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

1 comment:

  1. Yes, why not Earthlings? That bugs me in so many sci-fi places. If beings from Mars are Martians, beings from Venus are Venusians, etc, why are beings from Earth called human or man or anything other than Earthlings?

    (reading post-by-post after you mentioned it on Fark, and loving it)