Category Archives: Deconstruction: Pern

Dragon’s Kin: Away From The Weyrs

I’m thrilled you’re still here and wanting to continue. Of course, we might end up catching up to the current set of Pern at some point, which will be rather different to have to wait for new material to work with when we get there. There’s still a half-dozen or so books to work through first, however.

We’re in collaboration territory now. This is a dual-billed book, with the more famous author on the top of the book, and the lesser one underneath. It remains to be seen whether this is a true partnership between two people or whether this is more like James Patterson collaborations, where I suspect the “with” author did most of the work as Patterson did enough to get his name as the name that sells the book. It’s a chapters book rather than a parts book, which makes things easier for good stopping points, and we shall see if we can detect the influence of the second author on the first. In a perfect world, that would mean things get better, but we will have to see.

Dragon’s Kin: Prologue and Chapter I: Content Notes:

The SFnal prologue returns, and it’s sporting some new verbage. For example, we now have explicit mention that the settlers “had set out to create an idyllic, low-tech farmers’ paradise, escaping the ravages of the late Nathi Wars.” Which I find interesting, given that, at least for me, “low-tech” seems to have also meant that medical care and governmental structure also went very low-tech, with the results being the various plagues that afflict the population that’s been enclosed by Thread.

The new prologue also says First Fall happened eight years after the arrival of the colonists, which I’m very sure is a retcon of some sort, because that’s a nearly sensible amount of time for everything to have gotten set up to be taken by surprise by Thread.

Then we get the story of the abandonment of Southern, the genetic engineering of Kitti Ping that creates dragons, Wind Blossom’s “mistake” that creates watch-whers, and the reorganization of society into Lord Holders, Weyrleaders, and the Crafts, who are noted to be democratic institutions from the outset, in that their MasterCrafter (and this is now the official way to refer to the head of the craft, with the camel case) is always elected.

Here, though, the Prologue diverges from its predecessors in that it starts to set up the story proper, rather than talking in generalities about the glorious society and the awesome dragonriders. Partially because our setting for this story is the end of the Second Interval, and also because new author, I think. Where previous books in the series might use a part of Chapter One for a little bit of exposition, possibly from the viewpoint character, here the omniscient narrator takes care of it themselves.

The Prologue says that Pern relies on coal, mostly to forge steel for plows, wheels, and joints for dragonrider gear, and the easily-mined veins have been tapped out. So the MasterMiner, Britell, sends out journeymen with the techniques of mining into mountains and tells them that those who succeed in establishing themselves will be promoted to the Mastery. Britell’s secret favorite is Natalon, who shows “a willingness to experiment” and is taking watch-whers as well as miners to his camp.

[Natalon] had enlisted watch-whers, hoping to use their abilities to detect tunnel snakes and bad air–both the explosive gases and the odorless, deadly carbon monoxide which could suffocate the unwary.
From what Britell had heard, the watch-whers were something of a mystery–their abilities ignored as commonplace.
Britell planned on watching that Camp carefully, particularly keeping an eye on the work of the watch-whers be their bonded wherhandlers.

Cocowhat by depizan

(That may be a record for “fewest pages before Cocowhat.”)

I don’t mind that watch-whers fulfill the canary role for miners, but I do want to know how they learned about those abilities and also why they aren’t in widespread use in the mines. Tunnel snakes are a problem, sure, but we saw what kind of destruction got wrought when someone sparked a pocket of explosive gas when Shankolin was in the mines as punishment. And carbon monoxide is a silent killer. If they already know that watch-whers can protect against those things, then why isn’t every potential mine assigned a watch-wher for safety purposes? I can’t think of a feasible reason why they would be “ignored as commonplace,” save perhaps a mine whose entire inhabitants are prisoners and there is only a small amount of guards there to keep them in line. I know Pern has enough indifference to prisoner life that they wouldn’t invest in safety, but these are theoretically all miners and people that the narrative would think of as good.

Having set the stage, Chapter I begins, not with a temporal mark, but a rhyming couplet:

In early morning light I see,
A distant dragon come to me.

Since it sounds like a song, it’s probably going to be worth putting all of these couplets together if the author doesn’t do it somewhere in the text.

Our viewpoint character for Second Interval Pern is Kindan, and he is getting the best vantage point he can for what is eventually revealed to be a trader caravan (using “drays” – draybeasts – oxen? – to pull the wagon.) Furthermore, one of the residents of that caravan, Terregar, is betrothed to Kindan’s sister, and wedding preparations are in full swing at the camp.

Interspersed with this is a layout of the valley, as Kindan describes it, with temporary housing, coal processing facilities, the mine proper, a proper hold for when Thread returns, and the Harper’s quarters. (We do not seem to have any issues at this point with nonbelievers at the end of this Interval.)

Kindan, we find out, is the child of the watch-wher’s bondmate, Danil, and had the watch-wher, Dask, is “the camp’s sole remaining watch-wher.” Which says there were more, but the mountain’s dangers likely claimed the others.

I’m already starting to see the signs of influence from the new author, though, as we’ve learned more about watch-whers fan we have in all the previous books, and then there’s this sequence that gives us a much more realistic picture of how dragonriders are seen (and where they go):

The thought of Impressing a dragon, of becoming telepathically linked with one of Pern’s great fire-breathing defenders, was the secret wish of every child on Pern. But dragons seemed to prefer the children of the Weyr: Only a few riders were chosen from the Holds and the Crafts. And no dragon had ever visited Camp Natal on.
“You know,” Zenor continued, “I saw them.”
Everyone in Camp Natalon knew that Zenor had seen dragons; it was his favorite tale. Kindan suppressed a groan. Instead, he made encouraging noises while hoping that Zenor wouldn’t dawdle too much longer or Natalon would be wondering at the speed of his runner–and might remember who it was.

We might finally be getting a lower decks episode, now that at least partial control of the narrative and where it goes is in the hands of someone else.

As Zenor runs off, having collected Kindan’s message and extracted a promise from him to help wash the watch-wher as payment, we learn that Natalon is twenty-six and in charge of the camp, and that since the camp hasn’t yet become an official mine, Natalon isn’t “Lord Natalon” and nobody knows how to address him. Which makes me wonder how the order of titles works on Pern. In Natalon’s case, I would assume that in the lack of any other title, he should probably be addressed by his guild rank, Journeyman. Of course, that assumes there isn’t another title that could be used, or that Natalon isn’t the kind of person who would self-style to something before becoming an official Lord. Or Master, because proving the mine would also grant him his Mastery. So if the mine succeeds, which title gets used, and if they both do, which one comes first? Is he Lord Masterminer Natalon, Masterminer Lord Natalon, or something else? And if his successor is also a Masterminer, what then? Masterminer Alain, Lord Natalon?

Zenor opts for grabbing Natalon’s sleeve, which interrupts him in an argument. Tarik, whom scuttlebutt says is pissed that he didn’t get to lead the camp and is actively trying to show Natalon as unworthy, is fighting both Danil and Natalon about the importance and efficacy of the watch-whers, and where effort should be put with regard to roadways or mine supports. Zenor is also ill-disposed to Tarik because his son, Cristov, beat Zenor after Zenor unwisely insulted Tarik. We don’t know what the comment was, just that the resulting fight left bruises.

Ah, also, Tarik is Natalon’s uncle, which might also explain some of the animus.

“We must use our labor wisely, Uncle,” Natalon answered soothingly. “I decided it made more sense to fell more trees to use in the mines for shorings.”
“We can’t afford any more accidents,” Danil agreed.
“Nor lose any more watch-whers,” Natalon added. Zenor hid a grin as he saw Kindan’s father nod in fierce agreement.
“Watch-whers aren’t much use,” Tarik growled. “We’ve made do without them before. And now we’ve lost two, and what’ve we got to show for it?”
“As I recall, watch-wher Wensk saved your life,” Danil answered, his voice edged with bitterness. “Even after you refused to heed his warnings. And I believe that your abusive behavior is what decided Wenser to leave with his watch-wher.”
Tarik snorted. “If we had enough shoring, the tunnel wouldn’t have collapsed.”
“Ah!” Natalon interrupted. “I’m glad to hear that you agree with my reasoning, then, Uncle.”

I realize that the Pernese attitude toward the preservation of lives is, at its very best, callous, but in what universe does someone who ignored safety protocols and caused the deaths of others get to stay at that mine? Yes, there’s no OSHA, but it seems like that offense should have resulted in immediate expulsion. And if not that, severe consequences, regardless of whether that person is family. Even more so if it could be proven that their behavior drove away a vital safety check. To say that they’ve managed without the whers has an undertone of not actually caring about the death toll of the miners that come to work. Again, in a prison mine setting, this makes sense, but theoretically these are all volunteers and employees. They stand to profit tidily if they stay alive. Anyone reducing those chances, especially through a disregard for safety, is dangerous and should be sent away until they can prove they will obey the safety protocols.

Zenor takes a small detour on the way back to chat with Nuella, who is very eager to meet a new Harper, if one has come in the caravan, and is very tired of being inside all the time (at the insistence of her parents, apparently). Such that she plans to dress up in trader colors and dance at the feast tonight and nobody will be the wiser.

Kindan, for his part, at the feast mostly eats and listens for gossip. Right about the time the bubbly puts pies are ready, his just older brother, Kaylek, comes to tell him to wash the watch-wher, intending to prevent him from getting any pies. Danil saves him from that fate, but insists that the job be done very thoroughly after the bubbly pies. Danil then steers said son toward a craft girl he wants him to meet.

The rest of the chapter watch-wher washing, which is unremarkable, really, except that Kindan twigs to the fact that Zenor has someone shadowing him and asks about his detour earlier (but gets no details, even after that shadow is instrumental in diverting Kaylek from discovering Zenor and giggles a bit after Kindan heads to bed), and that watch-whers can go through hyperspace without needing a clear picture from their bondmate, something dragons supposedly can’t do (or don’t do, or whatever handwave is necessary for the disaster of Moreta to have happened / will happen). At least, that’s how I’m reading Dask disappearing to the pond to get a bath and then returning by the same method, because Danil is nowhere to be seen when this happens. Here’s another thing that dragons could learn from something they consider beneath them, but manage not to do in all those Passes and Intervals that the watch-whers have been around.

Next week, a wedding, I guess.


Ever The Twain: A Jaxom Ploy

Last week, we met Nian and Neru, twins who might or might not have a telepathic bond with each other, who were plucked from their coastal hold on Search – the dragons were sure of Nian, and Nian hid Neru well enough from the dragons that they took him as well, just in case. There was some tacit admission that the Weyr lives a lot better than the Hold they came from does, a designated Mean Girl who turns out to also be a fainter at wounds everyone agrees were pretty nasty to see, and a day of chores and food for everyone.

Ever The Twain: Content Notes:

The second morning dawns with a gong alarm to wake everyone up. Nian is a bit disoriented, but still very focused on the idea that Neru needs to Impress. As morning chores are being assigned, the dragons start humming to indicate the hatching is about to start, and everyone heads back, full of nerves, to change and go to the grounds. Nian sees Robina while she’s washing up and the narrative isn’t willing to cut Robina a break.

Robina was in the washroom, vigorously brushing her blond hair with her fingers.
“I don’t think the dragons will notice your hair, Robina,” Nian said encouragingly, but the girl glared at her.
“That’s all you know, twinling,” she snapped back, a petulant expression on her face. Her brushing increased in vigor, and she swore that she saw that sand still fell from her locks. “Let me alone,” she added nastily.

Yes, what a bitch Robina is, because she’s pretty, and blonde, and might still have sand in her hair despite her best efforts and someone is insulting her by referring to that hair after treating her poorly yesterday. There’s no way for Robina to know that Nian is being serious and nice with her comment. But the narrative is more than ready to pile on her for being upset at the protagonist.

