"Man," said Terl, "is an endangered species."
The hairy paws of the Chamco brothers hung suspended above the broad keys of the laser-bash game. The cliffs of Char's eyebones drew down over his yellow orbs as he looked up in mystery. Even the steward, who had been padding quietly about picking up her saucepans, lumbered to a halt and stared.
Terl could not have produced a more profound effect had he thrown a meat-girl naked into the middle of the room.
Here we go, the first paragraphs of Part 1, Chapter 1 of Battlefield Earth. I guess it works well as an introduction to the story, as it sets up the premise and brings up questions that the reader will search for answers to... but it also has some worrying signs of what's to come.
They tell us that not only is mankind near extinction, but that the characters we're seeing here aren't men. Terl's name is the first we encounter, so we know that he's probably a major character. We learn that whatever these creatures discussing mankind's status are, they have "hairy paws," yellow eyes, and cliff-like eyebones... which can apparently move to shield their eyes? A jaw-like, organic visor of some sort? Points for creativity, at least.
We also learn that these creatures have a strange approach to titles, and refer to females practitioners of a certain occupation as "steward" rather than "stewardess." And though they are barbaric enough to conceive of a notion such as "meat-girl," they also understand what an endangered species is. They probably use it to keep track of how well the extermination is going.
As an aside, Battlefield Earth's original title was Man the Endangered Species.
The setting is the Intergalactic Mining Company employee recreation hall, a dome-like structure on "the earth." Since "the earth" has a single moon and the title is Battlefield Earth, we can assume that this is a taking place on the Earth, and that this book was insufficiently edited.
This Terl fellow is reading a book, and is pleased at the attention his proclamation got, as he's bored with his ten-year tour of duty on this "gods-abandoned mining camp, way out here on the edge of a minor galaxy." Guess they really are intergalactic miners. No doubt we'll be hearing more about these creatures' religious beliefs later, right? Obviously they're polytheistic, but we're just scratching the surface of what is obviously a complex and well-developed... I shouldn't get your hopes up.
A footnote from "the translator" explains that "time, distance and weight have all been translated in all cases throughout this book to old Earth time, distance and weight systems for the sake of uniformity and to prevent confusion in hte various systems employed by the Psychlos."
Huh, I wonder if they converted into metric or English measurements? Also, Psychlos?!
Char, presumably one of these "Psychlos," asks Terl "what in the name of diseased crap are you reading?" An odd choice of words. If I were building up an alien race (these guys are aliens by the way, sorry to spoil the surprise), I might try to make up my own swears, like, idunno, "Mrifk!" Or an oath like "by Grabtharr's Hammer!" Something to spice things up, build a mythos, really emphasize that the speaker comes from a different background. But I guess "diseased crap" says a lot about its speaker too - they're unpleasant and unimaginative, except when it comes to speculating on what could make sewage even less appealing.
Terl doesn't like Char's tone, since Char's just a manager, while Terl is chief of minesite security. But he explains that he was reading from Volume 250,369 of General Report of Geological Minesites, a huge book "printed on material that made it almost weightless," (styrofoam?) "particularly on a low-gravity planet such as Earth, a triumph of design and manufacture that did not cut heavily into the payloads of freighters."
These facts are problematic. While the sheer size of the volume number impresses upon the reader just how huge the Psychlo holdings are, you have to wonder - the Milky Way is just one galaxy out of billions, with somewhere between two to four hundred billion stars in it, with who knows how many planets. And even if not all of these planets were worth mining, would 250,000 volumes of mining reports be enough to document all of them? Especially if this is a truly intergalactic mining consortium. I guess either the Psychlo came from a really small galaxy, or else started mining ours before using up everything in their home corner of the universe. Or maybe the print is really small.
And why a book? You're got space flight, and an intergalactic mining operation, but no computers? This uneven application of technology is a problem throughout the story, as we'll see once we get to the plot proper. Moving along.
Oh hey, next we hear an alien swear: "Rughr." Or maybe that was a burp. Char estimates the book is two or three hundred "Earth-years" old, so I guess the translator adjusted this from "Psychlo-years," but left the belch-burp stand.
