Category Archives: Deconstruction: Pern

The Skies of Pern: An Attempt At Calm

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

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

[Benden Weyr, 1.1.31]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cocowhat by depizan

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

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

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

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

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

So we’ll stop, too.

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The Skies of Pern: Archive Dive Dinner

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, hello there, Cocowhat.

Cocowhat by depizan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the subjects is touchy for Tai.

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

After F’lessan asks about dolphins instead of dragons,

She made herself relax. She was my overly suspicious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Skies of Pern: Meeting of Shadows

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

The Skies of Pern: Prologue: Content Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I present to you the Luddites of Pern.

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

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

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

In any case, actual content starts next time?

The Skies of Pern: Post-AIVAS Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Skies of Pern: Prologue: Content Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dictionary (.com), an assist, please?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*checks back* Did I miss it somewhere?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Runner of Pern: A Comedy of An Error

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

Runner of Pern: Content Notes: Background Radiation Sexism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…and I’m just…rgh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Runner of Pern: A Peek At Another Craft

Last time, we had to deal with the fact that the previous book was put in place so that someone would feel a bit better about the sudden departure of Robinton, and so that the author could try and make changes to the timeline while pretending not to do so.

Thankfully, as a bit of a breather, we have Runner of Pern.

Runner of Pern: Content Notes: Background Radiation Sexism

In the guide I’ve been using for which things to tackle next, this is slotted in quite late in the sequence, but noted that I could have read it any time after the first book. This suggests a very high degree of stand-alone-ness.

Our viewpoint character is Tenna, an apprentice express delivery runner, who is in the middle of a long-distance delivery run, which gives her a convenient way to gush over the people who founded the runner stations (a practice that arose during First Fall) and their ability to cover legendary amounts of ground on any given day.

Lopers had been able to put themselves in some sort of trance which not only allowed them to run extended distances but kept them warm during snowstorms and freezing temperatures. They had also planned the original traces, which now were a network crisscrossing the entire continent.

Also importantly, runnerbeasts are too expensive for the average person (as they should be), and drums are great for short messages when the weather is good, so letters get carried in pouches by human runners.

The traces are also apparently easy to tell from the space around them – the springy texture changes to something else when you stray from the path.

We are told that Tenna has runner in her bloodline, sufficiently so that her mother tells her “It’s for how long, not will you, for a female” in regard to Tenna’s nervousness about whether she’ll be selected to be a runner. Which is nice – it’s been a while since we’ve seen a group that’s perfectly fine with having women in it and not caring all that much about sexist crap.

Even better, Tenna might be our first explicitly childfree character.

Tenna had decided a long time ago–when she had first been considered old enough to mind her younger siblings–far she’d prefer running to raising runners. She’d run until she could no longer lift her knees. She’d an aunt who never mated: ran until she was older than Cesila was now and then took over the management of a connecting station down Igen way. Should something happen and she couldn’t run anymore, Tenna wouldn’t mind managing a station. Her mother ran hers proper, always had hot water ready to ease a runner’s aching limbs, good food, comfortable beds, and healing skills that rivaled what you could find in any Hold.

I’m quite sure that the narrative will do something about this by the end of it all, but it’s nice to have someone saying they’re not interested in kids, and to have an aunt who didn’t have any sex at all. I knew these people had to exist in Pern. It’s terrible that it’s taken this long to see one.

Mallum, a runner that Tenna is familiar with, is scheduled to give her the Runner final exam, but he comes in hobbling and Cesila immediately sets to healing the heel that’s been injured, and Mallum sets to hitting on everyone that’s helping him heal up.

“And is this the lass of yours as is to be taken for a run?” he asked, relaxing his expression from the grimace he’d made when the poultice was first applied. “Prettiest of the bunch.” And he grinned at Tenna.
“Handsome is as handsome does,” Cesila said. “Looks is all right but long legs is better. Tenna’s her name.”
“Handsome’s not a bad thing to be, Cesila, and it’s obvious your daughter takes after you.”
Cesila sniffed again but Tenna could see that her mother didn’t mind Mallum’s remarks. And Cesila was a handsome woman: lithe still and slender, with graceful hands and feet. Tenna wished she were more like her mother.

