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Pern - A Planetary Overview

Guides to Pern

Pern is a fictional planet in the universe created by science fiction writer Anne McCaffrey for her Dragonriders of Pern series of novels.

Main article: Dragonriders of Pern

Contents

Historical synopsis

Pern was colonised by settlers from Earth who wanted to return to an agrarian society with a low level of technology. The name was originally an acronym: Parallels Earth Resources Negligible (i.e., insufficient to support interstellar commercial investment). Shortly after the first colony was established, the settlers were devastated to discover that their chosen planet was not a safe place. Pern is subject to periodic attack from space by the destructive Thread, a spaceborne spore that destroys organic substances on contact. Unable to retreat from the peril, the settlers developed methods of combating the Thread. "Holds" were dug into the cliffs for them to live in, and Pernese scientists "upgraded" a local reptilian lifeform, the fire-lizard, into full-sized flame-breathing telepathic dragons, who were able to sear the Thread before it could fall to the ground. Dragonriders became a vitally important and highly respected profession, living in Weyrs, and as time progressed, the settlers forgot their Terran origins.

Planetary system data

Pern is the third of five planets in the Rukbat system (the Pernese star is also known as Alpha Sagittarius). In a departure from reality, Rukbat is a class G (yellow) star in the series; the real Rukbat is a blue, class B star -- although it could be that the star Pern orbits is simply a solar-type star that is near the real Rukbat which was given the brighter star's name for convenience. Pern has two moons, Belior and Timor (in order of distance). The Rukbat system in the novel also contains two asteroid belts and an Oort cloud. The Oort cloud and a rogue "sixth" planet, the Red Star (a Sedna-class inner Oort cloud object), play a major role in the series, as they are the source of Thread.

Geography

Pern bears three continents, four major oceans, and a large number of islands. The largest continent, the Southern, is noted for large areas of grassland and jungle, as well as high tectonic and volcanic activity (probably due to the two moons, although this increases with the coming of the Red Star). The Northern Continent, in contrast, is relatively infertile composed primarily of 'shield' bedrock and is the most tectonically stable landmass on the planet. Not much is known of the small Far Western Continent, as it has never been explored; its existence is known only from orbital satellite surveys and maritime expeditions.

Pern is noted for its high incidence of cave systems, particularly in the Northern Continent. This feature heavily influenced the development of human society on the planet, as humans forced to take shelter in these caves eventually developed an intricate culture associated with cave-dwelling in a feudal society at a medieval - Renaissance level of technology.

Pern is relatively lacking in most major metals. Nonetheless, sufficient deposits of petroleum and metals exist to supply a high-technology agrarian society, though not a high-technology industrial one.

Although Pern has four major oceans, the only ocean of major concern to most inhabitants of Pern is the Southern, which separates the Northern and Southern Continents. Few expeditions have explored the Western and Eastern Oceans to either side of the main continents, and the Ring Sea is known only from satellite observations.

The Southern Ocean is noted for its volatile weather and strong currents, which present a challenge for mariners. At least one tropical cyclone has occurred in the ocean in the course of the books.

Ecology

Pernese biomes have been profoundly affected by the cyclical appearance of Thread, a spore which destroys organic material. This has resulted in a relative dearth of terrestrial plants and animals. However, as Thread drowns in water, Pern has a much more populous and thriving aquatic ecology.

Pernese biomes contain both indigenous Pernese flora and fauna and introduced species from other worlds -- primarily Earth. (The original EEC team found that there was very little biodiversity, meaning that the colonists, coming two hundred years later, brought flora and fauna species with them.)

Indigenous Species

Flora

The plants best-known to humans residing on Pern are those that are useful. There are several types of plants which are edible to humans, including the redfruit tree, which produces a red, plum-like fruit, and the klah tree, whose bark is infused like coffee into a stimulant beverage reminiscent of chocolate, coffee and cinnamon. Native medicinal plants include dragon's tongue, which produces a gel similar to aloe; the needlethorn, whose hollow thorns can be used as hypodermic needles; numbweed, a strong analgesic plant that is made into a cream that numbs small wounds completely, and dulls larger wounds; and fellis, which produces a juice used as a soporific drug.

Fauna

Pern is host to a number of invertebrate species, including the insect-like trundlebugs, rollers (analogous to a woodlouse), VTOLS (a kind of fly) and springs (a kind of parasite). There are also spider-like creatures called spinners, and a type of worm or millipede called a grub, which was genetically engineered by the settlers to consume Thread.

