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

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