So Mallum looks Tenna up and down and pronounces her a good body type for running. The next day, after rest, Tenna and Mallum go out on a short run, after Tenna shows Mallum her runner shoes, which have cleats or spikes on them. The spike length varies based on the toughness of the ground. Mallum also checks Tenna’s clothes to make sure she’s not going to get blisters and that she’s warm enough to run before they set out. And dragons fly overhead by coincidence before disappearing into hyperspace.

The next day starts with Mallum giving advice to Tenna about running, a lecture she has heard many, many times before from other runners and her relatives. Runners are also described as carrying small things like numbweed or poultices and wearing a very specific long-tailed orange headband in addition to their message pouches. And the nuclear disaster-level background radiation of sexism continues, even as Tenna yes keeping good pace with Mallum.

“Running with a pretty girl’s not hard to do,” he told her when they took one brief pause.
She wished he didn’t make so much of her looks. They wouldn’t help her run any better or help her become what she wanted to be: a top runner.
[…and they stop at the destination station…]
Old Irma came out with a grin on her sun-dried face for them.
“Will she do, Mallum?” the old woman asked, handing each a cup.
“Oh aye, she’ll do. A credit to her Bloodline and not a bother to run with!” Mallum said with a twinkle in his eye.
“I pass, do I, Mallum?” Tenna asked, needing to have a direct answer.
“Oh, aye,” and he laughed, walking about and shaking his legs to get the kinks out even as she was doing. “No fear on that. Any hot water for m’poultice, Irm?”
[…there’s water and conversation…]
“Not when I’d a chance to run with such a petty girl,” Mallum said.
“Just like a man,” Irma said dismissively.
Tenna felt herself blushing, although she was beginning to be he wasn’t just teasing. No one else had ever commented on her looks.

I like Tenna a lot so far. (And I’ve checked the copyright on this work – 1999. This might be an author starting to catch up with the times. Or so we can hope.) And Irma, too. Mallum, on the other hand, certainly seems like the kind of person that is right at home on Pern.

So Tenna takes a message back home, where she’s congratulated on joining the runners officially and then comes a quick montage of Tenna running local routes and ending up being the only runner that can take a priority message northward into a snowstorm, which nets her “extra stitches on her belt, marking her rise toward journeyman rank” for her excellent time made. Which is the first time I have heard the Runners are arranged in a guild structure like other Crafts, and now I want to know a lot more about how that gets done. Because presumably it’s all about good time.

When we get back to Tenna, she’s taking a run to Fort, and we learn that runners are good at spotting useful herbs and that they carry tablets that can be chewed to ease cramps in the leg. And there’s the possibility of renegades (which would not have made any sense if I had started with this before doing Renegades of Pern), although the only known acts of violence against runners happened at Lemos and Bitra (no surprises there). Tenna is mostly concerned about the possibility of tunnel snakes, and is hoping that she has enough time to stay over for the Gather at Fort and get some more leather using “runner-station chit.” and possibly bargaining a bit with it.

Something catches her ears, and once she figures it out, Tenna has to fling herself off the runner trail as a person on a runnerbeast thunders by. And then, after the danger has passed, has to make sure that she doesn’t get any complications or needles working their way in from the sticklebush that she threw herself into. Which makes her incredibly cranky about why there was a rider on the runner traces and all the potential damage and delay that could have happened to the messages. No further mishaps happen and Tenna reaches her waypoint, taking some time to heal and complain about the rider, whom the staff of Three Hundred (as all the runner stations are known solely as numbers) know and suggest that he was running an experiment (as well as trying to cut a half hour of time off the trip).

“You’d better tell him. Maybe a pretty runner’ll get it through his thick skull because the odd crack or two hasn’t.”
His reaction made Tenna feel that her anger was righteous. It’s one thing to be angry on your own, another to have confirmation of your right to be angry. She felt redeemed. Though she couldn’t see why being pretty would be an advantage if you were giving someone what-for. She could hit just as hard as the ugliest runner she’d ever met.

This person will later praise Tenna’s good time and say that it “[s]hows you’re not just a pretty face.” So there’s this tension between Tenna being pretty and being effective, which is really much closer to the Terra of our times than a far-future/past society.

Tenna goes up for a soak for her tired muscles, and we note the description of massage tables and oils in a place and time that doesn’t seem like massage of that nature would exist, but perhaps that art survived or was rediscovered quickly as runners become a worldwide network. And because it’s Fort, it has the benefit of easy hot water. The station master’s wife comes by to put some medicine in the tub to help pull out the slivers and figure out how Tenna wants to spend the night.

