Friday, February 26, 2010

Part 7, Chapter 8 - Ker Blabs, Jonnie Watches

And suddenly we're no longer at The Lode, or even Jonnie's work camp, but the Psychlo minesite over a week later.

Jonnie's on Windsplitter being suspiciously casual - he's got a remote-control "picto-recorder" set up in a tree to spy on the teleportation site. And... flashback. I should've seen it coming.

At some point days earlier Jonnie complained about a broken personnel carrier, so Terl sent Ker over to the work camp. Jonnie acts all buddy-buddy to the midget Psychlo, giving him a "spare" gold ring and calling them "shaftmates," a Psychlo miners' term for "a pal who pulled one out of a cave-in or a fight." Ker is suspicious that Jonnie wants something, but the human just jokes that he might want somebody killed, and a good laugh is had by all.

And then Jonnie starts asking questions, and Ker provides answers.

The amiable security risk lets slip that Day 92 is the semiannual firing day, a "slow" firing when they exchange personnel and ship back corpses. We finally get an explanation on why the corpses get to sit around for months in a freezer - a normal "fast" firing "is all right for dispatches and ore, but a body would get ripped up in the transition." Only a three-minute long "slow" firing can send living things - or corpses - without problems.

Ooookay. So somehow inanimate objects are unaffected by forces that rend slightly softer cargo asunder? Or maybe teleportation has a disruptive effect on biochemistry and - you know what, it doesn't matter. This is just another inexplicable rule of the universe that exists to justify the story. There has to be occasional slow firings so Terl has a specific deadline for his project. That's all there is to it.

So what's the deal with the dead Psychlos being shipped home? Well, Psychlo (species) law requires all cadavers to be sent back to Psychlo (planet), where each fallen Psychlo (individual) is entombed in a cemetary "way out of town in an old slag heap, and nobody ever goes there. But it's in the contract. Silly, ain't it?"

Yes, Ker. Yes it is. The Psychlos don't want any enemies to get a hold on their dead to make a bio-weapon or something. So instead of promptly cremating the bodies, or having them naturally-shredded in the process of a "fast" teleportation, they instead keep the corpses in an unguarded freezer for several months until they can be shipped home and put in a necropolis, which given the pan-galactic scale of the Psychlo empire and the thousands of years of the civilization's history, must take up most of the planet.

After unwittingly conspiring with aliens out to destroy his species, Ker leaves. Jonnie tells Robert the Fox that he knows how Terl plans on smuggling the gold back to Psychlo (planet), "in coffins!", so at at a later date he can dig up the corpses and retrieve his gold, and nobody will ask any inconvenient questions or anything.

So yes, the answer to "why are the Psychlos, an evil race that places no value on its citizens' lives, taking pains to keep their corpses intact for a proper burial?" is "so Terl can smuggle his gold in coffins."

It's like when L. Ron came up with the clunker, he took the first few ideas that struck him as some sort of divine revelation that could not be altered, so he had to bend over backwards to justify them instead of altering the original ideas to make more sense. Or like he plotted out Battlefield Earth out loud one rainy afternoon in front of a bunch of flunkies, and every time one dared to ask why the story was happening like it was, Hubbard came up with any lame excuse necessary to avoid revising stuff.

And wham, we're back at the minesite in the present. A bunch of lights flash, an annouccer says stuff like "coordinates holding!", and three hundred Psychlos teleport in, all bored and seeming "half-asleep" as medics check on one who collapsed and Terl starts patting them down for contraband. "To Jonnie on the knoll, this mass of creatures were in discreditable contrast to the Scots who were interest in things, and alive."

Hubbard wasn't Scottish, was he? They're obviously his favorite kind of human (besides himself), I'm just wondering why. Did a Scotsman save his life? Did he dig the kilts?

Jonnie learns something from his observations, that teleportation motors couldn't operate during a teleportation "firing" due to interference. Which is another strong argument for using an alternative form of propulsion, you frakking imbeciles.

An hour and a bit later, everything's ready for the return "firing,"cleaners sweep the platform for any trash, and Terl leads a convoy of coffins from the morgue. Jonnie detects nothing but faint resentment from the "savage jerks" manning the consoles for the dead Psychlos going home. Before the exchange is completed, he waxes poetic in an internal monologue.

Jonnie envisioned that far-off planet, universes away, purple and heavy like a huge discolored boil, infecting and paining the universes. He knew there were scraps of its space right in front of him, linked to the space of Earth. Psychlo: a parasite larger than the host. Voracious, pitiless, without even a word for "cruelty."

It occurs to me that Jonnie might not have a word for "love." He never says those three important words to Chrissie. He worries about her once or twice, but there's little attachment or attraction, just a disconcerting possessiveness. The idea of her getting eaten bothers him in the same way the thought of someone stealing his big-screen TV bothers him Just sayin'.

Also note that for some reason, despite the "exchange of space" going on, air doesn't seem to get transported along during the teleport. There's no mention of a noxious purple cloud expanding over the arriving workers, and with the amount of teleportation going on Psychlo (planet) would have lost its atmosphere by now, were it not being replenished by (snicker) rocks.

The teleportation over, Terl snaps at Jonnie for hanging around where everyone can see him, and acts spooked when Jonnie starts blabbing about giving his report. Jonnie manages to sneak back that night under a "heat shield" to retrieve the camera, but wonders "What was up with Terl?"

Jonnie, please. You've figured out everything else, this shouldn't be hard.

And after an unusually long chapter, Part Seven is over. Yay.

Back to Part Seven, Chapter Seven

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Part 7, Chapter 7 - Pretty Rocks and Teleportation Trouble

The last chapter's final sentence told us that Jonnie spotted The Lode at one o'clock. So I guess he has a watch? Or there's one in whatever they're flying it? So that means the Psychlos adopted Earth time. Quite practical of them. I wonder what their normal day-night cycle is? No one's complained about the weirdness of Earth time...

Oh right, they're at The Lode now.

It was a startling sight. The grandeur of the scene in this thin, cold air made one feel small.

Out of a river, a thin silver thread in the depths far below, reared a reddish massive wall of rock rising sheer and raw. Narrowly across from it was its echoing face. Down through the eons, the river, finding a softer strata between the two faces, had gnawed its turbulent way to make at last this gigantic knife slice in the all but impregnable stone. A thousand feet deep, a hundred yards wide, the enormous wound gaped.

All around it rose majestic peaks, hiding it from the world.

The sparkling white line of quartz, many feet thick, marked it with a brief, diagonal line. And in that quartz, imbedded and pure, gold shone and beckoned.

Yes, he spells it "imbedded."

It's like after pages and pages of blandness and the bare minimum of description, Hubbard suddenly realized what he'd left out, but instead of improving his earlier work he threw several chapters' worth of adjectives into this one scene. A good word for this is "overwrought," though I'd accept "pain" too.

My favorite part is how the dimensions of the canyon are described in nice round numbers, while the size of the quartz is given as "many." And then in the next paragraph he ruins everything by describing the sight "like a jewel band set upon the wrinkled skin of a hag."

So Jonnie brings their ship down for a closer look, and hey, it's windy. After "leaping" the plane to a safer altitude, Jonnie ponders the situation and hits us with a deluge of technobabble. I regret quoting another huge paragraph, but it really has to be seen to believe, and I can't summarize it.

In these teleportation drives, there were a number of corrections that had to be constantly watched. Some were built in to the computers; some were preprogrammed for any flight. Space itself was absolute and motionless, having no time, energy, or mass of its own. But to stay in one place relative to the mass around one, it was neccesary to parallel the track of such mass. The world turned daily, and that was a near thousand-mile-an-hour correction. The solar system was precessing, and even if the correction was minute, it had to be compensated for. The whole solar system was en route to somewhere else at a blinding speed. The universe itself was twisting in relation to other universes. These factors and others made control of the ship a dicey business in normal times. Down there in the canyon it was a nightmare.