And then it’s the hatching in earnest. As seems to be the case with all of the hatchings we’ve seen, a bronze pops out first and everybody says how that’s a good sign. The second egg to hatch is the queen, and this bit happens, because Robina deserves no sympathy:

Robina was already hastening toward the little queen, though she was clutching at her stomach as she approached. It amused Nian that the snotty Robina was also subject to nausea and nervousness.

Yet not a little while before, Nian declared in her own head that she would “die of shame if she spewed up all that porridge and redberry jam.” Empathy is still a finite resource on Pern, only for the deserving and the worthy.

Despite hearing a voice in her head declaring themself to be very hungry, Nian is still very focused on Neru, who is having some serious anxiety that everyone around him is Impressing and none of the dragons seem to be showing the slightest interest in him. Before he can get too far into that idea, though, the queen dragon trips Nian and walks up her back to get her attention, giving her a mental earful about how hungry she is and wondering if Nian can even hear her. Quinth, as she calls herself, has also given Nian a nosebleed by tripping her, and can’t really understand why Nian is so focused on her brother, instead of giving Quinth the attention and food she clearly deserves. Quinth does get fed. The Ista Weyrwoman comes by and helps Nian get clean, commenting on how it was obvious to everyone but Nian that Quinth wanted her from the moment her shell cracked. “Queens are very determined,” we’re told.

This turn of events, of course, sets off Robina.

“How did it happen that she was chosen by the queen and not me?” demanded Robina, standing in front of them, pointing an accusatory finger at Nian.
I didn’t choose her, Quinth said to Nian, flicking a wingtip at Robina in dismissal.
“Well, this is outrageous!” Robina retorted, as she dodged Quinth’s wing tip for fear of being pushed into the hot sands. When she regained her balance, Robina placed her hands on her hips while tapping one toe in the sands.
“There are green dragons hatching, Robina,” the Weyrwoman said pleasantly, pointing to the right. As Nian glanced in that direction, she saw Orla patting a green dragon with one hand and shoving meat toward it with the other.
“They are the most valuable dragons in Threadfall,” the Weyrwoman said. “And far more difficult to train. Take a challenge once in your lifetime, Robina. It would do you good.”

We haven’t met the Weyrwoman until now, and there’s no textual explanation as to why the Weyrwoman would know Robina by name and disposition. Perhaps we’re supposed to assume that Robina has been here long enough and loud enough to attract the Weyrwoman’s attention, being the daughter of the Masterfarmer might mean she was Searched first. And the author certainly seems to believe this is putting her in her place, except for one small thing…

Eyes wide with outrage, Robina stamped toward the exit, head high. Amazingly enough, a shiny wet green dragonet was stumbling after her as fast as it could go.

…all of those things that are supposed to be terrible about Robina underlie something quite positive, as she’s attracted the attention of a dragonet. I can’t tell why, honestly, unless this is supposed to be a final snub at her, that she’s good enough for a dragon, but not the one she wanted, or that we’re supposed to snicker at how quickly she’ll lose her snobbish demeanor as the lowest ranked dragonrider and/or how that attitude will be raped out of her over time as her green dragon rises to mate again and again. (Mirrim remained Mirrim with Path, so that’s no guarantee.)

As it is, Neru has come back to an egg that’s got a serious crack in it, and is verbally encouraging the dragon inside to break out. Nian moves to go help her, but the Weyrwoman holds her back.

“We’ve discovered that if an egg doesn’t crack on its own, the occupant is probably damaged and it is best to leave nature to take her course.”
“And let the dragon die?” Nian was appalled.

Well, shit. This confirms that we can’t be post-Ruth, then, because that would have overturned that kind of thinking, or at least made them think twice about it. This hatchling has made at least one crack in the shell, which is more than Ruth did, I believe, so there’s even more of a chance there’s a viable dragonet inside.

Nian asks her dragon for her advice, and finds out that her dragon may be much more suited to her personality than she wants to admit.

A Hatchling must break his own shell? she asked her dragon.
It shows the strength of the dragon within, Quinth informed her.
How do you know that? You’re only just hatched yourself.
There are things dragons know instinctively about other dragons, Quinth replied with a faint reproof in her mental tone.
But my brother has to Impress, Nian said in almost a moan, her eyes on the shell of the egg beside her brother, who was stroking the casing and urging its occupant to try again.
It is as hungry as I was, Quinth told Nian. It only needs food.
Tell the Weyrwoman so we can break its shell for Neru.
There are some things one must do for one’s self, Quinth replied. I made it and I was hungry. I am still hungry.
As Nian scraped another handful of meat out of the bowl, nearly the last, she had a sudden, decisive idea.

Nian puts two and four together and hatches yet another Indy Ploy, loudly declaring she needs more meat for the glutton and then telling Quinth to trip her as she passes by the egg. Quinth does so eventually, and surprise, surprise, Nian manages to put the heavy bowl right on the egg as she falls down, smashing enough of the egg to free the dragon within. Neru Impresses Larinth, a bronze, and Nian gives her some of Quinth’s food bowl to feed him with, which sets Quinth off that her rider was giving her food to some other dragon, but other riders immediately provide enough food bowls that Quinth has to shut up and swallow the meat being shoved in her mouth or choke on it.

The Weyrwoman and the Weyrlingmaster check Larinth out to make sure he’s okay, even as Quinth assures Nian that he is definitely okay in that same tone that suggests it’s obvious to her.

I still don’t understand why a Weyr wouldn’t want to try and improve their fighting strength, if the other dragonets know whether there a viable dragon in there or not, but apparently Pern is so hardcore Rand that apparently Kitti Ping programmed it into their DNA, and so no help is ever given to any dragon ever.

Having satisfied themselves with Larinth’s health, the Weyrwoman asks if Nian’s trip was as accidental as it seemed. Nian sticks to her story that Quinth was hungry and trying to get at the meat scraps in the bowl. I’m not sure anybody actually buys it, and Nian is pretty sure that the Weyrwoman didn’t buy it, and as the twins get helped off to the barracks, H’ran gives Nian a wink, suggesting he knows the truth, but there’s a live dragon who’s made an Impression, so nobody is really going to do anything about it. Conna comes to congratulate them, which makes Nian worry that she’s going to say something about the circumstances of their search, but she just grins and says, “It is always what the hatchling decides, my dear,” and that’s it. Nobody is going to say that Neru is somehow not legitimately a dragonrider. H’ran even seals it by using the contracted form of Neru’s name when they enter the space in a little while.

Once they actually get on their way to the barracks, we see that the green that was chasing Robina caught up to her, and Robina is intently and blissfully shoving food into the dragonet’s mouth.

All that’s left, really, is for Neru to thank Nian for all her help and admit that he had a giant fit of jealousy (his first about Nian) at the fact that Nian was very clearly Searched and he wasn’t. Nian confesses she was horrified at the thought of stealing his dream and being separated from him in the same day. Neru points out that as a queen rider and a bronze rider, they are going to be separated, since Nian’s queen will become a junior queen at some other Weyr, while Neru stays put at Ista. But since they both have dragons, Quinth reminds them, they’ll always be no more than a thought away, and never alone.

There’s a lot spoken about, but not actually elaborated on, how strong the bond might have been between the twins before the dragons, and what it might have been like if only Nian had Impressed, and hints, again, at what the economics of Pern are like, and not nearly enough of people standing a bit slack-jawed at how much nicer everything is in the Weyr compared to home. And why that might be.

Well, that’s it. Those were the last words that we have credited solely to Anne McCaffrey. At the first author, anyway, the Dragonriders of Pern is finished. Everything past this point attested to the series is officially attributed with or solely to her son, Todd. We can stop now, if you want. We can keep going, if you like – there’s at least seven more books’ worth if we go into and through Todd’s work. Or we can switch gears, if you like – there are other Anne series, or perhaps there are other works you’d like to go on a similar ride with.

It took a few years to get there, but we’ve ridden it out.

It’s been quite the time spent with all of you, and I’ve had a lot of fun (and cocowhats) trying to puzzle this thing out and resolve the narrative issues and prejudices and figure out how this place actually works. (Poorly.)

So there’s one more book series, with a co-authors credit between Anne and Todd, next, if we continue. About miners and watch-whers. It looks like it might be shedding some light on a spot that we haven’t seen in focus yet, which always makes me happy, and anticipate another continuity snarl.

If you’re in board with it, we’ll start Dragon’s Kin next week.

Ever The Twain: A Twin Story

Last time, we saw the beginning of what Pern will look like in the immediate aftermath, as the dragons wind down their protective duties (ish) and the wealth gap between the haves and haves-not seeks to widen itself exponentially.

However, we have a short story to go to before we move on. This one was also collected and published in A Gift of Dragons, in this millennium, no less. 2002 is the year in question, and we have twins as protagonists.

Ever the Twain: Content Notes: Faint-shaming

Our story starts with a little self-insert fantasy from Neru, often called Ru, flying with his dragon called Nerith, before being abruptly called back to reality by having someone in his peer group step on his Berserk Button, calling his twin sister, Nian, “Ninny.” Neru threatens Flamel, the responsible party, with “yet another bloody nose”, suggesting this is not the first incidence of this sequence. Flamel is up for some boxing, but one of the other children, Orla, intervenes long enough that the adults arriving on scene dismiss the children as a lot to go to their lessons with the Harper. Who is explicitly tagged as being unhelpful in the matter, having called it “childish bickering” when the last fistfight in the matter erupted in front of him. Typical Harper behavior, given what we’ve seen from inside the Hall.

We get the first taste that these twins might be more than just a pair born together as Nian contemplates the upcoming reality that the twins are going to be separated soon.

Being the more reserved twin, she couldn’t imagine life without her brother at her side, even if she could always sense him. When her parents had moved Neru to a bedroom in the lean-to, she had spent many wakeful nights without his comforting presence beside her, even though she was well aware that boys and girls were always separated when they got to a certain age. But being in totally different places…She gave herself a mental shake. It would do no good to worry now.

Neru’s prospects seem to be an apprenticeship at a Hall somewhere, later suggested that he might be a good fit for the Harpers, while Nian can look forward to being married off to “a farmer on the North Shore.” Nian will later mentally voice her unhappiness at that idea, having met her prospective husband and found him dull. The twins, however, have hatched a plan to see if they can’t Impress a pair of fire-lizards, so they can send messages to each other over the distance and not feel so far apart. Orla gently teases Neru about the possibility of being a dragonrider, and that since there’s a queen egg, it’s possible Nian might manage it, too.

“Who would want a Ninny for a rider?” Nian asked scornfully.
“You shouldn’t call yourself that, Ni,” Ru said with a fierce scowl. “A ninny you’re not. Don’t even think it of yourself.”
Nian glanced gratefully at her brother.
“You can’t let the teasing of a dimwit like Flamel get to you,” Orla said with equal severity. “As we used to say, ‘Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names can never hurt you’.”
Nian gave a snort and wished she could shake off such jibes as easily, but she didn’t have that kind of confidence. No one ever teased Orla. Orla was self-assured and pretty, with very curly black hair that framed her oval face. Her nose was straight and small, her mouth wide and friendly. Orla had all the feminine qualities that Nian did not see in herself. She didn’t consider herself even marginally attractive.

I’m guessing this is at least set somewhere in the AIVAS, if not post-AIVAS period, mostly so that I don’t have to wonder, yet again, how ancient-even-for-colonists phrases and words managed to survive the future, and also this long on Pern. If the computer exists or existed, I can handwave it as old slang becoming fashionable again with the youngsters.

