Monday, November 30, 2009

Part 2, Chapter 6 - Thirsty for Knowledge (and Potable Water)

After a "damp, cold, thoroughly miserable" evening in which Jonnie tried to stay out of the mud for as long as possible before giving up to sleep, our hero is still suffering from dehydration, having refused to drink from the muck mixed with slime that now fills his cage.

On the bright side, he knows that his tribal myths were right and he was wrong.

Terl visits, takes one look at the mud, and comes back with a table and chair, which Jonnie is disappointed to learn are not for him. Terl sets down the two books Jonnie found, as well as a strange metal disc about the size of two handspans. Suddenly, Jonnie has forgotten English measurements. Or else the "translator" did. Whatever. Moving along.

Jonnie goes for the book, but Terl indicates that he ought to check the disc first. Jonnie is suspicious (and bruised from the physical rebuke), and knows that "anything this monster was up to would be devious, treacherous and dangerous. That had been adequately proved." Hmm? Jonnie figured out that Terl intentionally let him out, as opposed to tracking him down? Other from that, nothing he's done has been particularly subtle. "The game was to bide one's time, watch and learn - and out of that possibly wrest freedom."

Remember, this is the cunning hero who tried to break out of his cell without checking his provisions first, and when that was thwarted, repeated the attempt three or four more times within the afternoon.

Terl's gizmo (whoops, sorry for the innuendo) has two "windows" and a lever on the front of it. The Psychlo flips the switch, and Jonnie's mind is completely blown when the device "talks." You have to hand it to him - you'd think at some point, between the Magical Flying Cockroach, death rays, and extrasensory perception - a person would become somewhat jaded when weird stuff starts happening around this monster. But not Jonnie, no, he's just as wide-eyed and amazed as he was the third time Terl caught him breaking out of his cell.

His handler grabs a fleeing Jonnie and forcibly sits him down to listen to the Magical Talking Disc. He shows the puny Earthling that there's a face in one window, scribbles in the other, and that moving the lever to different sides produces different sounds - English, and some strange language. After Terl points at himself, Jonnie surmises that the weird tongue is his captor's.

"Jonnie's interest was immediate, intense, and flaming." This is not a particularly important sentence, but I just wanted to call attention to it for all the ways it could be used out of context.

The Magical Talking Disc introduces itself: "Excuse me, but I am your instructor if you will forgive such arrogance. I do not have the honor to be a Psychlo. I am but a lowly Chinko." The instructor is "Joga Stenko, Junior Assistant Language Slave in the Language Division of the Department of Culture and Ethnology, Planet Earth."

And suddenly I remember that the conquering aliens only made an attempt to learn the planet's languages after they set up shop. So why do they call it Earth? Did they seriously rename their designation for it after learning what its previous, non-Psychlo inhabitants called it? Is this more of that ever-so-wonderful "translator" making us second-guess every other bit of information?

Just as suddenly, I remember the most important rule of Battlefield Earth: don't think about it, just keep moving.

The Chinko gives a brief tutorial, before concluding with "You will pardon my humble pretensions of learnedness. All wisdom abides in the Governors of Psychlo and one of their major companies, the great and mighty Intergalactic Mining Company, on which let there be profit!" Which again brings up questions of Psychlo governance, but I don't think the answers would be worth the effort of asking the questions, so again, let's move on.

Jonnie looks up at Terl and stares at the monster's wolf-like eyes with suspicion, but Terl gestures for Jonnie to continue. The Chinko starts going through the English alphabet - another setting starts lessons in Swedish (!) - and Terl opens up the primer Jonnie looted and points out the identical symbol. Jonnie understands. As a reward, Terl offers him two rats, but for some reason the starving caveman is reluctant to get some more meat.

Terl tries to take the machine back with him, but Jonnie stops him and stands defiant. The monster roars with laughter, exits, but leaves the machine behind.

There was much bitterness and determination on Jonnie's face. He had to know more. Much more. Then he could act.

The machine was still on the table.

Jonnie reached for the lever.

Not a bad way to finish the chapter, aside from the fact that Jonnie's patient, cunning behavior is completely at odds with his previous day in captivity. Let's be charitable and call that character development. Oh yeah, and Jonnie's forgotten his dehydration. We end at the bottom of page 71. Next chapter: shortcuts.

Back to Chapter Five

Friday, November 27, 2009

Part 2, Chapter 5 - The Care and Feeding of Man-Things

We're back with Terl, who is feeling very pleased with himself due to his cunning plan to learn what the "man-thing" eats. He was able to easily track Jonnie with something called a "flying scope," or in other words, a surveillance drone. So shouldn't he call "gas drones" something like "flying sprayer?" Oi.

He does some paperwork, pertaining to a dead Psychlo and ruined tractor found at the bottom of a two-mile deep mineshaft, which bodes well for Terl's cunnin' planz. We'll learn more later. For now, Terl's out to get some food for his pet, and grabs his blast gun and mask before stepping outside.

Turns out our main Psychlo was on the school shooting team, as shown by his skill at decapitating leaping rats in mid-air at fifty feet. Which comes out to forty-two Psychlo paces. So... was Terl thinking in Psychlo feet, or did the "translator" clean things up for us?

The bigger question is why there are rats hanging around the minesite. They can't breathe that mysterious "breathe-gas," and Jonnie showed us that Earth creatures can't palate Psychlo food. Are the rodents seriously going to loiter around a place filled with hostile air, huge lumbering creatures, and heavy mining equipment, without the promise of food to make up for the danger of being squashed?

Terl bags two rats, which makes his "mouthbones" stretch out in a grin. You have to wonder what miraculous, flexible substance makes up the Psychlo skeletal system. Some kind of cartilage? A system of firm but malleable fluid-filled bladders? Or does L. Ron mean Terl's lips stretch out into a grin, and just fails at the English language?

I wonder if Scientologists learn the answers to these questions after paying enough?

Terl heads back to the cage, and notices for the first time that Jonnie is outright glaring at him. The Psychlo is surprised that humans have emotions, but tosses his prisoner the rats he caught. Jonnie is unenthusiastic, and Terl sees that the human is staring at two books. Terl wonders where in the "crap nebula" it had gotten them. I wonder if there really is a Crap Nebula somewhere, given the frequency that Psychlos reference it.

After some quick plumbing work, Terl fills a cement pool in the cage. He pours too much into it, and Jonnie has to climb up on the bars to stay out of the standing water and mud.

There, I just summarized a full page of narration.

Terl confiscates Jonnie's books, flips through them, and wonders if the Chinkos were right about humans being able to grasp meaning. This is the same person, remember, who claimed that humans were intelligent, the dominant species on Earth, and capable of building vast cities and launching rockets into space. Too much kerbango? Terl's natural stupidity? Plot hole? The choice is yours.

Full of questions, Terl laments that it's useless to try to talk to the "man-thing," but in a flash of insight realizes that the squawking noises it was making earlier were its language! Humans can talk! Wow!

I am tempted here to post a picture of Captain Jean-Luc Picard facepalming. But I fear that if I did this now, I'd end up using it every chapter, and that would get old real fast.

Terl flips the books' pages in front of Jonnie, but there's no glimmer of recognition. The Psychlo surmises the human can't read. Ah, but Jonnie does see something in the book's pretty pictures. Terl can work with that. He scurries off to the Chinko quarters, to find one of the "man-language disks" they made.

That's right. The Chinkos couldn't figure out the human diet, but somehow managed to completely translate not one, but several Earth languages into Psychlo, presumably just from ruined libraries and such. Hubbard actually does some lampshade hanging here, as Terl snorts that typically for the race, the Chinko "miss the essentials and soar off into the stratosphere." I ought to give credit where it's due, but I can't help wondering if this was accidental.

We end near the bottom of page 67. In Chapter 6, thrill as Jonnie learns.

Back to Chapter Four

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Part 2, Chapter 4 - Despite All His Rage...

The first sentence of this chapter is "Jonnie watched the monster." The second is "Thirsty, hungry, and with no hope, he felt adrift in a sea of unknowns." They don't work well together.

The second line is descriptive and dramatic, a good opener. Unfortunately, it follows a concise description that makes the following sentence feel rather jarring and prosy, especially since the narrative immediately goes back into beige prose afterward. It's like L. Ron decided he should be poetic for a moment, and, once satisfied, resumed churning out the literary equivalent of thin, gray gruel that comprises the majority of this book.

Terl shows up to stare at Jonnie for a bit, then the alien checks that the bars haven't been loosened, and counts the uneaten ration bars Jonnie has shoved as far away as possible (Jonnie is of course surprised that a tool-using, humanoid creature can count). After this Terl unhooks Jonnie's collar and fastens it to a bar closer to the cage gate. Finally, Terl messes with how the gate is wired shut, and "doesn't seem to notice" how one of them springs free as he leaves.

His captor out of sight, Jonnie lunges at his packs, desperate for food and drink, only to find that the water bladder has burst and his pork spoiled. Sucks to be him. Maybe you ought to have gone for them during your first escape attempt, Jonnie? Guess he didn't want his flight to be weighed down by a full stomach or essential supplies.

Jonnie scoops up his "kill-club" (someday to be replaced with a "shoot-gun") and a rope, then inspects the cage door. He manages to untwist the wires securing it, opens the door, and is off on a daring escape!

After three miles with no sign of pursuit, Jonnie finds a brook in a gully, and displays some survival skill by not immediately drinking, but rinsing his mouth and soaking before taking some careful drinks, lest he get sick from sudden rehydration. Still apparently alone, he goes a-huntin'. The only animals he can find are rats, but he's hungry, and throws his club. Luckily for him, this does not reduce the rat to rodent puree, so he goes back to the stream, cleans his kill, and, not willing to risk a fire, eats it raw. Not a complete savage, he finds the experience repellent and struggles not to barf back up what he's forcing down.