The irregular external buffetings of the wind upset the inertia of the motor housing and made instant shifts of coordination continual.

So the Psychlos use teleportation-based engines, which I developed a headache over earlier. Apparently the effort of keeping the vehicles in position relative to the rest of existence is a huge strain, making them unstable to fly, much less to hover.

So why use them? They can't come up with a fusion drive or something? Or hey, it's not like they care about this planet's environment, why not use some fossil fuels and helicopters? Everything about Psychlo aircraft is absolutely idiotic, from the way they travel, an extended series of micro-teleportations instead of just popping to the destination, to the fact that doing so is much, much more trouble than it's worth. They're tearing physics a new one just to fly in a straight line. Why?! And they can calculate the position of everything relative to everything, but can't just teleport the gold right out of the cliff?!

I don't even know where to start with the "motionless space" idea or the concept of universes twisting against each other.


Jonnie hands the helm over to Dunneldeen MacSwanson, who I think is important later, and the craft goes down again so Jonnie and his crew can take some samples by shooting core guns - tools that fire bores to extract rock samples - at the cliff. Oh, and they take plenty of pictures with their "picto-recorders."

Despite the turbulence, Jonnie's borer shot is dead-on the first try, of course.

So they get a sample, Dunneldeen sweats that "Ooo, mon! 'Tis like danc'n' wi' the devil's wife!" but takes them out safely, even as the motor casings of the engine start to overheat from the strain of holding still. Jonnie notes that not only if the cliff leaning over the river, but there's a crack in it that would make its face collapse in case of another earthquake. And there's someone nicknamed Thor because he's part Swede. And then they go home, and the chapter ends, and I have a headache now.

Tune in next time as Ker is again helpful.

Back to Chapter Six

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Part 7, Chapter 6 - He Should've Said "Please"

It's x days later, and Terl's visiting the work camp as Jonnie and friends prepare to make their first trip to the gold lode. The Psychlo asks why Jonnie was so interested in a uranium detector "the other day," as it apparently took him awhile to puzzle out what Jonnie was doing.

Jonnie "decide[s] on a sudden verbal attack" and lambastes Terl for sending him into the mountains to get sick, complaining that there's radiation up there that can kill him. Terl admits his surprise that humans don't explode but just get fatally poisoned by the stuff.

And... okay, let's think about this.

The best-case scenario is that Terl is lying, and knew full well that he'd be sending the man-animals to their deaths if there was any radiation around the... wait. The lode itself is not irradiated, or else the gold would be worthless to Terl. But the areas around it are irradiated. So won't the gold get contaminated when the humans ship it out? Unless they lift it straight up and fly it to the minesite. But then why couldn't Psychlos just fly right down to the uncontaminated spot?

Great, while puzzling out one plot hole I fell into another.

The other scenario is that Terl is honestly surprised that humans don't explode near radiation, which doesn't make any sense because he's relying on them to mine his gold in a place he would explode if he tried to approach. Or maybe Terl was lying, but believed that humans were fully immune to radiation, which would mean that he didn't do any research on humans at all and took it for granted that the animals he was rounding up didn't pop like balloons around uranium dust. Surely he noticed how pathetic the specimens from The Village of the Idiots were?

I just... Of all the varied races of the galaxy, how many of them explode around uranium? Are Earth creatures the few lucky ones that don't? If not, why don't... it's all... I mean...

There's a nearly-amusing moment where Jonnie points at lines from The Poems of Robert Burns (I'm not even going to ask) and "reads" about the effects of uranium on the human body, and Terl tries to pretend that he can read English too. But in the end, Terl just laughs and concludes that Jonnie's just going to have to risk uranium poisoning while working for him.

Terl apparently isn't worried that his labor force, the linchpin of his scheme, might fall sick and be unable to work, thus wasting valuable manhours and training due to an avoidable illness. This is because, as you may have noticed by now, Terl is rock stupid.

The two major characters have a meeting, where Jonnie assures Terl that all the men are trained, and the Psychlo shows him a map to The Lode (the greedy glint in Terl's eye makes it a proper noun). He gives sets out the deadline (six and a half months from now), and orders Jonnie to get on the ground at the work site, brainstorm some ideas, then meet with Terl after a week or two for guidance on how to proceed. Then he leaves.

And hours pass, and Jonnie n' friends are flying around looking for The Lode, but there's no chapter division. It's just one paragraph following another, even if it would be an obvious break point.

The Scots are looking around at all the abundant food and space, comparing it favorably to the dump that is Scotland. They see some bighorn sheep. And a bear. And some wolves following the bear. And then the chapter ends, just as Jonnie catches sight of The Lode, in what I guess will have to pass as a cliffhanger.

Some chapters, I can actually feel my IQ dropping as I read.

Back to Chapter Five

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Part 7, Chapter 5 - -------- -------- --------

Jonnie's sleep that night is interrupted by a neuron jumping up and down, screaming at him. "Hey dumbass!" the foul-mouthed chunk of brain matter says. "Remember those aliens that explode around radiation? You think they might have a uranium detector?!"

So the next day Jonnie does some snooping around the Psychlo minesite. He checks on the girls, and has a conversation so banal and pointless that Hubbard simply describes it for us. They've made him some clothes, and ask if he's doing alright. Jonnie does not ask them anything, shows no interest in their condition, and only responds to their questions.

Ah, love.

He also sneakily takes pictures of them and the enclosure. You know, for research. Then he rides Windsplitter around as he continues his amateur photography - he photographs the warplanes in the airfield (hangars? pshaw!), the fuel dump, a breathe-gas storage dump (that hurts to type), and the morgue. And then Jonnie "felt a sudden need for cautiousness," so he slips the disks storing the images he's taken so far in a pack.

That was certainly a strange thing to happen, huh?

So then a freighter comes by to the dumping yard, and Jonnie rides up to get a closer look at things and maybe take some more pictures, and believe me it's even more boring reading it straight from the book. But something goes wrong and the freighter can't dump its ore, but Jonnie says he can fix it.

With a roar that had concussion in it, Char told him to get the ------- ------- ------- out of there!

What frightens me is that I'm not even fazed by this. I mean, suddenly L. Ron has decided to use dashes to represent Psychlo curses, rather than use some charming variation of "crap." He certainly isn't taking the bare minimum of effort and creativity to bash on the keyboard and call it a string of alien expletives ("sin'tsulk chital KED!" to him, I say). Flipping ahead and searching my memory, it doesn't look like he does this again later. This is an isolated, baffling, and profoundly stupid incident. And yet, after everything else I've been through to get this far, I'm like, "meh."

Ker is again a nice Psychlo and backs Jonnie up, since after all he trained the man-thing. Jonnie pops up the cargo hauler's control panel, takes some pictures because apparently that's all the he needs to build it, and tightens some wires to relieve the freighter's constipation.

Jonnie goes to hang out at the morgue for whatever reason, and bumps into Terl, who emerges from checking on the coffins waiting to be fired to Psychlo, because the aliens are baffling like that. He sees Jonnie's camera, demands to know what he's doing with it, and after hearing the human's lame excuse of "practicing" tears it off his neck, pops out the discs, and stomps them into dust.

Let us examine this. Now we know why Jonnie got a mysterious feeling that made him hide his earlier pictures. The bigger question is why? Just... okay, is Hubbard trying to suggest that his already ridiculously-talented hero has a danger sense? Did he want Jonnie to take surveillance pictures, but also wanted Terl to smash the pictures of the control panel, and this was the best way he could reconcile the two urges, with such a clumsy and non-sequitur action? Did the surveillance photos have to be taken now, and by Jonnie? And why does this tepid little sequence need a whole chapter? Why even include a pointless setback that only draws this train wreck out further? Why couldn't Jonnie just find a Geiger counter and let the plot move on?