More importantly, though, I can’t say I’m at all pleased with the way that nobody is taking the problems of the kids seriously, not even the kids themselves. Names do hurt, and they can and do affect the way children develop. Children internalize the messages you put in front of them, like “Girls aren’t good at math and science,” or, perhaps as we learned with Piemur’s hazing, “The adults won’t intervene until someone gets seriously hurt.” I suspect Nian might also be internalizing “pretty people don’t get picked on,” which is… maladaptive, to put it nicely.

That said, Nian and Neru, so far, sound like actual children and siblings, and are protective of each other, even if nobody else is going to be. So when Flamel lays into Neru again about his obsession with becoming a dragonrider, Nian tries to defend him, although Flamel doesn’t treat her as a serious threat. He does treat Orla’s threat to reveal that he picks on them because he has a crush on Nian seriously, and beats a hasty retreat before it can actually be said aloud. “I pick on you because I like you” is another trope of childhood I despise, but thankfully this is the only time it gets used.

As the kids head in for their lessons, we find out that not only is Orla pretty, she’s a fairly skilled weaver and appears to be the only child that might be considered for an Artist’s Hall, which we haven’t seen exist since Hall Domaize all the way back in time. Apparently they survived? Or maybe were revived in the AIVAS times? But now Orla’s starting to look like a perfect person, which might set some teeth on edge if she weren’t a secondary character.

Before the lessons can get started, though, there’s a wild clamor that dragons have come on Search to Lado Hold, and so the children are lined up as prospective candidates for the blue and green riders to examine. There’s one man (R’ditk) on the blue and two women (Sarty and Conna) on the greens, further confusing the time this story takes place, but suggesting it’s at least past the point where Mirrim has impressed Path, or it’s on the revised timeline where there have always been green women riders and nobody actually noticed until it was pointed out.

In either case, there’s a good crop from Lado Hold – Orla and Chaum are picked up straight out, and while everyone hopes that both twins are selected, the initial foray looks like Nian will go and Neru won’t. This distresses Nian, because if that holds she’ll “have deserted him [Neru] and stolen his dream all in the same moment.” Nian is not having that.

Her change of opinion is enough that Oswith calls Conna in for a consultation.

She is very strong! Oswith told her rider. I can hear her, Conna. But she will not go without him.
Remaining at Oswith’s side, Conna looked at the twins.
“What is your name?” she asked Nian.
“Neru and Nian,” the twins chorused in unison.
[…Neru goes through the same despair Nian did…]
“Have you ever been separated from each other?” Sarty asked, startling everyone.
“No, rider Sarty,” Neru replied.
“We’re just better together at everything,” Nian added stoutly.

The riders point out that the dragons have only really been interested in Nian, distressing Palla, the twins’ mother. The riders also say that it’s customary to ask the Lord and at least one parent for permission to take the children on Search, which I don’t remember being part of the process at all. There were some mentions of people who had been held back from it, but that sounded more like Lords or parents who were adamant their child had other plans, rather than denying a request made in the first place.

Seeing the possibility that they might be separated and Neru’s dream crushed, Nian comes up with a gem of an Indy Ploy to postpone the separation and asks if Neru can accompany her as family to the hatching, since it’s unlikely anyone else from Lado Hold will make it.

Conna paused a moment and looked at her dragon, lost in a telepathic conversation.
The boy is strong but his twin shields him from me, Oswith said to her rider. I cannot see his potential clearly. Perhaps he should come along as a candidate, too.
“Oswith is undecided about Neru as a candidate, but we will bring him with us regardless,” Conna said finally. Both twins let out their breath in a rush. “Never fear, Nian, your brother will remain with you until the Hatching. There is, however, no guarantee that any of those selected on Search will Impress; the hatchlings make that decision.”

And since we have yet to have a story where a viewpoint character actually failed to get a dragon, we still don’t know what happens if they don’t actually Impress.

Also, Oswith had mentioned not a few paragraphs earlier that Nian wasn’t going to come without Neru. Oswith was very certain about Nian’s potential. Yet that same potential is interfering with Oswith evaluating Neru. I’m a bit surprised that nobody went, “Well, shoot, this one has to come with us with that kind of potential, so we should totally go along with this idea she’s floating.” Oswith and Conna seem much more ambivalent about the whole matter than I would have expected, since they discovered such a strong potential in Nian.

There is a flurry of packing and goodbyes, and we find that Nian is still firmly in the camp of “Neru has to become a dragonrider,” even if she’s less certain about her own prospects. When they arrive as candidates at the Weyr, as part of the tour and explanation, there’s something that makes me wonder if becoming a rider, or even getting Searched for it, is something that people aspire to for mundane reasons as well as religious and majestic ones:

“There’s always something to eat for hungry riders. We keep klah, soup, and porridge warm all day and all night.” She pointed to a hearth at the far end of the cavern where, indeed, pots sat at the back, keeping warm. “And fresh bread when it’s ready.”
Ru grinned at his sister. He was always hungry, now that he was growing tall and filling out his bones. Pretty soon he’d be taller than Nian.

Coming from a place where a bad harvest or a bad catch might mean starvation, to be told there was infinite food available might make someone scheme to figure out how to stay at a Weyr even if they never Impressed. Instead, we get a joke about the neverending appetite of teenage boys, and the tour continues, where the candidates get shown where they will be staying while they wait.

She pointed to the curtained passage that led to the baths and necessaries.
“And we expect everyone living in the Weyr to be clean for breakfast and dinner every day.

So not only is there infinite food, but indoor bathing and toiletries. Perhaps a Lord Holder’s child wouldn’t be impressed by this, but there’s a lot more excitedness about choosing one’s alcove than there is at the fact that for at least a little while, all of these people are going to be fed, housed, and can care for themselves with extravagance.

After the tour, and a snack, the Weyrlingmaster, H’ran, introduces himself and runs through how the candidates know if a dragon is theirs, and also many of the common dangers associated with dragonets finding their match. He shows them the barracks, and then the eggs themselves, as several of the unprepared do the “Hatching dance” on the hot sand. They go amongst the eggs, and we’re introduced to Robina, the Masterfarmer’s daughter, who will be taking on the role of the designated stuck up snob, who believes she was promised the queen egg. After the candidates meet the eggs some, H’ran gathers them to help out with necessary chores, like changing the dressings on dragons that were hurt in the most recent Threadfall. The twins get on with C’tic and Brith, helping peel and replace the dressings on the dragon with speed and a good touch.

And then someone faints, and we are reminded that dragonriders are not good people.

To one side of the infirmary, one of the other riders exclaimed in dismay, “Shards. We’ve got another fainter. Someone get me a cold compress while I brush the sand off her; she certainly hit the dirt with a bang!”
Neru peered around those gathered to assist the fainter and he chuckled. “It’s the girl in blue, Ni,” he said with a little smirk. “The one who fancied your egg.”
“There’s usually one who’s not good with wounds,” C’tic said. “Has someone brought the restorative? That one will make a fine rider!” His tone was sarcastic.
“You’d think she’d be used to injured animals, being the Masterfarmer’s daughter,” Nian murmured to her brother.
“Now, she can’t help the way she is,” Neru said with considerably more charity than his sister expressed, “even if she was promised the gold.”
“I’d pity the gold,” Nian replied.

The author really has a problem with women who exist outside a fairly narrow band of possible personalities. And tends to use other women to deride them, so as to set up minimum solidarity between the women against their hostile world.

Neru is also right – some people faint at the sight of blood, and perhaps Robina’s dragon is much more messed up than Brith. But given that the narrative already shamed a queen rider for vertigo and for getting fat, it’s at least consistent in being terrible about possible queen rider ailments.

Brith also gives the twins a thrill by responding directly to them when Neru asks a question. Neru thinks it might be a sign of legitimacy, and Nian lets on again that the twins might share a telepathic bond of their own.

“And you can always hear them?” Nian asked. “I can usually hear my twin brother–especially if he’s in trouble.”
“Ah, I thought you two looked alike.”
“Oh, we’re not completely alike,” Nian said. “Neru’s much stronger and smarter. He’ll make a splendid dragonrider.”
“You both will,” C’tic surprised her by saying.
“How do you know that?”
“My dragon told me so,” C’tic said, and his smile was kind, not teasing.

After finishing the changing of bandages, the twins all of they can help again. Brith takes the opportunity to suggest that Nian might find a good career as a dragon healer. Nian is surprised by the suggestion, but the dinner bell rings before there’s any explanation on why Nian is startled.

We also finally get an acknowledgement of how different the situation at the Weyr is compared to Lado Hold.

“Hey, this is great food,” Neru said after he took his first heaping forkful.
“It’s meat, you mean,” Nian said, teasing her brother.
“Makes a great change from all that fish,” Neru replied, selecting yet another slice from the platter in the center of the table.
“Just don’t make a pig of yourself here,” she added in a low tone so no one else would hear her. “We’ve never gone hungry, you know, and we must uphold the honor of Lado Hold.”
“Humph,” Neru grunted and gestured around the table where the other candidates were equally as diligent in reducing the contents of the various serving dishes. “Tell that to the others.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Nian said with great dignity.

Yes, this is worth mentioning – I’d bet most of the candidates have had to deal with scarcity and hunger, and I’d bet almost all of them have not had meat except for very special occasions. Because herdbeasts and milchbeasts are extremely resource-intensive, and if nobody can put a sharp stone, stick, or arrowhead through the brain of a wherry at distance, it’s grains, roots, crops, maybe fruit, and maybe fish for your diet. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the candidates have an adverse reaction to having that much meat in a single meal to process, because their bodies have not gotten used to it from having a meat-rich diet.

Nian also acknowledges the oddity of having a Harper/singer in the Weyr playing regularly, since the Hold Harper only performs intermittently and it’s a special occasion when he does.

And they both grin at the perpetual availability of hot water as they decide they want a bath before others think about it when dismissed for the night. I think they’re at least peripherally aware that Weyr life is several steps up from Hold life, but they’re not acting like they’ve been transported up to a standard of living that would be nearly inconceivable.

Nian’s bath and shampoo brings back a memory of asking why her mother married, if she doesn’t like fish, which nets a very practical answer: they loved each other, the husband had land, even if she didn’t know it was going to smell of fish, and he could provide food for everyone, even if it is just fish for dinner (although he also apparently spends significantly to put some beef on the table on occasion). Nian could look forward to some or none of those things in her arranged marriage.

Robina interrupts the memories by angrily demanding when Nian’s going to be done, since she was first in, and then insults her as a “…twinling from a fish hold. I suppose it’s as well if we let you get really clean.” Which provokes Nian to point out that Robina must really need to clean all the sand out of her hair (from fainting), and then Orla tells Robina to stop nagging, and Robina stomps off, which conveniently (but not intentionally) gives Nian the opportunity to give her bathroom to one of the other girls waiting, which sets Robina off even more, but Nian is moving away from that space and can’t hear any more of it.

After a bit to herself, Orla asks to come in and talk with Nian. They start with Robina. Orla focuses on how she’s never seen a Master’s daughter be so arrogant. Nian focuses on how pretty she is in a single line before talking about how she fainted and how that has to count against her. Then they both admit that the wounds they saw on the dragons were “stomach-churning”.

Cocowhat by depizan

I guess I’m unreasonable in expecting that might elicit sympathy instead of scorn, like it did for Debera when the boys were confronted with the reality of having to carve their own dragon food.

The conversation between Orla and Nian ends with Orla desperately wishing for Nian’s straight hair (which makes me immediately want to picture Orla as Black in a world without proper hair care products) and Nian saying she wouldn’t want straight hair if she had it.

Since the hatching starts next, we’ll take a break and pick back up next week.

