Friday, January 29, 2010

Interim - Rounded to Two Decimal Places

When we start Part 6, Chapter 1 of Battlefield Earth on Monday night, we'll be on page 177 of 1083. After a great deal of struggling due to my atrophied skills at mathematics, I have determined that we're approximately 16.36% of the way through this story. To put this in perspective, I'm going through my library to see where other, better authors could have taken us in the same amount of pages/portion of the narrative.

Page 177 of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone concerns troll boogers on a magic wand, taking place as it does during the Halloween feast incident just over halfway through the story. In this amount of space Rowling has established a larger, more interesting cast, and though not all of them have been fully developed yet, this being the first book of seven, they've still been given more characterization than the guys in Battlefield Earth. Also, her heroes are likable and her villains effective. All we have are Jonnie and Terl.

But like I said, that's more than halfway through her book. 16% of the way through Stone is approximately page 49, the introduction of Hagrid. In that sense I guess L. Ron has done more than J.K. - why, we've watched Jonnie wander around and kill wild animals, discover that he's in a post-apocalyptic setting, get captured, fail to escape, learn, get halfway blown up, go to the library, and fail to escape again. And we had almost a full Part of Terl just being devious!

Then again, Harry Potter was fun to read. Battlefield Earth is a chore.

Page 177 of Dune is right in the middle of the Duke Leto Atreides' final moments at the hands of the nefarious Baron Harkonnen. The transition from the First to Second Acts, I guess - the cast has been introduced, the setting established, and the stakes made clear, and now a rush of action sequences, betrayals, and desperate escapes are sending the plot along. Remarkably similar to what's happened so far in Battlefield Earth, though in the same way a Lexus is similar to a Pinto.

But like Harry Potter, page 177 of Dune is near its halfway point. Discounting glossaries, maps, and appendices, Dune clocks in at 483 pages. Using the awesome power of Microsoft's calculator accessory, I have determined that 16% of 483 is 77, on which page the good Duke is inwardly raging about an assassination attempt on his son. Not much has happened beyond characters moving around and learning about Dune, but a unique and rich universe has been laid out before Herbert's readers, and the author has done a great job at setting a mood of tension and growing dread, as a shadowy plot tightens inexorably around the characters.

In Battlefield Earth, we saw humans being stupid, Psychlos being stupid, and they all basically bumbled along from one chapter to the next. We have Terl's plan as a sort of overarching plot, but there's so many setbacks and hiccups in it, it's hard to feel like we're headed towards a destination, instead of dealing with an author making things up as he goes along.

So Dune is better than Battlefield Earth, is what I'm trying to say.

Ah, here's The Big One. Page 177 of The Fellowship of the Ring is in the chapter "Strider," when the narrative has stopped meandering around the Shire and the plot has started up again. But yet again, this is nearly halfway through the book. 16% of the way through this 423 page story takes us to page 68, which is... wow. "The Shadow of the Past," Gandalf providing exposition and background in the second chapter. I guess Tolkien has nothing on Hubbard, huh?

But wait! The Lord of the Rings was meant to be one ginormous book. Discounting over a hundred pages of appendices, the premier fantasy epic clocks in at a whopping 1086 pages, which is terrifyingly close to Battlefield's Earth bulk... which means that, like Battlefield Earth, page 177 is when the author is finally getting his act together and starting the story in earnest.

Ouch. I feel like apologizing to J.R.R. Tolkien, except 1) he's dead, and 2) it's his fault for not trimming down the wandering and singing and pointless sidetripping of Fellowship of the Ring's first half. On the other hand, once Tolkien gets moving, aside from an interminable "talky" chapter in Rivendell, the story proceeds at a steady, brisk clip, going through dungeons, battlefields, and strange and deadly lands.

Battlefield Earth... does not. We're still two hundred pages from the actual battle alluded to in its title. Place the stories side-by-side, and Tolkien is about to take us to the showdown on Weathertop. L. Ron's still getting his toy soldiers in place, and wants us to watch humans dig and Terl continue to be sneaky.

Also, Tolkien told a story about ordinary courage in the face of extraordinary evil, set in a lovingly-crafted world many of his fans would sell their organs to move to. All L. Ron has for us is a Marty Stu who gets to save the day thanks to his oh-so-special talents, and we get to watch.

Given the choice between reading Battlefield Earth and any of the books listed above, it's a no-brainer. But all of those books, while not flawless, are good, and therefore not good sporking material. And so this strange use of my time will continue.

Still... less than a fifth of the way through? Hoooo boy...

Back to Part Five, Chapter Nine

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Part 5, Chapter 9 - Frisk?

Terl doesn't even bother to unpack the cargo of freight and despair, instead sticking on a few ubiquitous "button-cameras" and calling it a night. The next morning he gets to work preparing the cage and his new guests. Pattie and Chrissie get collars and leashes, though the collars feature "red bulges" on them that Jonnie hasn't seen before.

Terl gloats about "dummy-wired" weapons, recon drones, and how he ought to "knock the crap" out of Ker for "not teaching [Jonnie] any better." Again with the crap... though if any word can now be associated with Battlefield Earth, it's "crap."

Next comes Terl's lecture about the new working conditions, which includes a demonstration. He (somehow) caught a coyote earlier, and now tosses it against the cage, and in a "searing puff(?) of light" the hapless critter is reduced to charcoal. As per Terl's instructions, Jonnie advises Chrissie and Pattie not to touch the cage they're in.

Terl then informs Jonnie that the red bumps on the girls' collars are remote-controlled bombs. There's a switch for each hostage, as well as a third bomb under the cage entire, just to be sure. There's multiple detonators, of course, and if Jonnie goes out of a five-mile range from the mine, the big bomb goes off automatically. But the news isn't all bad - the Psychlo severs Jonnie's leash, advising him to "Run around. Feel liberty. Frisk!"

The verb form of "frisk" doesn't mean the same as its adjective or noun forms. Now here's the riddle: is it Terl making the mistake here, or the author?

Jonnie and Terl come to an understanding. In exchange for his help on a project, Terl will "stagger [Jonnie] with gifts," free the girls and horses, and let the humans all go home. Jonnie realizes that he's lying, but knows that Terl holds all the cards here. He promises to do the project, but tells Terl "You're not a monster. You're a devil." Which is quite an insult to devils everywhere - they're much more devious than this drunken buffoon.

The chapter ends with an utterly defeated Jonnie explaining what's going on to his new roommates. And now that the hostages are in place and any thought of escape has been driven from Jonnie's mind, we can finally get to Terl's project and move the plot along.

