it. Which is good for dramatic tension purposes, so we’ll leave off here and pick it back up next week.