Friday, December 4, 2009

Part 2, Chapter 10 - Shooting Yourself in the Foot by Punching Someone Else in the Face

Terl knew leverage when he saw it.

As a veteran security officer, he depended on leverage at every turn. And advantage. And blackmail. A method of forcing compliance.

Terl, honey, this isn't "leverage." It's informing you that the diet you have it on isn't correct. This is "protecting your investment." A dead man-thing can't dig up gold for you, can it?

Our allegedly cunning and nefarious villain stares at Jonnie. He (rightfully, for once) concludes that the human can't have any idea of Terl's plans, but wonders if "he had been too insistent, day after day, so that this thing sensed he wanted something out of it."

Terl, dearest, you're feeding it. You're taking pains to keep it in a cage. You're teaching it. It's obvious you captured it for a reason, either because you wanted a pet, bet a friend you couldn't teach a common man-animal how to behave at a fancy soiree, or for another purpose.

The Psychlo also notices, for the first time in months, that his animal has been burying its crap. When you're in Psychlo security, blackmail and manipulation are more important than basic surveillance skills, evidently.

Terl blusters at Jonnie, who replies that the snow and cold is damaging the machine. Terl laughs at the weirdness of having an "animal" speak to him and notices Jonnie's Chinko accent, though the man-thing lacks the dead races' bootlicking. He warns the human that his attitude is incorrect.

"My name is not 'animal.' It is Jonnie Goodboy Tyler."

Terl absolutely gaped at him. The effrontery. The bald gall of the thing!

He hit him.

The problem with this passage is that we're supposed to feel bad for Jonnie, as opposed to cheering Terl on.

L. Ron intends for us to be impressed with how unbowed and fearless Jonnie is, but the line between bravery and "too dumb to live" can be fine at times. I'd prefer a character who knows when to put on a harmless facade, smiling meekly at his captors, all the while readying himself for the moment to act. Guile versus suicidal bravado, in other words.

Jonnie's collar cuts his flight short but almost breaks his neck, and Terl stomps off in a huff. Halfway across the compound he pauses as two of his brain cells start desperately bumping together. Hey Terl, they say. I know we don't talk much, but remember how this human is key to getting all of us off this planet?

Memory stirs in Terl's kerbango-addled excuse for a mind, and he nods, drool trickling out of the corner of his slack jaw, his heavy brow furrowed in intense concentration.

Yeah. So maybe you should - and this is just an idea - not kill the linchpin to this plan just because it was rude to you? Unless you really want to go round up a replacement.

Terl lumbers back to the cage, picks up Jonnie, wipes the blood off his neck, and stands the human up in front of the table.

"My name," said Terl, "is Terl. Now, what were we talking about?" He knew leverage when he saw it.

What leverage?! "If you're polite, I won't let you freeze to death, even though this would ruin my plans?" "Work for me and I'll call you Goodboy?"

But never in their association thereafter did he ever address Jonnie as anything other than "animal." A Psyclo after all could not ignore the fact that his was the dominant race. The greatest race in all universes. And this man-thing--ugh.

You know, "ugh" really does sum up Jonnie pretty well.

...Wait, "universes?" First the Psychlos control multiple galaxies, and now universes? How?! L. Ron expects us to believe that in all existence, these guys are the most dangerous and advanced race? Good grief. The friggin' Ewoks would give the Psychlos a hard time.

This short but intensely stupid chapter ends halfway down page 85, and finishes off Part 2. In Part 3, Jonnie's training really begins, and it's just as exciting and thought-provoking as Part 2.

And yes, I took a few liberties with Terl's double-take. But he really does walk halfway across the minesite before he realizes that he might be making the wrong decision.

Back to Part Two, Chapter Nine

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