...though I can't help but wonder if skillful use of Jonnie's slicer/welder could scoop off the bombs and carve through the cage...

Back to Part Five, Chapter Eight

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Part 5, Chapter 8 - They Must Be Going Slow, Nobody's Shouting

"The truck bumped southward with its cargo of freight and despair." The hover-truck, mind you.

Everyone's a little down about getting captured by a monstrous alien, tied up, and tossed in the back of the Psychlo equivalent of a Ford F-150. Chrissie explains that she left early when Windsplitter returned with a nasty cut, making her fear for Jonnie's life. Pattie, age eight, kept following her when she tried to leave the village. Twice she had to take her younger sister home, but by the third time they were "too far out on the plain; it was better to go on." Though this confirms that stupidity runs in Chrissie's family, I can't help but wonder what kept her from doubling back that third time. Was she worried about running out of supplies? But how could she expect to survive a search for Jonnie, then?

As always, the proper attitude when confronted with such a puzzle is apathy, allowing us to move on.

Chrissie informs Jonnie that there was a Great Village, and that Terl is one of those monsters out of the tribe's legends. Jonnie's response is "I know," which I amuse myself by reading as "I know." Really, his patience with Chrissie counts as a superpower. I'd be tempted to dump her out of the truck at some point, I'm sure.

Chrissie also remembers that Jonnie spoke Terl's language, and speculates what it will do with them. Jonnie tells her not to worry her pretty little head about it and continues brooding about how this is all his fault for not escaping sooner.

After a bit of this, Jonnie assures his love that the monster wants something from him, but will let them go when they're done, a bit of a falsehood. Chrissie smiles and talks about how they have a new parson and mayor now, and they only had to eat two of Jonnie's horses. Oh, and she made him some new clothes.

And now I understand why Jonnie tends to coldly ignore her whenever they're together.

Pattie has a much-delayed reaction to the monster, almost as if the author forgot about her for a page and wasn't willing to rewrite the earlier dialogue to include her. She suddenly snaps out of her shock to scream and worry if it's gonna eat them, but Jonnie helpfully mentions that it can't tolerate living things from this planet, and the little idiot calms down.

"Jonnie," said Chrissie. "You're not mad at me, are you?"

Oh, dear God. Mad at you. Oh God, no. He couldn't talk. He shook his head.

The roar of the mine became louder in the distance.

I love that last part! I visualize Jonnie purple-faced with rage, his veins popping out on his forehead, too furious to speak with his breathtakingly stupid companions.

Really, this has been one of the funniest chapters of the book. Next is the last chapter of this Part, and involves hazardous fashion accessories.

Back to Chapter Seven

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Part 5, Chapter 7 - You Probably Should Have Test-Fired the Thing at Some Point

The stamping horse turns out to be none other than Windsplitter, who is being ridden by someone, and three other horses. They have Terl's full attention, so Jonnie decides it's now or never, uses the magical slicer/welder to sever his leash (yeah, he's been on one for the entire trip, but it wasn't really worth mentioning), and makes a break for the treeline, pistol ready.

Then he notices who is riding his horse.

It was Chrissie!

And not only Chrissie, there was Pattie.

A sob surged up through Jonnie.

Chrissie's glad cry rang out. "Jonnie!"

Pattie yelled with delight. "Jonnie! Jonnie!"

And Windsplitter started to trot toward him.

"Go back!" screamed Jonnie. "Run! Oh my God, run!"

A few things here. First, yes, the entire chapter is pretty much one- or two-sentence paragraphs. Now, the technique can be used to recreate the fast, frantic feel of sudden violence or a traumatic event, but if done badly it makes the narrative feel like a kid's story. My opinion on its use in this case can probably be predicted.

Second, you'd think Jonnie would recognize his love interest, the person who's prompting this whole escape attempt, at first glance. The only conclusion I can reach is that his attention was on his horse, which given our hero's previous behavior is certainly believable.

Third, I thought horses had a good sense of smell. Not enough to track, of course, but you'd think something like a big musky Psychlo (there's been no mention of Terl bathing, to my recollection) might make the animal a bit skittish. And what about the hovertruck? They didn't hear it coming, or see it parked outside?

And finally, I love Pattie's introduction.

The worse-than-useless females finally notice the hulking monster, but stop short of doing something smart and fleeing, so Jonnie jumps between them and Terl, brandishing his pistol, threatening to fire on him if he attacks the girls. The Psychlo doesn't even draw his gun and lumbers towards them, explaining that he's been tracking them by a recon drone and knew they would be here.

A frantic Jonnie (again) threatens to shoot, which is something by all rights he should have done the second he decided to escape. Heck, why'd he cut himself free first, run second, and only then consider blasting his captor? Wouldn't it be far safer and smarter to shoot Terl in the back of the head while his attention was occupied?

Whatever. Terl smugly informs him that the gun won't work. Jonnie tries to fire anyway, but the gun won't work. Terl fishes out a familiar gold coin from a pocket and reveals that it was he who sold Jonnie a gun.

Well, that explains why Jonnie had no reaction to Ker the unusually cooperative Psychlo - L. Ron knew it was just a trick, so he decided not to have his character waste time contemplating it, or risk Jonnie being wrong about something now that he's all educated and empowered or whatever. Not that this invalidates anything I said about it back in chapter 3. There's more to the Psychlos than meets the eye, though it'll take a few hundred pages for any real development of their background and society. Not that it matters much.

Back to the hostage situation. Jonnie prepares for a suicidal charge, Terl finally pulls his gun and shoots a horse, and then reminds Jonnie who is in control here. "Now help me round these creatures up so we can get them in the truck."

And so Jonnie's escape attempt, which had little chance of succeeding due to the number of pages remaining, demands of the narrative, and just who was masterminding it, has failed. Next chapter, a cargo of freight and despair.

Back to Chapter Six

Monday, January 25, 2010

Part 5, Chapter 6 - Learning the Language of Your Enemies? A Good Idea.

Terl and Jonnie reach the library around 1:00 in the afternoon, which Jonnie knows by his innate magical powers. Terl's hoping for signs of Jonnie's horse.

They go in, Terl comments on how Jonnie slipped in through the windows (and even replaced the barriers after him), and the human realizes that his first exploration was in the kiddies' section. Luckily, Denver was using new Super Paper before the Psychlo invasion, so the card catalog hasn't rotted away into lumps of mulch after a thousand years of neglect. Jonnie gets to work researching "mountains," confirming in the process that Terl can't read English.