And then Terl throws a net over him, hauls Jonnie in like a rodeo calf, tucks the human under his arm, and starts lumbering back to the compound.

Yep. Terl was willing to let his captive escape just so he wouldn't have to do some research or exercise his brain over what to feed it. I know L. Ron intends for us to feel that Terl isn't as clever as he thinks he is, but I think it's possible to succeed too well in this regard.

We end at the very bottom of page 63. Next chapter: pest control.

Back to Chapter Three

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Part 2, Chapter 3 - Terl Does Homework

It's the next day, and Terl is putting up with a breathing-mask as he pokes around the long-abandoned Chinko quarters on the outskirts of the minesite. Bookcases, filing cabinets, desks, all covered in dust. No mention at all of electronics or, gods forbid, an actual computer.

We get a bit of an explanation for the Chinkos, who were brought in after "protests by more warlike and able worlds that mining was wrecking planetary ecologies." But once it turned out that the Chinkos were painters, and some corrupt officials started making a killing selling the art pieces, the name was changed from Ecological to Cultural and Ethnology Department. Then the aliens went on strike, and the Psychlos decided to wipe out every last one.


I'm trying to conceptualize the Psychlo civilization, and it's proving tricky. Earth is a mining base run by a powerful, trans-galactic corporation... which nonetheless bows to pressure from "warlike and able planets" to form an Ecological Department, even though the corporation has its own private army, capable of conquering Earth on its own. Yet there's also a greater Psychlo government that the company had to get concessions from? The Psychlo empire lets all-powerful corporations seize and strip-mine planets and doesn't intervene when they get into squabbles with smaller political entities? That doesn't seem like a good way to run galaxies.

Maybe L. Ron clears it up later. If he does, though, I don't remember it.

We also learn that the Psychlos wiped out a possible source of income in a temper tantrum. No doubt this is meant to underscore the idea that these Psychlos are dangerous, vindictive tyrants, but it just makes them look impulsive and stupid.

Anyway, Terl wonders along with the reader why a planet whose dominant life-forms were gas drone'd needed a culture and ethnology department. Nevertheless, the Chinko produced several yards of filing cabinets' worth of material, including studies of bears, the diet of whales - which are extinct (From what? Gas drones? Did they gas the oceans just to be thorough?) - but nothing about the diet of humans, which is what he's looking for.

Terl, honey? It's a good idea to learn how to feed your pet before you get it. And why would your first choice of feed be mush-sticks your own species snacks on? Why not throw in some plants or animal carcasses from the thing's habitat and see what it goes for? He's simultaneously overthinking and underthinking his dilemma.

Along the way, Terl sees some maps with the "Chinko names" for Earth's features, such as "Alps," "North Pole," and "Colorado." He learns that as of hundreds of years ago, there were fifteen groups of men in the upper latitudes, an unknown number in Scotland, some in the Alps, and of course the Village of the Idiots near the mining camp.

And again, this just raises further questions, like why the human population hasn't rebounded to noticeable levels in a thousand years. Heck, Europe was decimated by the Black Death in the Middle Ages, but bounced back within a few centuries. It'd be smart if the Psychlos were culling the humans every so often, but there's no indication that they take them seriously any more. So I guess mankind's just a bunch of slackers. Or the females have all had headaches for the past millennium.

Also, why was Scotland spared but England obliterated? Did the gas clouds butt up against Hadrian's Wall? Does the gas just not work in certain atmospheric conditions? Does it have something to do with kilts?

Unable to determine what man eats, Terl steps outside, notes how much he hates this planet, plans the rest of his day, and vows that he'll put his "tried-and-true security technology to work on that man-thing," his ticket off this rock.

We'll see what Terl's idea of security work is next chapter. We end just above page 60, having moved through a mercifully short if baffling and uneventful section.

Back to Chapter Two

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Part 2, Chapter 2 - Jonnie's Day Gets Worse

Our P.O.V. returns to Jonnie Goodboy Tyler, who is in some discomfort. The sun above him is hot, his collar was put on while it was still cooling and is resting unpleasantly on burned flesh, and he's hungry and thirsty. He's got supplies in his satchels that could ameliorate this problems, but alas, since being collared he can no longer reach them.

Hey, you were trying to climb the bars earlier, yes? And your collar's attached to a loop over the top of one? Just shimmy on up and... oh wait, since you were hasty with your escape attempts, now you're under observation. Good one, Goodboy.

Still, you popped that car/tank's window out of its frame, eh? I'd call it a fair trade. Yes, you're in a cage and near death, but you mildly inconvenienced your attacker instead of running and hiding like a sensible animal.

Jonnie is forced to admit that there might be some truth to the elders' legends about monsters.

We get a human's description of a Psychlo - at least nine feet tall, a third that much wide, easily a thousand pounds (where did he get these measurements again?), booted feet, talons and furry claws, and glowing amber eyes behind its shiny "face." The monster also seems to have extraordinary perception, given how it spotted Jonnie's escape attempts despite being out of sight. In an amazing intuitive leap, Jonnie suspects the objects it installed in the cage, "like small detachable eyes," might have something to do with it. I guess believing in gods is one thing, but monsters with magical powers is just too much.

His captor shows up again, and it dawns on Jonnie that its skin isn't shiny and purple, but it's wearing clothes. Despite Jonnie noticing its boots earlier. Even when Jonnie does something smart, he still finds a way of reminding us that he's an idiot.

The monster throws some "soft, gooey sticks of something" at the ground in front of Jonnie, then waits expectantly. Then it makes gestures, pointing at the sticks, then Jonnie's face. And once it becomes clear that Jonnie isn't connecting the dots, the beast squashes one of the sticks against Jonnie's mouth.

"Jonnie got it. This was supposed to be food."

That bit of narration is hilarious if you imagine it as a deadpan voice-over accompanied by a shot of Terl cramming the food-sticks into a squirming, panicking Jonnie's mouth.

Unfortunately for Jonnie, monster-food makes him hurl, which does not help his dehydration either. He points at his mouth and begs for water. He doesn't try to mime drinking something, or anything like that. He just hopes his tormentor knows English.

Terl just stands there, his slitted eyes "glowing with an eerie fire." Huh, wonder why they didn't include that special effect for the movie Psychlos? They just got lame contacts.

"Jonnie composed himself stoically. It was wrong to look weak and beg. There was such a thing as pride. He drew his face into stillness."

Um... hmm. I guess this is to show that Jonnie's heroic? Beaten, but not conquered? Undaunted by the massive physical presence of his adversary? Unfortunately, Jonnie, sometimes - like, for example, if you're dehydrated and starving - your odds of survival are increased if you do things like indicate that you're in pain and need proper food or medical attention. You can try to break out later when you're not, y'know, dying.

Terl, who doesn't know enough about humans to recognize a defiant look, just checks to make sure Jonnie still has his collar on and leaves.

Way to show him, Jonnie! That'll teach him to... attempt to feed you.

And so, burning with thirst, hungry, and alone, Jonnie spends the night in his cage, miserable. He reckons Windsplitter is either hurt or dead, and that he'll die in a few days too. But hey, you'll have died defiant, so you get the moral victory.

"And then with a shock he realized that Chrissie's promise to find him would wind up in her certain death." Hmm? Well I guess that could happen, if she makes it to the Great Village and there's another Magical Flying Cockroach there. On the other hand, if she's smart she'll run and hide until the danger passes, evading the monsters that obviously outclass her until she can make her escape.

So yeah, I guess Chrissie's screwed.

"He caved in." I don't know what this means. Does he finally drop the stoic facade? Does he start digging? Does he start crying? Does his ribcage collapse, leaving him a heap of burbling flesh and bone? L. Ron knows, but doesn't tell us.

And so, as the unblinking camera at the top of the cage looks on at what might be a pitiful scene, depending on what exactly the author meant with the previous sentence, our chapter ends near the bottom of page 58. Tune in next time for geography, population data, and xenophobia.

Back to Chapter One

Monday, November 23, 2009

Part 2, Chapter 1 - The Worst Zoo in the World

"Terl was all efficiency, great plans bubbling in his cavernous skull." Ah, so the author admits the main villain's head is mostly empty!

Turns out the Chinkos had put up some cages on the edge of the Psychlo mining camp in order to study some bears, which is where Terl dumps "the new beast." Our hero is still getting over choking on an alien atmosphere thanks to the overwhelming stupidity of our villain, so Terl sets about securing the prisoner as best he can. Though the cage has no roof (is it technically a cage still?), its bars are thirty feet high. It has a lock, but not a very good one, so Terl ties the animal to a bar by a "thong" around his neck. And yes, technically "thong" can refer to a strip of leather, but you'd think a successful author would find a better word. Maybe "strap?"

Oh, and Terl dumps his captive's luggage in the cell with it for lack of a better place to store it. Just off the top of my head, I can suggest the ground outside the cell out of arm's reach, which would ensure that the obvious tool-using creature has no access to anything that may help him escape. But that's just me.

Terl does paperwork, which is not described in great detail, unlike all the other tedious passages in the book thus far. When finished, he puts on a "breathe-mask" (as opposed to gas mask), notes the shortage of "secretarial-type Psychlos" (as opposed to secretaries), and checks on his critter. He's startled to see that the creature has untied Terl's knot and made it over to the gate.

The antagonist which we are supposed to take seriously puts the animal in a double-rigger knot, and satisfied, goes off to wash his car (?!), scheming and planning the whole time, as his ambitions depend on the "man-thing" being intelligent enough to mine for gold, remember.

"On a sudden hunch" he goes back to the cage, and dag nabbit if the gosh-danged thing has untied itself again, "making some funny noises as if it could talk" when it sees Terl.