And also to talk to her about Haligon.

“Pretty runner girl, you are. You give Haligon what-for next time you see him.
“How’ll I know him?” Tenna asked acerbically, though she dearly wished a confrontation with the rider. “And why is ‘pretty’ a help?”
“Haligon likes pretty girls.” Penda gave an exaggerated wink. “We’ll see you stay about long enough to give him what-for. You might do some good.”

Okay, so I’m all in favor of people complimenting an athletic build (as Tenna presumably has, having trained to be a runner from early on) as pretty. It continues to feed the idea that the author has a preference for women with smaller chests and thinks of them more as heroes than women with more classically sexy builds, but apart from that, it’s fine.

That said, the repetition of the word pretty is starting to sound like a plot point. After Tenna soaks, gets massaged and slivers plucked from her by Penda, and has a nap, she shows up to dinner. After everyone shakes their head at Haligon’s recklessness (and tells her that Groghe was informed about the near-miss), the word reappears again.

“You’ll be right then. I’ve seen your kin on the traces, haven’t I? Betchur one of Fedri and Cesila’s, aincha?” He smiled knowingly at the others. “You’re prettier than she was and she was some pretty woman.”
Tenna decided to ignore the compliment and admitted to her parentage. “Have you been through Station Ninety-Seven?”

It’s like the narrative is telling us that we shouldn’t believe Tenna’s desire to be childfree and run, because she’s too pretty to accomplish this task. Given what we know about the author’s willingness to use force as “romance”, I’m edgy about the possibility that Tenna may not get a choice.

Tenna’s remaining injuries are noticed, examined, and a Healer sent for to make sure that she’s going to be fine from the sticklebush. Tenna doesn’t want the healer, because healers cost and that would mean she couldn’t get good leathers at the Gather. Torlo points out that since one of Groghe’s runnerbeasts caused the incident, Groghe will pick up the tab for the Healer. Journeyman Beveny does three good things immediately on arrival – he asks Penda to help, he conducts the examination publically, and he listens to what the runners are suggesting as medicines to draw out the remaining slivers that Tenna might have. (Tenna is embarrassed by the attention, but recognizes it as runner standard, based on her own observations at Ninety-Seven.) Beveny mixes and applies a poultice, notable for not being too hot when applied, and then leaves with the idea of checking on Tenna tomorrow. And then dinner happens, with runners being drafted to get Tenna food, drink, and utensils, on the idea that Tenna shouldn’t move. (The embarrassment returns to Tenna over the attention, but she again remembers it as runner standard.) Others help her to bed.

The next morning, there’s still one sliver stuck in her, so Beveny leaves more poultice, and something to soak in the tub with. Tenna is wondering why all the attention, and Torlo points out that he wants the Healer to see the injuries so that when they complain about Haligon, the Healer will back them up. Beveny also insists Tenna stay resting, lest she re-infect the wound with the dust and dirt of running. This puts her in Fort for the Gather, as she wants, but leaves her without clothes for the party. Rosa and Spacia offer to lend her clothes, except nothing they have would fit her, and in a flash of inspiration, they take Tenna to Silvina at the Harper Hall to get fitted. Silvina has a practiced eye and puts her in a near-perfect dress…but Tenna needs some padding in the chest to fill it out correctly. (Which gets done by Silvina, and then stitched into place.) Spacia has a bit of a laugh about being to pad herself, but preferring that to being top-heavy and bouncing around.

I’m a bit surprised nobody has created a sport bra or a binder that would help with that problem, but I continue to be surprised at the things that Pern lacks that I would have expected to have been developed by now.

Everyone smiles at Tenna, having it in their head that she should look her very best when she gives Haligon the business.

The next day, the last known sliver pops out, and Tenna takes a short run to the docks to collect ship manifests and mail and doesn’t pay much attention to the soreness in her shin on the way back. Day after that is Gather day, and Tenna is enchanted with everything, even if Rosa and Spacia are skeptical about the return of Thread, despite the astronomical indicators working.

The two others point out Haligon, and that makes Tenna get on board with making herself as pretty as possible before she gives him what-for. And admits to herself that she might be pretty.

