The Dolphins of Pern: Finally, a new perspective?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– is not encouraging at all.

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

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

Writer Workshop August 2nd, 2017

(Posted by chris the cynic)

[Anyone who would feel more comfortable talking about non-writing creative work in a thread that doesn’t have “Writer” in the name, you may find this month’s creative corner thread useful.]

Those of you who also frequent Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings will find this somewhat familiar.  Here, as there, it was requested that there be a regular post to talk about writing projects (and other artwork-creation). Thus this post exists.

Pencil by Elisa Xyz

What are you working on? How are you feeling about it? What thoughts and/or snippets would you like to share? How does your activism work into your art? What tropes are you hoping to employ and/or avoid? Are there any questions you’d like to ask or frustrations you’d like to vent?  Writing workshop below!

Creative Corner, August 2017

(by chris the cynic)

[Meta note: If my mind had been clearer and I’d remembered things better, I would have had this be yesterday’s open thread instead of one with the extremely lackluster prompt I actually used.  I’ll set up Writer’s Workshop for noon today.]

This is a place to share about any and all creative endeavors.  Could be what you’re working on, what you want to work on, what you’re frustrated about being blocked on, plans, random thoughts, finger painting, building a new world order, whatever.

[As a reminder, open thread prompts are meant to inspire conversation, not stifle it. Have no fear of going off topic for there is no off topic here.]

Open Thread: Laps around the Sun

(by chris the cynic)

I couldn’t think of anything, so I’m grasping at the fact my birthday is in two days to give me a prompt.

Birthday’s are a type of anniversary.  Anniversaries are things that happen, more or less, when the earth is in the same position in its orbit as it was the first time.  It’s all about having made [integer] laps around the sun.

Um . . . yeah, that’s a crappy prompt.  Sorry.

[As a reminder, open thread prompts are meant to inspire conversation, not stifle it. Have no fear of going off topic for there is no off topic here.]

Deconstruction Roundup for July 28th, 2017

(by the Slacktiverse and others; collected by Silver Adept, who is yet again stuck waiting on someone else to do their final work.)

The point of these posts is threefold:

  1. To let people stay up to date on ongoing deconstructions. (All ones on our list, including finished and stalled ones, here.)
  2. To let people who can’t comment elsewhere have a place to comment.
  3. To let people comment in a place where people who can’t read Disqus can see what they have to say.

Fred Clark: Slacktivist

Froborr: Jed A. Blue

Ross: A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

Silver Adept: Here on The Slacktiverse

Let us know, please, if there are errors in the post. Or if you don’t want to be included. Or if there’s someone who you think should be included, which includes you. We can use more content. Or if you are late with your pay because you just wanted to relax yesterday. Or for any other reason, really.

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

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

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

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

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

Ooh, foreshadowing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No. That assertion is not a logical conclusion.

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

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

Cocowhat by depizan

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

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

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

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

*checks how many books are yet to come*

Wait, seriously?

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

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

Open Thread: Late-Month Check In, July 2017

(by chris the cynic)

Sorry for this, and everything else I’m responsible for, not being on time (which would have been last week.)

What have you been doing of late?  How are you?  Are you still alive?  So forth.

[As a reminder, open thread prompts are meant to inspire conversation, not stifle it. Have no fear of going off topic for there is no off topic here.]