The Skies of Pern: Ramifications

Last time, a night spent under the stars turned into an all-out brawl between Zaranth, Golanth, their riders, and a horde of big cats. Zaranth taught the rest of the dragons their telekinesis to get them to help fling the cats away, and Ramoth was able to deflect a killing blow through a snap amount of timing it. All four are resting up as we go to the meeting of the Council, which has much to discuss.

The Skies of Pern, Part 4, Segments II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI: Content Notes: Ablism, Toxic Masculinity, Sexism,

(Telgar Hold, 3.1.31)

Lessa stays the viewpoint character while she and her mate prepare for the suddenly very full council meeting, having to discuss an attack on the Printer Hall, a confirmation of a new Lord Holder, a different attack on dragons, and the proposal to make the Dragonriders of Pern into the Astronomers of Pern. There’s a nice detail about the “Telgar shield of white, bright red, and medium blue” to remind us that heraldry is still very much alive and well in this world.

Larad gets the elevator version of what happened, and Lessa stresses that the knowledge that has been used to heal everyone has a significant AIVAS component to it, so that anyone listening would get the hint. Lessa also notes the dragons have a significant color improvement to themselves, and is as gracious as she can manage when Larad’s wife, Lady Dulsay, suggests that it’s a burden to be at the council meeting instead of taking care of her son.

Also let slip, in a discussion of how Lord Sangel, all his sons, as well as several others of his line, all died in a plague, is that the Healer Hall has and has been using vaccinations! Presumably not in quite the same way they figured it out in Moreta, but that’s still a significant advance in medicine.

When the local-to-Telgar Weyrleaders arrive, Lessa asks if Larad and Dulsay have met them.

“Oh, yes. They arrived the very next day,” and Lessa was surprised to see Lady Dulsay blush. “Most respectful to let us know how the Weyrleadership had been decided.”
“Good of them to be prompt to introduce themselves,” Lessa said, suppressing a desire to grin. Why was it that holders were invariably embarrassed by mating flights? It wasn’t as if Dulsay and Larad hadn’t been very much attached to each other when they had formally wed.

As a characterization bit, this is useful for showing how much Lessa had internalized dragonrider values in the decades since she came to the Weyr from her hold. I don’t think it’s quite as nice, though, that it suggests dragonrider values don’t think all that hard about even the obvious consequences of their actions. Everything we’ve been told so far about Hold culture mirrors a lot of what Latin Chtistendom’s values were. They’re focused on making sure the Bloodlines stay (relatively) pure, that marriages are to political advantage, and that property rights can easily and cleanly be passed on to the next generation of nobles. To achieve this, sex has to be heavily regulated and controlled. (Which is what Dunca’s function was at the Healer Hall – a chaperone to try and make sure the marriage-eligible daughters of Holders didn’t become ineligible by having a fling with a passing Harper.) Right next door, however, are the anarchic hedonists that they pay tribute to. Dragonriders own no property (at least, while they’re in active service), have a small amount of military ranking as their social structure, and every so often, as the lusts of themselves or their dragons consume them, they participate in free sex with no regard to rank or Bloodline. They even decide who is in charge by sex. Furthermore, there’s a high probability that the holders have experienced those powerful sexual urges by proxy thanks to being close enough to a mating flight flying overhead. If they extrapolate that dragons and/or riders feel like that much of the time, you can imagine what a Holder might conclude is what goes on in a Weyr much of the time. And that’s without knowing whether the new Weyrleaders were being deliberately graphic to induce embarrassment in the prudes or not. Even people who know the mechanics of sex, and may have even had a significant portion of it themselves might be embarrassed if they heard or saw something pornographic (or a sex act) in a public. Or if they were suddenly all-consumed with lust, and when they came back to themselves, they were naked in a field and had very clearly had sex with whomever had been nearest to them at the time the lust started. So there are lots of reasons to be embarrassed.

The meeting itself gets underway fairly easily, but Toric is immediately ready to try and disrupt it by claiming he got no news of the attacks by the felines. Nobody wants to back him up on this complaint, and so he sits down. Larad is ready to start the agenda with the matter of confirming a new Holder at Southern Boll, but Kashman, the Lord where the Printer Hall is situated, wants to discuss the “anarchic behavior[…]of Lord Jaxom, Weyrleader N’ton, and Masterprinter Tagetarl who arbitrarily exiled twelve people alleged to be Abominators” first. Groghe reminds everyone present about what they’ve already agreed to, but it takes Sebell projecting his voice above the brewing argument before anyone feels like paying attention. Toric tries to get out of having to follow the agenda, but he doesn’t have as many allies as he thinks.

“Why don’t you just agree to the girl and let us get to the real issues?” Toric demanded.
“But she’s a woman!” Kashman protested. “There hasn’t been a Lady Holder, except in a temporary capacity for…”
“Not since Lady Sicca ran Ista,” Groghe said. “My grandfather had great respect for her. For that matter, all of us here, bar you who are new come to the Council honors,” and Groghe emphasized that, “know that Lady Marella’s been running Boll for the past five Turns since Sangel began to deteriorate. Lady Janissian has been her steward and she certainly proved her worth during the Fireball Flood. Those cousins of hers removed themselves and their belongings to high ground and stayed there without lifting a finger. Neither of them should hold.”
“For that matter,” Lessa said, “Emily Boll held those lands in her own right. As I see it, that Holdership has come full circle and about time.”
Lady Dulsay, Adrea, Master Ballora, and Palla were bold enough to second her.

Bargen of High Reaches (who has turned out to be Lord post-Fax after all) insists on the Council considering other male relatives of Sangel’s, but each of them is found deficient nearly immediately, and Toric irritably asks for a vote so they can get on with the meeting. While the votes are being cast and collected, we learn something we’ve always suspected, but hasn’t actually been confirmed until now.

“Holding began with Paul Benden. There’s nothing wrong with Fort’s Bloodline. But that form of inheritance is not in the Charter, you know.”
[The Benden Weyrleader] regarded [Lessa] in mild surprise. “No, actually, it isn’t. Holders and all those traditions came later.”

And those traditions managed to not only come in conflict with the Charter, they buried that Charter until it was unearthed with the AI. For as much as this timeline would like you to believe that the Charter has always been with Pern, there’s only a few ways where the vassalage system could have grown out of the Randian pastoral paradise envisioned by the colonists. Suppression of said Charter is one of the easiest.

Janissian is confirmed and invited to sit at the table, at a gathering hosted by Larad. How much Thella must be fuming from the afterlife, and even more so that there was an installed Lady Holder within the living memory of the Council members, by the brother that she was passed over for. Thella should have had her hearing, by rights, and at least have been formally removed from consideration for some reason, rather than been told “lol no, no girls allowed.” because there were other men in the line that would have had precedence over Janissian by rights of primogeniture.

Of course, if any of Sangel’s sons had survived, this conversation would not be happening, because then they could just confirm him, regardless of how God an administrator he would be, because son and Bloodlines.

I hope Janissian manages to pass her Holdership to her daughter.

Then the meeting turns to the business at the Printer Hall, and Kashman wants to know why the accused were not brought to him for justice. Lytol and Sebell remind him that Crafthalls are autonomous, and since the offense happened in a Crafthall, they do not have to defer to the local Lord Holder. Kashman wonders how people from so very far away were in the right place to pass judgment, which betrays that Kashman doesn’t know enough about fire-lizard messages, yet. Bargen closes the rhetorical door in Kashman’s face by pointing out the precedent already in place and that the correct procedure was followed for exile, then requests to move on to the topic of keeping the skies clear. The Benden Weyrleader begins to present the recommendations, to Toric’s (and a few others) outrage at being taxed more, before the dragons outside roar and restore order that way. Fandarel points out his Hall can’t make the telescopes needed, but withdraws his concern when told they’ll use the ones in the Catherine Caves. Jaxom and Larad point out they’ve already started the work on building their observatory spots, the entire council is abuzz about the Western Continent site, and the Benden Weyrleader sets Toric up to ask all the right questions about how the dragonriders will be able to support themselves, either with holds or by joining the Star Hall, in the After, and that lets the Benden Weyrleader point out that the dragons have a new tool in their box that they can use to divert objects that get too close to Pern for comfort. The rest of the council votes to approve and supply the idea, much to Toric’s aggravation. The rest of the segment is Toric wandering the grounds for an arranged meeting with Dorse that never happens, but Fifth is there and stands in his place. We learn that Toric is also curious about the circumstances of the deaths of Robinton and AIVAS, but the narrative cuts away to Honshu without revealing any details of the meeting.

Thankfully, it’s Tai (3.01.31) recovering that they’re focusing on, and Tai is getting significantly annoyed that everyone keeps treating her like she can’t do anything. However, she’s getting taken on a tour to see everyone else (not by walking herself, which would be too much strain, but being carried from place to place), in the order of Golanth’s rider, who seems cheered by her presence, Golanth, who still has a lot of healing to do, and Zaranth, who took the lightest damage and is healing very well. The other people there cheerfully admit that they’re taking Tai on the tour because both Golanth and his rider will believe Tai if she says that she’s seen the other and they’re getting stronger and recovering, which is an important part of both of them getting stronger and recovering. Her tour complete, Tai sits at the bronze rider’s side while the narrative shifts over to other places.

As it turns out, not every dragon has the knack for telekinesis, and those that do definitely lack the fine control needed to move things safely by themselves. In pairs they seem to be able to exert the necessary control, but it’s essentially learning how to cut paper into art when your life has been swinging sledgehammers. Plenty of not-dragonriders are hard at work setting up the new observatory sites. Plenty of others are trying to assemble everything they know about dragons. When the narrative hops back to Honshu, the focus is still on healing the dragons and riders.

Eventually Tai hits her limit of peopleing and heads out to be by herself for a time, slipping away from the very attentive medics while the other rider and dragon sleep. Her choice of a swim means a pod of dolphins comes by and clicks and plays and asks questions and eventually surround Tai as she sleeps in the ocean. When she comes back, she discovers Golanth’s rider out of bed and trying to get to his dragon. Eventually, and with help from Zaranth, Tai helps undo the stitches holding Golanth’s eye closed, so it will stop itching. And, as it turns out, Golanth has a small amount of sight in the damaged eye, which makes his rider, and Tai, weep with joy. Zaranth helps deposit the two back into bed, so they don’t have to walk all the way back, and the two of them talk about Tai’s adventure and have a peaceful sleep together.

At least, until they get discovered, but right before that, there’s the first time we see on page that someone offers Tai a choice. I don’t know if it’s because the Honshu Weyrholder is now “a far cry from the dashing, blithe, youthful Benden Wingleader” due to his injuries, or that he’s finally realizing what’s gone on in Tai’s life about choosing, and the ways he’s also contributed to her trauma and their injuries, but finally, he asks her consent.

“I’m going to insist that we occupy this room from now on. It’s big enough so you won’t be bashing into me. You’re a quiet sleeper anyway. I don’t think you moved all night.”
“They have to be somewhere,” they heard Keita shouting.
“That is, if it’s your choice, Tai?”
For a split second–wanting to throw her arms about him in an excess of relief–he didn’t know where it was safe to embrace him. So she demurely rubbed her head against his left shoulder. “I choose. I choose you in any condition and any way I get to choose you.”

I’m not fully sure this is a free choice, because Tai still has trauma to work through, but this is definitely the most consensual the Honshu Weyrholder, or any other dragonrider, for that matter, has been about whether or not their mates get to choose the relationship. It doesn’t erase the previous terrible everything, but it could be, with a lot of work, the foundation of a good relationship.