The girls hatch a plan, based on a lack of runner cords, that Tenna might be mistaken as a Harper when she rattles Haligon’s cage. Rosa’s dress rips, and she sends Tenna to collect Cleve, Rosa’s intended, away from Felisha, who has designs on him as well. Cleve is all too happy to take an excuse to leave Felisha, who acts as a Clingy Jealous Girl.

This is where we get Tenna’s plan: to trip Haligon somewhere publically, like the dancing square. (In addition to charges being leveled like reckless behavior and causing a loss of income.)

Tenna and Cleve wander the stalls, where she gets a glimpse of herself in a Glasscraft mirror and almost doesn’t recognize herself. She Cleans Up Nicely, I guess.

Here’s a good place to stop, before anyone gets up to violence.

The Masterharper of Pern: What Is The Sound Of One Man Snapping?

Last chapters, Robinton got a son, who is special needs, and an apprentice, who is incredibly talented and can soak up things like a sponge.

Fax engineered F’lon’s death, and the worst that happened to him is that his travel visa was immediately revoked, instead of his life.

The Masterharper of Pern: Chapters XVIII and XIX: Content Notes: “Mercy” infanticide ideation, fat-shaming, abuse,

This chapter opens with what should have been going on all the time – Nip reports, on his travels, that mysterious acts of sabotage are plaguing Fax’s territories. Timber burnt, grain blighted, mines collapsed, fishing ships disappear, rebellions in the provinces which are put down brutally, but otherwise nothing that overthrows Fax, but does keep his energy focused on trying to keep his territory together.

Terathel dies, Larad is confirmed, and there’s a problem in the account of such things.

There was a brief flurry when Larad’s elder half-sister, Thella, insisted that the Conclave had to hear her right to the Holding. Lord Tesner of Igen, the most senior of the Holders, was outraged at her impudence and refused her admittance. The other Lord Holders and Masters were only too happy to second his motion. Robinton looked for her during the following reception, wanting to see a woman who was brave enough to speak up as eldest in the Bloodline by there was no sign of her. He often wondered what happened to her because she disappeared from Telgar Hold shortly afterward.

I’m mostly calling bullshit on the idea that Robinton wanted to meet the brave girl, since he’s not doing too great on the bit where girls are flocking to the Hall. And the narrative makes no note of his vote on the proposal to reject Thella. The narrative is covering your ass, Robinton.

And tries to do so big time when this gem appears.

Robinton wished he had more contact with [F’lon’s sons], and not only because they were F’lon’s lads. He could have wished for one of them as his. He had once wished that Camo wouldn’t survive his first Turn, as so often happened to babies.

Cocowhat by depizan

Cocowhat by depizan

You are a terrible person, Robinton. And your attitude is still far too common among parents of disabled children, or children on the autism spectrum, and even here in 21st century Terra, we have people praising infanticide as a way of relieving the poor suffering parent of their burdensome child.

Furthermore, what’s happened to the state of medicine if we’ve gone from “we can perform an appendectomy on you” to a clearly high infant mortality rate. Midwifery and obstetric care can’t have taken that big a nosedive in this shirt time period, right?

Nip arrives, reports Fax is up to something, belatedly realizes what, and both he and Robinton ride to Ruatha to try and prevent the tragedy we already know has happened. Nip and Robinton realize they’re too late, and ride immediately to Fort to sound the alarm. The Lords ride in to demand Fax knock it off, and Fax calls them out to invade him, if they want him gone that bad, and threatens them that he’ll kill them all for trespass on his territory if they don’t get out by nightfall. The Lords leave, and then set to arguing about what they could have or should have done to get Fax to listen. Robinton splits off from that group, because he’s pissed and has no intention of listening to recriminations and what-ifs.

And yet, they apparently can’t unite enough right now, in their rage, to raise a force to surround Fax and then meticulously invade him from all sides and grind him into dust? They’ve had every pretext and justification in front of them. They’ve just seen slaughter and invasion. They have every right under the Charter to blockade, starve, and crush Fax. Why aren’t they?

Because the plot says we have to wait, or the continuity won’t line up. Some good the Charter has done, having been so meticulously retroactively applied to that continuity. It made much more sense when the Charter was lost to everyone.