I scream my questions at a dead man, who has no answers, only 853 more pages of dreck to suffer through.

So Jonnie doesn't get his pictures of circuit diagrams that could detect uranium, and "out of plain revenge" makes his Scottish lackeys sit through a picture show. "He showed them all the locations of the whole transshipment area. He would have to do it again later when proper plans were formed. But for now he wanted to show them pictures of Chrissie and Pattie."


The Scots get all riled up at "the faces of a little girl and a beautiful woman," and it's all Foxy can do to talk them out of attacking the Psychlo camp right then and there. And-

Okay, seriously Scotland, you're not like this, right? I can't flash you guys a photo of some swimsuit model and get you to do my bidding, right? You have got to be smarter than these brainless flunkies that Hubbard has dared to label as your descendants and countrymen.

Jonnie goes to sleep all furious with Terl for stomping his pictures, bemoaning how he'll never be able to build a uranium detector from memory. Next chapter, it will occur to him that he might be able to ask Terl for one.

Back to Chapter Four

Monday, February 22, 2010

Part 7, Chapter 4 - A Nameless Priest, an Unusual Prayer

The chapter opens with a line of dialogue from the middle of a "council" meeting, followed by a summary of the past ?? days, because that's how L. Ron rolls.

At the work camp, "[t]hings had been going well, too. Almost too well." The barbarians Jonnie picked up are rapidly becoming adept at using advanced alien technology, the food stores are full of game and scurvy-fightin' veggies, and some men who Jonnie picked because they could pass as him to an idiot like Terl are learning Psychlo, which will allow him to fool the surveillance drones at least.

But Jonnie wants uranium, that amazing element that is Super Effective! against a particular breed of big dumb aliens, and he's discussing his failure to find any with his crew: Robert the Fox, "Doctor" MacDermott the historian, Anonymous the schoolmaster, and Parson Not Important Enough to Be Named.

Parson... I guess Jonnie's village is Anglican? Or else Hubbard doesn't like to use synonyms for holy men. But wait, Ireland uses parsons, but Scotland's predominantly Roman-Catholic, right? Shouldn't they use a title like pastor or minister? Are there still bishops in Jonnie's world? What about the Pope?

Jonnie knows that the nearby mountains are all uraniumy, but the miraculously-preserved texts he's browsed indicate that the local deposits are all mined out. The others discuss visiting the Village of the Idiots for more information, but Jonnie tells them that it's radioactive and full of ignorant mutants (my words, not his). This leads to a tangent where they gush about how Jonnie isn't affected, and he modestly puts it down to wandering around a lot. MacDermott (I refuse to refer to him as a Doctor) supposes that some Idiots might have built up rad resistance. My theory is that Jonnie is just too Special to let things like reality intrude on Hubbard's wish fulfillment.

The meeting gets back on track, and they propose sending out scouts with Geiger counters, assuming they can find some of the devices. MacDermott opens up, I kid you not, a phone book, and finds a store in Denver that may stock Geiger counters. So Young Angus MacTavish (the "young" is used both times he's mentioned, so I guess it's mandatory) undertakes a two-day scavenging mission to the Great Village, and though he comes back with some stainless-steel knives, it turns out that you can't get much from thousand-year ruins. Who'd've thought?

So they decide to keep sending scouts, and at the next council meeting the parson prays for God to "have pity on them and led them somewhere, somehow to a Geiger counter and uranium." I imagine God staring at the printed-up prayer in His office with a "the hell?" look on His face.

Next chapter, Char curses.

Back to Chapter Three

Friday, February 19, 2010

Part 7, Chapter 3 - Mascara and "Eyebones"

Introducing a new character: Chirk, Terl's secretary!

She was stupid enough not to be any menace and good-looking enough to be decorative. She got drunk with economical speed and had other advantages. Her utility was in blocking off callers and shuffling administrative papers back for somebody else to handle.

Terl meanwhile is busy looking over the latest recon drone scans of the minesite, and again notes that there simply isn't any way to reach it by land. The whole process of getting at the gold would be difficult for seasoned Psychlo miners, and when Terl thinks about rookie man-things trying to pull it off "it put spots in front of his eyes."

Yes Terl, your plan really is that badly thought-out.

I'm still wondering what would happen if against all odds he did manage to smuggle a load of gold to Psychlo Homeworld. Seriously, nobody's going to wonder where this loser security guard suddenly got a bunch of gold? Or even if he sells it on the black market, he'd still be suddenly and mysteriously wealthy. Is the home planet considered "safe" when it comes to scheming, like if you make it that far they can't punish you for whatever you did?

Jonnie comes by, and Terl notes that the animal is behaving well, despite having no button camera surveillance anymore. I'm hoping this means that Jonnie's not sporting a mini-camera on his person, but is still under constant observation at the work camp. But I'm not that optimistic in Terl's abilities as a credible threat.

The human has a list of requisitions - "piping and Chinko cloth and the tools to cut and sew it together and some pumps and shovels" - and an annoyed Terl slaps it away and sends Jonnie to Ker, instead of immediately double-checking exactly what Jonnie is trying to get a hold of. Jonnie adds that he wants more sensitive equipment, like the Magical Learning Machines and flying trucks.

A long-dormant ember of intelligence flickers within Terl's mind.

...a flying truck or personnel carrier had the same controls as a battle plane and fewer guns. There was a hard rule that no alien race could be trained in battle. Then Terl thought of the inaccessible lode. Well, a mining truck was not a battle plane, that was for sure. Besides, he controlled the planet and he made the rules.

Weeping softly to itself, the ember of intelligence fades away once again.

Terl does finally look at Jonnie's list and is surprised at the number of "tri-wheel ground cars" and other vehicles on it, but Jonnie suggests that the Scots are hard on equipment, which reminds Terl of his slave nearly driving off a cliff, thus distracting him entirely.

Jonnie asks about his time frame for teaching barbarians about futuristic mining equipment, and Terl says he has two months. The real window is going to be nine months from now, during the "semiannual firing of personnel and dead Psychlos." Yes, they keep corpses around for half a year instead of sending them with the regular ore shipments. No, it's not explained why they can't just shove a coffin on the platform with the ore.

While reminding himself that he needs to come up with a good excuse for why man-animals are flying around in the mountains, Terl threatens to blow up Pattie's head if word of the project leaks out and sends Jonnie to Chirk to file the requisition form. The female Psychlo is fairly chipper, and even asks him his name.

"Mine is Chirk." She batted her painted eyebones. "You animals are kind of funny and cute. How can you be so much fun to hunt like some of the employees say? You certainly don't dangerous. And I don't think you are even edible. Crazy planet! No wonder poor Terl hates it so. We're going to have a huge house when we go home next year."

She explains that Terl is going to be rich soon, sends Jonnie off with a "tah-tah," and adds that he should bring her a "sack of goodies" if he wants a favor.

The significance of all this is obvious: Terl has finally found an underling dumber than he is.

Next chapter, Jonnie and some people talk.

Back to Chapter Two

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Part 7, Chapter 2 - Why Not a Truck of M-16s?!

Fast-forward two days to the so-called "defense base," where the Scots are settling in with little input from Jonnie. They've spruced up an old barracks, dug latrines, cleaned the chapel, built a cattle pen, started a vegetable garden (with radishes and lettuce and spring onions to prevent scurvy! ...they're honestly worried about scurvy?), set up a school, and uncovered an ancient weapons cache.

So get this - a thousand years ago, someone loaded up a truck with Thompson submachine guns. Yeah, Tommy Guns, invented in 1911, declared obsolete by the U.S. government in 1976, when all its stockpiles of the weapon were destroyed. Nevertheless, at the end of the Cold War, when much better weapons were in high supply, a truck carrying a bunch of Tommy guns ran off a road and got buried by a cave-in. There it remained - again, I stress, for a thousand years - until Jonnie's Scots find it.

