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

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