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

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