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

No comments:

Post a Comment