Those Chamco brothers look up from their game, which apparently involves shooting live mayflies in an "air-box" (geez, get a Wii or something), and Terl announces that a recon drone only spotted thirty-five men in a nearby valley, when old books state that there used to be hundreds. And furthermore, there used to be thousands of humans on Earth!
Char makes a reference to one time, on Arcturus IV... and I'm annoyed again as the translator puts everything in human terms. You missed an opportunity there, Hubbard - you could have called the planet Teegeeack and saved the big reveal for later. Oh my god, the Psychlo mining camp was Earth all along! Wow! Of course, you would've had to use a better title than Battlefield Earth, but still...
Apparently the Intergalactic Mining Company had a culture and ethnology department just over a hundred years ago, before it was disbanded due to being a moronic thing for a mining company to have. I'm kind of with the bad guys (spoilers lol!) on this one.
And then we hit the word "breathe-gas," and inwardly, I groan. Get used to this word. I don't remember if Hubbard ever explains what mixture of elements the Psychlos breathe, but I do remember him insisting on using "breathe-gas" to describe it. And this awkward, annoying terminology is the least stupid thing about the gas in question.
Char chews out Terl for trying to scam up a "nonscheduled vacation" or an excuse for a hunting expedition. He then describes humanity in Psychlo terms - we only come up to their beltline, we hardly have any hair except on our heads, we're all a "dirty white color," so fragile that we break apart when a Psychlo tries to pick us up, and we're so weak we'd "strain our guts out" trying to lift a saucepan of kerbango - hey, another alien word! But why isn't it italicized?
In summary, we can deduce that Psychlos are twice our size, hairy, and super-strong. I keep getting mental images of Wookiees, but they're fighting with the idiotic Psychlo design from the film of the book and losing. John Travolta as a Conehead with dreadlocks and limb extensions? Priceless.
Char finishes his speech with a burp, which I guess means that rughr was more than an expulsion of air. One of the Chamco brothers then complains about how nasty this "oxygen-nitrogen stuff" humans breathe is, and how green everything here is. Apparently he pines for the purple of home.
Char asks Terl, "You ain't really going hunting for a man, are you?" which makes me snicker inappropriately. Today's sales pitch - it's like "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," only gay!
Terl insists that there was something to mankind, and that they had flying machines and boats and even shot things into space. Char wonders if another race couldn't have done that, but Terl describes how the Psychlos found "the earth." They found a probe bearing a picture that gave full directions back to our planet (d'oh!), and the material the picture was made of (gold-anodized aluminum) was "rare everywhere and worth a clanking fortune."
"Clanking?" This haphazard approach to alien vocabulary frakking annoys me. And I guess the statement about gold's rareness is somewhat accurate, at least according to my lazy attempt at research. But on further thought, those are ratios for Earth - wouldn't other planets have different amounts of gold? And why would it be equally valuable to every alien race? I mean, we just like it because it's shiny. Surely alien aesthetics would be different. It's not like it's a particularly useful metal - it's malleable and a decent conductor, but... y'know, let's just keep going, this chapter's almost over.
Anyway, "Intergalactic paid the Psychlo government" (which apparently doesn't have a name like Parliament or Congress or Diet) "sixty trillion Galactic credits" (again with "credits" as sci-fi currency) "for the directions and the concession. One gas barrage and we're in business."
Guess they did a bit of research before dumping a load of nasty, poisonous oxygen on us. Char's response to the story is "ump." Since rughr wasn't a burp, I guess ump was more than a fart. Well, Terl is set to capture a human, and Char calls him a crazy as a "nebula of crap," which is a vivid but disgusting concept. Apparently there is deadly uranium in them thar hills, though it's dangerous for a more idiotic reason than you'd expect, but that's for later.
But Terl, ah, Terl has a plan! He's started rumors and set things up so no one will question when he "begun to put into motion the personal plans that would make him wealthy and powerful and, almost as important, dig him out of this accursed planet." The man-things - and oh boy, another hyphenated word, how doubleplusgood - are the key. And then he falls asleep "gloating over how clever he was."
And that's it for the first chapter. Only four pages and it took this much time and energy to get through. I'm on page 7 of 1083.
What have I gotten myself into...
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