And so Jonnie picks up Defense Systems of the United States (which includes a chapter on "MX1 Anti-Nuclear Silos"), Nuclear Physics, Congressional Hearings on Missile Installations, The Scandals of Nuclear Mismanagement, Nuclear Deterrent Strategy, Uranium--Hope or Hell, and Nuclear Waste and Pollution. Oh, and a copy of Colorado, Scenic Wonderland to fool Terl. The Psychlo approves of our purple mountains' majesty.

I'm just impressed Jonnie could find a book detailing US bunkers in a Cold War-era library. I thought that might be one of those things you, y'know, keep secret? I guess the 70s and 80s were more trusting than history gives them credit for.

There's also a relief map, and Jonnie, using his Super Geography Skills, is able to ascertain which mountain is Highpeak, and even which meadow contains the Village of the Idiots. Terl's attention is on another valley. What could he be up to?

Suddenly, a shot - er, hoofstrike of a horse rang out! Cliffhanger chapter ending! Arbitrary break in the narrative!

Next chapter, she's back.

Back to Chapter Five

Friday, January 22, 2010

Part 5, Chapter 5 - Hope They Don't Hit a Bump, Jonnie Might Fall Out

The laughing planet Psychlo of Jonnie's dreams segues into a laughing Terl, who is looking through what the narrative continues to refer to as "man-books." Terl and Jonnie have a morning chat, which is to say that the former asks the latter questions that Jonnie ignores. Actually, there's a lot of ignoring going on - Jonnie spots another recon drone roaring about (a sonic boom, apparently) and wonders out loud why it's paroling each day, but Terl doesn't answer.

Instead he offers to take Jonnie up to the miraculously-preserved library in the ruins of Denver for more books, and also because he wants to show him something. Jonnie is, as always, suspicious, but doesn't want to turn down a good escape opportunity. He packs his things, including his new pistol.

Their transport isn't the Mark III tank from last time, but the Psychlo equivalent of a pickup truck - Terl doesn't want Jonnie stinking up the cabin, so he has an open-air back to ride in. Jonnie realizes this means he can't zap or club Terl while in transit, but gets in anyway.

"The truck skimmed away. It was slower than the tanks and it was not as well cushioned against the ground, for it was now running very underloaded..." hang on...

Four paragraphs ago: "Its only similarity to a tank was that it had no wheels but skimmed a varying distance up to three feet above ground."

So... it hovers? But somehow rides rough because nothing's weighing it down? What? That doesn't-

Screw it, the chapter's almost over. Jonnie's taking cover from the 80 mph winds - though how he knows that's how fast they're going, since he's in the back away from the speedometer and educated with Psychlo units of measurement anyway, I can't guess - and wondering if he could somehow hijack the vehicle in his escape attempt.

What a relief it would be to get rid of this collar. His heart was thudding expectantly. Once again, if he made no mistakes, he would be free!

I like the "once again" part. Your last attempt was a miserable failure despite your precautions, but surely this one will work out different! (Hint: it doesn't.)

We end at the bottom of page 163. Next chapter, Terl's illiteracy dooms his species to extinction, similar to how Terl's stupidity and Terl's arrogance and Terl's incompetence have done the same, and will continue to do so in the future.

Back to Chapter Four

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Part 5, Chapter 4 - Radiation = Bad

Jonnie has deduced that there must be uranium in the western mountains, since the Psychlos aren't mining there - and although they might not be mining due to a lack of valuable minerals over there, or because they've already mined the place out, or because expanding isn't in this year's budget, Jonnie is of course correct.

So he wants to learn more about uranium. Problem is, the Chinkos' magical learning machines don't cover what they think a Psychlo would already know. So Jonnie takes a gamble and asks Terl for man-books about the mountains. For some reason, Terl obliges him with a pile of antique texts, confident that nothing the human could learn from them could possibly be a threat.

I thought this guy was supposed to be cunning, suspicious, and paranoid?

Jonnie discovers that the humans and Psychlos had quite different periodic tables, and gives up trying to reconcile them. "He was a man of action, not a Chinko!" Ah, L. Ron's casual, innocent racism.

He eventually finds uranium mentioned as a poison in a book on mine toxicology. Jonnie reads about the symptoms - rashes, hair loss, mutations - and suddenly realizes why everyone in his valley is deformed and stupid instead of just stupid. They're being poisoned by radiation! Even though there's not an old uranium mine nearby... waitaminute, how does he know exactly where his village is? Does he have a perfect memory and excellent map skills? Whatever.

He briefly considers the sun as the culprit, reminding us that yes, despite all his superhuman skills, Jonnie is still an idiot, but remembers that the mountain goats aren't all deformed and puts that hypothesis aside, ignoring the logic that if the sun were showering them with radiation then the entire Psychlo camp would have exploded by now. He then deduces that humans must have a way to detect radiation, learns about Geiger counters, and concludes that he could probably build one.

He finally put the books away and in the small hours fell into an exhausted sleep. He had nightmares. Chrissie mauled and smashed to bits. His people wasted and truly extinct. And the world of the Psychlos come alive and laughing at him.

At least he's got a realistic assessment of Chrissie's survival skills. Next time, we begin a sequence of events that will eventually involve things actually happening.

Back to Chapter Three

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Part 5, Chapter 3 - Well, That Was Easy

Jonnie's trying to figure out what to do about the cameras overlooking his cage. He'd like to pull the old "fake image to override the real one" trick, but there's two cameras. Oh, and if you're curious about how the Psychlo cameras work: "They were simple devices. They had a small interior mirror to catch the image, and the image became transmitted electrons; the pattern was simply picked up and recorded on a disk."

I'd jump on this, but it's a better explanation than I could give on how a digital camera functions.

Jonnie plans on combining his magical learning engine with a recorder device that he must have gotten while I wasn't looking, and then somehow beam that image to override the cameras. This time L. Ron doesn't bother to explain the mechanics, which may be just as well.

Terl walks in with Jonnie elbow-deep in his instruction machine and is simply baffled, ordering Jonnie to put it back together in exchange for a freshly-killed rabbit. When Jonnie complies, Terl gives one of the few sentences from this book I like: "'Don't monkey with things that don't need fixing,' Terl said with the air of good-God-what-you-have-to-teach-an-animal."

Note that this sentence raises questions of whether the Psychlos have a monkey-like animal associated with mischief, why they would have a similar simile, and what their concept of God is. It is only a likable sentence in comparison with the rest of the book.

Another hassle to overcome is Psychlo heat-sensing equipment, which Terl showed us a few chapters earlier. Luckily, Ker gave/gives Jonnie a miraculous heat-reflecting Snuggie to help Jonnie do some drilling x days before/after the learning machine incident (L. Ron's pretty nebulous when it comes to time). Well, I say miraculous, but for all we know it could be aluminum foil. In any case, the things are disposable (odd for a profit-oriented minesite), so Jonnie simply neglects to throw his away.