Native Pernese vertebrates have a body-structure with six limbs. Flying creatures, such as the fire-lizards and wherries (carnivorous creatures not dissimilar to large birds), have two wings and four legs. Ground-bound creatures like most tunnelsnakes have six legs, which may include specialized digging feet or hunting claws. Some tunnelsnakes are aquatic or semi-aquatic, and have one or more set of fins or flippers in place of legs. Wherries are edible, and have been domesticated for food; some tunnelsnakes are edible, but they are primarily considered a pest animal in Weyrs and Holds.

The native fire-lizard was genetically engineered by settlers into the much larger and more intelligent dragons. Other experiments resulted in the watch-wher, a stunted, photophobic cousin of the dragon. Whers were originally used in mining and as guards of Holds.

A wide variety of fish-like creatures dwell in Pernese seas, many of which are edible to humans, including the oily-fleshed packtail, the prized redfin, and the easily-preserved whitefish.

Introduced Species

Flora

Most of the plants introduced by Pernese colonists are providers of food, fiber or medicine. Most grains, vegetable crops, and fruit trees were imported to Pern, as were a wide variety of herbs and fiber plants such as flax and cotton. Notably, the Pernese lack chocolate and coffee plants.

The botanists raised seedlings of all Earth trees in the hydroponic labs. The gingko and cottonwood trees did well in open plains, breaking the ground and providing shelter for the oak and pine seedlings planted in their shade. Ash, rowan, and scrub pine went into the higher reaches, and willow trees grew on the wet river banks.

Earth-type grass was adapted for the animals to eat until they were sufficiently used to Pernese grassoid. In the Ninth Pass, isolated patches of grass still survive on the Southern Continent. Many types of Earth and First Centauri trees reseeded themselves on grubbed ground and can still be found scattered among the Pernese types.

All of the types of Terran grains and legumes did well in the rich native soil. The first crops planted were fodder for the newly bred herds of imported grazers. Packaged organisms that would react symbiotically with the local bacteria were introduced into the soil to make native grasses palatable to the imported animals. The concentrations of boron, rendered inactive, simply passed through their digestive systems.

Mushrooms were raised by the colonists side by side with edible native fungi in the caves that riddled the palisade overlooking the Jordan River. Apples, pears, wine grapes, and numerous other fruits adapted easily to the Pernese soil.

All the medicinal and cooking herbs, among them tarragon, rosemary, lovage (for coughs), borage, thyme, coriander, nutmegoid bark from Firts Centauri (Earth nutmeg didn't translate well), willow for headaches, and hazel for the skin, were grown from seed drawn from the agronomy stores, and thrived in Pernese soil.

Though treats were rare as the supplies dwindled, the bakers created little hand-sized one-crust pies for the children from bits of sweet dough and berries. Survivor species such as blueberries (which make the most popular bubblies), blackberries, raspberries, and gooseberries still survive in the present Pass.

It was a spacer tradition to begin distilling liquor as soon as possible when reaching a new planet. It became a measure of every holder or each expedition to make "quikal" almost immediately. The administration trusted the colonists not to use plants that had not been checked for toxicity, but those fruits that had tested safe went promptly into the stills. Some fo the imported fruits had a very high sugar content and made enormously powerful quikal. The local fruit made potable drinks, and everyone traded crocks of his or her particular brew.

Fauna

The original Pernese Settlers brought a wide variety of animals and plants with them when they originally settled the planet. However, due to both the disastrous threadfall and the natural Pernese landscape, some animals never adapted at all. Deer and other forest-dwelling animals did not fare well in Pern's warm, tropical climate. Other animals required "genetic adaptation" but survived in some form or another.

The stores of ova and sperm aboard the ships were extensive. Any variety of any species that the biogeneticists had thought would prosper on the new world was included. Animal host mothers, some cows and goats of small but sturdy genotypes, were shipped frozen from Earth to Pern and revived to bear fertilized ova of nearly all the larger animals brought from the Animal Reproduction Banks of Terra.

The bearing techniques had been perfected on First Centauri. A host mother did not need to be of the same species as the fetuses she bore. With help, a goat could carry and bear calves or lambs,and a cow was capable of bringing colts and young llamas to term as easily as it could bear its own calves. The cattle of choice were long-haired Scotch cattle with short, curled horns, a small but very tough breed. Ova implanted in them were every type of cattle suitable for milk, meat or hide. The sheep were of various kinds, both long and short-fleeced. With the exception of the Kashmir, all the goats bred survived.