There’s a little more of affection and application of healing salves and suggestions that the Honshu Weyrholder get out and swim some himself, and a short bit of how being telekinetically moved by the dragons is much more teleportation rather than telekinetics, but essentially, it’s happy making up time for those two/four.

Which means the narrative can move forward and return to the subject that it started with – Shankolin, son of Norist, who now has the backing of Toric to go observe and plan the destruction of the Admin building at Landing. Which is a terrible idea if you’re Toric, but it’s also possible that Toric has been backing and bankrolling the faction since its inception, through intermediaries such as Dorse. If there’s ever evidence that can be traced back to Toric, like the notes that he’s personally written to get Shankolin in to see the remains of AIVAS, he’s sunk as a Lord, and likely on his way to exile as well. But Toric’s hat seems to be having ambitions that are way beyond his ability to execute, as well as routinely thinking himself the smartest in the room.

Shankolin, as he passes by Monaco Bay, dismisses the story of dolphins ringing the bell due to his inland upbringing. As if the narrative needed to establish again that he’s pretty resistant to new ideas. Arriving at Landing, he meets with his contact, who turns out to be Master Esselin, and Toric is apparently calling in favors with Esselin to get him to help Shankolin. Esselin destroys and buries the note Shankolin gave him from Toric and leads the Luddite leader into the AIVAS chamber, even as Shankolin recoils from things like lights that come on at dawn and an archive full of books. He’s plotting explosive destruction for the whole complex when he arrives at the AIVAS chamber and strides over the threshold to see the terminated computer.

That was as far as Shankolin got. From the opposite wall of the chamber two narrow shafts of light struck him on the chest at heart height. He was dead before he fell backward.

Not that we don’t appreciate a good deus ex machina, but praytell, if AIVAS is deactivated, then who’s running an upgraded defense protocol that can recognize someone from before and apply lethal force? Thankfully, after Lytol and D’ram arrive to see what happened, they speculate that AIVAS didn’t fully turn itself off, and that things like the self-defense protocols were still active, and recognized Shankolin as a threat. Pinch is notified and comes to confirm the death.

Pinch hoped it took a long while before Lord Toric realized that Fifth, too, was no longer available. Now, if he could just find Fourth and neutralize her, they might forget about Abominators.
Esselin did not recover from the shock he had received and died a few days later of a hemorrhage in the brain. Or so the Healer at Landing said. The incident was forgotten as quickly as possible and Tunge soon resumed his duty of keeping the Aivas Chamber neat and tidy.

And thank you for that chilling reminder of how easy it is for Our Heroes to be every bit as ruthless as their opponents. Since Pinch knows that Toric is involved, I’m surprised he hasn’t met a convenient end, like Esselin did. No doubt the Healer responsible did everything he could to save the Master who had been caught assisting an enemy of Pern. Brrrr.

The narrative leaves us on that beat to go back to Honshu, where a smart carpenter suggests building a ramp for Golanth to get up and down from while his wing continues to not be functional, and there’s a laugh about asking how much the dragon weighs. The ramp gets built, and in the noise of that, people have enlarged the beasthold to be a big enough weyr for Golanth to get in away from the rain, and that triggers the realization in his rider that their days of being dragonriders are over, and had been since the attack. And the realization that a grounded Golanth won’t be able to mate, either. The Benden Weyrleaders, arriving from conveniently off-screen, point out the problem of getting Golanth aloft is easily solvable when you have telekinetic dragons. Which allows him to squelch the bad mood and enjoy his dragon’s joy. Tai also reaffirms her choosing of the rider, to put the cherry on top of this sundae.

And the narrative flits away again to Southern Hold (3.23.31), because Toric is still a loose end. And it’s receiving a shipment of canines from a handler that identifies himself as Pinch. Said canines are muzzled, but also trained to hand and voice signals. Toric thinks they’ll be great to have his sons train, and maybe keep a pair for himself as guard dogs. And then ruminates, after a Runner tells him there’s no messages for him, about how Fifth kept his organization too secret to be discovered, how Dorse was worth every bit of his salary to cause trouble, that Kashman might be a useful ally against Jaxom, and that Esselin hasn’t given him any other messages.

He then notices Fourth is here to meet with him, and Pinch observes the two of them talking, stays a bit to help the sons train the dogs, then leaves instructions and sketches with Sintary before returning to the Harper Hall.

Back to Honshu, where the bronze rider seems to be settling in well…when he’s not thinking about all the things he can’t do now.

The facts that he would never lead a wing again and that Golanth might never fly Zaranth. That he didn’t like–especially since Zaranth was a young dragon and would need a good male to keep her company. He, [bronze rider], certainly didn’t wish to share Tai with another rider–any other male. She enjoyed being with him now, relaxed, eager, and he wasn’t going to have her response to him destroyed by some heavy-handed rider with no sensitivity for her marvelous, intricate personality.

I don’t know whether to classify this as progress or not. He seems to have finally made it to the spot where he considers consent to be important, as well as the part where both partners should enjoy themselves, but he’s still thinking of Tai as his to share or not share as he decides, which is still very wrong and makes me worry what he’ll be like if Tai and/or Zaranth take a fancy or want a fling with someone else. Not that the author or the narrative would allow it, since Tai is supposed to be the reward received for leveling up his humanity to his point.

The bronze rider does find inspiration from other sources, though.

Abruptly, another revelation occurred to him. Lytol, with his scarred and seamed face! He has been dragonless for Turns, ever since his brown Larth has died in a routine training flight at Benden: a training flight during which R’gul had allowed his dragon the chance to chew firestone and flame. Only Larth had caught flame in the face and so had Lytol. The dragon had managed to land his gravely wounded rider with the last breath in him. That should have been the end of the rider, as a person–a dragonless man.
Tradition said dragonless riders suicided rather than live without their dragon. But Lytol had defied that convention and had become far more than a dragonrider. He had been a Lord Holder for Jaxom’s minority; he had then turned his hand to help Master Robinton and D’ram to manage Landing as a major Hold to the satisfaction of everyone involved. Now, Lytol and D’ram, in addition to bearing blind Wansor company, had accepted yet another role for which they were unusually qualified: as wise consultants for the complex society of the planet. Briefly [he] wondered, even as his soul cringed at the thought: would he have had the courage to build a new life-lives, in fact–as Lytol had done, if Golanth had succumbed to his injuries?
[He] gave a snort of disgust for his self-absorption. The time he had wasted. As Tai had said, there would be a way. Lytol had made several, and the example of the man’s quiet heroism rebuked him.

Okay, almost inspiration. Or what passes for inspiration when filtered heavily through toxic masculinity, anyway. I’d bet the bronze rider would get a very different picture if he actually talked to Lytol about all of it. But he has to get over himself first, as when he has a setback later on, this is how his thought process goes:

“I forgot the cane,” he said through clenched teeth. The euphoria of his ride here on Golanth instantly dissipated. He glanced across the sands to the Hold, a long walk for a man with a lame leg. He did not want to fall on his face in front of Lytol or D’ram. How humiliating that would be. He was still incapacitated. His dragon was still injured. He would never again be what he had once been: the carefree self-indulgent bronze Wingleader from Benden Weyr!

So there’s still a lot of work to be done about accepting who you are now.

Before he has to think too hard about all of it, though, a set of dragons arrive to practice their lifting of Golanth and to see if he can handle the hyperspace hop. Which he can. And then we get Lessa reflecting on her son’s life, and the terrible possibility that it might have ended with the attack, and a short conversation with the Benden Weyrleader about the Luddite faction, where we hear yet more of how Our Heroes think about them.

“Such people are afraid of what they don’t understand, won’t understand. So they pretend to despise and reject it since they can’t and won’t understand. They retaliate by defiance and witless destruction. And claim they’re acting on behalf of people and for reasons those people don’t understand either. It may just be a sign of our changing times. And life on our planet is indeed changing.”
“For the better?” she murmured.
He tipped her head up with one finger and lightly kissed her lips. “Definitely for the better.”

And if you’re part of the upper economic stratum, yeah, things are getting better on Pern. But there’s all those people who aren’t, and they can see how new technologies can be harnessed to enslave them even further. Those people aren’t getting any consideration at all, and it’s unsurprising that they turn to destruction as a way of getting their voices heard. It doesn’t work, with the deck so stacked against them, but it’s one way of trying. I think the next several waves will not be about destruction but subversion. Perhaps a sympathetic Printer will run off a few copies of the equivalent of the 95 Theses and let them spread around. Maybe the Runners will join in as soon as they find out that radio will replace them fairly soon. There are plenty of people who might join up because they see the writing on the wall and they’re tired of enriching the few. I’m waiting for the book where the general population of Pern is in open rebellion.

After this reflection, the bronze rider and his dragon are conveyed to Cove Hold by telekinesis. It turns out that the dragon can handle the hyperspace part by himself at least, although the dismount of the rider is pretty rough, and the aforementioned long walk, where he’s supported by Tai in an unobtrusive way. Which helps him realize the way he is going to have to order his life now – with support from others. The components for remote control of the Honshu telescope are ready for transport, and the bronze rider asks if he can properly study astronomy so as to have work to do at Honshu for the rest of the Fall and After. Then there’s a long explanation to Erragon and Wansor about dragon telekinesis and the suspicion that AIVAS wanted the dragons to push the wandering planet out of orbit, and the possibility that the cometary disaster could have been averted with a push to change its own orbit before impact. (Time-traveling dragons, we note, could avert the whole thing, but I guess we’re supposed to not question what would happen if they did do any of the things they’ve speculated about changing in history.) They ask for a northern array of weather satellites to help feed telemetry to the Yokohama, and point out that dragons can now lift things into orbit without an issue and can help position them, at least for the fifteen minutes they can hold their breath. And that’s the end of the book.

So we’re rapidly headed toward a story of Schizo Tech kind of world, where the peasants have to work the ground by hand and the elites will have radio technology and weather satellites at their disposal. I can’t see that diminishing the appeal of the Luddite faction any, especially as the disparities become more obvious.

Also, we’re hurtling pretty close to the point where stories about dragonriders are going to lose their appeal. There won’t be any more Thread, it’s unlikely dragons are going to corner the market on transport, and astronomy is only exciting when there’s something bearing down on the planet. But even then, the dragons can just move it away. What happens now?

There’s apparently one more short story before we get to that answer.

The Skies of Pern: Forward the Future

Last time, it was proposed and adopted that dragonriders would take up the mantle of sky-watch when there was no more Thread to fight, and that three new sites for telescopes would be established so as to provide continuous coverage and observation of the sky, to spot the next celestial problem before it arrived.

And Tai continued to no longer show the signs of trauma, as if by magic.

The Skies of Pern, Part 4, Segment I: Content Notes:

(Honshu Weyrhold, 2.26.31 and 2.27.31)

This segment starts with Tai, who is overwhelmed at the fact that she got to talk, and people supported her points, and mentioned how much help she had been. As if, say, she was a valued, smart person instead of being seen solely as a green rider for others to let their sexual frustrations out on.

There’s also the requisite Mirrim-bashing:

When Mirrim would have marched her off to the kitchen, [the Honshu Weyrholder] had kept her by his side, to explain to the younger Weyrleaders how they established the scan, set the remote imager for timed exposures, and how to determine the significance of the images and why so many exposures of the night sky were required. Palla seemed almost as overwhelmed by the company she was in as Tai, and the two exchanged sympathetic glances. Palla was the only other young dragonrider who understood the immediate task.
Then [the Honshu Weyrholder] issued the invitation for those interested to adjourn to Honshu. And eleven riders and dragons had flown to the weyrhold. That had been the heady part, especially with Mirrim present–showing off the observatory and bringing up images of the minor planets above the horizon.
[…reactions to the information are varied…]
Mirrim pretended interest but Tai was aware of get restlessness, so when she offered to find out what there was to eat in the weyrhold, [the Honshu Weyrholder] hold her by all means to find it and serve it up. He snagged Tai by the hand.
“She knows where everything is–” [he] murmured in her ear and paused significantly, “in the kitchen. Let her.”
Revived by baskets of bread, cheese, fruit, cold river fish, meat, and klah that Mirrim served, the spontaneous first session of Astronomy for Weyrleaders–as [he] jokingly called it–went on till well after Rigel had set.