He's got enough smoked beef to keep him going, but Jonnie's concerned about footwear. Terl catches him patching up his moccasins, but that just ends with the Psychlo generously getting the local tailor to make Jonnie some boots. Jonnie is suspicious of this surprisingly helpful Terl.

But the main thing on Jonnie's "What to Pack: Jailbreak" list is a gun.

Yeah. The guy who throws clubs and bashes bears to death with rifle-butts is finally concerned about a ranged weapon. Most people would be a bit leery of using an alien weapon, especially if they've never been exposed to firearms before, but remember that Jonnie picked Instant Expert as a bonus feat or something and was a crack shot the first time he used Terl's rifle.

All the Psychlo workers have pistols (which seems like a weird thing to allow if you're worried about mutinies), and Jonnie wants his own. He's heard Ker speak of some past petty villainy, so he shows off one of his silver coins. Ker isn't impressed, since he's seen similar human artifacts and knows it's just an alloy with a nickel-silver plating. So Jonnie whips out a gold coin he must've gotten earlier, and I'm not going to bother checking when. Since that would be worth four thousand credits, enough to buy a wife - which I'm sure is villainous, though it's not like the author's treatment of women has been much better - Ker is interested.

Jonnie hints that he gets these coins from a place so dangerous, he'd need a belt-gun to get more. He also mentions that he stores the coin in a hole next to his cage. That night the coin disappears, and the next morning a handgun and spare charges are in its place.


This is a big plot point, though you can be forgiven for missing it. Not the handgun, which will prove to be pointless, but Ker's behavior. At this point you'd expect the Psychlo to be just as greedy and evil as the others... well, okay, he is motivated purely by greed here. And lust. But he upholds his end of the bargain. He doesn't threaten Jonnie for the location of other treasures. He's not openly dismissive of the man-thing. He's not as mustache-twirlingly Evil as the others.

Maybe there's more to the Psychlos than a race of murderous, rapacious brutes? Maybe the ones at the minesite aren't necessarily indicative of the race as a whole? Maybe they're not always Chaotic Evil? Maybe there's some redeemable specimens amongst them?

Of course, Jonnie being Jonnie, he doesn't react at all to this development, and it won't stop him from trying to wipe out every last Psychlo in existence later (lol spoilers!). But it will help us condemn him for it.

We end at the very bottom of page 157, and I'm keenly aware of the 900 or so pages left to go. Next time, Jonnie learns that radiation is bad for humans, too.

Back to Chapter Two

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Part 5, Chapter 2 - A Vivid Preview of a Future Setting

Terl is haunted by dreams of his failure to blackmail Numph, even as he's gone about moving planes around and locking up arsenals as part of his "mutiny" precautions. To cheer himself up, he checks a recon drone's scan of his treasure.

The beautiful vein was still there, naked to view, exposed a hundred feet down a two-thousand foot cliff. Pure white quartz studded with wires and knobs of gleaming yellow gold! A fortuitous earthquake had caused the cliff face to shear off and fall into the dark depths of the canyon, exposing the fortune. The ancient volcano higher up must have spewed out a geyser of pure liquid gold in some ancient eruption and then covered it shallowly. A stream had cut the canyon through the ages and now the slide.

I wish I knew enough about geology to say if any of this is close to correct. I know diamonds can be found in some volcanic eruptions, but gold's a new one for me. I couldn't find anything on a Wikipedia search that suggested volcanoes occasionally fart out burning streams of pure gold, but I didn't find anything that said they didn't, so I guess it's possible.

The real downsides of the site, Terl narrates to himself, are the sheer drop and the uranium content on all its approaches... but not the vein itself? He can't fly high and drop down on it? And why would every spot around it be irradiated but not the gold... ah, it can't be irradiated, because otherwise Terl wouldn't want to mine it and the plot couldn't happen!

This is Battlefield Earth, where the only explanation that matters is "because otherwise the story falls apart."

Between the cliff and the limited work space, just getting at the ton or so of exposed gold will be quite dangerous, but given its hundred million credit price tag, more than worth a few human lives. It's kind of hard to hate Terl for this since humans are just as willing to go through worse to get at some shiny rocks - or more accurately, get someone else to go through worse to get shiny rocks for them.

Terl fudges the numbers and edits the recon drone data, and since he's the only person on the entire planet who apparently has access to these files, he's in the clear. But he still needs leverage on Numph to cover his tracks, something about whatever's going on between him and Nipe.

So Terl wanders down to the transshipment platform and sneakily leafs through the latest bunch of dispatches, using one of those "button-cameras" to snap every page. Then he goes back to his room and pores over the images, trying to unlock Numph's secret. And that's it.

In other words, nothing really happens this chapter. But at least we got a good description of the gold deposit, right? Next chapter, Ker is accommodating.

Back to Chapter One

Monday, January 18, 2010

Part 5, Chapter 1 - And It Can Still Slice This Tomato

Jonnie has three weeks until his year of exploration is up and Chrissie wanders down after him, a well-meaning act that has a high likelihood of resulting in her death.

Unless I'm mistaken, the last time Chrissie was even mentioned in a Jonnie chapter was back in Part 2, Chapter 4. Windsplitter the horse, on the other hand, was last mentioned in Part 4, Chapter 4. In any case, Jonnie's spent more time lamenting the poor, pitiful Chinkos than thinking about his love interest.


Jonnie's torn between checking on Chrissie and his quest to kick the aliens off of Earth, all made the more complicated due to the cage he's in. "Here he was, collared like a dog, chained up, locked behind bars-" (we get it, L. Ron) "-subject to swift detection and swifter pursuit. Yet he knew that even if he died trying, he would more than try."

So... "more than try," does that mean he'd succeed? Even if he died? What?

Suddenly, flashback!

Two days ago Jonnie is being taught about electronics repair, which the human thinks is a little suspicious for a machine operator to know, due to the division of labor. But Terl was insistent, leading Jonnie to conclude that he'll be operating in a place without electronic repairman.

During one of Ker's lessons, Jonnie swipes a tool, a magical knife-thing. Turn the switch on it one way, and it cleanly slices apart metal; change the setting, touch the blade to the severed metal, and it is repaired perfectly. It only works on objects of the same type of metal, but still, pretty handy. And no, no explanation is given for how this works. I'd have accepted "nanomachines" at this point.

Instead of stealing the tool he'd been given, Jonnie's smart enough to quickly search a cabinet for a duplicate when Ker isn't looking.

