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

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