The rest of the chapter is essentially Nip telling Robinton it was a bad idea to do the thing. Chapter XIX opens up with real progress on the matter: The Crafts, mostly silent to this point, say “get forked, Fax” and pull out as many of their personnel as they can and refuse, in the face of bribes and lucrative incentives, to go back to those spaces. The Healers are the only ones who don’t, Oldive says it’s a matter of principles, and nobody gives him or the Healers grief over it.

Then there’s a training montage, of sorts, that plays out over five Turns while Robinton (and everyone else, apparently,) waits for instability to topple Fax from the inside. Sebell turns out to be ferocious at physical exercises and a quick hand and mind in helping everyone else out, gathering his journeyman rank, and being sorely missed by Robinton on his year abroad at Igen. Sebell also suggests that Trailer, an excellent drummer with a penchant for shirking work and playing pranks, might be best apprenticed to Nip. Which is a smash, and Trailer becomes Tuck, Nip’s shadow and oh my gods the puns are terrible.

As much as Sebell is essentially young Robinton, Tuck is young Nip and delivers the news that someone is seriously sabotaging Ruatha, who is on their fourth (fifth?) steward without any ability to turn a profit.

“Hmm. That’s interesting. A kind of subtle rebellion?”
Tuck gave the sort of snort that Nip affected. “With that bunch of drudges? They’re the most useless incompetents I’ve seen. And since I’ve been north–” He gestured with a thumb. “–I’ve seen every sort of way to avoid hard work that’s been invented. And then some. The only jobs that get done in a halfway decent fashion are helped along by an overseer with a whip standing over the workers. Fax has only so many men and too many holdings.” He grinned broadly. “Though his supply of metal-knotted whips seems inexhaustible.”
[…]
“What could be happening there?” Robinton asked, more or less rhetorically. “If there is no one able to foment trouble, is it trouble, or pure carelessness on the stewards’ parts?”

The answer, I suspect, lies with Auric Goldfinger.

Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.

Ruatha is on four or five here, and should be getting intense scrutiny from Fax as to why it can’t seem to do anything right. That should be opening up other opportunities for the outside forces to chip in and harry Fax and make him spread his resources dangerously thin. If the forces arrayed against Fax are interested in doing so, they could spark rebellion against him. But again, for plot reasons, nobody is doing anything, and it doesn’t make any sense. Even one Weyr of dragons would be enough to obliterate Fax many times over. Admittedly, that ruins their non-interference policy, but we’ve all forgotten Chalkin at this point, and I don’t think the dragons would suffer too much bad press for making Fax disappear.

And because the narrative still can’t let go of it, even in death, Jora is shamed.

Robinton had had the details from a letter sent to Master Oldive by Lord Raid’s journeyman healer, who had been brought by R’gul to try to keep the weyrwoman alive. Remembering how Jora had gorged herself at the Impression Feast–and that had been Turns ago now–he had no trouble believing that the woman had died of overeating. The healer had been appalled at the state she was in and had agreed that she should be interred between.

Cocowhat by depizan

Oh, wow. So now we get to the point where Jora is apparently so grotesque that even in death everyone agrees she should be dropped off in hyperspace rather than being buried in ground (as, presumably, the rest of everyone is). And “overeating” is not a cause of death. Choking is. Heart attack is. Suffocation is. Any one of a number of complications that can happen to someone is. But “overeating” is not a cause of death.

Furthermore, nobody seems to have given a tunnel snake’s ass about why someone might feed themselves that significantly. We already know Jora was violently afraid of heights. (And that Pern has no psychiatrists or psychologists.) Did having bulk help her feel more connected to the ground?

Did Jora have a condition that made her feel perpetually hungry, or one that made making fat way easier than burning it? What kind of food insecurity did Jora experience, and how much of that might be driving her choices regarding food and the way her body stored energy? The healers of a far future, pseudo-Latin Christendom society sound far too suspiciously like the medics of our own time, both in being willing to chalk up any malady to Death Fat and in refusing to consider any other course of action other than “have you considered losing weight?” as viable. The narrative said Jora was fat at the beginning of the series as well, but it’s added an extra degree of fat-shaming in the interim.

Before the narrative dwells too much on this, a runner arrives with a message for Robinton to “do a Nip and Tuck” and make for Ruatha, because Fax and dragonriders are on a forced march there. Silvina and Sebell object to Robinton going, although Silvina eventually helps him perfect his drudge disguise.