"You're doing pretty good," said Ker, looking at his work.

"Yes, I'm doing pretty good," said Jonnie.

Fortunately for him, Ker is oblivious to self-satisfied doubletalk.

At least it was short. Next chapter, Terl plunges deep into the puzzle of Numph. Ewwww.

Back to Part Four, Chapter Nine

Friday, January 15, 2010

Part 4, Chapter 9 - Learning on the Job

The chapter opens with "The transshipment air was a loud clatter of hurtling shapes under the spring sun." I'm no English major, but this doesn't parse. Maybe the author meant "transshipment area?" Or maybe he just expects us to know what he's talking about.

Jonnie's chained to a dust analyzer, going deaf from the din and really wishing he had some safety goggles because of the grit in the air. His job is the throw a lever that makes the machine scan the ore particles, check to see if the "move on" or "dump" light goes on, and then throw another lever to either jettison or pass the cargo.

No, they can't get the most basic of AIs to do this, hush.

His supervisor is Ker, a chatty, midget (only seven feet) security risk, roped in on Terl's project due to some compromising photos involving two she-Psychlos. He and Jonnie have a shouting conversation while they work. Our hero asks what they're scanning for, and Ker reveals that even "one isotope" of "radiation dust" would cause a "spark-flash" on the Psychlo homeworld, were it teleported through. I'd be interested in what manner of physics would cause such a thing, but I doubt I'd be able to understand an explanation from a competent instructor, much less L. Ron Hubbard.

Jonnie has more questions.

"What about a solid piece of uranium?"

"You won't detect that."

"Would anything detect it?"

"We never ship it!"

Wha? If I'm reading this right... the scanners can detect uranium dust... but not a big chunk of it... because the Psychlos never intend to ship it... and no one would put some there intentionally, would they?

This is either some truly bizarre limitations on the part of their technology or an extremely idiotic design choice.

After a few days on the conveyor belt, Jonnie also learns that some radioactive dust could also cause Psychlo breathing helmets to blow up if there's a crack or something. Ker also explains that a nearby structure is the Psychlo morgue, where all dead employees are stored before being returned to Psychlo (the planet) for burial in the company cemetery. With such a vast and ancient empire, they must be up to their nostrils in coffins over there.

As to why they do this, it isn't out of respect for the dead, but paranoia - the Psychlos are worried their enemies might try to engineer something based on Psychlo metabolism. So I guess no Psychlo has ever fallen in battle and had his corpse captured. It's also an accounting practice, a way to do a "nose-count"... argh. The Psychlo have heads, but nooooo, L. Ron wants to add "character" to his created race and use an arbitrary body part to put a unique spin on an old figure of speech. Anyway, this is all to prevent employees from scamming paychecks on behalf of dead guys.

Oh, and all Psychlo breathe-gas is exported from their homeworld, the only place where a bunch of rare elements come together to make whatever fumes the critters use as atmosphere. Jonnie quite logically (for once) wonders why they haven't run out yet, but Ker breezily explains that "the elements are in the rock and even the core and it just makes more and more."


You need plants and animals... if that were true, Earth's core would be nitrogen and oxygen and... it's a closed system, you can't just say the rocks are pumping out...

I've read fantasy stories whose systems of magic were better-developed than the science in Battlefield Earth, with carefully-explained rules, internal logic, descriptions of where the power comes from and how it is channeled, and so forth. Contrast with this book's science, which is used to justify the plot. Why does breathe-gas explode? So Jonnie can blow up Psychlos. Why does a civilization with drone fliers not have drone miners? So Jonnie can be taught the ways of the enemy.

In other words, Eragon's magic makes more sense than Battlefield Earth's science.

As part of his job togive Jonnie ideas about how to exterminate his species, Ker helpfully tells the human that there are sixteen minesites on Earth, with two power-supply substations, basically hydroelectric power plants. He even shows Jonnie a map.

Note that the substations are all automatic. Unlike the conveyor belts. Or the bulldozers or freighters or anything else Jonnie will be operating. I wouldn't say this story has plot holes so much as it has crumbling chunks of pseudo-plot drifting through a vast, cold, lightless abyss.

Jonnie swipes Ker's map, and starts asking more questions about Psychlo. After all, "when just one man was taking on the whole empire of the Psychlos in the hope of freeing his people, every scrap of information had value beyond price." One man who doesn't feel like working with his fellow humans, evidently. Of course, as a godlike Marty Stu, he doesn't really need help.

And so ends Part Four, a section where things happened, even if they didn't strictly have to. The next Part will be more like what this Part could have been if the last Part had been more like this Part. And everyone's favorite empty-headed, ambulatory plot device will make a triumphant return.

...pure science fiction...

Back to Part Four, Chapter Eight

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Part 4, Chapter 8 - Office Politics

It's a busy day for Terl, as he asks employees what they know about regulations and how they feel about mutiny - all recorded, of course. When he passes through his office he finds himself checking the feed for Jonnie's cage, and watches how the human cleans his new bearskin and sets about smoking some beef from yesterday's slaughter. Terl being Terl, he concludes that Jonnie's performing a religious ceremony heralding in the spring, instead of, y'know, cooking his food.

That evening Terl starts splicing and editing his recordings (all on tape, of course), so that a Psychlo who actually said "Mutiny is a very bad thing. Executives would cause vaporization wholesale and no one would be safe" end up, on Terl's record, saying "In any mutiny it would be safe to vaporize executives."

I'm curious as to why a race able to teleport military units to reinforce any of its holdings would think that a mutiny would have any chance of succeeding. I guess if you were quick enough you could wreck the teleportation platform, cutting off any counterattack... and also your supply lines, leaving you stranded on a planet with a toxic biosphere... So yeah, Terl's not the only stupid Psychlo by any means.

Anyway, Terl copies the "tapes" onto fresh "discs" to erase any signs of tampering, and the next day meets with Numph. When the latter sees the recordings of employees talking about killing him, he is understandably worried. Numph quickly signs forms authorizing Terl to take care of the matter, seize all the minesites' arsenals, consolidate battle planes (why do they need warplanes on a pacified planet?), and, as an emergency measure to put pressure on any unruly workers, train man-animals to operate machinery. Terl's finally gotten the go-ahead for his inane little scheme, so we can finally get on with things.

But then Terl makes the mistake of mentioning Numph's nephew Nipe approving of "forced employee reduction," which causes any guilt in Numph's eyes to fade as he realizes Terl is just bluffing. A suddenly jovial Numph dismisses Terl, who leaves pleased that he can get on with his scheme, but still thirsting for Leverage.

