Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Part 3, Chapter 2 - On Productivity and Urine-Free Floors

The first thing Numph asks about when Terl and Jonnie walk in is if there's a mutiny. The security chief assures him that the revolution hasn't begun yet, and shows off his "man-thing." Heh.

The second thing out of Numph's mouth is an order to keep Jonnie from peeing on the floor.

Terl gives his sales pitch, pointing out Jonnie's "manually adept" hands, and explains that a mutiny could be headed off if production was increased thanks to human slave labor...

Waaaait a minute. The Psychlos are a slave-using race. Why'd they exterminate humanity instead of enslaving us? They basically threw away a viable source of income, and if they're so damn invincible during wartime, they shouldn't have to resort to gas attacks to win an invasion. Were they just feeling lazy? Or is Terl's stupidity indeed a racial feature?

Anyway, Numph keeps interrupting Terl to ask if Jonnie's peed on the floor yet. He also complains about Jonnie's smell, which Terl assures him is due to Jonnie's uncured hide clothing. He proposes that they give Jonnie some proper garments, which shocks Numph - would a creature that wears crude hides grasp the purpose of a jumpsuit?

My "every Psychlo is an incredible idiot" theory just keeps gaining ground.

Terl asks for some requisition forms so Jonnie can try operating a tractor. The man-thing in question, meanwhile, is shrewdly studying his surroundings, taking in every detail of the dome's interior, and also getting a good look at the Psychlos, who he's seeing unmasked for the first time.

They were almost human faces except they had bones for eyebrows and eyelids and lips. They had amber orb eyes like those of wolves. He was beginning to be able to read their emotions as they related to their expressions.

Holeeee crap. All that garbage about "eyebones" was intentional. How did I miss that on my first read-through? And more importantly... why bone?

Lips are fleshy. They help us eat, serve as an extra sensory organ, and more importantly, help us speak. They need to be supple and movable to do these things. Bone is not soft and movable. If the Psychlo have rigid, bony mouths, they do not have "lips," they have what would be best called "beaks." And they probably couldn't talk, at least not in a way remotely similar to how humans do it. Strike one.

Eyelids are thin bits of skin that help protect the eye and spread tears across them. Again, bone is not particularly well-suited to these roles - yes, it'd be more durable than a thin layer of skin, but our eyelids are able to be blinked quickly to block bright flashes of light or incoming debris. Bone eyelids... I'm trying to imagine a rigid dome of calcium trying to rotate out in front of a Psychlo eyeball at high speed and failing. Strike two.

And eyebrows? Eyebrows are hair. This lets them catch moisture rolling down our face that would otherwise get in our eyes. Bony ridges would not do this job well at all, and would certainly suck at conveying facial expressions, which are the eyebrows' secondary role. Unless, of course, L. Ron is telling us that the Psychlos have strips of wispy, spindly bone structures clustered over their eyes, which is stupid even for this book. The things already have normal hair. Strike three.

In conclusion, the Psychlos look like humans, except they have wolves' eyes, furry paws, claws, and faces like fists, all bony growths sliding across each other like a horrific fracture. In other words, they don't look very human at all.

Jonnie also notices that while the other Psychlos they passed on the way to Numph's office looked at Jonnie with curiosity, they all glared at Terl in hatred. "Apparently he had some special job or rank that wasn't popular." Another amazing deductive leap from a man who was "bitten" by a window. Maybe Terl just has bad Psychlo B.O.? Maybe he cheats at Psychlo poker? He got a raise and they're all jealous? None of these scenarios are true, but there's no way Jonnie would know it. Yet he still manages to figure out the truth on just a minuscule bit of information.

"But then all the relationships among these people were hostile, one to another." You're one to talk, Jonnie. The elders hate you as a mouthy rebel, you glare at your family members until they do what you want, and you have two brainless females with an unexplained and total devotion to your will, which you return with cold distance.

Meanwhile, Terl's Leverage Sense is tingling. He intuits that His Planetship is bothered about something more than mutiny. But he continues speaking, and orders Jonnie to say something to show that he's trainable. Jonnie refuses. Jonnie is an idiot. Terl reminds the jumped-up little monkey that his face-mask is extremely removable. Jonnie tells Numph "I think Terl wants you to sign the requisitions so that I can be trained to operate a machine. If you ordered it, you should sign it."

Now, I've been hard on Terl in the past for beating up or otherwise endangering the life of his investment. But at this point, if it weren't for that demonstration coming up, there's no reason to keep Jonnie alive any longer. Jonnie is mouthy, rebellious, and above all else, thunderously stupid - he does all these things even after being threatened with physical harm for misbehavior. Simply put, he isn't slave material. Scratch him off as a flawed prototype and start over, Terl. Hope your next captive is a little smarter, and be a more careful handler.

Numph's reaction to Jonnie's words is to stare out the window, thinking about something else, before commenting that the man-thing smells awful. This is... actually somewhat effective. It reminds me of an instance in Terry Pratchett's Jingo when an arrogant aristocrat censors himself, ignoring words that "obviously couldn't be said" to him. Numph could be so shocked and appalled that this man-thing is talking to him like an equal, even offering advice (or orders, since it's Jonnie), that he simply refuses to acknowledge that it can talk.

Or maybe I'm giving L. Ron "eyebones" Hubbard too much credit here. Numph signs the requisition forms, and as Terl and Jonnie leave, asks if the human peed on the floor. End of chapter, halfway down page 95.

...Eyebones. What bizarre evolutionary path could have resulted in such an impractical biological set-up? And was this really the best alien species L. Ron could come up with? H.P. Lovecraft gave us things that were alien in every sense of the word - the Mi-Go, hybrids of fungi and crustacean, the Great Race of Yith, trumpt-shaped structures with specialized appendages, and the Elder Things, which were... I don't even know where to begin with those.

But all Hubbard can give us is some kind of bear-thing whose "alien" parts are so stupid that we hope they're typos.

Next chapter, Jonnie drives a tractor.

Back to Chapter One

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