Terl ties a new knot, gets out of sight, and uses a "telephoto" to spy on the cage. And the man-thing unties the knot again! Who'd have thought?! In a huff, Terl unleashes the ultimate knot, which only a veteran rigger could hope to listen. And then the beast cuts the rope with something sharp!

I know, I know, but take some deep breaths and try to hold on. This narrative roller coaster ride is almost over.

Finally displaying some competence, Terl welds together a collar and, interrupting his captive's attempt at scaling the bars, attaches it to its neck. Then he loops the other end of a "flexirope" (what, no hyphen?) over the top of one of the thirty-foot bars... somehow. I guess Psychlos are excellent jumpers, since there's no mention of a stepladder or anything. To top it all off Terl sets up some "button cameras" to keep an eye on the cage. And all the while he's perplexed by the animal pointing at its mouth and making strange noises.

So, let's review:

Terl thinks that "man" is sentient, and trainable enough to get some gold for him. He identifies Jonnie as a "man" (eventually), after his adversary charges at him on horseback to hurl clubs at his vehicle.

Despite this, Terl never suspects that his catch is trying to communicate with him, and is repeatedly surprised when a sentient, tool-using creature escapes a simple leather leash.


There's such a thing as the Villain Ball, but this? This is a villain who has displayed little to no intelligence from the story's beginning. There's no level of competence for Terl to fall from. He is a facepalm-inducing idiot from the very get-go. If he encountered the Villain Ball, it was shortly after birth, to shove it up his nose into his vacant skull, where it rattles around to this day.

Not only does this make Terl much less threatening and credible as a villain, but it also makes Jonnie look like even more of an idiot the longer he is foiled by the Psychlo. A hero is only as good as his enemies, after all.

Not that Jonnie isn't being a moron here. It never occurred to our plucky little human to just wait until nightfall to make his escape? Especially after Terl rushed over to stop him despite seemingly lacking a way to monitor Jonnie? He couldn't think to feign defeat at Terl's super-hard knots, and slip out at three in the morning?

In a way, these two are made for each other. A competent character with a functioning brainstem, if put in either of their places, would stop this story's contemptibly dumb plot from happening. Fortunately (said in a massively sarcastic tone of voice), Terl and Jonnie are stupid enough to keep things moving.

We end just before the bottom of page 55. Next chapter, Jonnie suffers. Yay schadenfreude.

Back to Part One, Chapter Thirteen

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Part 1, Chapter 13 - What a Weird Horse

Now we get to see the Jonnie vs. the Magical Floating Cockroach battle from Terl's perspective. Turns out he had driven into the ruined city, chugged some kerbango, and fallen asleep, only awoken the next day by Jonnie's intrusion. He sees, as he puts it, a two-headed horse before him.

Terl knows what horses are, since they apparently fall down mine shafts from time to time. But it takes him a while to figure out that there's another animal riding the "two-headed one." Now, this would suggest that a) the Psychlo have been mechanized for so long that the idea of using animals for transportation is an alien concept to them, b) Terl is still drunk, or c) Terl is an idiot. All options are equally valid at this point, though Terl's stupidity will reveal itself soon enough.

This makes Terl bat his "eyebones," and once again I wonder if L. Ron is creating a truly alien physiology here, if this is a typo of "eyelids," or if ol' Hubbard was "drinking lots of rum and popping pinks and greys" when he was cranking out this garbage.

The only extra detail we learn about the chase from last chapter is that Terl chugged some more kerbango during it.

Again, Jonnie attacks - or rather, the two-headed beast takes a stick out of his belt and charges with it. Now, Terl notices the belt on this strange "horse," but he never seems to question why this "horse" is wearing clothing and equipment and using a weapon. Maybe he thinks all the horses that fell down the mine shafts were nudist, Luddite pacifists?

Anyway, the club hits the vehicle right in the window - the "missile-proof" window, mind you - and manages to knock the thing out of its mounting, causing dangerous "air" to leak into the cabin! Terl manages to put on a mask before he becomes more than dizzy. Peeved, he cranks down his cannon to "stun" (to avoid damaging the window further, not out of any particular desire to capture this remarkable horse). And with a blast of ions, the battle is over, Psychlo military science only just managing to overcome a guy with a stick.

To Terl's continued astonishment, the "two-headed horse" has fallen apart into two separate animals! And "luck of the gold nebula," one of them was a man!

Yes, this means that Terl was out trying to find something he couldn't recognize on sight.

He tosses his new captive into the car and starts repairing the battle damage. And here L. Ron admits that maybe having his hero bash up a "missile-proof" window is a bit much, so Terl justifies things by reasoning that the tank was old and brittle, or that Zzt had been doing shoddy work maintaining it. Good thing Jonnie showed up to warn him of this danger, or else Terl may have been killed in a sudden hailstorm or a deer collision.

Now, knowing that man is an air-breathing mammal, Terl has nonetheless put one into his vehicle and filled it with "breathe-gas." And yet he's still astonished when the man he's captured goes into convulsions. Only after throwing Jonnie back outside and watching him recover does Terl suddenly understand that by golly, these things can only breathe the atmosphere of the planet they evolved on!

Is this because Terl is stupid, or because Terl is stupid and drunk? Who can say...

Terl's too selfish to drive home in a gas mask, so he roots around Jonnie's luggage, finds some "thongs," and lashes him and the two horses to the roof of the car/tank. He stretches his jawbones in a grin (two mouths, a mandible-like arrangement, or more bad writing?) and drives off, our hero tied up like a roadkill deer being taken home to supper.

Which, all things considered, is a pretty hilarious mental image to end Part One on, just above the bottom of page 49.

Man, that took over two weeks, didn't it? So how many Parts are in this book?


Back to Chapter Twelve

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Part 1, Chapter 12 - Roach Battle

It was very bright daylight now. And there it sat. There could be no mistaking it.


Surely it must be an insect. Only cockroaches looked like that. Or beetles. No, cockroaches.

Y'know, not enough internal monologues let us hear the character arguing with himself. And I'm surprised that the word "alien" has been retained in Jonnie's tribe's vocabulary, even though an important meaning of it has not. They obviously haven't tried placing the concept next to the idea of God killing off most of humanity and formed an alternative theory or two.

But there were no cockroaches that big. Not thirty feet long and ten feet high and maybe twelve feet side to side.

I guess Jonnie went out and measured it... wait a minute, how does his tribe know what a "foot"is? Is there an ancient ruler lovingly maintained and reverently passed down through the ages, a master craftsman carefully making a precise replica of it every other generation?

A horrible brown color. And smooth.

Yet contoured "so that every exterior surface would make a hostile projectile glance off at an angle." Remarkable engineers, those Psychlos. And what's so horrible about brown? If there's any color a barbarian idiot like Jonnie should be used to, it's brown.

Jonnie realizes that the impression of life the "insect" gives him is due to something moving behind its "slitted eyes." Obviously out of his depth, he starts to back away slowly, but is startled when the bug gives an "earsplitting roar" and levitates three feet off the ground and begins to float forward, ever-so-slowly. So Jonnie runs for it.

The remarkable insect somehow blocks Jonnie's path by exploding and toppling a building, then circles around and cuts Jonnie off from the other direction too, leaving him trapped on a street between two ruins... or does it? Primitive daredevil that he is, Jonnie spurs his mount up the heap of rubble with a mighty "EEYAH!" while praying to the gods (but not God) that this doesn't hobble Windsplitter.

He makes it up and over the pile of debris, but wouldn't you know it but the Magical Floating Cockroach is still on his tail? Still stupidly trying to make it to open country instead of going to ground in an area full of hiding places, Jonnie keeps riding, but the MFC easily outpaces him and keeps cutting him off.

Jonnie's face tightened into determination.

He took the biggest kill-club from his belt. He put the thong solidly on his wrist. He cast off the lead horse.

Yep. After seeing this strange "creature" blow up a friggin' building, Jonnie charges and throws a stick at it. I think this speaks for itself.

Well, he makes a loud noise with the impact, hitting the thing square in the "eye," then he turns to see how the thing reacts. It doesn't. Instead of making the most of this window of opportunity, Jonnie decides to go for the other eye.

And then a great gout of yellow bloomed out from between the eyes. Jonnie was struck a blow like all the winds of Highpeak rolled into one.

Windsplitter caught the full force of it. Up into the air went horse and rider. Down they came with a shuddering crash against the earth.

And so the chapter ends, halfway down page 45, thus assuring us that no, our hero isn't dead. Pity. Next chapter: speculation on Psychlo attention to maintenance.

Back to Chapter Eleven

Monday, November 16, 2009

Part 1, Chapter 11 - Purty Pictures

Jonnie is finally entering the "Great Village." He travels down grass- and scrub-covered pathways between buildings, jumping whenever his presence causes a rodent to dart out of its hiding place. Oh, and he's apparently never heard an echo before, so it takes him a while to conclude that there isn't another horse in here with him.

Nice of L. Ron to remind us of who we're dealing with.

Our hero travels between "the tall remains of buildings, very tall indeed. Pitted by wind erosion, discolored by endless centuries of weather" - but I thought Denver was well-preserved because of its dry climate, L. Ron? - " they still stood, flat and even and imposing. Astonishing. Whoever could build such things? Gods, perhaps?"

Forgetting that his own tribal legends clearly describe great cities built by his ancestors, Jonnie reasons that maybe humans working together and using ropes and log ramps would be capable of putting together such wonders.

Jonnie investigates one building, passing between doors that have fallen off their hinges, navigating debris "scattered all about, rotted and decayed beyond identification. But a waist-high series of platforms stood; they were of a remarkably white stone that had bluish veins in it." He explores a room filled with shelves supporting the rotted remains of cloth, and mounds of tarnished gray and bright yellow disks. Yep, our hero's broken into a bank vault.

