Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Part 2, Chapter 7 - Upgrade Artifact

The title refers to a particular trope, the relevance of which will soon become clear.

Days later, the mud's dried up from the summer heat, Jonnie's made a makeshift booster seat out of folded animal hides so he can sit at the table, and he's been furiously learning his letters.

No word on his water supply.

After a week... hang on. His people don't have a written language. How have they kept track of a calender? Bah, anyway, Jonnie has mastered the alphabet in English, and is doing the same for it in Psychlo... wait, there's no one "alphabet," there's an alphabet for each language. It's not like there's a universal set of sounds conveyed through different letters. Arabic uses sounds English does not, while a single character in either language can stand for multiple... oh, what's the use?

Anyway. Thanks to the "groveling" Chinko instructor "fawn[ing] in an agony of politeness," Jonnie can now "rattle off" the alphabet in English and Psychlo, including "all the different nuances" of how they sounded. Quite impressive. Jonnie must be a genius if he can figure out two alphabets in just seven days, especially with an instructor who cannot actually interact with him, answer questions, or explain things.

Still, Jonnie can't take too long, since the diet of raw rat will eventually kill him. Apparently our little genius just doesn't feel like starting a cooking fire. Terl visits each day to watch him train, his "eyebones" narrowing as he scrutinizes his specimen. Then one day, Terl surprises Jonnie by pushing the lever into a new position the human never managed, launching a speedy cross-association drill. He leaves while the glorified chimp is bedazzled by a slightly different effect from the Magical Talking Disc.

Jonnie wonders what would happen if he pushed the lever, currently in a down position, upward? The result knocks him out of his chair.

"It took him quite a space of travel of the sun-made bar shadows to get brave enough to try it again." Ah, it blew the concept of minutes or hours right out of him! ...Hang on, without a clock, how would he know what those are in the first... argh...

Turns out the Magical Talking Disc's secondary mode shoots a beam of warm, tingling light. He pushes his hand into the stream of energy, and moves closer:

And he heard, in the weirdest way, sort of with his head, not his ears, "Beneath the level of your consciousness, the alphabet will now go in. A, B, C..."

What was this? Was he "hearing" through his hand? No, that couldn't be! He wasn't hearing at all except for that meadowlark.

Soundless somethings were coming from the MACHINE!

I think I've figured out the math behind this. Knowledge = Power, Power = Energy, Energy = Lurnin' Rayz. Elementary.

Suddenly he KNEW that if all three sides of a triangle were equal, all its enclosed angles were also equal.

He backed up. Never mind what a triangle was or an angle, he now KNEW.

He went back and sat down against the wall. Suddenly he reached out with his finger and drew in the dust a three-pointed shape. He poked a finger at each inside bend. He said, wonderingly, "They're equal."

Equal what?

Equal each other.

So what?

Maybe it was valuable.

...I can't remember my reaction to this passage, first time through. Did I groan, drop the book, and take a break? Did I burst out laughing? Or did I just grit my teeth and push on, the movie adaptation having already spoiled this particular plot device?

After this revelation, "an unholy joy" lights up Jonnie's face. Nice of L. Ron to admit his Marty Stu is an abomination. Jonnie's life becomes "a long parade of disks, stacks of disks." He spends every waking moment getting blasted by Lurnin' Rayz, in the ultimate form of cramming. And why? He's gonna learn everything he can about the Psychlos, with one goal in mind: "vengeance for the destruction of his race! Could he learn fast enough to accomplish his purpose?"

Of course he does. We end at the tippy-top of page 75. Well, the chapter does, but I'm not done.

Two things.

Remember the author's introduction? I mentioned the learning machines back then, and here's why:

...science fiction, to be credible, has to be based on some degree of plausibility; fantasy gives you no limits at all. Writing science fiction demands care on the part of the author; writing fantasy is as easy as strolling in the park. (In fantasy, a guy has no sword in his hand; bang, there's a magic sword in his hand).

...And as an old pro I assure you that [this] is pure science fiction. No fantasy.

What is there to say, besides "L. Ron Hubbard, you fail, you fail, you FAIL."

My other point concerns Terl. All he needs for this man-thing to do is dig up some gold for him, possibly as part of a team. Yet for some reason, Terl needs to teach him, not just enough of the Psychlo language to communicate his intentions, but also geometry, history, the whole works. There is a very practical reason that slave-owning societies took steps to keep their thralls from getting too educated - it helps them rebel! Why would Terl give Jonnie such power, such a dangerous advantage?!

The short answer is that Terl is one of the dumbest, most inept villains I've ever had the displeasure of reading about. A blundering moron whose cunning jumps all over the place as the plot requires, but is never enough to make him a credible threat. He's basically an enabler for Jonnie to become a super-special-awesome hero.

So there we have it. Terl is a fething idiot, and L. Ron Hubbard is a terrible science-fiction writer. Next chapter, Terl talks finances.

Back to Chapter Six

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