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

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