There, I just summarized five pages in as many paragraphs.

Next chapter, on-the-job training.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Part 4, Chapter 7 - Jonnie Does It Wrong

On the road again, Terl's thinking about how to break his unruly animal.

Yes, after having Jonnie for a season, he's just now getting around to wondering how to subjugate the stubborn little human.

Jonnie notices an information plate in the car/tank's cockpit, identifying it as a "Mark III General Purpose Tank, Executive, 'The Enemy Is Dead'" model ("use only Faro power cartridges and breathe-gas"). He asks if Faro is part of Intergalactic Mining Company, and Terl tells him not to try to wrap his little "rat-brain" around the fact that IMC is a huge monopoly spanning galaxies, yet nonetheless is run by an office on Psychlo, and powerful enough to snuff out races who cause trouble, like the Chinko or humans. Jonnie thanks him for this bit of information, like he couldn't have guessed it already.

They arrive back in Denver, for a nostalgic look at where our two main characters first met. Terl reveals that they're looking for Jonnie's horse, and sends a recon drone up and starts doing heat scans. After an undisclosed amount of time, and after spotting a lot of cattle, wolves, and even a rattlesnake, Terl loses patience and decides for a more direct demonstration of power.

He pulls over, orders Jonnie out, sights some cattle nearby, and proceeds to surgically dismantle the fleeing bovines with well-placed blasts of his rifled energy weapon.

The air was shattering with the bawls of pain from the cattle.

Terl grinned as he looked at them. Jonnie looked back at him in horror. The grin behind the faceplate was of pure joy.

Jonnie felt revulsion for the monster. Terl was--Jonnie suddenly realized that there was no word for "cruel" in the Psychlo language.

I'm sorely tempted to go back through all the Terl chapters and look for the usage of the word "cruel." But mostly I'm annoyed that L. Ron wrote that last sentence, because it's similar to a well-written part of Small Gods. Battlefield Earth is so bad that it's tainting other, better books.

The demonstration over, Jonnie starts to advance on the maimed and mutilated cows, ready to club them out of their misery... and then the largest grizzly he's ever seen bursts out of the nearby cave and lunges at Terl's back. And then Jonnie does something special.

He tries to yell a warning, but Terl can't hear him over the cattle, and goes down from a blow "that sent out a shock wave." Apparently we're in an anime now.

Terl's gun is caught by Jonnie, left-handed of course. You'd think that a mere human would have difficulty catching a hefty alien rifle like that, but this is no mere human, this is an obnoxious author stand-in. With a gun in one hand, and his club in the other, Jonnie leaps to the attack and engages the bear in melee.

He gets the first blow with his club, staggering the grizzly with a strike to the brainpan. He ducks the bear's counterattack and bonks it again, but on his third strike the bear swipes the club right out of his hand. So Jonnie grips the rifle's barrel and bashes the bear with its stock. One more blow and it's dead.

Let us reflect on this.

Our hero... well, the main chara... the protag... Jonnie has just defeated a grizzly bear in close combat, an implausible, superhuman accomplishment, unless the bear was sick or mentally defective or something. Jonnie did this by beating it to death with a gun.

Good God this man is stupid.

And Terl, the big dangerous enemy, was blindsided by a huge predator - or rather, something comparable in size and strength to a Psychlo - while gloating over his ability to shoot up cows. He went down in one blow, and was utterly helpless while his pet human dealt with the problem.

This Psychlo is pathetic.

Jonnie uses the gun to put down the cows - with six precise shots of course, even though this is the first time he's used a ranged weapon beyond his "throwing club" - then ignores Terl's subtle reach for his sidearm and unconcernedly skins the bear. When Terl pulls himself together, Jonnie tosses him the gun (safety on, of course). All Terl can think to say is that he's not letting Jonnie take the hide home inside his new ride. It gets strapped to the roof of the tank/car instead.

Terl is thrown by the lack of fear in Jonnie's eyes, and again laments about not having leverage. And the chapter mercifully ends without throwing any more stupid at us.

Next time, more Numph. Will there be jokes about Jonnie peeing on the floor of his office? Ah, suspense at last!

Back to Chapter Six

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Part 4, Chapter 6 - A Joyride with Terl

Jonnie laid down his book and stood, stretching. There was more than a smell of spring in the air. The snow had run off and only lingered in shady places. The air was crystal, the sky a beautiful blue. There was a surging tension in his limbs and muscles. It was one thing to be cooped up in winter. It was quite another to sit in a cage in spring.

I was going to grudgingly admit that this is an effective paragraph that establishes setting. Then I realized that it's actually rather unremarkable, but only seems exceptional because of the blandness and boredom that surrounds it.

This book has actually lowered my expectations for what qualifies as good writing.

Terl drives up in a spiffy new vehicle alternatively described as a "tank" and "ground car." He tells Jonnie that they're going for a ride, and adds that Jonnie will need his clubs. Jonnie's suspicious, but complies without the usual stubborn protest. The interior is described as "blazing" purple, in case you've forgotten that as a species the Psychlos adore the color.

We're again reminded that Terl's an idiot, when he points out that opening the doors or windows would kill him but wreck the car in the process. We're again reminded that Jonnie's an idiot when he considers this a good idea.

They follow an ancient highway overgrown by grass, but of course not by trees or heavier foliage, because it's only been a thousand years. Jonnie keenly watches the buttons and levers Terl is pressing to drive, until they eventually arrive at some ruins, because again, just a thousand years.

After putting on his mask and dressing Jonnie in his leash, Terl proudly explains that they're at "the primary defense base of this planet during the days of man." At this site, thirteen days after the invasion, a few humans held off a Psychlo tank for over three hours, the last act of resistance before the planet was overrun.

Proving once again that L. Ron Hubbard has no idea what he's writing about, Jonnie finds scraps of metal and uniform in the grass. There's even a trench that has withstood ten centuries' worth of erosion.

Jonnie quite reasonably asks why they drove out here. "So you won't get any ideas, animal. This was the number-one defense base of the planet. And just one measly Psychlo tank knocked it to bits in a wink. Got it?"

Yes, this was all an attempt to scare Jonnie into submission. Terl, he can probably still drive without his legs, right? That'd make a better impression.

Of course, since Terl can't read, he doesn't notice the amazingly-intact sign designating the amazingly-intact ruins as a USAF Academy, so Jonnie is instead inspired that a few rookies had held a tank back for three hours. "His people. Men! He found it hard to breathe. They had not died tamely. They had fought."