Strong but fairly small horses were bred, blending Connemara and Welsh strains for riding. Shire horses were bred as draft animals and for the gyspsy wagons. Llamas served as beasts of burden and to provide hair for spinning.

The pigs were useful as disposal systems, transforming slops into protein-rich meat. Since not as many pigs were bred as other herd animals, pork came to be regarded as a special treat.

The chosen breed of dog was a ferret-dog, a Jack Russel terrier type that would kill the snakes that were attacking the nomal folk who slept in the open air. Later, the dogs were employed to chase and kill tunnel snakes. The DLG also shows a picture of a sheperd-type breed though it does not mention it. Felines were also useful against the vermin. Tabby cats were thawed out and began to produce litters within weeks.

Cats and dogs, now called felines and canines, are kept for pest control or, in the case of dogs, as herd or guard animals. The felines and canines have adapted to fit the colder climates of Pern, having developed thicker, shaggier coats.

The creator of the grubs also experimented with cheetah fetuses, trying to produced a mentasynth-enhanced feline that would kill tunnel snakes and other dangerous creatures. He was familiar enough with the Eridani equations to know that cats reacted poorly to mentasynth, but he recklessly ignored that knowledge. The animals escaped after killing him and feral descendents now roam the Southern Continent.

The first Earth creature to be born on Pern were chickens. Geese and ducks were next to be hatched out. The fertilized turkey ova failed to mature, but the other types of barnyard fowl were doing well enough that the veterinarians were not displeased to have lost only one species. Doves and pigeons hatched out, but between wherries and tunnel snakes, neither species lasted long enough to mate.

Chickens and geese exist on modern Pern only in the warmest Holds and in batteries where they are protected from wherries. Very few ducks have survived to the present.

Permission had been obtained by the bioengineers to use the techniques of the Eridani to adapt animals to Pern. The most important of these methods were gene paring, mentasynth, and chromosome enhancements. Fish and other marine life from Earth were introduced to the waters with minimal adaptations. HOrses were improved somewhat by genetic tinkering. The "grubs" whcih rendered a piece of protected ground inimical to Tread, were engineered by a renegade biologist/botanist of the original colony. Unfortunately, he left no records of the research that generated these useful insects. The Southern Continent has unchecked jungle because of the grubs' protection (this jungle is also home to pockets of original Terran trees that were not brought North but have survived on Southern).

The Pernese circa the Ninth Pass of the Red Star tend to categorize animals by use more than by species. Herdbeasts are animals kept in large numbers for meat or leather, and include bovines, ovines and caprines (which became the standard Pernese terms for cows, sheep and goats). Milchbeasts are the same species as herdbeasts, but kept for milk. Draybeasts are donkeys. Runners are a particular breed of horse developed by the Pernese. Burdenbeasts may be donkeys, oxen or draft horses.

A genetically altered breed of dolphins, sometimes called shipfish, accompanied humans to Pern. These dolphins had greatly increased intelligence, including a degree of psychic ability, and had developed means of communicating with humans. Unlike many of the other animals that accompanied humans, dolphins took to their new home well. They were trained to come to the sound of Dolphin Bells and helped troubled sailors in the oceans. Unfortunately, contact between dolphins and humans soon deteriorated, and for much of Pernese history they were not known to the human population.

Social Structure

The Pern of the Ninth Pass is a highly-structured society, consisting of four different groups of people, Weyrfolk, Holdfolk, Craftsfolk, and those without a permanent home, the Holdless and Traders. The Weyr, Hold and Hall are all separate from one another and the leaders of each are equal in rank. But in the same way, they are interdependent, and no one group could exist without the other two. Individual Weyrs, Holds, and Halls are autonomous, but generally maintain good relations with one another.

Weyrs

Main article: Weyr

The Weyrs are the home of the dragonriders of Pern. They are expansive structures, often situated in a cave-riddled extinct volcano, or along a mountain face, where there is enough space for both the dragons, their riders, and the people of the 'lower caverns', the staff which maintain the Weyr. Since the dragonriders and support staff are generally too busy to grow food, they depend on tithes of goods from the holds in order to survive.

Holds

Main article: Holds of Pern

The majority of people on Pern live in Holds. There are three sizes of Hold: Major, Minor, and Cothold. Major Holds are ruled by a Lord and Lady Holder, and their family. The remainder of the residents are staff and workers who run the hold, and professional crafters; all told, they usually number around one thousand. The Headwoman is in charge of the inner hold, and looks after all of the workings inside, while the Steward runs the outdoor parts of the hold. Major Holds tithe a portion of their produce to the nearest Weyr in return for protection from Thread.