The best part? The guns were all coated with "what must have been a very thick grease that, down the ages, had become rock-hard but had preserved the object." So there you have it: fossilized guns. And the Scots want to try to clean 'em up and get them ready for firing, since the men are all "remarkably ingenious with machinery; they seemed to know what some of these pipes and wires were all about, having heard of them and read of them in their books."

So they do - they disassemble, clean, and reassemble a gun none of them has ever seen before. They even test-fire it, and of course the ammunition still works. Ammo for a gun over a thousand years old. Operated by a spear-wielding nomadic people who have read about machinery somewhere.

Do I even have to say anything about how dumb this is?

The Scots are all pumped up to raid the Psychlo minesite, but at a nod from Jonnie, Robert the Fox cashes a reality check. Apparently Foxy was the sole survivor of a cattle-raiding party that bumped into some Psychlo hunters in Cornwall. He gives an inspiring speech about how they're fighting a greater war and shouldn't act too soon, and the others calm down.

Jonnie takes a walk on the grounds with his "council" - Foxy, the parson, the schoolmaster, and the historian. He mentions the academy students' futile last stand, and Nameless Historian relates what he read from "a handwritten romance in the university library about a similar battle" just south of the Highlands.

I'd rant again about where this "university" is and how they've made books and how the books have lasted but I'm still reeling from the Tommy guns and ow my head.

On the Scottish battlefield you can still see the remains of Psychlo tanks. Turns out the "romance" was written by a Highlander sapper presumably right after the invasion, and the soldiers took out the advancing Psychlos with nuclear landmines before retreating north. Which is a... creative use of nuclear weapons, I'll admit, but explains why the Psychlos haven't come back to recover the wreckage of their vehicles.

It does not explain why the human militaries didn't use nuclear missiles, or why the Psychlos decided to fight a land war despite having air superiority, or why land mines worked against hovering tanks, or why the Psychlos haven't figured out a way to get robots to retrieve things for them and decontaminate them, or why they haven't bombed wrecks that less radiation-susceptible races could reverse-engine their technology from, or...

The chapter ends with Jonnie and his council resolving not to end up like those poor, uranium-less Air Force cadets. Next time, Terl continues to be incompetent.

Back to Chapter One

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Part 7, Chapter 1 - Part 6, Chapter 12

So it's the next morning from Jonnie "MacTyler"'s great Scottish hootenanny, and it turns out they haven't actually left yet. My mistake. In my defense, the previous chapter was really bad.

Jonnie spends some time gathering his recruits and showing his minions how to pack and buckle up in the alien troop transport, while warning them about the upcoming journey. Turns out the cabin isn't pressurized or airtight in order to provide some nice cool air for its passengers. He's got some helpful advice though: "This flight will take several hours. We will go very high. It will be very cold and the air will be thin. Endure it somehow."

No, next chapter doesn't open with Terl and Jonnie opening the back to find a bunch of frozen and asphyxiated Scots, though that would be kinda funny.

Meanwhile, a hungover Terl is cranky about the delays and decides to take it out on some bystanders.

With vicious sudden gestures, Terl recompressed the cab with breathe-gas and ripped off his mask. And Jonnie saw his amber eyes were shot with green. Terl had been going heavy on the kerbango. There was an evil twist to his mouthbones.

Bones. Don't. Twist.

So Terl jets off, turns around, and prepares to strafe the crowd below. Jonnie, predictably, screams "No!" Less predictably, he throws a map in front of Terl's face and just barely pulls up out of a fatal nosedive. Then he "reverse[s] the tape that had taken them on the incoming voyage and fed it into the autopilot" and starts the journey home.

This is simultaneously painfully dated and laughably inconsistent. Again, these aliens have automated aircraft, but no mining drones.

Instead of tearing Jonnie's head off, Terl sullenly whines that he doesn't have any leverage on the humans, and that by not letting him kill people Jonnie has ruined his entire trip. Then he "chew[s] off a slug" of kerbango, which again reminds us that Hubbard hasn't explained what exactly the mystery substance is. The movie treated it as a drink, but I guess it's like a inebriating taffy? A really thick yogurt? Some sort of fruit snack? Is it all processed goods, vegetable matter, or what?

Belatedly, Terl asks about all the cheering from yesterday, something he didn't do even when he was sober and watching it happen in front of him. Jonnie assures him that he told the Scots that they would be highly paid, in "horses and such things." This amuses Terl to no end, and he jovially congratulates Jonnie on his flying while mentally assuring himself that the only pay the humans would see is "the muzzle end of a blast gun."

And so the chapter ends in a good place to end a "Part," given that the next chapter takes place two days later and on the other side of an ocean, but I guess that would make too much sense. Next time, we learn how to make antique firearms last for a thousand years.

Back to Part Six, Chapter Eleven
Back to an Interim

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Interim - How Not to Organize Your Book

Some authors use chapters as a way to divide a story into "episodes" encapsulating a certain stage of the narrative. Chapters can be centered around a certain event, location, or character, letting the reader focus on one important part of the text before moving on to the next. In other cases the chapters serve as "mini-stories" with a clear beginning and ending that can be easily differentiated from what follows or precedes them.

Other authors, in contrast, eschew chapters entirely, dividing the story by brief breaks that can be thought of as the equivalent of scene changes in a movie. In these cases the story can be so rich that it simply can't be divided into individual chapters, with so many elements in the foreground and background that focusing on one at a time could spoil the mystery of a complex narrative.

And then there's L. Ron Hubbard.

Battlefield Earth is divided both into parts and chapters, at what feels like random. For the most part the chapters are short, only two pages or so - which is good, since I'm going through a chapter per post and can only handle so much Hubbard at a time. But there's no uniformity to how the breaks are inserted.

Sometimes the divisions accompany changes in location or a timeskip, while other longer passages include changes in place and time that don't earn their own chapter. Other times a single event is unnecessarily and jarringly broken up over multiple chapters, thus killing any flow in the story or what interest a reader has managed to muster. Same with the parts - sometimes they're separated from one another by weeks or months, or like in the case of Part 7, it's simply the next morning after Part 6, with the same events still ongoing.

So why even bother with the chapters and parts if they're arbitrary and meaningless? We can only speculate. Apparently the entire Mission Earth series was delivered as one huge stack of text which its unfortunate editor was ordered to chop into ten books based on good "cliffhanger" points, with the idea that the reader would eagerly purchase the next volume to deal with the tension. Perhaps this book was similarly written and hacked into easier-to-swallow chunks by a beleaguered editor? Or maybe the parts of Battlefield Earth are meant to build tension? But no, they don't always end on cliffhangers - and anyway we're already holding the book, so there's no need to entice us to buy stuff.

Maybe you just have to divide your fantasy/sci-fi epic into "Books" or "Parts" to give the text some gravitas. Maybe chapters are just something that's done, even if the original narrative doesn't have them. Maybe they tested well with early reviewers.

Whatever the reason, they've certainly made my journey through Battlefield Earth easier, even if the story itself is alternatively baffling, boring, or mind-crushingly dumb. So I salute you, inexplicable gaps in this stupid story, blessed stretches of oblivion to rest in before the mental onslaught begins anew! You don't make sense, but neither does anything else.

Back to Part Six, Chapter Eleven

Monday, February 15, 2010

Part 6, Chapter 11 - The Riddle of Numph: Majorly Dumb

You know, if these Scots are migratory, you have to wonder when they took time to track down the dyes to make their plaids. I guess they could stumble upon some natural sources during foraging expeditions, but that just begs the question of how they've managed to come up with different clan colors given the sparse resources available. It's not like-

Oh? Right, right, the chapter.