I have some questions about this setting. Tai, for one, seems to have spontaneously inherited everyone else’s distaste for Mirrim, I don’t think the narrative has done nearly enough to establish the idea that Tai actively enjoys spitting Mirrim. What we have seen in terms of actual confrontation is Mirrim getting on Tai’s case about saving objects instead of people, and Tai seemed cowed by it, instead of resentful or defiant.

Second, in a gathering full of Weyrleaders, Master Crafters, and so forth, I can’t see any of the really high-ranking people calling time out so they can help in the kitchen. I can see Mirrim asking Tai for help, because they’re the low-ranking riders and kitchen detail always goes faster when you have help. I’m sure there were many snide remarks not noted in the narrative about how Mirrim is only good for the kitchens. In a world where people are polite to each other, instead of the terribly classist way that Pern is, Mirrim would ask Tai for help in the kitchen, someone else would note that Tai has important expertise in the subject at hand, and could someone else volunteer to help Mirrim? Or at least call a break so that everyone can help in the kitchen and make some food.

That, of course, doesn’t happen, and we get a telling reprise where Mirrim is getting impatient (possibly from a lack of understanding, since I don’t remember Mirrim being present for any of the science classes) and Tai is told specifically not to help Mirrim in the kitchen, in a way that I’m reading has heavy overtones of “that arrogant bitch needs to be put back in her place, in the kitchen, where she belongs.” I might wonder why Mirrim hasn’t poisoned a few people, if this is the consistent treatment she gets. (Because the people that succeed the terrible people might be even worse, I know.)

Also tellingly, Tai is the one cleaning up after the food and is directed, after she insists that she can take the stairs, that instead she will “have enough time to put the kitchen to rights after Mirrim’s been messing in it and then we’ll both take a quick swim in the river”, a thing that Tai points out (mentally) in the next sentence is effective manipulation of her. Because she apparently enjoys being told what to do and to get back into the kitchen.

Which she might! But there’s been no presumption of equality at all in any of her relationships in her life, so we can’t say for certain that Tai actually would do these things if she had free choice not to. The kitchen itself turns out to be another opportunity to bash Mirrim.

All the lights were on and most of the cupboards left half ajar. There was rather more of a mess to clean up than shed’ve thought. Had Mirrim done this on purpose? No, Talina had been with her; Talina night be indolent but she wasn’t spiteful. Mirrim still didn’t believe her about the pelts.

I am again entirely unsure why there is so much written cattiness into Tai at this point. It clashes strongly with the reserved and generally amiable person we’ve seen before. We’re supposed to like Tai and cheer for her, and we haven’t seen all that much of a personality that enjoys these kinds of games and negging. And yet, when Mirrim gets involved, it’s a near-universal negative opinion of Mirrim that overrides everything.

I wonder why the kitchen was left in such disarray. It could be spite, but it could equally be that the guests were calling down harassment of the kitchen demanding their food faster than it could be prepared, and there was no actual time to clean up before everyone had to leave for the night. Maybe Talina sniffed at the idea of cleaning up after herself, having “graciously” deigned to help Mirrim, and Mirrim wasn’t having the idea of cleaning it all up herself. (And maybe hoped that Tai would find a way to get the other resident of Honshu to do the cleanup, since he partook of the food.)

As things are, the humans and dragons take a wash in the river and lay down to sleep in their exhaustion, with Tai wondering

Why was it that the tenderest of his kisses affected her more than the passionate ones–which she enjoyed, too? It was his tenderness toward her that undid her most.

Perhaps, Tai, it is because you have been starved for actual affection from anyone, repeatedly traumatized, and are now clinging to the one person who has shown a modicum of care and affection to you. You can do so much better than him, objectively speaking, but I’m not judging you on the decision to go and get as much of what you have been missing for so long. I am judging him for using manipulation tactics to make you cling to him more, rather than giving you the space and support you need to find effective coping for your traumas.

The plot moves forward by putting the two riders and their dragons in the middle of a surprise feline attack, with Tai waking up right before it starts. By Zaranth flinging one of the cats away telepathically. The cats are numerous enough that they cause damage to the dragons almost immediately.

Golanth’s rider flings the blankets off quickly and sufficiently enough that Tai gets tangled in them (and is this unable to join the fight immediately), Zaranth tells Golanth that finesse is not needed for the felines, the narrative points out that since their riders are also in danger, the dragons won’t drop off the felines they have on them in hyperspace, and then Zaranth is basically a one-dragon wrecking crew of getting felines away, but also telekinetically zips Tai to the Honshu Weyrholder’s side, where she gets one hit in by cracking the blanket into the face of one feline and covering the face of another, before she’s pushed down by said Weyrholder and he continues to wrestle with a feline.

And then the dragons appear and start throwing flame indiscriminately around at the felines, much to Tai’s horror. Dragons might take a roasting, she points out in her head, but humans don’t. Zaranth speed-teaches the other dragons on attendance about how to telekinetically toss big cats before there’s one that somehow manages to evade all the defenses and is headed straight for a vulnerable spot that could kill Golanth.

Who then tells the attending dragons to “TIME IT” in such a way that apparently there’s a little bit more time for movement of some sort, and the cat that would have scored a kill shot misses it, still causing damage, before being splatted.

At which point, I say “Wait a minute,” because if you’re going to invoke the time travel power at this point, why not warp back to a point well before the incident begins and clear out the felines before they can attack? We still haven’t yet had a situation where someone has tried to yank the course of observed time off the rails and onto another pathway. And nobody has yet told us what the rules about time travel are, either. We’ve had more than a few situations where we end up with a stable time loop because it turns out that the time travel has always been there, but as far as I know, the other dragons could appear before this even happened and stealthily take them out. If this is the destined timeline, then we need to know why.

As it is, all the dragons and riders are alive, although critically injured and needing significant surgery. Tai wants to see the extent of the damage, but is told fairly forcefully by Lessa and Sharra that she is not going anywhere until she’s done with her own healing. Lessa quips sarcastically about Tai’s reputation as “biddable” before finally convincing her to take a fellis draught and heal.

The narrative then gives us the Benden Weyrleaders fretting about the effects of the attack. Neither Golanth or his rider are likely to return to full capacity, and Lessa is a bit put out that Golanth seems to listen to Zaranth more than Ramoth, which amuses the Benden Weyrleader.

They both go over the sequence of events, of learning the telekinetic “motion” and Ramoth doing a split-second time-and-distance hop to push the last cat away from killing Golanth. (Who yelled about timing it because “Greens don’t know the mechanics of timing it without guidance,” the narrative tells us. Bullshit, says I, because they always talk down about greens, but there’s no evidence to back up my assertion.)

The two have an extended cry over what could have happened today with the attack, and then the two of them get down to the question of dragon abilities.

“The theory has always been that, if we knew the time, we could forestall a–a fatal–accident,” he said in a low, shaky voice, reaching for her hand. “Like Moreta’s death.”
“Theory,” she said with a derisive shrug. She sipped slowly from the cup of water, willing her body to stop shaking. [Golanth’s rider] hadn’t died because Golanth hadn’t died. Golanth hadn’t died because Ramoth had prevented it.
It isn’t theory, Ramoth said, her mental tone tart, I timed it to the exact moment. Golanth showed me just how he had saved [his rider] and himself from being crushed by the tsunami wave. He was most resourceful to act on his own initiative. He learned something important that day and was too tired when he got back to Landing to tell even me. Today, Zaranth showed us how to push without touching. I admit that I had never thought greens could do something so unusual. I saw how she did it. Very clever of her. We two taught the others. But it was I who timed it to save Golanth from that last feline. Only I could have done that.
Lessa managed a shaky little laugh. Only you, my dearest.

Ruth was part of the fighting force, we were told in a part that I skipped over quoting, so not really, Ramoth.

I do admit that today I learned something from a green dragon. Ramoth sounded as chagrined as her rider had ever heard her. I have told the others what Zaranth showed me how to do, how she pushed the felines away, she added calmly. It is a useful skill for all to know.

Which leads into a discussion of AIVAS’s confusion as to why the dragons had not manifested the third tele-skill they were supposed to have, and the logical conclusion that we’ve already arrived at – a sufficiently convinced dragon (or wing thereof) with telekinetic powers could theoretically divert a cosmic object away from planetary impact.

I do want to know, though, when the first organized expedition to find and prevent Moreta’s death will be. There’s enough records to make a good guess as to the when, and a rider deposited at the beginning of the appropriate Pass could probably do some amount of jumping to narrow the field of possibilities and then land at a spot where they could leave records for another rider as to the appropriate day and go from there. But I am still thinking of this time travel item as something more than a useful deus ex machina and as a thing that should/would be used more.

Plot continues as Tai wakes up and Manora gives her the skinny on what’s going on. Tai follows the same line of reasoning and remembrance about why the AI was disappointed, and for once, we finally get a thought about why time travel isn’t used more than it is, from Manora.

“I believe that is the paradox of timing it. [The Benden Weyrleader] said something about causality. The beast had aimed, jumped, and even by timing back, Ramoth could only make the most infinitesimal alteration in the second she had, but she deflected a lethal blow. I gather that there was so much going on at that moment it is miraculous she managed what she did. And this started with a dislike of trundlebugs?”

I think this is the first mention, in all of these books, that there are rules regarding time travel and limits to the amount of monkeying around you can do. Being dragonriders, I suspect this knowledge was gathered by fatal Weyrling accidents. But at least there’s the implication that there are limits and rules and that some dragonriders may even know them.

Mirrim also gets mentioned, because she apparently can’t let the matter of the pelts go:

“Oh, yes, the pelts. Mirrim mentioned those,” and somehow Manora implied that, although Mirrim might be been talking a lot, Manora was not the sort of person who heeded gossip. Tai felt a surge of gratitude for Manora.

I almost have to interpret this as Manora putting on an act for Tai, because as headwoman, I would expect Manora to know just about every bit of gossip there was to know. I think her judgment would be on whether she felt it was worth validating or repeating, not on whether she heeded it. Manora has repeatedly been savvy to interpersonal relationships, though, so she could probably figure out from what Mirrim said that Tai wouldn’t benefit from hearing any of it.

Since Tai has been down, significant time has passed, which makes her panic because she was supposed to be at the council meeting and convincing others to support the astronomer idea. Manora suggests she’s already done more than enough to make everything interesting. Time passes, and Lessa shares some regrets with her headwoman.

“I have never been much of a mothering person,” Lessa admitted quietly to Manora when they shared a pot of klah.
“Why should you have been?” Manora asked mildly. “With you neck deep in Weyr business that only you could manage and every woman quite happy to take care of him? A much more sensible custom than what goes on in holds, Lady Lessa,” Manora replied, “especially for as lively a lad as [her son].”

Wait, what now? The custom of communal raising in the Weyr is more sensible than…the fostering of children to be raised in different households? Is it that Manora feels the day care of the Weyr is better? Or that career-focused women in Weyrs can do better work by not having to take time to raise their children? I could use some clarification here, but none is forthcoming.

Instead, we go outside, where dragons are keeping vigil over the rest and recovery of the two dragons, and Lessa and Ramoth replay the events again, with some amount of green-shaming, and Ramoth comes to the conclusion that the dragons all need practice at this new technique of theirs.

