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-   -   Dragons: sentience vs. subservience (http://forums.srellim.org/showthread.php?t=8839)

Kath Dec 6 2013 07:32 AM

Dragons: sentience vs. subservience
This is a topic that came up in discussion of my current Pern fic, and I'm throwing it over to the forum to play with.


Originally Posted by skywaterblue
Narnoth wasn't the dragon that impressed me as much, matter of fact, although I like that he makes some astute suggestions and M'ton listens to them. No, I actually think it's the first time I've seen in fic: a queen deeply discussing dragon-politics with her rider, and the RIDER offering to try and help. (I mean, it's clear from canon that a great deal of politicking and decision-making occurs amongst the dragons, especially among the queens, but the books often slide over by having the rider either not interested, or saying that the politics of dragons are too alien or remote or hard to understand and thus inconsequential.) That truly does feel like an equal partnership, rather than the somewhat mutually parasitic relationship depicted in the books.


Originally Posted by Kath
THIS. I've always had the feeling that canon Pernese dragons are sadly underused. Ramoth could have been so much more than a haughty egg-factory, and given all she does in Dragonflight she has barely any independent agency (except when it comes to laying...) And I can't decide whether Ruth breaks that mould or if his characterisation is only there to reinforce Jaxom's stu-ish traits.


Originally Posted by skywaterblue
I suspect that Anne was aiming for something about the relationship to be subtly horrific to adults but deeply appealing to teenagers. I think her intention IS that the dragons are barely sentient, and that engineering to be subservient to human society meant that they don't truly have any sort of free will. (AND in a bit of heretic thought, I think the implication in D'dawn is that the whers were engineered to make up for the Pings shady ethics in creating dragons, as creatures that are both sentient, capable of living in their own societies and repellant to humanity. I don't think Todd's later expansion is so far off from what his mother intended in capabilities, but much softened from what even SHE might have written.)

So, what do the rest of you think?

* Are canon Pernese dragons characters in their own right, or merely accessories to their human counterparts?
* How much dragon society really IS there in the Weyrs? We don't see a great deal of it in the books, but that doesn't mean it isn't there.
* Are all dragons as interesting as individuals as Ruth is? Or is he just special? Are the greens really dumber than the golds?
* How does a lack of decent long-term memory affect dragon mentality? Did Kitti-Ping cripple their ability to think for themselves by effectively giving them partial dementia?
* DO dragons have free will? Or are they purely creatures of instinct who only care about keeping their riders happy and doing whatever their hormones are telling them to do this week?
* What are wher-to-wher social interactions like? Are they really more independent than dragons? And considering how often they end up living chained and mistreated, why aren't they more pissed off about it?
* Is the relative lack of agency in the dragon characters worthy of note at all, when you look at human characters like Brekke who don't actually DO anything for themselves?

Discuss! ;)

mawra Dec 6 2013 10:55 AM

Re: Dragons: sentience vs. subservience
At one point is Dragon Song (I think) Mirrum asked Menolly (I know my spelling is off, probably way off) if she had showed or made boats out of something. She then said the dragons were playing with them by blowing them across the lake. That would indicate that they do socialize with each other when their riders were busy.

Also it is mentioned some where, I do not remember where, that they listened to music when it was played. There were a couple of times that the dragons were said to have been displeased with their riders action.

I think that when their riders were busy the dragons would so things to amuse them selves. Nothing is really said about what dragons do, other than sunning them selves, when their rider is not with them. I do think they could think and do things independently of their riders.

At least twice the queens responded to an emergency without their riders. When Canth fell and when the riders and dragons were attacked by the wild cats.

Anareth Dec 6 2013 05:37 PM

Re: Dragons: sentience vs. subservience
You can't really ignore that they're genetically engineered organisms. And part of that engineering is subservience, for good reason-you don't want to create a gigantic predator species with telepathic and telekinetic (just referring to between, even) abilities and set them loose without some kind of failsafe control. They also are telepathically permanently bonded to one human being, and that's going to alter their personalities. They DON'T have a human degree of free will because if they did, that's inviting having an ecologic disaster. The human has to override the gigantic carnivorous fire-breathing telekinetic telepathic dragon.

Now, do they have personalities? Yep, we definitely see that. Even in Dragonflight Mnementh clearly has thoughts and opinions independent of F'lar. Pridith straight-up tells Kylara she's not going along with the plan to have Mnementh fly her (though Kylara may also be right that when she's in mating drive Pridith might forget that). They undoubtedly relate to each other somehow--very few advanced species don't have some method of communication and social hierarchy. But I very much doubt they're sitting around discussing Proust. More likely they have "barn buddies" (as horses do) that they get along with more than others, they find entertainments to keep themselves occupied (playing with the boats.)

And if you're going to question whether Kitti Ping was denying them "agency" (I hate that word), it's also important to remember, she literally gave them life. Without her dragons don't exist, agency or not. They're a completely artificial species created to serve a particular purpose. If anything the shorter memories are a kindness as the purpose means that they're going to get badly injured or even killed. I can think of quite a few horse owners who wish their horses had memories like dragons-it's amazing how long they can remember that a relatively-harmless but terrifying looking monster (tractor, plastic bag, neighbor's dog, whatever) was in THAT corner six months ago and ZOMG IT MIGHT STILL BE THERE! Now you can debate the ethics of creating a sentient and quasi-sapient species solely to use as a weapon, but if you're going to, letting them forget quickly is the kinder method. Whatever the memory function is, it doesn't seem to prevent things like remembering people or forming pair bonds with other dragons (see Ramoth and Mnementh, or Orlith expressing a fondness for the Benden Weyrleader's bronze.)