Jonnie, who showed up the night before, said a few awkward sentences about a plan of some sort, and then talked about his girlfriend, has amassed an army of over a thousand Scotsmen plus some English and Norse. A "panorama" of "colored kilts, ponies, shifting groups of men and smoke from fires, and over all lay the skirling whine and shriek of bagpipes."

I hate this book.

Terl lands and disembarks, while Jonnie gets on a horse for better visibility and begins talking to the crowd. "His job was made much easier by a high literacy level among these people. They had not lost the art of reading and writing and they knew a lot of history, mainly their own myths and legends."

How? How can a nomadic, primitive people have a high literacy rate? Any books that survived the alien invasion would have long sense disintegrated. Do they have paper mills somewhere? Someone carrying nothing but stacks of parchment? Did one of the lucky few people to survive the Psychlo gas attack just happen to know how to make medieval-era reading materials? I can buy legends and history getting passed down orally (though a thousand years is going to distort things, methinks), but literacy?

I'm not going to even ask where Fearghus' sword came from.

Jonnie explains that he needs volunteers for his "crusade to rid the world of the demon," smack-talks Terl, fills in the backstory, and gets his audience to pantomime being afraid some more. He promises that those who come will learn to use the Psychlos' own weapons against them, and asks for fifty men. The crowd goes wild, and naturally all of them try to enlist.

"Mon, MacTyler," cried the grizzled old man who had first captured Jonnie, "ye are a true Scot!"

Another Scot cries "I amma afeered of naething!" earlier. L. Ron sucks at accents; he can't even stay consistently awful.

So anyway, the act of asking for volunteers has made our hero Jonnie Goodboy MacTyler, who works until nightfall to select his crew. He ends up with eighty-three, which includes Robert the Fox as a representative, some pipers and drummers, old women to work in the camp, a schoolmaster, a parson, a dean of literature the hell?

A scholarly old fellow showed up who lamented the fact that no one would be writing the history that would become legend. It turned out he was the dean of literature of a sort of underground university that had been eking along for centuries, and on the argument that he had two capable replacements for himself in the school and--due to his age and poor health--was expendable anyway, he could not be left behind by the MacTyler. Robert the Fox thought that very necessary, so that made sixty-five.

The lesson here is simple: be very careful asking questions about Battlefield Earth's idiocy. You might just get an answer that's even worse than what you were wondering about. I'm not even going to speculate about an "underground university" in an area that's regressed to barbarism. If I don't think about it, it can't hurt me.

Almost done, almost done... the next morning Jonnie asks Terl is eighty-three is alright, and the Psychlo, who is not the least bit bothered by all the enthusiastic cheering from yesterday (perhaps due in part to getting wasted on kerbango the night before), decides that with the casualty rate he's expecting, it might be a good idea to overhire. Jonnie sends his men to pack their things, suggests to the chieftains (and that unexplained English lord) that they not provoke the nearby minesite for a while, and learns that the leaders are already planning a "recovery corps in charge of policing and reorganizing England, Scandinavia, Russia, Africa, and China, and they were already scheduling study, training and organizing to do that at the end of a year. And the non-chosens were wild with enthusiasm."

Jonnie showed up two days ago. And they're already working out a world government (based on a clan system, of course). This is...

...pretty much the end of Part 6. Jonnie falls "into a hopeful" sleep on the plane flying back to America, having single-handedly managed to unite the British Isles and sown the seeds for a new world order.

...Only 870 pages to go...

Back to Part Six, Chapter Ten

Friday, February 12, 2010

Part 6, Chapter 10 - The Riddle of Numph: Noonlit Psychlo

Once again, L. Ron starts the chapter in medias res before flashing back a dozen hours or more.

After Jonnie's, uh, "speech" to Clanfearghus, messengers were sent to the neighboring clans in the surrounding caves and secret glens, prompting a great gathering of enemies bringing together numerous Scotsmen, a "subdued English lord from a group in the lower hills," and even "the king of a tiny Norse colony on the east coast." Turns out a thousand years from now it'll be a thousand years ago.

At the gathering, Jonnie finally elaborates on who he is, what Terl wants, and his strategy for ridding the planet of Psychlos. Or so L. Ron tells us - we don't actually hear Jonnie's no doubt inspiring and inspiring speech. The men are interested in the idea of using the enemy's knowledge and technology against him, which Jonnie puts down to "some Scot love of guile." Which... certainly isn't the stereotype that's been presented. All we've seen are feisty spearmen and some dude with a claymore. Oh, and there's this great bit:

But when he told them about Chrissie, held as a hostage against his good behavior, and that part of his own plan was to rescue her, he had them. A streak of romanticism, which had survived all their defeats and humblings, welled up in them. While they could agree to a long-shot objective with their minds, they rose to the rescue of Chrissie with their hearts. What does she look like? Black eyes and corn-silk hair. How was she formed? Beautiful and comely. How did she feel? Crushed with despair, hardly daring to hope for rescue. They were angered by the collar, disgusted with the leash, violent about the cage. They shook their chiefly weapons in the flashing firelight and made speeches and quoted legends.

If there's one thing I've learned from all this, it's never read Battlefield Earth if you already have a headache.

Let's see, first there's the slightly condescending and cynical way L. Ron/Jonnie views the clans' romanticism, as though he's inwardly sneering at how manipulable these primitives are. Then there's the fact that these chiefs are more interested in some stranger's girlfriend then the survival of their species, much less the specifics of Jonnie's war plan. There's the assertion that these people who have been avoiding the Psychlos instead of fighting them have suffered "defeats and humblings." There's Chrissie's dark eyes and blond hair, which suggests to me a dye job. And then there's the fact that her dialogue and behavior, what little of it Hubbard has decided to spend time on, doesn't quite suggest "crushed with despair." She seemed more worried about Jonnie then herself last time. Maybe Jonnie's embellishing the story a bit.

Flashback over. Jonnie's scampering back to the ship to beat his noon deadline before he tries shooting up the place. No doubt we are meant to be tense over whether Jonnie will make it in time, especially since he can hear the ship's engines beginning to start up, but I'm too worn out from all the stupid in this and the previous chapter.

Whaddya know, Jonnie makes it in time, throwing his kill-club to get Terl's attention. He assures the big galoot that the fires last night were signal fires instead of cooking fires for a Jonnie-themed dinner, and tells Terl that the gathering will be in a nearby meadow. The Psychlo just can't wrap his head around diplomacy succeeding, and Jonnie loses his temper and hurls a moccasin. He and Terl shout at each other as Jonnie puts his shoe back on, but Terl agrees to come along to "frighten them into submission."

And so the chapter ends, leaving the reader to fearfully wonder what new idiocy will be unleashed next time.

Back to Chapter Nine

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Part 6, Chapter 9 - The Riddle of Numph: Phantom Scotsman

Jonnie arrives at Loch Shin, on the shore of which is a temporary village that nonetheless features a stone house for its chieftain. There our hero meets the Chief of the Clan, Fearghus...

...a big black-haired, black-bearded power of a man. He had a short skirt that showed the bony knees of strong legs. He wore a pair of white crossbelts, pinned together at the center of the X with a large silver badge. A bonnet sat squarely on his head and he held a large, ancient sword across his knees.

...which is more description than Chrissie got.

Jonnie doesn't answer the chief's question of exactly who he's a messenger for, and asks if the Scots have "had any trouble with the monsters," which Fearghus takes to mean the "demons." Despite Jonnie not saying anything about himself, Fearghus answers his question and relates the myths of a great cloud that killed all but a few people, adding "I am sure you know these myths since they are religious and you appear to be a properly, politely religious man."


Last chapter Jonnie exchanged his Psychlo uniform for his old buckskin. How does this translate into appearing religious? Do their priests dress up like frontiersmen? Do Scots have a genetic tendency to trust people wearing leather? Or is it Jonnie's beard that makes him trustworthy?

Fearghus, welcome to the cast of idiots, I'm sure you'll fit right in.