Investigating one of the discs, he sees that bird emblem again, and "his eyes bugged." There were faces of men (and a few women) on the discs. "This was not a god symbol. This was a man symbol. The bird with the arrows belonged to man!"

Apparently making tall stone buildings is one thing, but embellishing metal is quite another.

Jonnie exits the building in a daze after his epiphany, his very worldview flipped upside-down. Turns out one of the legends that the (other) idiots back home believed wasn't complete nonsense. Could there be some nuggets of truth to the other legends? "Maybe the legend of God getting angry with man and wiping him out was true. And maybe it wasn't. Maybe it had just been a big storm."

What about the monsters, Jonnie? Ah, he'll meet them soon enough.

Next our hero finds an unusual building, one that his skills as an "experienced tracker" tell him has been tampered with more recently than the other (not very) ruined structures. Someone had used an as-of-yet-uncorroded metal to seal off the doors and windows. But not well enough. Using his "kill-club," Jonnie pries the panel off, breaks the miraculous transparent material to shatter it, and crawls inside the somewhat less implausibly-preserved building.

Nice job sealing the archeological find, Chinkos... man I hate having to type that word. Up yours, L. Ron.

Inside is a room full of tables, chairs, and lots and lots of shelves, all covered with transparent sheeting. Jonnie removes some to examine the "queer, thick rectangles" on the shelves, and is surprised when they fall apart in his hands, the covers opening to reveal thin sheets of material covered in black lines.

Yes, Jonnie has just discovered books. And no, his stupid, stupid people were not able to hold on to a written language after the apocalypse. The pictures of an alphabet primer blow his primitive little mind.

All excited now, he stuffs the two purloined books in a pouch and leaves, convinced that this place is the obvious new home for his people, what with all the empty dwellings, firewood, and the fact that he's feeling better physically since leaving the mountains (oh, Jonnie wasn't feeling good up in Radiation Valley? Nice of you to let us know that, L. Ron).

The chapter ends a third down page 42, on a cliffhanger: "And then he saw the insect."

Excited yet?

Now, there's a trope called Ragnarok-Proofing which covers one of the biggest problems with this chapter, namely that after one thousand years a human city is still recognizable as a human city. It references this handy timeline by the History Channel special "Life After People," which points out that in half that time, even reinforced concrete will have begun to crumble. So unless the Chinko wrapped the entire ruined city of Denver in plastic, there wouldn't be anything for Jonnie to find.

And actually, unless the Chinko got to work real quickly, there shouldn't be any books left for them to preserve either. But what else would we expect from pure science fiction?

Back to Chapter Ten

Friday, November 13, 2009

Part 1, Chapter 10 - Arbitrary Skepticism

Our chapter opens with Jonnie suddenly noticing a "sharp and rectangular" skyline, which startles him so much he pulls up on Windsplitter with a hard enough yank to make the horse rear, in a similar manner to how a character in a modern setting would slam on a car's brakes in surprise.

We get this great bit of narration.

But as to the "Great Village," he was coming to believe as the afternoon wore on that somebody had probably seen that god house back there and multiplied it in his imagination.

And then suddenly there it was!

But was it?

That's what the book says! Or does it?

Poking around, Jonnie uncovers a "gray white" surface, like a toppled-over wall, similar to the paved path in front of the courthouse in the Village of the Idiots. He also remembers how one family who used to own a little firewood cart said that there used to be more carts, including one pulled by a mare.

The good news is that this suggests that Jonnie's village was slightly less stupid in the past. The bad news is that even while knowing that things like horsecarts are possible, the current generation either lacks the knowledge or gumption to build their own.

Since it's close to sundown, Jonnie decides to hold off on exploring the "Great Village" until tomorrow.

The prospect of entering that place in the dark was definitely not cheering. Who knew what it might be full of? Ghosts? Gods? People?

Monsters? Ah, no. Not monsters. They were just the stuff mamas frightened their kids to sleep with.

That's... stupid. Really, really stupid. Why are ghosts more plausible than monsters? Why is the idea of stumbling upon a friggin' god in some ruins more likely than the monsters the tribe's legends say attacked humanity? And the "great village" was a legend that turned out to be real. Wouldn't a rational person with a functioning brain start to wonder if maybe the legendary "monsters" might be real, too?

The bigger question is why L. Ron wrote Jonnie this way. Is he trying to make the hero into an idiot? I think this is more of an attempt to make Jonnie brave and rational, different from the unenlightened savages around him... while at the same time remaining a superstitious barbarian hero who can rise above his upbringing and become a legend. Unfortunately, the two backgrounds are kind of mutually exclusive. If your culture believes the gods bury people they like in a great big mountain, believing in monsters of some kind takes a lot less faith.

Jonnie cooks supper, marveling at the cutting power of a shard of thousand-year-old glass, and notices some wolves sitting at the edge of the firelight, looking at him hungrily.

I'm pretty sure wild animals stay away from fire, and that wolves don't usually stalk humans. Especially this badly. The animals are literally sitting there and staring at him. Jonnie has finally found something dumber than he is.

Jonnie warns the wolves to run away, forgetting in his idiocy that wolves do not understand English. Predictably, the wolves just sit there, in defiance of eons of hunting instinct and an inherent aversion of fire. So Jonnie throws them a frickin' bone. "One slunk forward, belly low, snarling to reach the pork bone." When it's distracted, Jonnie throws a fist-sized rock and hits it in the head, killing it instantly. With superhuman speed and dexterity, Jonnie repeats the attack before the second wolf can react.

I hate you, Jonnie.

I could complain about how he's able to strike unerringly and faster than the wolves can dodge, or how he just missed a chance to prove what a cunning survivalist he is by trying to domesticate the wolves with his animal empathy skills. But mostly I'm annoyed by how he killed them with rocks instead of his patented "kill-club." Not only is Jonnie an idiot, but he's an inconsistent idiot.

Jonnie drags the poor dead wolves to the fire, finds their pelts too tick-infested to be worth collecting, and goes to sleep.

Let's review. Jonnie found a village, but didn't actually explore it yet. We learned that Jonnie's belief system lacks logic and internal consistency. And Jonnie killed some out-of-character wolves in a rather Stuish manner.

In other words, nothing happened that couldn't have been covered by a better author in a paragraph-long flashback or summation of the previous day's activities. This chapter could have opened with Jonnie entering the ruins, reflecting on how startled he was when he discovered them the afternoon previous. But no. We get to read about it as it happens, and are treated to a pointless and disappointing encounter with wolves.

At least this wasn't as much a waste of time as the "pig battle." We end just above the bottom of page 36. Next chapter, some actual plot happens.

Back to Chapter Nine

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Part 1, Chapter 9 - Inebriated Alien Infants

We open with the assurance that "Terl was as happy as a baby Psychlo on a diet of straight kerbango," a line I remember from the Battlefield Earth movie. Which I recommend, by the way. It's stupid, but in a more enjoyable way than the book, and you just let it happen to you instead of having to wade through it yourself. Also, there's a Rifftrax for it.

Terl's cruising in a Mark II ground car (Mark II what? Is its official designation the "Mark II Car?"), an old vehicle resulting from an ill-advised clerk on "Planet One, Galaxy One" distributing materiel without regard to the actual conditions on the Psychlos' far-flung mining outposts.

The old car ran like a well-greased digger. Small, not more than thirty feet long and ten feet high, it skimmed above the ground like a low-flying wingless bird. Cunning mathematics had contoured it so that every exterior surface would make a hostile projectile glance off at an angle. Missile-proof glass slots gave a fine view of the terrain. Even the blast muzzles of its artillery were cleverly recessed. The interior upholstery, though worn and cracked in places, was a beautiful soothing shade of purple.

And there's our description of the "Mk II --- ." I'm picturing a floating mass of spiky polygons, like a rendering glitch from a Nintendo 64-era video game. I don't think it's physically possible to build something that deflects projectiles from every conceivable angle, and "missile-proof" glass is a bit much. Maybe "missile-resistant" or just "reinforced" would be more believable. And "like a well-greased digger?" No idea what to make of that simile.

Terl's happy about having a day off from his routine as "a security chief on a planet without insecurities,"which is therefore not a position conducive to promotion and social mobility. Turns out Terl is a young and ambitious Psychlo, only thirty-nine when assigned to Earth, and he hopes to live to be almost two hundred. Earth years? We can only assume the translation from Psychlo measurements has continued.

He imagines how bad an interview would go if he tried to use his posting on "Earth, rim star, third planet, secondary Galaxy Sixteen" as reference. Now, if you're asking "which rim star?" or "secondary Galaxy?" or "they don't even bother to come up with names for star systems?" just wait.

Anyway, someone higher up in the company doesn't like him, and extended Terl's tour of duty indefinitely, giving Terl the vision of him dying on this rock and ending up in a "slit-trench grave." Instead, Terl prefers to fantasize about the company president thanking him personally while awed onlookers whisper his name. This is where his cunning plan comes in.

Terl cruises down the remains of an ancient highway - which L. Ron admits will probably be overgrown and "busted up" after a thousand years, but he seems to think erosion won't affect it, allowing Terl to drive along a path with "no steep grades" that will lead him up into the mountains.

He's in a hovering car, mind you.

Anyway, Terl hates how not-purple everything is (except the distant mountains), and makes a video recording of his "daily view," and using magnification spots a distant city skyline. "Fuzzy and broken but the buildings still very tall. And quite extensive."

After a thousand years of neglect and weather, mind you.

Terl consults a map in a book about Earth, which is where L. Ron introduces the Chinkos, an alien race that makes me cringe whenever I have to write its name. The... ugh, Chinkos, were tall and willowy beings from Galaxy Two that the Psychlo carted around whenever they had to deal with cultural matters, but who went extinct after initiating a strike. As we'll see later the Chinkos are basically L. Ron's stand-ins for the Chinese, subservient and polite nonhumans who are experts on culture and manners, but bossed around by races with more backbone. I believe a famous Hubbard quote runs along the lines of "China would be a great country if it weren't for all the [Chinese] living in it."