Minor Holds are always beholden to a Major Hold, and tithe to them in return for protection from Thread and other dangers. They are run by a person who bears the title of Holder, and are home to smaller numbers of people than Major Holds.

Cotholds are small, family-run holds, and usually all those who live there are family or close friends. 'Family' on Pern generally means an extended family of several generations and branches, as opposed to the two-adults-with-children model common in Western societies on our own world.

Each hold is responsible for the discipline of its wrongdoers. Most times the Lord Holder will make the wrongdoer pay restitution and service to the wronged party. The next severest punishment is incarceration. Death penalty can also be used in response to heinous crimes. But the greatest punishment is to be named holdless. This is where a person is stripped of all rank and status and thrown out of the hold. The reason this is the most severe punishment is because the holdless have nowhere to go during Threadfall.

Halls

Main article: Crafthalls of Pern

The Crafthalls are the home to craftsmen; those Pernese skilled in a particular industry. The Crafts of Pern are: Harper, Smith, Healer, Miner, Weaver, Farmer, Fisher, Tanner, Baker, Vintner, and Herder. For example, the Harpercraft is responsible for teaching young children the Teaching Ballads, which provide them with basic knowledge. When a child is ten or twelve, they are sent to be an apprentice at a Crafthall if they show a flair for that particular craft. The Crafthalls train the crafters and send them out all over Pern to provide their skills to even the remotest hold. Note that it is not necessary for someone to be (for example) a trained farmcrafter in order to grow food; holders have a wide variety of skills, but it is the crafters who are the experts.

The crafts all use the same hierarchy. Everyone in each craft begins as an apprentice, usually from age 12 to 18, then becomes a journeyman (18 to 30), and then, with a great deal of hard work and dedication, possibly a Master (30+). Not everyone makes it to Master status, and some leave before even Journeyman. Such a step from apprentice to journeyman is called 'walking the tables', based on the custom that apprentices and journeymen eat at different tables at a crafthall.

The crafthalls are located in the Major Holds. For example, the Harper Hall and Healer Hall of the Northern Continent are both located in Fort Hold. At least some crafts have local crafthalls at other Major Holds; for example, there is a small weavercraft hall at High Reaches Hold.

The leaders of the Halls are called Mastercrafters, for example, the Masterharper is the head of the entire Harper Hall, and is not to be confused with a Master Harper, of which there may be several.

Other

The Holdless

These people are those who have been punished, or were forced out at the dawning of a Pass because they were useless and have been left holdless. They have no guaranteed protection from Thread, and the life of a Holdless is often dangerous. This is not improved by the fact that, as most of those forced out are either elderly or women, they are easy targets for the more depraved holdless (and sometimes the rougher holders) who have been ejected from their holds as a punishment for murder or rape.

Traders

These are the people who take tradable goods to less well off holds, and those people who often cannot reach a gather. It is these isolated holders that need the traders and their trains of goods to keep them equipped with flamethowers and farming equipment from the Crafthalls. Traders usually visit those holds that have few or no marks and so take produce instead. It is very rare that a trader will carry perishable goods that can be found somewhere else such as grain or culled animals. The only way this will happen is if the good in question is local and/or exotic and will be highly valued by those with more marks in the larger holds.

Another way the traders serve the rest of Pern is by allowing Craft Journeymen or Masters to travel with them so that these talented men and women do not have to take the long and sometimes dangerous journey by themselves.

Human settlement patterns

At the time of colonization, the eastern portion of the Southern Continent was selected as the most hospitable site to initiate the spread of civilization. Accordingly, Landing was established near the dormant volcano Mount Garben, on a fertile plateau near the Jordan River. Suitable stakeholds were established across much of the Southern Continent.

The advent of Thread and the eruption of Mount Garben, both consequences of a close pass by the Red Star, forced the evacuation of first Landing, and then the entire Southern Continent, to Fort Hold on the Northern Continent. Circumstances then constrained human settlement for the next twenty-five centuries to the tectonically stable, cave-riddled Northern Continent. During the Ninth Pass of the Red Star, population pressure and improved technology made possible the recolonization of the Southern Continent and the rediscovery of the original settlements along with the creation of brand new ones such as the telescope protect on the oft forgotten Western Continent mentioned towards the end of 'The Skies of Pern'.




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