And I'm just trying to imagine the battle. Was the Psychlo tank just not trying? Did the driver pass out from a kerbango overdose while the soldiers hammered ineffectually on the hull? Did the tank run out of ammo and have to wait awkwardly until support came in to resupply it? Or instead, was the rest of the Psychlo conquest successful because humanity was caught napping? Are the Psychlo only dangerous if they get in a sucker-punch first? How have they conquered galaxies, then? Are they enjoying thousands of years of luck, or are the other alien races just that pathetic?

If nothing else, this chapter effectively establishes one thing - the Psychlos are not a threat to be taken seriously, an overblown danger that any competent opponent (or Jonnie) can overcome.

We end right at the bottom of page 132 of 1083, a fact that fills me with dread. Next chapter, another random encounter.

Back to Chapter Five

Monday, January 11, 2010

Part 4, Chapter 5 - Payback's a Female Dog-Animal

Terl is visited by the smaller Chamco brother, who still doesn't have a real name. Unless, of course, their parents were stupid enough to name both children Chamco, and everyone is forced to refer to them as "big Chamco" or "little Chamco." Which would, again, be really stupid, but certainly not beyond anything we've seen so far.

Chamco the Lesser brings up the money he won from Terl, and how it and some other credits were stolen. Terl is shocked, shocked! but reminds the other Psychlo that he's security chief, and has been ordered to place some workers under observation to appease management's fears of mutiny. "Reluctantly," Terl goes through the records, and sure enough "Zzt" is clearly visible taking Lil' Chamco's money. According to the book of regulations, Volume 989, Article 34a-IV... argh, that just derails everything.

Seriously, L. Ron, the company has over nine hundred volumes' worth of rules? Did you think that just throwing big numbers at us would impress your readers? "Wow, these bad guys have a lot of books! Clearly they are a force to be reckoned with!" Or is this supposed to be something more subtle? Like, the Psychlo are evil because they have so many laws? So an ideal society wouldn't have such an emphasis on law and order, and wouldn't, just to make up an example, chase a guy around the world with charges of embezzlement or conspiracy?

Anyway... turns out the penalty for stealing is vaporization, which raises the question of why a race that uses capital punishment for petty theft nevertheless requires nine hundred books' worth of legal code. Micro-Chamco is handed a blast rifle (how can you rifle an energy weapon?) and accompanies Terl to Zzt's corner of the garage.

Zzt throws a wrench! His attack missed. Terl used his paws! It's super effective!

Using sleight of "paw," Terl "retrieves" the money he stole from the Chamco brother's room from Zzt's person, waves the purloined bills in front of the security camera, and for good measure shows Zzt the incriminating video. But, in a show of mercy for a first-time offense, Terl convinces Chamco the Short to stay his hand. Paw. Energy rifle. Whatever.

Terl assures both other Psychlos that he'll keep Zzt's file open, so that his sentence can be activated if the troublemaker acts up again. Satisfied, the Nameless Chamco leaves, allowing Terl and Zzt to have a heart-to-heart.

Zzt was standing there restraining the tremble that threatened to engulf him. The aura of death had gripped him all too nearly. Stark terror flared in his eyes as he looked at Terl. He was not seeing Terl. He was seeing the most diabolical devil ever drawn in the mythology of the Psychlos.

Actual details about Psychlo mythology, religion, or culture are not important enough to be included in this epic, of course. What, you wanted world-building? Fleshed-out civilizations? Not in this sci-fi masterpiece, bucko.

Terl makes his demands - a MkIII ground car, "battle planes," freighters... in fact, he has some requisition forms prepared, and some blank ones, all for Zzt to sign. The other Psychlo listlessly makes his mark on each sheaf, like a dead thing still moving.

This is almost an effective section. We've seen Terl use his cunning to utterly crush an enemy, and finally achieved the means to get the plot moving again. Except we have to wonder why he's doing this now instead of at the start of his schemes, which undermines this example of villainy considerably. Like watching a master burglar break into his own house because he locked himself out, or an ace pilot down an enemy squadron single-handed because he wandered into enemy airspace while smoking a joint. Impressive, but unnecessary.

That evening, Terl shows his gratitude by winning back the previous night's losses from the Chamco brother, and then some. Well okay, he does buy everyone a round a kerbango before going to bed.

He dreamed beautiful dreams wherein leverage made him wealthy, crowned him king, and got him far away from this accursed planet.

Even in sleep... Fortunately, the chapter's over. Tune in next time, as Jonnie goes for a ride.

Back to Chapter Four

Friday, January 8, 2010

Part 4, Chapter 4 - Jonnie Gets a Nickname

Our fears are put at ease immediately, as the narration tells us that in the weeks since the exploding bulldozer incident, Jonnie's burns have all but healed and, most importantly, his hair and beard have grown back. He's still cramming with the magical learning machine, and doesn't turn around when Terl visits his cage.

Our main Psychlo has four delicious rats for Jonnie as a treat. Since the drop in the rat population had forced Terl to occasionally bring in rabbits, Jonnie is unimpressed. Terl mentions Jonnie lacking a sense of appreciation, and inquires about his progress on the learning discs.

Jonnie doesn't answer. Terl tosses him some Psychlo textbooks, which "looked huge but they were featherweight," and advises him to get his "rat-brain" in gear. Terl asks when Jonnie's going to start really cooperating. "Maybe never," is Jonnie's reply.

At this point, I'm past urging Terl to shoot his recalcitrant captive and get a new one.

Instead of killing Jonnie, Terl reminisces about the day they met, when the drunken idiot mistook the hairy idiot for one big four-legged animal. Terl mentions the horse, and notices Jonnie's stifled reaction to Windsplitter. Dramatic sting!

Terl jovially takes his leave, chuckling about his new name for Jonnie, the ever-so-clever "rat-brain." Though to be fair, this is from the species that gave us "crap nebula," so we should probably be thankful.

Jonnie gets to work reading Control Systems for Beginning Engineers, Electronic Chemistry, and Power and its Transmission. The second one mentions "uranium."

So yeah, Terl's giving his bitter slave all the information he needs to wipe out the Psychlos. In Battlefield Earth, victory over the bad guys is truly a team effort... since everyone involved is too moronic to accomplish it on their own.

Next chapter is as long as the previous two combined, and is more of Terl's skulduggery. If anything can make me long for what passes for action sequences in Battlefield Earth, it's the tedious sections leading up to them.

Back to Chapter Three

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Part 4, Chapter 3 - Terl the Thespian

Stage two of Terl's Kunnin' Plan is to get conspicuously drunk in the rec center while playing all the favorite Psychlo games. Like "paw-gripping," where the contestants vie to see who can stand the most squeezing, or "rings," where players lob circlets at pegs to score points.