I wonder, in this universe that L. Ron created, if there are a race of tall, dark-skinned, athletic aliens called Niggerts? Or a species with big noses and a talent for finances called... I can't do this. I'm already feeling self-loathing for "Niggerts." Up yours, L. Ron Hubbard.

To make us all feel better, it turns out that "chinko" is also the Japanese word for a part of the human anatomy exclusive to men. So suddenly we can giggle at L. Ron's blatant racism instead of raging at it.

Anyway, the aliens discovered a "man-city" that was "man-called" Denver, sporting three cathedrals for "heathen gods." They think one deity was called "bank." Apparently the Chinkos were as bad at research as L. Ron. The Chinkos were also fascinated by Denver's library and sealed and preserved parts of it. Oh, and the fact that Denver even exists after all this time is hand-waved with a comment about the dry climate. It doesn't rain or snow up in Colorado, y'see.

Terl follows the Chinko map and reviews his plans, where the first huge stupid bomb hits. A recon drone's scan discovered a vein of almost solid gold up in the mountains. Terl destroyed any records of the find, but still can't mine the gold himself because the mountains have a lot of uranium in them. "Even a few bits of uranium dust could explode Psychlo breathe-gas." But if he gets some "man-things," which breath air and therefore won't explode from proximity to the uranium, he can force them to mine the gold for him, smuggle it off-world, and become rich and powerful.

This is called an Idiot Premise, or a "Just Eat Gilligan" scenario. The entire story hinges on the characters not doing one simple, obvious thing.

The Psychlo have airborne gas drones. They have recon drones. Robots, in other words, that can operate independently in environments the Psychlo can not. Machines that can be programmed to perform tasks for them.

Why not mining drones? Is it more cost-effective to hire, train, and feed a bunch of Psychlo miners instead of a handful of technicians and robots that can last for years and years? And if not, why don't they have a mining robot on-hand to get the dangerous ore? The Psychlos are all profit-hungry, so why would they just leave goods behind just because there's some uranium nearby? And if not mining drones, aren't there good, sealed hazmat suits or space suits available? The Psychlos are clearly a space-faring race, so why don't they know how to keep their air supply safe?

The only real reason Terl needs humans to get his gold for him is because it allows him to meet Jonnie.

And then there's "breathe-gas" exploding from contact with uranium dust. Why?! What element is in the Psychlos' air supply that reacts so explosively with uranium? Is it a simple if inexplicable chemical reaction or the result of radiation? Doesn't the sprinkling of uranium that occurs naturally in rock, soil, and water have any ill-effect on them? Why would they try to conquer a planet where gold is less common than uranium? Why aren't the Psychlos exploding whenever they step outside their domes? Wouldn't sending drones be safer? If the gold is in an area contaminated with uranium, wouldn't it make Terl explode, especially since there's likely to be some uranium mixed in with it?

The real reason Psychlos have this catastrophic weakness to uranium is to aid in Jonnie's effort to destroy them, and to reinforce the necessity of Jonnie and Terl's meeting.

Pure science fiction. Emphasis on "fiction." And let's not drag things like logic or verisimilitude into this.

It just gets worse from here.

Awestruck and dumbfounded by the stupidity necessary for the plot to work, we end just over halfway down page 34. The next chapter will waste our time.

Back to Chapter Eight

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Part 1, Chapter 8 - I'm Serious, the Window "Bites" Him

The "Great Village" where "thousands had lived" was obviously another one of those myths, like "monsters." But he would look for it nonetheless.

So if he doesn't believe in it, why is he... forget it, let's keep moving.

Jonnie has come across some mounds of dirt and grass during his journey, and one has a rectangular hole in it. Investigating, he discovers that the "mound" was hollow. So...

He bent over and started to crawl into the mound.

And the window bit him!

You thought I was joking last time, didn't you?

Yes, Jonnie has cut himself on some glass shards in the window frame. Mostly, I'm wondering why "bite" was the best way he could conceptualize this accident. Surely he doesn't think the window contracted and chomped on him? Hasn't he ever brushed up against a thorny bush or splintery piece of wood before? Stupid caveman.

And yes, he is awestruck by how sharp the glass shards are, which all but confirms that his people never figured out metalworking in a thousand years.

After removing the window's "teeth," Jonnie safely enters the mysterious mound and finds nothing but obviously worked walls and piles of rust. And to keep this chapter from being a complete waste of time, he also discovers some mysterious shiny discs bearing the same "bird with spread wings and arrows gripped in its claws" emblem as the badge he found in the "tomb."

Jonnie exits the ruin and sagely informs Windsplitter that he has found a "god house," where "they stayed while waiting to take great men up to the tomb." He is awed that the gods were capable of building (triumphant fanfare) walls!

Oi. He's just making up mythology as he goes along, isn't he? Has there been any indication that his tribe thinks the gods required rest stops on their way to stuff stiffs in the "tomb" in Highpeak? And why does a people who remember God with a big G still believe in a lot of gods with a small g? And why is it so hard to belive, if you're living in a village which certainly didn't happen by accident, that maybe humans can build structures?

Then again, everything we've seen about Jonnie's people indicates that stacking bricks on top of each other is far beyond their comprehension. Log cabins are one thing, but stone? Hubris.

It's worth noting that this is the first chapter in which Jonnie is just "Jonnie" instead of "Jonnie Goodboy" or "Jonnie Goodboy Tyler." This may be because he's mostly referred to as "he," and his actual name only pops up nine times over two and a half pages, even though he's the only character besides Windsplitter in the chapter. Or maybe L. Ron's finally realized that calling your hero "Goodboy" kind of detracts from his gravitas. Or maybe this is symbolic of how teen rebel Jonnie is no longer a "good boy." That'd be sort of clever.


We end just above the bottom of page 28 of 1083. Next chapter, Terl goes joyriding, we actually get some useful exposition, and L. Ron Hubbard is racist.

Back to Chapter Seven

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Part 1, Chapter 7 - Pig Battle

Jonnie has a close call with a boar. That's about it.

Oh very well. Jonnie's two days out from the Village of the Idiots and is having a grand old time on the plains, and wonders "why, in all reverence to the gods, did anybody ever stay cooped up in the mountains?" Which again reminds us how inconsistent and slapdash his tribe's theology is. Do they have to beg God's forgiveness after accidentally swearing by lesser, imaginary gods?

"And monsters--what monsters? Phagh! Crazy tales!"

Okay, L. Ron? We're back to humans now. You don't have to make up curse words for these guys.

The narrator notes that Jonnie is becoming dangerously overconfident, and is on a collision course with wackiness in the form of a herd of pigs.

After long minutes of research on Wikipedia, I'm still not sure if pigs are naturally herd animals. There are swineherds, so maybe the pigs Jonnie encounters are descendants of domesticated piggies that are just sticking together out of tradition? Or maybe he's found two families of pigs that are roaming together like the Wikipedia article mentions pigs doing, and he can't tell the difference? But L. Ron describes dozens of pigs. I know swine are intelligent, social animals, but they don't usually run in such large groups, do they? Would they start fighting over food and water, or whoa, have they become more intelligent after a thousand years? Aided by radiation, the pigs might have formed their own society!

Or not.

The pigs are rooting in a marsh, which makes Jonnie suspect that there might be roots there. Wow. Next week, see the amazing Jonnie observe grazing cattle and suspect that there might be grass nearby!

Our hero is hungry, so he throws his "kill-club" and cracks a pig in the head, killing it instantly. Which lives up to the "kill" part of the weapon's name, but, with the exception of the East African rungu, you don't throw clubs you idiot! You whack things with them! How about a bow and arrow for a projectile weapon? Or a javelin? Or an atlatl? Or a sling and a rock? Or just a rock?

I bet Jonnie would throw a sword if he had one. And suddenly I miss Eragon.

Anyway, the pig's dying squeal disturbs a five-hundred pound boar sleeping in the bushes next to Jonnie, and the next thing he knows he feels like "he had been struck by a mountain avalanche," as opposed to a coastal avalanche or plains avalanche. In the stampede, Jonnie ends up riding the boar, but he's able to strangle it enough to stun it so he can dismount. And I'd object to this feat more if I didn't know the stunts he'll be pulling off later.

Well, Jonnie gets his piglet, but in the confusion he's lost his horses. And I had to go back to Chapter 5 to learn that he took more horses than Windsplitter. "More ashamed than scared" he goes off to look for them, and just before darkness falls Windsplitter returns with a "Where-have-you-been?" look on his face and a "mischievous grin."

I don't trust this horse.

Ten minutes later, Jonnie finds the lead horse, which I guess was the only other one he brought. He makes camp, puts together a belt and pouch, and dreams of "Chrissie being strangled by pigs, Chrissie mauled by bears, Chrissie crushed to a pulp under stampeding hoofs, while he stood helpless in the sky where the spirits go, unable to do a damned thing."

Aww, he's thinking about you, Chrissie. He does care!

And that's it. A chapter that serves no real purpose. No great insights are learned about Jonnie, other than the fact that he's strong enough to wrassle a pig and doesn't know what a club is for and dreams of his girlfriend being killed by wild animals. He doesn't learn anything about the world around him. One gets the feeling this is nothing more than a pointless action sequence, in which Jonnie has a close call with a boar.

We end on the middle of page 26. Next chapter, Jonnie gets bitten by a window.

Back to Chapter Six

Monday, November 9, 2009

Part 1, Chapter 6 - Burps and Bizarre Biology

Terl belched. It was a polite way to attract attention, but the belch didn't make much impression through the whine and howl of machines in the transport department maintenance dome.

