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

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