That’s a long segment. We’ll pick up next week with the council meeting.

The Skies of Pern: Reparations

Last time, Tagetarl learned about and received reinforcements for a suspected Luddite strike on his hall. Golanth learned how to move things he wasn’t physically touching, and the Honshu Weyrholder proceeded as if he had obtained actual consent from Tai to begin a relationship with her.

The Skies of Pern: Part 3: Segments IX, X, XI, XII, XIII: Content Notes: Continued Consent Violations,

(Honshu Hold, 2.9.31)

The frame for this segment is that Golanth’s rider has sufficiently gathered equipment and programs to restart the Honshu telescope. He wants Tai to be there when it goes online. Since this segment is from Tai’s point of view, we get some information about what she thinks of the whole affair.

He had a tendency to jump in different directions, as if he enjoyed catching her off-balance. He probably did. She’d thought that, once Golanth had flown Zaranth, [his rider] would disengage from her, perhaps more kindly than others had. In the contrary, he had insisted that she remain at Honshu, that she choose a room of her own–though they mainly shared the large one he preferred, […] He encouraged her to talk about her interest in astronomy and managed to bring texts from the Archives that she was certain Master Esselin did not realize he had borrowed. He was very conscientious about returning them.

Given what Tai has experienced at the hands of other dragonriders, the offer of safety and interest from someone who also likes keeping her off-balance sounds like a proper nightmare. I would expect Tai to be in a fight-flight state about this person that didn’t obtain her consent and is signaling very hard that he wants her to stay with him, possibly with the threat of force to keep her there.

A sparkle in his eye was all the warning she had before he swung her up in his arms and twirled around. She clung to his shoulders, not fearing that he would drop her, but so she had this excuse to touch him. She wasn’t yet accustomed to either his spontaneity or his preference for touching but she was learning to welcome them.

Cocowhat by depizan

Um, no. Given Tai’s past, I would believe “Tai screamed in terror and had a panic attack and/or flashbacks” at being touched with no warning, not “Oh, this is strange yet pleasant.” I don’t care how good the sex supposedly is, it doesn’t magically heal traumas like that.

We’re also supposed to believe that Tai doesn’t see him in any sort of threatening way.

Over the last few sevendays, she had seen few seriously he took responsibilities, exuding an optimism that could fire those around him, and how he never shirked tasks, like the Benini Hold planting, which he could have delegated to another rider. He was certainly not the casual reckless weyrbred lad Mirrim had described.

Except there’s higher-than-chance odds, based on what we saw from the way Golanth’s rider pursued Tai, that it’s not a sense of duty that propels him in these manners.

There’s more flirting and swooning that I still find strongly out of character for Tai, and a discussion about how the felines might be intruding into human spaces again, despite their deterrence efforts like dragon dung/firestone mash concoctions that make the place smell strongly enough of dragons to be discouraging to predators. And more speculation about why Honshu was abandoned, as well as the run of spectacular good fortune that was needed to get all the power generating materials repaired and the components online so that this moment of bringing the telescope back could happen, including the thought that AIVAS might have had a sense of humor (Piemur was certain of it, Jancis was horrified at the concept).

Zaranth also frightens Tai by swooping down out of the sky without warning, encouraged by Golanth to do it and other “bad habits” that Zaranth enjoys.

There’s a lot of “the sincerity of Golanth’s rider makes him endearing to Tai” as they haul in the final components, hook it all up, and run calibration on the scope to make sure it all works appropriately, which it does. The narrative is trying very hard to make us not think of all the ways that F’lon’s sons and grandson have been terrible to women, even if the degree of terrible changes from person to person. And the narrative has us contrast what Tai observes with what Mirrim has said about Golanth’s rider, to try and further convince us that Mirrim doesn’t know what she’s talking about. The likely truth is that Tai doesn’t have enough experience to know, given that her previous experiences with relationships were all overtly terrible and traumatic, and that Mirrim could still be absolutely right about him, if something happens where he no longer behaves in this new way.

For now, the focus is on the stars, and that’s where they leave it to get back to the promised assault on the Printer Hall. Tagetarl is the viewpoint character, and he’s been doing his best to try and act natural and normal. He’s also kept what Pinch has said from Rosheen, trying not to worry her. We also get useful insight into how Our Heroes view their opposition.

How did you tell an Abominator from any other ordinary man or woman? It was the set of their minds: their self-appointed mission to deny choice to others, to neutralize all the useful things that were already in operation. […] Any thinking person would examine what was sensible to add to what Pern already had–like printing, but he required no one to read or buy his books: that was their decision. For all the amazing diversity of processes and products that the Ancients had used, just learning how to faithfully execute some of the designs was enough to discourage making the unnecessary. As Master Menolly said–and he knew Sebell basically agreed with her–not everything and anything new meant an improvement. But people should make that decision themselves, not have it arbitrarily denied.

Tagetarl sounds almost like a tech bro at this point. He doesn’t grasp the ways that he and the ruling cabal of the planet are making decisions and denying people choice themselves. Of course, since he’s one of the good guys, his choices are good and progressive for everyone, including the underclass that nobody talks about, and the servant class that only seems good for a joke. And he washes his hands neatly of the whole thing by proclaiming that all he’s doing is providing things for others to use or not use, as they want to. Never mind anything about how his books print a single version of the world and don’t allow for alternatives. Or how technology is fundamentally changing everyone’s lives and pulling them toward something different than what they had before. Or the still very valid case to be made that the descendants aren’t meant to have that kind of tech at all.

But this other faction is bad because they destroy the choice of others to participate or not in the world that’s being shaped for them without their participation and input. If Pern really was Rand’s wet dream and every person was self-sufficient, the line that everyone can participate or not would be much more accurate. In this feudal arrangement, Tagetarl may believe every word of it, but he’s lying.

Pinch breaks Tagetarl’s thoughts by alerting him to the presence of danger, which in this case is the leader of our Luddite faction, come to claim the book he ordered a sevenday ago. He pays appropriately, with Weaver’s marks, calling Tagetarl a “Master Harper” in the process (Tagetarl immediately says “MasterPrinter”, even though he is a Harper of Mastery rank) all the while clearly casing the place, and “took the Ballads from Tagetarl’s hand much as one would grasp something dirty or repulsive,” which further distresses Tagetarl. When there’s a shipment of wine delivered to him that he knows he didn’t order, Tagetarl is ready to blow the whole operation, but remembers what he’s been told and manages to accept the shipment without arousing suspicion. And he gets mistitled again.

“Shipment for Master Harper?” the wineman announced, lifting his hand for attention.
“MasterPrinrer,” Tagetarl corrected for the second time in a few minutes and wondered why no one could give him his proper rank today.

This is supposed to tip the reader off that this is probably a co-conspirator, but I also want it to be a mark that the opposition understands that the divisions between Harpers and Printers are largely artificial, and that they want a free press and for the Harpers to be honest about the stranglehold they have on information and approved publishing.

Tagetarl knows he’s facing a conspirator, and tries to get more information out of him about who sent the wine, gets a drudge(-Pinch) to carry the skin in so that the wine merchant doesn’t get inside, tries to nose around in the cart himself (nothing doing), and asks for a deliberately inferior vintage of Benden white to see if the conspirator knows anything about wine, and seems satisfied that he does not when the wine merchant doesn’t bat an eye at the request.

At no point during this entire sequence does anyone get named, not the person who sent it (“The Lord Holder”), nor the person picking up the book (because it’s not known yet), or the wine merchant. If someone wasn’t on the alert to an attack, everything would be plausibly deniable, and also not really interested in arousing suspicion. The opposition has sophistication to their operations.

Tagetarl gets to observe Pinch test the wine with material that is apparently supposed to determine if stream water is drinkable, and the wine reacts poorly, so they hide it away. Rosheen arrives at that point, notices Pinch, and is finally clued in on everything. She’s mostly upset that they had guests and she didn’t make enough for dinner.

After finishing their part of toasting the health of who brought them the drinks, everything closes up, Rosheen gives Tagetarl some amount of grief about hiding things from her, and the two settle in to wait for the attack.

The attackers have trouble getting in the front door, given that it’s fastened and barred in a near trick lock. They can’t climb the gate because they’re isn’t enough space for them to fit in between the door and the archways. Someone who did get in as an advance party tries to torch some buildings, but the retardant holds true.

Eventually a big man heads in to break into the hold attached to the hall, and manages not to wake the dead by muffling the sound of the glass breaking. Tagetarl moves to club the man when he gets close, only to hit Rosheen’s iron pan instead of the man’s head, because she tripped the intruder with the broom before walloping him with the pan before Tagetarl made his move.

And that is basically the only action Tagetarl has for the night, because once the intruders manage to knock down the doors to the hall with brute force, they find themselves on the receiving end of a swarm of angry fire-lizards that drive them into a net trap, where they are captured, and the arrival of a dragon in their courtyard. It’s Ruth, with Jaxom.

Then the mob summoned to help the Print Hall arrives and has to be let in, only to be disappointed that all the fun has already happened and they’re here only to witness what happens afterward. They’re more than ready to dispense justice by dragging the net behind a ship and leaving the lot to drown, but Jaxom has other ideas, and we get to see what the Charter supposedly recommends.

“According to the Charter,” and Jaxom swung slowly around to the audience, his eyes seeming to touch everyone in the front ranks, “by which we have been well governed for the past twenty-five hundred Turns, a Lord Holder, a Weyrleader, and a Master of any Craft may hold a trial.”

This trial, however, is not like the previous one, where there was at least the whisper of an adversarial system. It really is a trial in name only and would be better characterized as “can dispense whatever justice they want.” There is a part where the captured intruders are asked for their names, ranks, and affiliations, but since nobody volunteers any of those things, the trial turns over the matter of justice to the offended Master Printer and Master Harper. Tagetarl wants answers, but the slogans he gets in reply inflames the mob enough that they’re ready to haul the lot off and drown them anyway. (Apparently, the books themselves are abominations, even if they contain traditional material, because they use new techniques.)

Since someone in the group identifies the whole group as Luddites, they receive the same treatment as the group before them – exile to an island only known to N’ton. Exile, being the death sentence that it is, finally breaks the line of the Luddites, and the mob is more than happy to help apprehend any who try to escape them.

“And what are these established procedures of yours, Lord Jaxom?” Captain Venabil demanded, heaving from his exertions.
“A Lord Holder, a Weyrleader, he a MasterCraftsman may enforce any Council decree,” Jaxom said. “It is in the Charter, if anyone cares to check. We must do so before sufficient witnesses.”
Raising his arms, Jaxom faced the crowd. “Those of you who do not care to be witnesses to the judgment of this incident may step back without prejudice.”
Later Tagetarl was to remember day no one stepped away.
“Then the decree of the Council will be enforced. Weyrleader N’ton, you may send for assistance,” the Lord Holder of Ruatha said formally.

There is an abrupt mood shift after this sentence, as apparently the mob (with Captain Venabil as leader) that was more than willing to drown the intruders is suddenly struck with the gravitas of sending people away to live their lives out with only themselves as company. The mood gets very somber, and the Captain respectfully salutes the three men who are making decisions about other people’s lives, which is never easy, the text tells us.

After the disappearing of the catch, we find out that Jaxom might have condemned Dorse, his step-brother (and consummate bully, we might add) to exile, because nobody identified themselves. And that Pinch realizes the leaders were not part of the group that attacked, so the problem isn’t solved yet. Tagetarl is encouraged to write a concise summary of events (one that won’t include the possibility of Dorse being among the group), and accepts help from a group of carpenters to rebuild the gates that were smashed in. Stationmaster Arminet insists on distributing that summary everywhere the Runners go, for no charge, so that there isn’t a doubt about what happened this night. He calls it a “community announcement”, rather than a Harper Hall one, to justify it.