So Robinton disguises himself and gets inside as a drudge to help clean the place up before Fax gets there, then gets sent down to take care of Fax’s animals. And there’s a moment that would be good character development if it weren’t such a non-apology.

Although he knew very well that the drudges in the Harper Hall and Fort Hold were well cared for, he discovered a heretofore unexpected sympathy for those whom life had deprived of the wit or energy to achieve more than such lowly positions.

Because unless you’re visibly disabled, it can’t be the machinations of a system designed to make most people subsistence farmers and essential house slaves as to why you’re a drudge. You must be too lazy to apply yourself to better things.

Robinton eventually manages to trade himself up to guard thanks to a clothes change and therefore get himself in the room where it happens. I’m glossing over the fact that all the drudges and soldiers have rough speech phonetically rendered so as to make them bumpkins rather than the smooth-spoken Harpers and Lords. So we get to see the same scene from the beginning of the series from the perspective of Robinton, with the exception that apparently Robinton can feel ripples of power in the room (remember, the series started with the idea that Lessa had some amount of psi power and was using it), but knows it isn’t the dragons or their riders that are the source of it. And a few other touches.

“Oh, dead, dead, poor Gemma. Oh, Lord Fax, we did all we could, but the journey…” She ran to where Fax was sitting.
Casually Fax slapped her and she fell sobbing in a heap at his feet.
Robinton saw [the eventual Benden Weyrleader] reach for his dagger hilt. Women in the Weyr were rarely treated in such a harsh manner. It would definitely go against a dragonrider’s grain.

Excuse me while I laugh at this idea, given how the Benden Weyrleader will treat Lessa. Robinton should be more concerned that the son will die in the same way as the father. But that is not mentioned, and the scene continues, with Robinton noting the drudge (Lessa) is much less drudgey than she was when she left, before Fax punches her out and then gets into the fight with the Benden Weyrleader. At the utterance of the “dragonwomen” sneer, Robinton makes the comparison, noting that the son has his temper much better in hand than the father did.

Fight, death, et cetera. The younger of the two sons asks if anyone else wants to contest the outcome, and then Robinton finally gets a “second good look” at Lessa and recognizes who she is supposed to be. He also immediately tags her as the source of the strange behavior and waves of power, because she’s a full Ruatha-blooded woman, and the narrative really hopes we haven’t been fans since the beginning, so that we don’t notice the tinkering to get the old to rejoin the new.

Nip frightens Robinton by appearing, and then Robinton users his position and the friendly dragonriders to convince Fax’s remaining soldiers to head back without further issues. They set to getting rid of the body, getting Jaxom a nurse, and getting word out for successors to go in and claim their holds back. And the book ends with the watch-wher trying to protect Lessa and her disappearance to Benden.

The acknowledgements right after, on the other hand, rather than being a retread of narrative, are quite fascinating.

As usual, I am indebted to a variety of people for their help and input in writing this volume, not the least of whom is Master Robinton (aka Frederic H. Robinson), who was quite upset that I had ended his life so abruptly. I would suspect it of a tenor, but for a baritone to insist on another encore is almost unheard of. But I have recently been asked–via the impressive Del Rey Web site–to explain certain facts that had not previously been brought to light about Pern pre-Dragonflight history. As Robinton had a fine Pernese hand in most of it, it behooves me to tell the story from his viewpoint.
[…]
This time, my gratitude to Marilyn and Harry Alm as first readers is immense since they saved me from several time discrepancies and inconsistencies. Their knowledge of Pern is extensive and better remembered than mine at times.

And there’s also many thanks to the musical helpers.

But that acknowledgement pretty well admits this book is Retcon: the Novel for Pern. And why it has such a hagiographic viewpoint toward Robinton and wanted to remake him into a much better person than he is.

I chuckle slightly at the comment about avoiding discrepancies and paradoxes, given that this is what the series book and the continuity editor is for, but also that the entire published canon is still being published, and so one could theoretically look things up as needed. But also a bit because having timeline readers when you are trying to rework the timeline entirely strikes me as the person who fixes the obvious holes and then leaves the things that are going to become holes soon enough as “repeat business.”

And so, we put another novel in the books and instead turn our eyes to one of the short stories, “Runner of Pern,” which might shed some light on the network of communications that traverses the planet.