Anyway, chiefie goes on to say how they fish as much as they can before retreating back to the Highlands, before the demon fortress five hundred miles southwest sends out another man-hunting expedition.

Which is strange. The U.S. minesite didn't send out random kill-teams, did it? It looked more like company policy was to mine and just ignore the rest of the area. So why are the British miners taking time off to blow up some Scots? Plus, these humans have maintained a population despite sporadic culling at the hands of the Psychlos. Makes the Village of the Idiots look a bit silly for hiding in a radioactive valley.

Anyway, Jonnie says he's here to recruit fifty "young, valiant men" to work for him and face danger and death. "But in the end, should God grant us fortune and we are true to our task, we may defeat the demons and drive them from this world."

Which totally blows the Scots' minds. A council member named Angus relates a myth that long ago a "crusade of thousands" tried and failed to drive the demons out, while another argues that "Nobody has ever fought the demons!" Which is frankly baffling. These red-blooded Scottish stereotypes haven't tried fighting the Psychlos yet?

Another guy named Robert the Fox says that they're starving up in the Highlands due to lack of grazing land for the sheepies and poor farmland.

"But I also tell you," he continued, "that this stranger, clothed in what I take to be buckskin, signifying a hunter, speaking a strangely accented speech, smiling and courteous and no Argyll, has voiced an idea that in all my long life, I have never heard before. His words cause the mind to flare with sudden vision. That he can propose such a vision of daring and boldness proves that in some way he must be a Scot! I recommend we listen." He sat down.

Good Lord, I don't know where to start.

There's the buckskin = trustworthiness mental defect Fearghus shares. There's the jaw-dropping suggestion that what is obviously a warrior culture has never thought to attack the biggest threat menacing them. There's the intuitive leap that even though Jonnie dresses differently from them and talks differently from them, he must be a Scot. But mostly, there's the fact that Foxy's having this reaction to a man who has said exactly six sentences since meeting with the Chief. Jonnie hasn't said anything about himself. He hasn't said where the men he's asking for would be going, or what they would be doing. He hasn't said how he plans to fight the demons. But his words are nevertheless enough to get this passionate speech of approval from Robert.

What. The. Hell.

Fearghus is already musing about how to gather the manpower, before belatedly remembering to ask Jonnie his name and where he's from.

My brain.

After Jonnie tells them he's from America, Robert cites legends about such a place where many Scots went, which proves to a council member that he must be a Scot. Then Jonnie says that he's a messenger from "mankind--before we become extinct forever."

Extinct implies forever, Jonnie/Hubbard. You can't go extinct but get better later. Well, not unless cloning is involved, or time travel.

When asked how he came to Scotland, Jonnie tells them that he flew.

The chief and the others digested this. The chief frowned then. "In these times only the demons can fly. How did you get here from America?"

"I own a demon," said Jonnie.

Yeeeah. The latest mental assault mercifully comes to an end right at the bottom of page 202. Next chapter, Jonnie checks on his demon.

Back to Chapter Eight

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Part 6, Chapter 8 - The Riddle of Numph: A Link to the Scots

Jonnie stepped down into a different land.

The barren mountain and its scrub seemed to swim in a soft mist; everything was hazed and faintly blue. It seemed a very beautiful place, but it had dark gorges and inaccessible summits, and there was a secretness about it as though its softness concealed a harsh threat. He had not realized a land could be so different from the bold mountains of his home.

"Secretness" isn't a word, Hubbard. This clunker was edited, right? Was the guy too terrified of your undeserved reputation to do his job? Or did he try to stop you but was overridden by your bloated ego?

And the second paragraph doesn't work. It's a "very beautiful" place of gorges and barren mountains? You contradict yourself right after... eh, screw it.

So Jonnie alternately runs and walks through this desolate place, seeing a few sheep in the distance, before he is confronted with three pointed "stakes" and the spearmen wielding them. "Take his club. Be swift noo," one of them says, and so Jonnie is de-clubbed. Then the Scotsmen - can't you tell they're Scottish? they're wearing kilts and bonnets and everything - try to figure out where their captive is from.

"It's a thief from the Orkneys," said one.

"Na, I ken Orkneymen," said another.

"Could be he's a Swede," said the blonde one. "But no, no Swede dresses so."

"Hush yer prattle," said the old one. "Look in his pouch an' mayhap ye'll find the answer."

Point of order - "Na" should be "nay" or "nae." But yeah, get used to this, the Scots will be rendered with full glorious accents - or what L. Ron thinks is a Scottish accent is anyway - for the rest of the book.

Jonnie laughs and says he's a messenger, and asks to be taken to their village. They ask if he's a Sassenach or someone from "Clanargyll" here to make peace, but a still laughing Jonnie says they'll "fall over on [their] backside" if he tells them, and says his message is for their parson or mayor. And so he is on his way to meet the Chief of the Clan, Fearghus, when our chapter ends near the top of page 200.

It could be worse. I hear that for his Mission Earth series Hubbard tried to write a Southern accent that changed from page to page and resembled no portrayal of the dialect before or since.

Back to Chapter Seven

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Part 6, Chapter 7 - The Riddle of Numph: Scottish Treks

Cut to Terl and Jonnie ten miles up in a battered surplus Psychlo troop transport, which Terl carefully went over for any signs of sabotage before leaving. They're headed north over Canada, then down across Greenland and Iceland before their destination: Scotland.

After warning Jonnie not to land in the arctic and freeze to death, Terl informs his human that they're off to recruit fifty man-things (yes-yes! we must capture more man-things quick-quick!) for his project, and Jonnie's gonna help. Turns out the human race isn't quite as near extinction as Jonnie feared, and Terl explains that "there are some groups in various inaccessible places on the planet." Like Scotland, evidently.

Anyway, Terl plans to just swoop down on the Scots and use "stun blasts," then haul the ones he wants on the plane. Which begs the question of why he needs Jonnie along. It's not like the guy is particularly strong. Terl could probably walk around with a human under each arm, so Jonnie won't be adding much.

Jonnie objects, and proposes that he go in to the village and talk to his fellow man. Terl is incredulous. "Animal, if you walked into that village they would drill you like a sieve. Suicide! What a rat brain!"

"Drill you like a sieve" makes no sense. A sieve is like mesh, right? Why would you drill that? Is Terl suggesting that the Scots will perforate Jonnie somehow? Or is he implying that Jonnie will let slip Terl's secrets? That seems more reasonable, though the metaphor needs work.

Again, I'm thinking more than the story warrants. Jonnie proposes that he get dropped off to walk the last five miles to the village alone

With a shake of his head, Terl said, "Too risky. I didn't spend over a year training you just to have to start all over!" Then he realized he might have said too much. He looked suspiciously at Jonnie, thinking: the animal must not consider itself valuable.

"Crap!" said Terl. "All right, animal. You can go ahead and get yourself killed. What's one animal more or less?"

And so Terl makes a decision he knows is bad just to try to cover up a slip of the tongue. After yelling "Crap!" to further advertise his mistake. Our devious, devilish villain, ladies and gentlemen.

Once again I wonder why Terl didn't kill and replace Jonnie back during the beginning of his "training," when it was clear that the man-thing was stubborn, rebellious, cunning, and all-in-all not good slave material. If getting replacements involved nothing more than a quick nip over to Scotland and a barrage of stun blasts, why not make a fresh start? I mean, if you've spent a year building a boat, but it starts to sink once you get out on the water, don't ride it to the bottom - get a new boat.

Or maybe I'm just eager to see Jonnie dead. Next chapter, Scottish stereotypes.