There’s one quick pop over to Ruatha, where Jaxom confirms to Sharra that it was Dorse in the group, and that he’s having regrets over having condemned his milk-brother to exile, even though there was an opportunity for Dorse to identify himself. Jaxom and Sharra both fret a little that Dorse’s presence might mean that Toric is somehow wrapped up in this revitalization, even as Sharra insists that Toric has no loyalty from any of his family, even as she confirms his avarice is legendary and unlikely to stop, even when brought to heel by the Lords and Weyrleaders.

The final segment for this act and part is a meeting at Cove Hold between all the Weyrleaders, various Masters, and their guests to suggest a to what the profession of the dragonriders should be After thread – sky-watchers, building a network of the few remaining telescopes to scan the night sky for other celestial objects that might prove a threat to the planet should they touch down. Lessa is the viewpoint character. Seeing Jaxom and Sharra arrive, she wants to have a word with him about establishing a second Printer Hall so as to prevent there being a single point to attack that would destroy presses. T’gellan arrives with Talina, his Weyrwoman, and Mirrim, who Less describes thusly:

Well, Mirrim was to be expected and, while Lessa knew the girl could be domineering and arrogant, she had great sympathy toward a fosterling she had trained.

Cocowhat by depizan

I am again struck by the apparently universal attitude that Mirrim is terrible, which apparently even includes someone who was parental toward her before she became a rider. I have yet to see demonstrated any actual reason why someone would be upset at her.

Tai’s description from the Benden Weyrleader doesn’t fare much better.

“Attractive but not pretty,” [he] murmured to his weyrmate after a very brief glance at [the Honshu Weyrholder]’s companion. “No wonder he’s so often at Honshu now.”

Cocowhat by depizan

What does that even mean? Am I supposed to read it as “Ah, she’d be good to look at when our dragons are mating, but she’s definitely not a keeper” or “Oh, she’s good-looking enough for someone of Asian descent, but our boy needs to find a properly beautiful blonde woman for his wife”? Or some other terrible combination somewhere? There’s no way I can parse out that sentence that doesn’t suggest something terrible in the assessment.

The meeting does finally offer an explanation about why dragons can’t just catch rocks in space and divert them. They’re moving too fast and they’re too hot to grab, according to K’van, but they also have access to computers that could probably predict reliably where a rock is going to be, and if you had a wing or Weyr of dragons convinced they can move the rock, then odds are the rock gets moved. And, given that Golanth already has finesse problems with learning how to move things outside the body, once enough bronzes get trained on the matter, they can probably stand just to the side of an object’s path and shove it into a corrected orbit. Since we have yet to see an actual upper bound for the telekinesis, it’s entirely possible the dragonriders could learn to throw celestial objects around. And then possibly hold the planet hostage with the knowledge that they could perform a colony drop on them at any time.

In any case, the suggestion is made that dragonriders reform themselves as the Astronomers’ Craft in the After, which makes the very traditionalists among the group balk entirely at the idea, and even explaining the progress already made and the way that the telescopes would help make people believe the dragonriders are still in their traditional duties doesn’t quite dent the objections. G’narish raises the theory that the comet was a reaction to the displacement of the Wanderer. Lytol shoots it down by claiming the maths were perfect and there should have been a minimum of displacements. It relies on AIVAS, though, and it’s not here to be questioned. And it still assumes that the Rukbat system has no other intelligent life in it, which may not be true, either.

Showing pictures taken from Honshu of asteroids big enough to blow up the planet does get through to the traditionalists, as does pointing out the regular manufacture of binoculars makes it easy for night watch riders to scan their portion of the sky for anything unusual and the army of retired Fishers that would be more than happy to be useful training riders to watch the sky.

The observatory sites are decided, such that in addition to Landing and Honshu, Ruatha can hold an observatory and one will have to be established in the Western Continent, with riders that can watch at night and do their other jobs in the daytime. Telgar might get one as well, since J’fery thinks Larad would be open to it. G’dened is still on the question of what dragonriders will do when presented with another object, but he’s told that they’ll think of something in time, either through research in the archives or figuring out some science to make it work. The cherry on top for most people to get on board with the new project is an offer to watch the stars at one of the various telescope sites.

And that’s the third part in the book. We are clearly not going to speak of how Tai is going to get over the traumas she suffered repeatedly at the hands of her lovers, including the most recent one. We are never going to get an explanation as to why everyone hates Mirrim. And for as much as everyone wants to dismiss G’dened as a cranky old man, he does have the right question — what happens when there’s another Fireball, or worse, something bigger?

Maybe Part Four will answer these, but I doubt it very much.

The Skies of Pern: Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

Last time, F’lessan and Golanth became (at least in my opinion) stalkers of Tai and Zaranth, which culminated in Zaranth having a mating flight that completely triggered Tai, based on her past experience, and F’lessan applying a magical healing cock to wipe away the trauma and get them both to fall in love with each other. *ptui* The Honshu Weyrholder and Tai are still in bed, but the action shifts to the Harper Hall.

The Skies of Pern: Part 3: Segments V, VI, VII, VIII: Content Notes: Continued Consent Violations

(Harper Hall, 1.28.31)

Pinch startles Sebell by slipping into his office unheard, and the two talk about how it’s likely the missing prisoner is the same as the scarred man leading the Luddite faction, and they both come to the conclusion that it’s one of Norist’s sons that’s the missing person. They speculate that he might have regained his hearing, although they don’t necessarily treat it seriously yet. When Pinch returns from a chat with the prison warden, they take it as an assumption that his hearing has returned, and that it is one of Norist’s that leads the faction.

They also mention that the meteorite strikes have plenty of people assuming and petitioning the dragonriders, as the de facto air force, to stop the next strike from happening, even though meteorites can outpace dragons for speed and heat.

And then it’s back to Honshu (2.1.31) for Tai opening up to the Honshu Weyrholder about her past and astronomy, and him asking her about Zaranth’s ability to move things. Which eventually ends up with the Honshu Weyrholder throwing a bowl at Zaranth to provoke her, having determined that only things that will irritate her will engage her ability, and having it reappear on the tray he threw it from.

“You may not throw things at my dragon!”
“It was aggravating of me but look how she reacted.”
It took him time and much coaxing to calm Tai down, a pleasurable enough activity since her body responded to his deft caresses even if she did not wish it to.
[…Tai suggests a blanket and wine for them, once “she did see what he had been trying to prove”, and practice with trundlebugs for Golanth…]
Carefully he lifted the thong of the binoculars from her neck and put them to one side and practiced making love to her. That was the most important reason he had brought the mattress out to the terrace and suggested they lie down and challenge each other at identifying stars.

(The cat says fuck everything. I agree. Image via giphy.)

So much for that new leaf you were claiming, bronze rider. You violated Tai’s consent and are continuing to do so, since I still haven’t heard her actually say yes to any of your caresses or anything else. I hope Mirrim gets to tear you a new one while everyone else watches.

The narrative, of course, didn’t see anything wrong with this scenario, and it’s now moving forward with Zaranth teaching Golanth how to move trundlebugs. He splats the first one, causing everyone to retreat hastily at the smell. The second time, Golanth manages to not kill them, but he moves them a very long distance away, proving other dragons can do it, but they need to figure out the finesse necessary.

Then it’s on to Fort, where Tenna’s return means she’s asked by Torlo to arrange a meeting with Haligon. There’s time enough to note there are electric lights outside now, that Tenna and Haligon are still in an “It’s Complicated” relationship, that Groghe is losing a step, now that he’s eighty-nine, and that there’s still a (warranted) fear that hand radios will supplant Runners. The best the narrative can do is have Tenna be reassured that it won’t happen for a very long time.

Torlo delivers news that the Runners have traced the origins of the messages that the Luddite faction is using to communicate, and that they tend to stop Runners on the traces, rather than coming into the stations. Torlo mentions Pinch probably wants to know this, making Haligon blanch that Torlo knows about Pinch, and suggests that Haligon send a fire-lizard immediately to Tagetarl to be on his guard against an attack. Haligon goes to see the Harpers by a secret staircase right after dropping Tenna off, and Beauty heads off to deliver the message.

The narrative shifts to the Printer Hall, where Tagetarl notes the arrival of the fire-lizard as confirmation of the hints dropped previously by Rosheen and the way that Stationmaster Arminet had discreetly discussed his security measures a few days before. The note itself is cryptic:

Runners confirm trouble at Wide Bay. Guard the Hall. Assistance planned.

Tagetarl runs through possibilities of what might be making trouble, what kind of trouble, and what assistance might be planned, but can’t get to any conclusions.

At least one part of the assistance turns out to be having the Hall under the watch of a flock of fire-lizards, summoned by the local queen, Ola, after Beauty likely left instructions. Another ends up being Pinch, who arrives with “It’s me” after almost being splashed by Tagetarl wielding a hot klah pot. Tagetarl corrects his grammar, and then Pinch points out the likely entry point of the Luddites (the same one he went in), commends Tagetarl on the fire lizard defense force, and introduces his companions, each of whom has brought a bucket of flame-retardant varnish for the wood bits of the Hall to apply.

Tagetarl doesn’t understand why he would be a target, and Pinch explains that the written word has truth-establishing power, and so the reports, books, and other things he prints can fight the rumors and stories that are being passed around by the other faction that want things to go back to the way they were. Yes, even with all of the advances in medicine that can cure what user to kill, and the ability to put knowledge down in a more fixed and durable form, Pinch tells Tagetarl.

Tagetarl panics that he doesn’t have enough people to ward off an attack, and tailspins further as Pinch points out to him that he’s probably been helping the enemy get the layout of the land by indulging their curiosity to see the process at work, and likely telling them about the opposition they’d be up against, too. Pinch seems very confident that his extra muscle will help with that, as well the flame-retardant.

There’s also this part, as Pinch is explaining the plan to stop the Luddites.

“We’ve arrived timely, too, since Beauty was here and my suspicions have been confirmed by the Runners.” He grinned brightly at Tagetarl. “Dragonriders aren’t the only ones who can be where they’re needed when they’re needed.”
Tagetarl’s jaw dropped at what was almost a profane remark from a harper.

And here we are again at the idea that the nominally non-religious Pernese have something sacred (dragonriders) to be profane against. Pinch is being deliberately irreverent, either about fighting Thread or time travel (and likely both), and this goes back to the theory of mind problem genesistrine pointed out in relation to which characters know what facts and secrets. I have no trouble with Pinch knowing what is supposed to be a closely-guarded secret (except when it isn’t) of the dragonriders, but it’s Tagetarl commenting on the possible profanity, which suggests that either Tagetarl knows the secret and is surprised at Pinch’s casual attitude (less likely) or that Pinch is being flippant about dragonriders and his irreverence for the planet’s saviors is strongly socially inappropriate (more likely). But I can’t tell which it is, because I can’t rely on previously established norms about what is secret and what is not.

Pinch is still casual about the possible danger, tells Tagetarl not to notice him, but to send up provisions for the extra people, and definitely not to sample anything offered in exchange for books, just in case, which makes Tagetarl panic even more. Pinch demonstrates a few calls that will be used for communication before going out to lend a hand.

There’s also this continued part where Pinch mentions all of the new people are experienced with brushes, with implications of knowing more than just the brushes they’re using to paint on the fire-retardant, but Tagetarl can’t figure out why those people are so familiar to him.

The next segment goes back to Honshu, so I’m going to stop, because I’ve had basically enough of what’s going on there for this post. Back again next week.