I checked Wikipedia, and surprisingly, while there's a brief paragraph about belching being considered impolite in most places, there's no mention of any culture where a loud burp is good etiquette. I've heard the old "somewhere it's good manners to let loose a belch after a nice meal," but it looks like just another urban legend. I have a feeling this is where L. Ron got the idea.

Belching being the Psychlo equivalent of "how ya doin'" is probably an attempt to make it clear to the reader that they are eeeeevil, since, y'know, they have different social norms than us. But you have to wonder, why burping? It'd make sense to burp after meals, but it's kind of hard to burp on command. Imagine the embarrassment if someone important was walking up to you, but you lacked the gastric gases to produce an audible belch! Oh, to die of shame. Picking your nose and flicking boogers would probably work better. Or maybe sticking your palm in your armpit and making a farting noise! Yeah, that's the ticket, much easier and more convenient all around.

With that tangent over with, it's unfortunately time to get back to the plot. Terl is talking to Minesite 16's transportation chief, a fellow named Zzt who is repairing some wrecked "cars." What do these cars look like? What do they run on? We don't know. We can't even be sure if they're boring, land-bound, wheeled cars, or flying cars, since one example vehicle is specified as having three wheels, while another has wings. I guess these details aren't important to the story.

Burping aliens is, though.

Oh, and Psychlo blood is green, judging by the splatters in some vehicles wrecked by drivers who'd had too much kerbango. I wish I was more of a chemist so I could guess what's in Psychlo blood to make it green. Isn't iron what makes human blood red? Back to Wikipedia...

Yep, it's iron. Also turns out some New Guinean skinks have green blood due to a buildup of Biliverdin, a bile-based waste product. Wonder if that's what in Psychlo blood. Well, Battlefield Earth has taught me something, if only indirectly.

Anyway, we have mention of Zzt's "yellow orbs contract[ing]" when he looks at Terl. I'm pretty sure eyes don't work that way. Pupils might contract, I guess, but I don't think the eyeball itself is supposed to change shape. These are aliens, but I have a feeling L. Ron was going for something more familiar, and just chose the wrong words.

Terl and Zzt banter, Terl having trouble since the other monster isn't intimidated by the chief of security for a planet with no security issues. He also calls a winged car a "recon," which annoys me. I've heard "fighter" and "bomber" plenty of times, but never "recon" to refer to an aircraft. Maybe "scout," but not "recon."

Terl gives up playing games and tries honesty, mentioning an idea of his to get some "outside personal." Zzt "batted his eyebones" at the news, which just reminds me again that L. Ron has yet to spend a good paragraph describing a Psychlo's appearance in detail, and is instead relying on the reader's inferences and his own slipshod use of the English language to fill in the rest.

Right now I'm seeing a big furry thing with a face that is unnaturally jointed and mobile, eyeballs and cheekbones and foreheads all squirming around like some eldritch abomination. Which would admittedly be pretty intimidating and original, but I don't think that's what L. Ron was going for.

Terl expresses his insane theory that Earth used to have a sentient race on it, namely Man. And once again, the narrative crashes to a halt as I try to work out how stupid this is.

The Psychlos used gas drones to wipe out humanity. They attacked cities. They found satellites. And yet they're still not sure about the sentience of the species they went through such lengths to try to eradicate? So what, did they mistake all the cities for overly-elaborate equivalents to termite mounds or beaver dams? Were the cars or commercial aircraft just... actually, there is no parallel in the animal kingdom to constructed modes of transportation.

Now, this is probably L. Ron's attempt to make the Psychlos arrogant, an Achilles heel that the heroes (okay, Jonnie) can exploit, as their enemies will not take a threat from a bunch of "mere" humans seriously. Instead, this makes the Psychlos a bunch of morons. Morons who nevertheless have an intergalactic empire, and should be feared.

It doesn't work.

Also, why Man? Why not Mankind, or Humanity, or Humans, or Earthlings? And I know this is supposed to be "translated," but if the Psychlos call us "Man," do they just call male Psychlos "males?"

I get the distinct feeling that we are not meant to question, examine, or think at all deeply about the story L. Ron is telling us, and should instead simply accept each sentence and proceed until the end. The story certainly works better this way.

Keep in mind, this is still "pure" sci-fi, that lofty and magnificent artform that moves civilizations forward and inspires the dreams leading to the next wave of human achievement.

Well, Zzt can't contain his laughter at the idea that a species that went into space might not have done so by accident, and then he and Terl start haggling. Terl wants a car/plane, and Zzt doesn't want to waste the resources on a private expedition. We learn that recon drones keep the minesite under surveillance, which combined with the mention of gas drones earlier will soon lead to the massive, story-destroying plothole that sits at the center of Battlefield Earth in a way similar to the supermassive black holes theorized to be at the center of galaxies. But that comes later.

We also learn that Psychlos apparently can purr, and shrilly scream when they don't get their way. Zzt also refers to Earth's native lifeforms as nothing but a bunch of "mammals. Air organisms." And that makes me wonder what Psychlos are, if not mammals, and what they call atmospheric gases besides "breathe-gas." But again, thinking is anathema to Battlefield Earth.

In the end, Zzt and Terl reach a deal: the recon quota is reduced to one drone doing a sweep of the entire Earth once a month (must be a fast little drone), and Terl gets a Mark II "armored and firepower ground car on permanent disposal with no questions on ammunition, breathe-gas or fuel requisitions." Strictly off-the-record, of course. Zzt thinks that Terl is just another "kill-mad" executive off on a hunting expedition, little knowing that he's doomed his entire species to extinction.

Oh, and of course a race advanced enough to conquer galaxies is still using paper and clipboards for their records. Apparently they skipped a few research options when they were racing up the Tech-Tree. There must be entire star systems of planets containing nothing but filing cabinets.

Frankly, with a race this stupid, the humans will be doing the universe a favor by wiping the Psychlos out, even aside from the whole "rawr I am comically EVIL" thing.

We end just above the bottom of page 23 of 1083. Next chapter, Jonnie startles some pigs. Better buckle up!

Back to Chapter Five

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Part 1, Chapter 5 - The Journey of a Thousand Pages Begins with a Single Twerp

The chapter opens with a beautiful day "painting Highpeak rose." A quick search on Wikipedia reveals no results for a Mount Highpeak, so obviously Jonnie's tribe never learned the name of the mountains they settled by and used their very limited imaginations to come up with one. Big surprise.

Jonnie is packing for his epic adventure, and nearby some neighbors are roasting a dog that got killed in a fight during the funeral. We can only assume that it won't be long before these folks stop throwing good food to the coyotes. Chrissie and Pattie are on-duty as shallow supporting females, and we also meet a new character, Brown Limper Staffor, who just edges Jonnie Goodboy Tyler out for the title of "worst named human." Limper was born with a clubfoot but not tossed into the cold, since he's the parson's only son. An old enemy of Jonnie's, at the funeral Limper made snide comments until Jonnie smacked him.

While packing, Jonnie is startled when Chrissie draws close, and hopes that he won't have to talk to her. Unfortunately, she does indeed intend on interacting with him, and offers him some tools, a "large bone needle with a thong hole in it, and the other was a skin awl. Both were worn and polished and valuable," and belonged to her mother. Jonnie tries to refuse, but Chrissie wails "If you lose your clothes, how are you going to sew?"

Now, this could be a romantic thing where both parties are communicating on a different level than the words they're saying. Or, Chrissie is just an airhead with terrible priorities and an unfathomable attraction to this unlikeable main character.

Our hero caves only to avoid further outbursts, and is shocked by how pale Chrissie is. Then he notices Brown Limper behind her talking to someone named Petie Thommso, whose name is mangled but at least free of childish nicknames.

Jonnie's resolution wavered. He grabbed Chrissie and kissed her hard. It was as though he had taken a board from an irrigation trough: the tears went down her cheeks.

Because when you think romance, you think of metaphors based on farming implements.

Jonnie urges her not to follow him, Chrissie swears "by all the gods on Highpeak" that she'll come after him if he's not back in a year. Do they think that the dead guys Jonnie found were sub-gods under God, or something? Or do they think their mountain is Olympus?

Anyway, Jonnie takes Windsplitter, gives his other four horses to Chrissie (only eat them if it's winter and you're out of other food), then heads out. He makes Windsplitter rear so Jonnie can strike a heroic pose for the fifteen villagers watching, and he's off!

The rest of the people drifted off. Chrissie still stood there, hoping with a wild crazy hope that he would ride back into sight, returning.

Pattie tugged her leg. "Chrissie. Chrissie, will he come back?"

Chrissie's voice was very low, her eyes like ashes in a dead fire. "Goodbye," she whispered.

Wishful thinking, dearie. We end two-thirds of the way down page 20. Next chapter: Terl gets a car!

Back to Chapter Four

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Part 1, Chapter 4 - I Still Don't Like These People

We open with Jonnie sulking, hugging his knees and staring moodily into the "dance fire," Chrissie stretched out beside him eating sunflower seeds with "her very white teeth." Pattie's asleep in a heap somewhere, having stuffed herself with meat and strawberries, run around, danced with little boys, and eaten some more. This actually sounds like what a hyperactive little 'un would do, though Hubbard left out the part where they throw up from eating too much and trying to run on it.

The P.O.V. briefly enters Chrissie's skull, and the results are disappointing. She is surprised that Jonnie cried for his father, humanity somehow breaking through his "tall and grand, even cold" facade. Chrissie wonders if Jonnie feels emotions for her too:

She knew very well how she felt about Jonnie. If anything happened to Jonnie she would throw herself off the cliff where they sometimes herded wild cattle to their death, an easy way to kill them. Life without Jonnie Goodboy Tyler would not only not be worth living, it would be completely unbearable. Maybe Jonnie did care about her after all.