Back to Chapter Six

Monday, February 8, 2010

Part 6, Chapter 6 - The Riddle of Numph: Bovine of Time

When Terl drops Jonnie off at the cage for the night, he tells the human to say his goodbyes, 'cause he's about to go on a trip next dawn, a journey of five days or so. Luckily Jonnie had just bagged a "fat young bull" that day... wait, when? Last chapter he and Ker had been shuttling gear to the airbase since early morning. This chapter doesn't open with "days later" or anything, so it presumably comes right afterwards. I guess there must have been a cow living in the ruins.

Anyway, Jonnie carves up the bull and orders Chrissie to smoke it, letting the girls know he'll be gone about a week. They're sad and scared and weepy that he'll be gone, since without him their lives have no meaning. Jonnie reassures them that he'll take care of himself, advises Chrissie to smear tallow on her sister's neck to help with the chafing from the collar, orders Pattie to "take care of your sister," and asks his girlfriend not to worry while he's gone and they're at the mercy of monsters.

That's about it for dialogue, which is refreshing. Many authors would be tempted to make the separation of two characters, one imprisoned, the other about to go off on a dangerous mission, into a dramatic and heartbreaking scene. Fortunately L. Ron knows that Jonnie and Chrissie's love speaks for itself, so he doesn't have to waste time on it during the story. This gives him space to mention what gear Terl wants Jonnie to bring the next morning, which is what readers are interested in. "Wear decent clothes and boots that won't stink the ship up. Bring your air pump and plenty of bottles and an extra mask." See? That's the good stuff.

That night Jonnie picks berries and flowers, but when he tries to toss them through the cage bars the electricity fries them. This would imply that after the first one turned into toast, Jonnie kept trying anyway, hoping the same action would produce a different result.

Oh, and Blodgett is on the mend, able to walk now! Remember? The horse Terl shot?

Next time, another plane ride.

Back to Chapter Five

Friday, February 5, 2010

Part 6, Chapter 5 - The Riddle of Numph: The Thinking Cap

It's later, after a week of Jonnie flying by day and studying by night. He's gotten a headache trying to figure out Psychlo teleportation, and we get about a page describing how the Psychlos use it.

Turns out they've had it for a hundred thousand years, all thanks to a Psychlo physicist named En, who "had apparently found that space could exist entirely independent of time, energy or mass and that all these things were actually separate items." So it turns out you can isolate a chunk of pure "time," and that energy and mass are separate, Einstein be damned.

The long and short of it is that Psychlo teleportation doesn't convert objects to pure energy and beam them to another location - instead "matter and energy were pinned to the space, and when it was exchanged with another space, they simply changed too. Thus matter and energy would seem to disappear in one place and appear in another."

What does this "pinning" entail? What awesome forces are necessary to tear patches of existence from the universe and swap them with each other? How are they able to get a grip on two different locations hurtling around in a universe that is itself expanding? How are you able to ascribe "coordinates" to locations such as a planet hurtling through at hundreds of thousands of kilometers an hour?

Hubbard doesn't need to explain, this is pure science fiction. Well, okay, I'll give him the benefit of a doubt - we've got hundreds of pages left to go, after all, and maybe there's a logical and satisfying explanation for all this later. But I'm not optimistic.

Oh yeah, this is also how Psychlo vehicles work:

In the matter of a motor such as this freighter had, it was just an enclosed housing in which space coordinates could be changed. As the coordinates changed, the housing was forced to go along, and this gave the motor power. That explained why these planes were run by a switchboard and not a thrust through the air. They didn't have to have wings or controls. Much smaller housings in the tail and on each side had similar sets of coordinates fed into them to climb and bank. A series of coordinates were progressively fed to the main motor and it simply went forward or backward as the housed space occuped each set of coordinates in turn.

So... the wingless (but not tailless, for whatever reason) Psychlo planes fly like normal aircraft, save for their ability to hover. They are propelled - no, pulled, by little teleporter drive systems that... no, I don't get it. The main Psychlo teleporters are exchanging two patches of space-time (somehow). The planes' teleporters are moving themselves forward, pulling the planes behind them? So the big teleporters could conceivably pull planets around?

Suspending my disbelief for a paragraph, let's consider the implications Hubbard has completely missed. Why does the plane need to swoop and coast at all? Instead of mini-teleporting or whatever to every coordinate between them and their destination, why not just cut to the chase and teleport to the endpoint? And geez, think of the defensive applications - a "blink" mode that sidesteps the vehicle out of incoming fire.

Moving along. Jonnie theorizes that the Psychlos found Earth by just teleporting recorders to test locations and revising their coordinates by looking at the pictures. Then all it took was a quick gas attack, followed up by an expeditionary force, and the planet was theirs. Jonnie's problem is that any Psychlo outpost with a working teleporter could do the same after his planned uprising, and he's not sure what to do about it yet, though of course he'll come up with something because he's the hero.

While he's pondering all this, Jonnie's helping Ker move mining equipment to the "defense base," which is mentioned in the first sentence of the chapter like we know what Hubbard's talking about, and only explained pages later as being the Air Force Academy visited earlier in Part 4, Chapter 6. Ker lets slip that Terl overreported the range of the button cameras he makes Jonnie wear, and that Numph is signing all the paperwork for this, which makes Jonnie suspicious.

Ker, proving that not every Psychlo is as stupid as Terl, is himself suspicious about the training equipment they're hauling and the lack of breathe-gas, and theorizes that whoever's going to be using this school they're building won't be a Psychlo.

Oh, and he and Jonnie poke around the ruins, but they don't find anything besides an old chapel. Turns out American-made crosses can last a millennium, no problem. We end near the bottom of page 193. Next chapter, goodbyes.

But first, two final thoughts: the Psychlo civilization, one hundred thousand years ago, invented technology that puts the fabric of the universe itself through the wringer. Since then, they haven't come up with a good mining robot to work in hazardous locations for them. Also, these guys have the power to exchange any point in the universe with any other point. They don't really need miners at all - just swap a room's worth of empty breathe-gas with a room's worth of ore. Ta-da.

However, if either of these conditions were met, Battlefield Earth's wretched story couldn't function, and so the Psychlo will remain only selectively advanced and intelligent. Once again, the best explanation for a given issue in this novel is "the plot demanded it."

Back to Chapter Four

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Part 6, Chapter 4 - The Riddle of Numph: Facemasks of Evil

So Jonnie and Terl are in a plane. Jonnie's in awe of the view, and Terl is trashed on kerbango. He insists that the controls for a "mining machine" (excavator? bulldozer? dump truck?) are no different from the controls of an aircraft, "except that it goes in three dimensions, not just two. Those controls in front of you duplicate these. Fly it!"

He then takes his paws off the joystick, or wheel, or whatever, and the plane goes into a dive. Tragically, they are not killed in a fiery crash.

Instead Jonnie starts pushing buttons, making the craft swoop around at random. But he notices "an additional button alongside every button familiar in mining machinery. He grasped that the third set was for the third dimension." Yes, it's really that simple, folks. The controls of a state-of-the-art fighter aircraft are like that of a tractor, just with a few more buttons.

Jonnie shares some more wisdom: "The main thing, he instinctively knew, was not to get too close to the ground!"

I... that's... moving along.

Before Jonnie starts doing too well, Terl takes over and brags about the scores he got for piloting back at school (which school? a military academy? mining school? Psychlo elementary?). He shows off by landing on a cloud, which is to say he hovers above one. He then chews out "rat brain" for not watching how the Psychlo was operating the vehicle, takes another bite/drink/hit of kerbango, and orders Jonnie to practice landing on the cloud.

Of course he gets it right by the third try. We wouldn't expect anything less from the magnificent Jonnie, would we?

Jonnie then heads towards the mountains, but Terl forcibly turns him away, and Jonnie can guess why, but of course doesn't share this information with us yet. The human instead asks, quite rightly, why he's being taught to fly, and Terl lies about the knowledge being standard for miners.