D. M. Domini Dec 10 2013 05:11 PM

Re: Dragons: sentience vs. subservience
I think dragons were written as status-sticks and plot-movers, but generally not as characters in their own rights. They have bits of personality and a few lines, but nothing I find to be convincing or compelling, barring perhaps Ruth.

And yes, I think that's canon. AMC went to the extent of saying dragons had poor memories because that's how they were engineered. She didn't have to choose that.

Why DID she do that? Well, Anareth points out that it's super dangerous to bioengineer giant telepathic telekinetic SMART meat-eating beasts. I agree if you start applying logic to it. But...I'm not convinced this was the reason AMC did it, though, because it's too smart of an observation NOT to be voiced by Sean or some other character in Dragonsdawn or post-AIVAS. If she had been thinking along those lines, I think it would have made it into the books proper.

You actually see the Mrdini being used as status-sticks just like dragons in the Talent books, and they *definitely* are sentient beings, and they don't really get much more development than dragons do. They get some--a Mrdini sets out to harm a human protag in one of the books--but really not much in the bigger scheme of things. Having a status-stick to boost the supposed worth of a character is a repeatedly used trick in AMC books. Sometimes it works. Other times it backfires.

I think AMC just didn't want to deal with the larger implications of telepathic life-partners. She wanted to keep it simple. So she did. I mean, she could have gone the Mercedes Lackey route...if you want to see what intelligent, fully characterized telepathic life-bonded partners might be developed like just look at Valdemar and the Companions. (or Naomi Novik's series, which is pretty much a direct answer to Pern.) And I don't consider Lackey's works paragons of complexity or nuance, and yet she still did a lot more with telepathic magical ponies than AMC did with telepathic dragons. And Novik did a lot more than either of them on the subject, *without* the telepathy.

I think that has to be by author choice.

I think dragons are a ridiculously attractive idea to the preteen/teen/young adult crowd, and turned into a damn good moneymaker for her because what young adult DOESN'T want a close friend for life who always understands you? And that's what she let it be.

This all said, just because AMC purposely wrote dragons as she wrote them doesn't mean those of us who do fanfic have to do it that way ourselves, or that readers wouldn't love to see dragon psyches better explored. But for me personally since I see very little evidence that dragons have even the capability of being characters with free-will in their own right, I've had a tremendously difficult time writing them myself. The "evidence" that they are pretty tied to supporting their riders as characters is really strong and I feel as if I'm slipping out of canon if I try to "correct" it in my stories. I find Harpers easier because their firelizard "status sticks" are never in any significant way sentient and are easily molded to highlight mood or plot in a scene!

GinnyStar Dec 10 2013 05:45 PM

Re: Dragons: sentience vs. subservience

Originally Posted by mawra (Post 189262)
Also it is mentioned some where, I do not remember where, that they listened to music when it was played. There were a couple of times that the dragons were said to have been displeased with their riders action.

In Dragonseye/Red Star Rising
Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern
Skies of Pern

Originally Posted by mawra (Post 189262)
At least twice the queens responded to an emergency without their riders. When Canth fell and when the riders and dragons were attacked by the wild cats. <snip> Also when Ramoth and Mnementh look for the queen's egg in The White Dragon

Anareth Dec 11 2013 09:44 PM

Re: Dragons: sentience vs. subservience
Well, duh, it's author choice. Everything in fiction is there because the author either actively decided to do it, or it came out and they said "sure, why not." Anne was writing bioengineered life forms (even in DF there's some vague indication though obviously not remotely fleshed out-it wasn't intended as a world-building setup story, clearly.) Lackey opted for creatures that are the opposite of the dragons--dragons Impress the compatible, Companions are supernatural beings, either reincarnated Heralds or "angels" who do in fact go pick the brave, noble, and pure of heart. We see dragonriders do things that are pretty despicable, but it takes near murder for a dragon to even seem ashamed, while we have a direct on-page example of a Companion actively repudiating and "un-Choosing" their Chosen when he does something terrible, even when it's arguably a justifiable reaction. And yes, Novik took basically a "what if dragons were [sort of] smart" tack...but it's also a completely different world. Not only did she deliberately pick time frame where they HAVE to be natural, in her society dragons are alternately weapons-cum-slaves (in the west) or corrupt ministers themselves (in the east.) They aren't deliberately created to be a weapon against a particular kind of threat but more like war horses and dogs that happen to be able to talk.

I also don't think that the idea of dragons not being "smart" (if you can say they're not-compared to firelizards they're ready for Mensa) and reading Moreta, which is probably the best-planned-out and executed Pern novel, you can see that dragons, Holth and Orlith in particular, are opinionated, observant, and capable of quasi-independent agency, is something that can be assumed because 'no one said anything in Dragonsdawn.' For starters, again, it's a bit disjointed, and if we stick with what's in it, the person who designed them drops dead without leaving too much information for everyone else, so they don't know what she intended. Doesn't mean Anne didn't. The only real comment on intelligence is the surprise from the new riders that the dragonets can talk, name themselves, and generally function at least at the level of human children. They clearly don't know about the suicide switch (it's a surprise in "The Ford of Red Hanrahan") and no one says anything about "Well, what happens if a rider dies?" But we know from other books it can happen and it's important. It's just not something important to the plot of DDawn. Nor is an in-depth discussion of how intelligent or independent the dragons are-they aren't created in a situation where reflection is all that important, the goal is "Get them flying, get them breeding, see if this is going to work to keep us from getting wiped out." They don't even bring up much about the issue of feeding a large dragon population.

And sure, there's an element of wish-fulfillment (I don't think just for teens) of having a perfect soul-mate. (And a much less nauseating and stupid one than Twilight, not that Meyer can hear us over the sound of her money.) Good fiction plays to something the reader wants and identifies with

(Can't speak to any Talent stuff, I've literally never read a Talent book.)

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