Some points: first, another reference to "wild" cattle, though there's no sign of domesticated cattle. C'mon people, it's simple: you build a fence, herd the cow into it, and keep them there. You get milk, and if you want meat, you just have to brain the bovine instead of chasing it down. Humans figured this out millennia ago.

Second: why is life without Jonnie not worth living? All we've seen of him is a bossy, emotionally-distant jerk. This could be forgiven as stress from his father's death, only Chrissie's thoughts reveal that he almost always acts this way. And furthermore, she's wondering here if he likes her. The woman is ready to hurl herself off a cliff over someone who has shown no signs of interest in her!

But, since Jonnie is the super-special hero, all the other characters' lives revolve around him. Just how special is Jonnie? Be patient.

While Chrissie is staring at him and letting her gender down, Jonnie is still sad about his father, blaming himself for not relocating the whole tribe to a place that is not killing them. Which is a unrealistic regret, but not unrealistic in the sense that real people have similar thoughts. Survivor's guilt and all that, "I should have done something."

He thinks back to the digging of the grave, which L. Ron assures us Jonnie did naked, as to not soil his doe britches and puma-skin cloak. And when I think of "puma-skin cloak," I think of someone running around as a caped, puma-themed avenger, a "Puma Man" if you will.

Anyway, there was some argument over whether the grave should be dug straight up and down or level. Parson Staffor said that you gotta plant 'em tall so you can cram more corpses into the graveyard, but Jonnie counters with the fact that there aren't many funerals in these days of "toss 'em for the coyotes," and wins the argument because nobody wants to dig a "proper grave." Then Staffor chews him out for being "too smart." Not as in talking-back "smart," but what sounds like actual intelligence smart. Jonnie trained six horses, and figured out that he can escape a blizzard on the mountain by following the slope of the ground back to the village. He's a witch!

This is certainly reinforcing my "society of morons" theory. With dumbness a virtue, it's small wonder these people can't figure out shoes. And even if they did, they wouldn't have any velcro to secure them.

But Jonnie's heresy goes further than being non-stupid. He wanted to bury daddy in "the cave of the ancient gods," a place he'd found when he was twelve at the end of a strangely flat canyon. There were two giant doors of corroded metal, and he'd managed to pry them open with a latchlike bar that was rusted, but still stable. Little Jonnie ran away like a frightened chimp at the noise the doors made, but rallied, went back in, found a flight of steps covered with skeletons, and swiped a badge of "a bird with flying wings holding arrows in its claws." The skull he retrieved it from apparently turned to powder at the contact. Which is perfectly natural - you never find piles of powder in tombs, no, they have to wait to go poof after the heroes get a good look at them.

Now, my memory's fuzzy, so I can't be certain if Jonnie just broke into a bomb shelter. Maybe it was just an underground base. But even so... a little boy with a length of metal should not be able to break into a fortified military installation. I mean, he didn't even have to break a lock. And the "latchlike bar" was on the outside. Was everyone locked in? Did they all starve to death because a prankster jammed the door from the wrong side? Jeez.

Anyway, little Jonnie showed his trinket off to Mayor Duncan and Parson Staffor, who confiscated it. The parson claimed that Jonnie had found "a tomb of the old gods" where the "great men" were buried in huge caverns, the gods marking their passing with lightning storms on Highpeak. He also reminds everyone that long ago there were great villages everywhere, including one dead east of Jonnie's miserable tribe (plot point!). Staffor finishes by saying that ancient law forbids anyone from breaking in to the place. Why? Don't ask questions.

Now, there's a lot of stupid here, but I'm saving it for later, so let's keep moving.

Jonnie breaks out of his reverie and finally notices Chrissie.

"It's my fault," said Jonnie.

Chrissie smiled and shook her head. Nothing could be Jonnie's fault.

L. Ron Hubbard, feminist.

Jonnie remembers how daddy taught him how to sidestep a pouncing puma, braid grass-rope, cut up hide, and other survival skills. He wishes the funeral had been better and the parson had given an actual sermon, instead of words that "didn't apply." Chrissie asks him what Parson said, so Jonnie quotes the big legend of his tribe.

"...And then there came a day when God was wroth. And wearied he was of the fornicating and pleasure dallying of the people. And he did cause a wondrous cloud to come and everywhere it struck; the anger of God snuffed out the breath and breathing of ninety-nine out of a hundred men. And disaster lay upon the land and plagues and epidemics rolled and smote the unholy; and when it was done, the wicked were gone and only the holy and righteous, the true children of the Lord, remained upon the stark and bloodied field. But God even then wsa not sure and so he tested them. He sent monsters upon them to drive them to the hills and secret places, and lo, the monsters hunted them and made them less and less until at last all men remaining where the only holy, the only blessed, the only righteous upon Earth. Hey man!"

Y'know, maybe L. Ron's being this bad on purpose. Like maybe this is a parody of people with more faith than brains. Or maybe he thinks that this is the sort of garbage believed by all those lesser humans who scoff at thetans and spacehips that looked exactly like DC-8 commercial aircraft only without the engines.

Jonnie says he wants to go find a place to live that doesn't make your bones crumble within you, like that big city on the plains. Chrissie's response? "Oh, no, Jonnie. The monsters." Just imagine some airhead actress saying that and try not to smile.

Jonnie ain't afraid of no monsters, 'cause he's never seen 'em. Chrissie brings up the "shiny flashing things that sail overhead every few days." Wait, "sail?" That's an odd vocabulary word to survive for a thousand years in a land-locked village.

Chrissie urges Jonnie not to go, but he's being all heroically bull-headed and stuff, so she wants to come with him. He refuses, so she swears that if he isn't back in a year, she's coming after him. Apparently Chrissie has a good enough memory and knowledge of astronomy to know when the stars "come back to the same place," it's time to start her own journey. The chapter closes with this great bit of dialogue:

"You'd be killed out in the plains. The pigs, the wild cattle..."
"Jonnie, that is what I will do. I swear it, Jonnie."
"You think I'd just wander off and never return?"
"That's what I will do, Jonnie. You can go. But that's what I will do."

It's strange to think that the movie production of Battlefield Earth ended up improving the material, but its dialogue was better than this. And this is a film where half the human cast end up hooting like monkeys on several occasions.

Now, addressing all the stupid in this chapter:

For someone who spent the introduction going on and on about how sci-fi writers helped prepare America for the space age, L. Ron is really underestimating humanity here. The Psychlo attack took place at some point during the Cold War, in an era when science fiction was popular and ideas such as alien invasion had spread throughout society. Yet none of the people seen so far in Battlefield Earth ever consider that anyone but God could be behind the near-extinction, even when they see unexplained lights moving overhead. And this is well after World War One popularized chemical warfare, too. It'd be like people seeing a mushroom cloud and concluding that Zeus got angry and smote someone, instead of remembering about the existence of A-bombs.

Now, it's been a thousand years down the line, so it's not surprising some things have been forgotten. But these are a people that held on to concepts like "sailing" and "mayor," and remember the existence of old cities. So why didn't the first generation's speculation that "you know, aliens might have been involved" make it as well?

Unless the first generation was as rock stupid as the current generation, of course. Which would explain a lot - Jonnie's tribe descended from an enclave of unimaginative fundamentalists with no technological skill or aptitude for more than the most basic of survival instincts. Jonnie's obviously a fluke.

And the "tomb of the gods" - what?! The big story clearly mentions God, with a capitalized g, so what's with the sudden polytheism? And why is Jonnie the first person to break into the bomb shelter or hidden base or whatever it is? You'd think a secure, well-stocked military installation would be a place of safety people would flock to during times of trouble, and if not during the apocalypse, someone would have come by to loot the place when the fighting died down. Unless in a thousand freaking years, he was the only person to notice that canyon. Which, again, supports my "village of idiots" theory.

"Hay man!" is just the icing on the cake. Why is "amen" the only word that's been corrupted over a thousand years?! I don't want to read some garbled, future-slang version of English, but some consistancy would be nice. This is supposed to be pure science fiction, after all.

We end on the bottom of page 19 of 1083. This was actually a pretty long chapter, almost six full pages. Chapter 5 is two and a half, and can be summed up in two words: Jonnie leaves.

Back to Chapter Three

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Part 1, Chapter 3 - Say No To Drugs

We're immediately introduced to two new characters, Jonnie's love interest Chrissie (at least that name's recognized by Firefox) and her little sister Pattie, both of whom are waiting outside the courthouse. Jonnie explicitly ignores them in favor of looking at the building, the only one in the village to have a stone foundation and floor.

The building is rumored to be a thousand years old, which of course Jonnie disbelieves, but he admits it looks like it could be. It's on its seventeenth roof, its wooden walls are "gaping with wormholes," and "the stone walkway close to it was worn half a foot deep by the bare horny feet of scores of generations of villagers coming here to be tried and punished in the olden days when somebody had cared. In his lifetime Jonnie had never seen a trial, or a town meeting for that matter."

Bare feet. These people are too dumb to reinvent the shoe. Never mind that their village is falling apart and they've stopped trying to keep up some semblance of society - even at their height, they never figured out sandals, much less mastered the moccasin. And they've had a thousand years to try to rebuild civilization. Wow.

After giving us a description of a building which will soon cease to have any relevance to the plot, we finally get a good look at Chrissie. "She was a slight girl, very pretty, about eighteen. She had large black eyes in strange contrast to her corn-silk hair. She had wrapped around herself a doeskin, really tight, and it showed her breasts and a lot of bare leg."

What is it with L. Ron and corn?

Little sister Pattie, whose default state is described as attached to Chrissie's leg, is "a budding copy of the older girl," all "bright-eyed and interested." Though Jonnie ignores her question about a funeral, she happily takes Windsplitter's lead rope. "At seven, Pattie had no parents and little enough of a home, and her sun rose and set only to Jonnie's proud orders."