Yeah. I'm actually feeling nostalgic for Blitzball.

Terl's so trashed that he loses even to the smaller Chamco brother, but keeps betting credits, which incidentally seem to be paper-ish money not dissimilar to our own. Sobbing, Terl waves around his "good-luck bill," with its distinctive crumples and signatures on it - the same marked bill he made sure was clearly visible when he made his recording of "Zzt's" robbery earlier. Dun duh duhn!

Terl loses the match by passing out, Chamco the Lesser gets the special bill, and Terl's coworkers are nice enough to dump his carcass off at his room, "chanting the funeral dirge of the Psychlos in a most feeling way." Yep, they only have one.

When they're gone, Terl revives. Turns out that he'd taken "counter-kerbango pills" before his binge, and "tickling his throat with a talon" gets rid of the excess. Counter-kerbango pills. Now I'm having Batman flashbacks too.

Quietly then, with great satisfaction, he undressed and got into bed and had a beautiful sleep full of beautiful dreams concerning the beautiful future of Terl.

At least this chapter was short, just over two pages. Annoying, but short. So's the next, in which we check in on Jonnie. Don't get excited, he's not doing much either.

Back to Chapter Two

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Part 4, Chapter 2 - Terl Plays Dress-Up

Terl's so filled with despair about his lack of Leverage that he's stopped hitting the kerbango. He's got some dirt on a few of his coworkers, "peccadillos [sic] with some of the Psychlo female clerks, drunkenness on the job leading to breakage, tapes of mutterings about foremen, personal letters smuggled into the teleportation of ore, but nothing big." So he sets about to find some good stuff.

At the top of his list is Numph, who is up to something with cousin Nipe, but for some reason (see Chapter 4 of the previous section) none of his requests for information are being answered. In fact, no matter what he does, Terl is staunchly ignored by the home office.

With Numph apparently not an option, Terl instead turns on his coworkers. Eying a regulation about theft of personal monies being punishable by vaporization, Terl waits for Zzt to take a break, then puts on a disguise. "He thickened his eyebones" - what? how?! - "added length to his fangs, roughed the fur on his cheeks, and labored to get the resemblance exact. What a master of skills one had to be in security!"

Our villain is a master of disguise, and/or a make-up artist.

Terl puts on some mechanic's clothes, then lets himself in to one of the Chamco brothers' rooms (remember them?). He plants some extra money in a "drinking horn" (what are they, Geats?), activates a hidden camera, then conspicuously "steals" the cash. The cunning plan goes off without a hitch, and he literally rubs his hands together like Snidely Whiplash at his own deviousness. Ugh.

The big question here is: why? Why was it necessary for Terl's plans to be thwarted in the previous chapter? Why couldn't he succeed and get on with things? I guess L. Ron is trying to show how cunning our villain is by showing Terl in action, but it doesn't quite make up for all the stupid things we've seen him do already. It just looks like he was wholly unprepared for his "master plan," even more so than the previous chapters proved. It would've been fine to introduce Terl with leverage already in hand, instead of spending not just this Part, but also the next, describing how Terl finally gets his plan in gear.

So yeah, all we have to look forward to from our villain for the next fifty pages or so is Terl spying on other Psychlos. And we're still hundreds of pages away from the actual "battle" in Battlefield Earth. So... buckle up and prepare for blastoff?

Next chapter, Terl continues to be devious, and I continue to not be entertained.

Back to Chapter One

Monday, January 4, 2010

Part 4, Chapter 1 - A Chapter for Chrissie

So, Terl's immediate aspirations have been quashed by the backstabbing jackassery inherent in his race, and Jonnie is slightly-scorched and enjoying the winter weather from his outdoor cage. The plot (both Terl and Hubbard's) to get a bunch of humans working as miners has hit a snag, which is a shame, since the story can't really progress until Jonnie gets to do more than learn and train.

In other words, now's a perfect time to check in on the tertiary characters in the Village of the Idiots, where a council has been convened to discuss Chrissie's reproductive organs:

"It's just plain foolishness," Parson Jimson was saying to her. "There are three young men who want to marry you and you have no right whatever to refuse them. The village population is dwindling in size; only thirty have survived the winter. This is not a time to be thinking only of yourself."

Perhaps some elaboration is needed. A mopey Chrissie has been called to the courthouse by what passes for authority figures amongst these misbegotten people: Jimson, de facto parson, Clay, a generic village elder, and Brown Limper Staffor, who started sitting in for the old Parson Staffor when the later became ill and just sort of grew into the role. Brown Limper's the only one of real significance, since he never liked Jonnie and is therefore a C-list villain. He's also the one making the most out of Chrissie's marital status, leading the other council-members to suspect that there might be an ulterior motive at play.

The village is starving because the menfolk didn't herd enough cattle before the snows came, and the two babies born that winter didn't last long in it. So it's up to Chrissie to do her part for the survival of her species and pop out some kids and hope that a few of them aren't mutants.

One could wonder, given the tribe's low numbers and struggle to survive in normal times, why the womenfolk aren't always pressured to spend as much time pregnant as possible. One could also wonder if waiting until the famine is over to start increasing the numbers might be a littler more prudent. This one, however, finds the issue unpleasant and annoying, and won't wonder at all.

Chrissie's barely paying attention, instead replaying a nightmare in which her beloved Jonnie was calling her name while being consumed by fire. This could imply a psychic connection of sorts between the two "love birds," or simply be one of the more obnoxious contrivances and cliches from bad love stories. Here's a hint: Jonnie's Marty Stu powers don't include psychic powers.

Despite Brown Limper's assurance that Jonnie must be monster chow by now, Chrissie insists that once spring comes and the passes open, she's hitting the plains to search for Jonnie, who she knows is still alive.

The council gives up, defeated, and vows to try again some other day.

Just like that.

Geez. With leadership this good, no wonder they're starving.

Next on the agenda is Parson Staffor, who is planning his funeral, which will be troublesome given the frozen ground and lack of food. Since this doesn't involve Chrissie, she leaves to gaze soulfully up at the winter sky, already planning on preparing Jonnie some packs of supplies and new clothes.

She doesn't really need to bother. Just whittle a chunk of wood or carve a rock to look like Jonnie, and she can look longingly at it while she's coldly ignored just the same as if he was still around.

Well, that was certainly a necessary and meaningful chapter. We end three-fourths down page 117. It says a lot about Chrissie that a chapter with her makes me look forward to reading how Terl fritters away an afternoon.

Back to Part Three, Chapter Eight