Then they go home, Jonnie gathers his horses, Chrissie "yelped to see him," and they talk about how the kinnikinnick he found will help flavor the antelope and deer meat, and ooh Jonnie did you really kill that grizzly bear we see as a rug, and why couldn't we just skip these paragraphs?

In the end, Terl comes by with books: Beginner's Flight Manual and Teleportation in Relation to Manned and Drone Flight. The later has "Secret, Not for Alien Race Distribution" on it, making Jonnie speculate that Terl is operating without company authorization, and will likely have all the humans killed at the end of this "project" of his.


Next chapter, we learn a bit about teleportation. Astrophysicists may want to have a drink ready.

Back to Chapter Three

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Part 6, Chapter 3 - The Riddle of Numph: The Windsplitter

Jonnie has gone hunting after checking on the girls, who are doing as well as they can. "Pattie had come out of it a bit more, but she hadn't laughed when he told her she would marry the king of the mountains--it was an old personal joke."

And that's all the explanation we get. Yes, it's nice that L. Ron is trying to build a history for these characters, hinting at past interactions and private humor amongst them. But some details would help. "King of the mountains" - what does this mean? Is it another tribal legend? A historical reference? Is this prophetic foreshadowing? You can't bring something like that up and just move on, it's the literary equivalent of a hit-and-run.

Anyway, Jonnie's out with Windsplitter and the other three horses: Dancer, Blodgett - the wounded horse, and whose name is probably a reference to someone or someplace, since a Wikipedia search on it only brings back proper nouns - and Old Pork, so named because he grunts. So if you were dying to know the names of these animals... well, now you do.

Jonnie's got a deer and antelope prepped and ready, and is looking for kinnikinnick (an old name for bearberry, which makes me wonder why the Village of the Idiots remembers it over the simpler "bearberry"), when suddenly a plane swoops down on Jonnie and his horses, spooking the animals, especially when Terl starts strafing the ground in front of them.

Some things we learn from the passage: the vehicle's shooting causes explosions and eruptions in the ground, but there's no mention of streaks of light or whizzing shells. For all we know the weapon fire is invisible. Also, the plane is able to hang almost stationary in the air, probably making it a hovering vehicle. And of course there's no actual description of what the plane looks like. Does it have wings? Is it sleek lines or bulbous gun turrets? Spines of weapon batteries or deceptively innocuous?

Knowing Hubbard, it probably resembles a F-15, just without the turbines.

A laughing Terl lands and disembarks, saying that he's proven how easily he could turn Jonnie into "a pale pink mist!" He then orders him to send the horses home and get in. Jonnie complies, telling Windsplitter to go to Chrissie, and Terl sagely thinks to himself that "the animal does have a language with other animals."

Next chapter, flying lessons. Rest assured, Jonnie will catch on to how to pilot an alien aircraft with predictable ease, despite never having flown before.

Back to Chapter Two

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Part 6, Chapter 2 - The Riddle of Numph: Terl's Blackmailing

Terl sits down for a meeting with Numph, as the old Psychlo complains that there's no sign of the mutiny Terl's going on about. Terl merely puts "a cautionary paw across his own mouthbones"... great. You know, it's been too long since I've winced at L. Ron's attempts to describe the Psychlos' anatomy.

Anyway, Terl uses a probe to scan the room for listening devices, and gets down to business. He keeps his cool and argues against Numph's concerns about his mining project, and casually drops a stack of papers with certain profit figures and expenditure totals circled. He informs Numph that by company regulations Terl has the right to replace him, but that Numph has always been a good administrator, and why should Terl worry about the crimes of someone back on home planet?

Terl explains that the incriminating papers will be put away somewhere safe, so long as Numph signs some forms.

Numph started to say, "But they're blank. You could put anything on these. Personal money, machines, mines, change operations, even transfer yourself off the planet!" But his voice wouldn't work. And then he realized that his brain wouldn't function either.

His brain not functioning does not, of course, interfere with his ability to think the preceeding sentences. Also note that in Battlefield Earth's film adaptation, Numph does explain out loud what Terl could do with those form, for the audience's sake. Apparently the filmmakers thought that if you were seeing Battlefield Earth in theaters, you'd need all the help you could get.

Triumphant, Terl leaves, and Numph sits "like a dumped sack of ore."

Only one thought kept going round and round in his head. The security chief was an untouchable demon, a demon who, forever after, could do exactly as he wished. Numph never thought of even trying to stop him. He was and forever after would be in the complete power of Terl. He was too paralyzed to even think of warning Nipe. From here on out, Terl would be the real head of this planet, doing exactly as he pleased.

A few things here: first, this sounds like a lot for "only one thought." Second, Numph never considers killing Terl? I mean, between life as a puppet to a blackmailer, and going out shooting, you could at least choose the path that leaves your enemy as a smoking corpse? And who knows, maybe Terl was bluffing about a contingency plan for his death.

And third, if Terl can figure out your embezzlement scheme, anyone can. L. Ron goes on and on about how Terl is so cunning and an absolute "demon/devil," but this doesn't quite gel with how we've seen him operate. He's lazy, sloppy, and suffered some major setbacks earlier because he was too trusting or overconfident. He only figured out Numph's scheme after a miraculous out-of-nowhere flash of inspiration.

But now that Terl's finally gotten his precious "leverage,"the story can get on with things and we won't have any more "Terl being devious" chapters... right?

Not in the immediate future, at least. Next chapter, we learn the names of Jonnie's horses.

Back to Chapter One

Monday, February 1, 2010

Part 6, Chapter 1 - The Riddle of Numph

Terl's reading a copy of Metal Markets of the Galaxies, pondering his situation. He's (finally) almost ready to begin his project, but he's contemplating the "riddle of Numph." Putting it like that, I can't help but think that'd be a very different game from The Legend of Zelda.

Numph could end Terl's schemes in a heartbeat, but the Psychlo is convinced that there's something incriminating he can use for leverage on his boss. Something involving Numph's Cousin Nipe. But what?

In the meantime, he keeps a disinterested eye on Jonnie. First the human uses pitch to heal the wounded horse, and his one-sided conversations with it lead Terl to consider that the equine is answering supersonically. Which would suggest that the horse would be talking faster than the speed of sound. Which doesn't make any sense. Perhaps he meant infrasound?

Again, is it Terl being ignorant here, or the author?

Next, Jonnie has a conversation with Ker, which a wary Terl listens in on. The human tells the Psychlo that "it's not your fault," and "I forgive you." Which would suggest that the attempt to purchase a gun did make Jonnie rethink his view on at least one Psychlo, even if it took several chapters for L. Ron to get around to telling us this. Unless Jonnie has an ulterior motive. He borrows a "blade machine" from Ker, which sparks a bit of a spat between Ker and Char, making Terl wonder if the man-thing is manipulating his coworkers.

The "blade machine," which could be anything from a chainsaw to a tractor, given its utter lack of description, is used to slice up some trees to make a fence around the electrified cage. Jonnie then builds himself a little hut out of the rest, and moves his magical learning machines inside. The girls have cleaned their cell and are starting to move in, so Terl goes down, checks on them, menaces them a bit, and then "from nowhere an idea hit him."

Which... I guess is accurate to how some ideas come to us, but feels really random.

Terl grabs a calculator and crunches the numbers, checking his market price guide against the mining reports from the Earth site. Turns out the ore from Earth is worth five hundred times the mines' operating costs, which means that Numph is lying about profit margins so he can embezzle. Terl stays up late going through paperwork, and figures out that his boss is sending coded messages in the vehicle reports to Cousin Nipe, who is in on the scheme.

He briefly considers confronting Numph and NCN about this and demand a cut, but decides that blackmailing them with the evidence would be much safer. And so we end, a third of the way down page 182, with Terl looking forward to his next meeting with Numph, which will come next chapter.

And we're another step closer to the battle for Earth. It's still ages away, but hey, progress is progress, yes?

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