Pattie asks another question, and Jonnie again ignores it. Chrissie reaches out to touch his arm, but he pays it no heed, and enters the courthouse in search of Parson Staffor.

Hey, L. Ron? I've figured out that Jonnie's supposed to be our hero and all, but you have to give us a reason to like him, you know? All we've seen so far is a guy who bullies his aunt, has a child slave, and coldly ignores any gestures of tenderness or concern from his love interest.

Staffor's sleeping on a mound of grass, surrounded by flies and wads of "locoweed." Now I was ready to rage again about more stupid made-up words, but apparently this is a real plant. Shocking, I know. Anyway, Staffor used to be a fat bloke, but he got on the drugs and is now shriveled, toothless, and filthy. Jonnie prods him until he wakes up. "'That's this generation,' muttered the parson. 'No respect for their elders. Rushing off to the bushes, fornicating, grabbing the best meat pieces.'"

Ah, a stereotypical cranky, conservative, "in my day we had to walk uphill both ways through the snow," old guy. Also, it's strange to complain about the amount of fornicating when the tribe's fighting a losing battle to straighten out its birth and death ratio. Shouldn't it be everyone's duty to pop out as many kids as possible, just so some of them aren't mutants?

Whatever. Jonnie informs Staffor that there's going to be a funeral, reminding the parson that his father died. Staffor admits that he's not a hundred percent positive that Jonnie's dad is... well, his dad, since "your mother had three husbands one time and another, and there being no real ceremonies these days-" He cuts off when he notices Jonnie's holding his kill-club.

Now, Staffor quickly admits that his memory's going - any guesses why? - but come on, shouldn't some basic counting skills be enough to confirm someone's parentage? Unless Jonnie's mom was married concurrently instead of consecutively, but this doesn't seem like that type of society.

There is concern about who will dig the hole, and who will prepare the meat, and who will assemble everyone, but Jonnie assures the parson that either he or someone he bosses around will take care of everything. Staffor complains that there's nothing for him to do, wonders why Jonnie even woke him up, and flings himself back down on his bed to watch Jonnie leave. And the chapter ends.

Oh, and during all this, we hear an oath/curse/something as Staffor pops some locoweed: "Horns, but this stuff is green." I don't remember "horns" being used in this context ever again, and I certainly doubt it'll be explained later. So the tribe kept old titles but made up new curses? What does "horns" refer to? Lucifer's horns? The Giant Space-Goat's horns? The horns of the mountains? It's probably not worth worrying about.

We end at the top of page 12. Next, we will completely skip the funeral we've spent the last two chapters building up to.

Back to Chapter Two

Monday, November 2, 2009

Part 1, Chapter 2 - The Hero Appears

Chapter 2 begins with "It was a good day for a funeral, only it seemed there wasn't going to be one." And what kind of day would that be, you ask? "Dark, stormy-looking clouds were creeping in from the west, shredded by the snow-speckled peaks, leaving only a few patches of blue sky showing."

Which sounds nice and dramatic, but... is there ever a good day for a funeral, really? I guess that'd be like a good day to do taxes. Maybe the author is suggesting that some days are more thematically-suitable for funerals than others. So would a stormy day be a better day for a funeral? Or a nice and clear day?

Whatever. If I nitpick every sentence, I'll be at this for years. I'm still on page 7 for cryin' out loud...

Our protagnoist is named Jonnie Goodboy Tyler, and it is a stupid name. As if Psychlo wasn't enough, now every time I write our hero's name in Firefox, I'll get a nice red underline to look at. It couldn't be Johnny or Johnnie, nooooo. L. Ron Hubbard decided his author avatar deserves a special name.

And Goodboy? Why would you do that to a child? Even if it's fitting (I guess our little Marty Stu was a well-behaved infant), that doesn't make it any less awful as a middle name. Whossa good boy? Whossa whossa good boy? You are! Yes you are! See the ball? See ball? Go get ball! Go get it! Good boy!

Actually, it may be more than a middle name, since a few times over at least the next few pages, he's referred to as Jonnie Goodboy. If nothing else our hero's name implies that his people may be lacking in basic reasoning skills, which the book will confirm soon.

Anyway, Jonnie's dad died, and even though "his bones just crumbled away," instead of him dying from contagious "red blotches," nobody's gotten around to burying the man yet. So Jonnie had gotten up early and "yelled up" his fastest horse, Windsplitter, herded up five wild cattle and brained them, then ordered (not asked, mind you) his Aunt Ellen to start cooking.

When Auntie refused, complaining that she had broken her sharpest rock and couldn't carve up the coobeasties, and on top of that no one had restocked the firewood supplies, Jonnie "looked at her." She complies.

This tells us two things.

First, since this is A Saga Of The Year 3000, it is a thousand years give or take after the Psychlo gas attack. Jonnie's tribe is using stone tools. This implies that either his people are so hopeless that they've regressed to a Stone Age tech-level, or that the survivors that founded his tribe were too hopeless to use metal tools in the first place.

Second, Jonnie's a jerk. He glares at his Aunt until she does what he wants, not even bothering to reason with her, and furthermore he just watches the woman do all the preparing and firewood-gathering herself for a bit, then rides into his village. No mention of a saddle, and he's goading Windsplitter forward with his bare heel.

We also get a quick description of Jonnie - half a head taller than than average, standing "a muscular six feet shining with the bronzed health of his twenty years." He's got "corn-yellow" hair and beard, and "ice-blue" eyes. Now, if I were trying to impress people while describing my Marty Stu, I might have gone for something better than "corn-yellow." "Ice-blue" works, though it's a bit stale. I hear purple or silver eyes are popular.

Jonnie mentally complains that when Mayor Smith (they've regressed to the Stone Age but they kept the title of "Mayor?") died fifteen years ago, "there had been songs and preaching and a feast and it had ended with a dance by moonlight." I guess nobody had liked him very much. And wouldn't that be a great story for the kids? "Yeah, I met your mom at Mayor Smith's funeral. We planted him, had a slow waltz under the stars, and were married by the year's end."

But nowadays, Jonnie's tribe just tosses the dead in a ravine for the coyotes. Why this change in attitude in just fifteen years? Your guess is as good as mine.

Jonnie notes how the cabins in his village are rotting and decayed, falling apart because people had stripped empty houses to make new buildings. So... if they need a building, and there are empty buildings, why are they spending time and energy putting up a new one instead of just moving in? I guess the old buildings weren't in the right spot. Or else these are stupid, stupid people.

Oh, and there's a hyphenated word that isn't a stupid alien term: "kill-club." Just... why? Does he have a "wound-club" and "stern warning-club" and "just to look threatening-club?" Does he change its name if he smacks a wolf with it but the critter doesn't go down in one hit? Is Windsplitter his "ride-horse?" Argh. And I guess not only does this valley lack metal, but there's also a rock shortage, since Jonnie hasn't made an axe or anything. I forget if his people have figured out the almighty bow and arrow, but the odds aren't looking good.

Anyway, legends have it that there used to be thousands of people living in Jonnie's valley, but he thinks that's probably an exaggeration. Apparently this is a pretty sweet place to live, since there's wild cattle (but they haven't bothered to domesticate any, no) on the plains along with pigs and horses (I thought piggies lived in forests?). And on the mountains are goats and (presumably mountaineering) deer. The soil is good for growing, there's lots of water; it's a place where life flourishes.

...except for humans. Jonnie notes that while the animals are doing okay, the humans have a higher death rate than birth rate, and some kids are born with "only one eye or one lung" (how can they tell?! They're cavemen!) "or one hand and had to be left out in the icy night. Monsters were unwanted things. All life was overpowered by a fear of monsters."

Ooookay. We know from last chapter that the valleys are irradiated, which would explain the mutations. What it doesn't explain is why only the humans are suffering from radiation poisoning. Are animals somehow immune? Why don't hunters occasionally spot two-headed cows or giant naked mole rats or six-legged horses? Or at least the bodies of abandoned, mutant animal babies? I don't think humans are the only species that's susceptible to rads.

And I guess Jonnie and his contemporaries are descended from those humans who were unusually resistant to radiation's effects, but even so - the tribe's really lasted a thousand years? And they're constantly losing kids to birth defects? Lucky, that. And of course there's no sign of mutation or unsightliness on Jonnie, who is physically perfect, and uncomfortably Aryan.

For a pure science fiction novel, we're having to suspend disbelief over several points just to get the basic premise to work, and it's only chapter two. It only gets worse from here.

Jonnie deduces that there must be something about this valley. Since he is the super-special author insert character, this means that basic reasoning skills are something these other survivors lack. Young Jonnie had asked his father why they don't move out, but the "oldsters" believe in monsters that lurk in the outside world. Jonnie doesn't, he's never seen one after all, "but he held his peace. The oldsters believed in monsters, so they believed in monsters."

That's either incomprehensibly profound, stupidly redundant, or a typo. I guess "they" could refer to the tribe as a whole, but Hubbard could have picked a better way to express that.

Oh, and "thinking of his father brought an unwelcome wetness to his eyes." Well, at least he's displaying an emotion other than petulant anger that daddy's not getting a funeral, or bullying other family members. But Hubbard, why can't you just say "tears?" Are his eyes bleeding in grief?

The chapter ends with Jonnie almost falling off a rearing Windsplitter because he's led his steed into a swarm of foot-long mountain rats. "What you get for dreaming, Jonnie snapped to himself." No punctuation, nothing to set his thoughts off from the rest of the text. Maybe I'm just spoiled from all the other, better authors I've read.

Tune in next time, as Jonnie continues to be an unlikeable character, and we meet cast members with even less personality than he has.

We're now on page 9 of 1083.

Back to Chapter One